PORTADOWN, Northern Ireland — Thousands of Protestants paraded noisily past a Roman Catholic enclave Saturday, trading howls of abuse with its residents.
In scenes reminiscent of a standoff in July that sparked widespread violence in this province, the hard-line Orangemen expressed their centuries-old link to Britain with drums, pipes and determined steps.
They were also expressing anger at being barred from marching down the town's only Catholic street, and fear that a peace accord signed earlier this year marks the start of the end of British rule.
With the Protestant majority shrinking at a time of profound political change, the Orangemen fear their tradition--which censures its members for marrying Catholics or engaging in any act of Catholic worship--is facing extinction.
Local media say the secretive Orange Order is considering a move against Protestant leader and Nobel Peace laureate David Trimble for attending the funeral of Catholic victims of a bomb attack in August.
Many Catholics want Northern Ireland to unite with the republic to the south under Irish rule--the aim of the Irish Republican Army--and the peace deal says Britain will tie its sovereignty over Northern Ireland to majority support.
The Orange Order, a 200-year-old brotherhood, attempts to march through Portadown every summer to mark the 1690 victory of William of Orange over deposed Catholic King James II.
But the Catholics are determined to keep them away. One year, police beat them off the street to let a parade pass.
Some observers said Saturday's march ended peacefully due to the absence of a man police say runs the local Protestant guerrilla group--the Loyalist Volunteer Force.
He is being held on an arms-related charge, despite the fact that the group on Friday became the first guerrilla organization to surrender part of its arsenal in what the head of the province's disarmament commission called a "modest but significant" step.