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N. Ireland City Avoids Clash So Far Protestant, Catholic Rallies Hold Potential For New Violence

Day one of a tense three-day weekend of Protestant parades and Catholic demonstrations passed peacefully as about 4,000 Catholics marched into the heart of Londonderry’s church-quiet walled city without incident on Friday night.

But the greatest threat of violence will come today when so-called Protestant “Apprentice Boys,” expected to be 10,000 strong, are scheduled to march in and around the walled city to commemorate the resistance to a Catholic siege of the city by 13 Protestant apprentice craftsmen 300 years ago. Similar but smaller marches are planned elsewhere in Northern Ireland today.

To prevent sectarian clashes, the British government has implanted concertina wire, metal standards and concrete barriers to block the Apprentice Boys from marching along a quarter mile of the city wall that overlooks a Catholic area called the Bogside.

Angry Protestants view the government’s action as a concession to Catholic threats of violence and some are threatening to challenge the blockage during the march.

Catholics in the Bogside area say they don’t trust the Royal Ulster Constabulary, buttressed by British army troops, to keep the wall off-limits in the face of possible violence by Protestants loyal to Ulster and to union with Great Britain.

Last month, in a similar situation at Drumcree in Portadown, police backed down and permitted the larger Protestant Orange Order to march through a Catholic area after first rejecting the route.

A march scheduled for Sunday in Belfast by Irish Catholic nationalists, to register opposition to Britain’s old policy of internment of nationalists, is another possible flashpoint.

One reason Friday night’s march went ahead peacefully was that the Bogside organizers rerouted the quiet procession away from a mainly Protestant residential area and away from the headquarters of the Apprentice Boys.

Marchers from five separate but predominantly Catholic areas of Londonderry converged on Guildhall Square in the center city about 8 p.m. on Friday to protest the scheduled Apprentice Boys march.