BELFAST, Northern Ireland — The parades to celebrate the centenary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant — the 1912 petition against home rule that helped lead to the eventual partition of Ireland — passed peacefully Saturday amid the biggest police operation in more than 20 years.
The Protestant parades, which drew about 30,000 marchers, took place against the backdrop of recent heightened sectarian violence in the city.
Research released this month by the University of Ulster found that more than two-thirds of people living near the so-called Peace Walls separating the Protestant and Catholic communities want the barriers to remain. More than a decade after an Irish Republican Army cease-fire and the signing of the Belfast Agreement, which paved the way for a power-sharing local government, there are still more than 50 such walls around the city.
Last month, seven police officers were injured during rioting prompted when a Protestant band played anti-Catholic tunes outside St. Patrick’s Church.
Despite appeals from Carrick Hill residents to the Parades Commission, about 2,000 band members were allowed to march past the church again Saturday, provided they played only hymns or sacred music.
They obliged, but seldom has “Abide With Me" sounded so martial, the street reverberating to the beat of huge, signature Lambeg drums as band after band faced down the silent Catholic protesters lining the streets outside the church.