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Subdued, divided Protestant group marks holiday

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Protestant Orangemen commemorated their biggest holiday Monday, chastened and divided by the deaths of three Catholic boys in the turmoil surrounding Protestant defiance of a government order to change one parade route.

Two men were arrested in connection with the firebombing Sunday that killed Quinn brothers Richard, 10, Mark, 9, and Jason, 7. The boys died in their home in a Protestant area of Ballymoney, 40 miles northwest of Belfast. The children's Catholic mother, Chrissy Quinn, and her Protestant companion escaped safely.The Orange Order called for a period of silence at all gatherings Monday as a mark of respect. "What we want today is a peaceful today throughout the province," said John McCrea, grand secretary of the Orange Order.

The morning passed without confrontation.

The 12th of July is the biggest Orange holiday, celebrating the defeat of the Catholic King James II by the Protestant William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Many Catholics consider the Protestant marches a provocative confirmation of their minority status in Northern Ireland.

The Orange Order has disclaimed any responsibility for the days of rioting - the roadblocks, attacks on homes and cars, assaults on police and soldiers - which erupted after the Portadown march was stopped July 5.

Some prominent Orangemen, stunned by the killings of the Catholic boys, called for an end to the weeklong confrontation between marchers and security forces near Portadown.

"After last night's attack, a 15-minute walk down Garvaghy Road by the Orange Order would be a very hollow victory because it would be in the shadow of the coffins of three little boys who wouldn't even know what the Orange Order is about," said the Rev. William Bingham, chaplain to the Orange Order in County Armagh.

Last week, Bingham was one of four Orange officials who met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to press their demand to walk down that road near Portadown, despite the hostility of Catholic residents there and an order from the Parades Commission barring the march.

The Portadown district's Orange Lodges defiantly declared that their protest would continue - but they asked Orangemen from other districts not to join them Monday in the pastures near Drumcree Anglican church for a confrontation with police and British troops.

Catholic residents called off plans to try to stop the Ormeau Road march after the killings Sunday but hung banners saying "Shame" and unleashed scores of black balloons as the parade passed.

In Ballymoney, neighbors laid flowers, teddy bears and notes of condolence outside the blackened home. Francis Quinn, the dead boys' uncle, said his sister and her family had been harassed for two years.

"They murdered three innocent little children. They weren't being brought up Catholic or Protestant - they just were three kids," he said.

"And I'm just - full of hate," he added, haltingly.