Thousands turn out for Royal Irish in Larne

HOPES are growing that Belfast homecoming parade will pass off peacefully after a second successful Royal Irish parade in Larne.

On Saturday afternoon thousands lined the streets of Larne to cheer the Royal Irish Regiment through the town after the regiment was awarded the freedom of the borough by the council.

The parade was delayed by a security alert, but the crowds waited patiently for about an hour until the all-clear had been given and the parade got under way.

Among the thousands lining the town's streets stood families with children perched high on their father's shoulders, veterans with medals proudly pinned to their chests and elderly waiting in wheelchairs.

The parade consisted of about 200 soldiers from the 1st and 2nd Battalions, along with retired Royal Irish veterans and Army cadets.

Filling the road, they marched forward in utterly straight columns behind the vast Irish wolfhound mascot and regimental band.

Police said that no warning was received about the "elaborate hoax" device, discovered at about 8.40am this morning on a street which was part of the parade route.

Ammunition Technical Officers from the Army carried out controlled explosions on the device and the PSNI helicopter circled overhead during the parade.

A PSNI spokeswoman said that police had discovered the hoax package while searching for two another devices which they had received a telephoned warning about.

"There was no warning for Agnew Street," she said.

The PSNI spokeswoman also said that there had been no reports of trouble at last night's parade in Ballymena or today's event in Larne.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Shaun Woodward has joined those appealing for a peaceful Sunday and called for "small unrepresentative factions" not to disrupt the day's events.

"Many people are looking forward to welcoming back those who have served, for the majority of their time, in Afghanistan as well as Iraq and the Balkans," he said.

But the Secretary of State will not attend the homecoming parade, although an NIO spokesman said that he would be at the Royal Irish service in St Anne's later in the day.

Conservative Shadow Secretary of State Owen Paterson, who is the local MP for North Shropshire, where the Royal Irish are based, will be attending the parade, along with the Conservative's Northern Ireland spokesman in the House of Lords, Lord Glentoran.

First Minister Peter Robinson will also be among leading politicians at the event.

* For full reports and photos from all of the weekend's homecoming parades, don't miss the News Letter's special commemorative edition on Monday