Twelfth of July parades take place across Northern Ireland

·3-min read

Thousands of Orange Order members have taken to the streets across Northern Ireland to mark the main date in the Protestant loyal order parading season.

This year’s Twelfth of July parades were smaller than usual and locally based due to public health concerns.

Organisers stuck to plans to have parades of no more than 500 people, even though the limit on public gatherings imposed due to Covid-19 has now been removed.

The normal 18 main events were replaced by more than 100 local parades which took place in a number of cities, towns and villages.

The Order said organising smaller parades was the best way to ensure the demonstrations went ahead.

As well as the reduced size of the parades, there were fewer spectators lining the roads this year.

The Twelfth parades mark the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne, north of Dublin, in 1690 – a triumph that secured a Protestant line of succession to the British Crown.

Twelfth of July celebrations – Belfast
A bandsman from the No 3 District Loyal Orange Lodge on parade (Liam McBurney/PA)

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson marched with the Ballinran Orange Lodge in Kilkeel, Co Down.

The vast majority of Twelfth events are peaceful, although in some years there have been volatile flashpoints involving Orange lodges and nationalist residents.

The Parades Commission, which rules on contentious gatherings in Northern Ireland, had imposed conditions on a number of marches.

Up to 2,000 police officers were on duty throughout the day.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP (second from right at front of group) marching as a member of Ballinran Orange Lodge (Liam McBurney/PA)

There was a significant police presence for parades in Belfast on Monday through the Ardyone area and past St Patrick’s Catholic Church on Donegall Street.

In the city, a number of small parades took place before the bands gathered at Carlisle Circus before the march through the city centre and onto Shaw’s Bridge.

Traditionally, parade participants congregate at fields where they hear speeches and prayers delivered by senior Orangemen before a return march, but that did not happen this year.

The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland had called on everyone attending a parade to respect the Covid-19 guidelines.

Twelfth of July celebrations – Belfast
Bandsmen and Orange Order members of No 3 District Loyal Orange Lodge parade pass the nationalist area around Ardoyne shops in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

Last year’s Twelfth of July parades were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions on public gatherings.

The Twelfth parades were preceded by the traditional burning of Eleventh Night bonfires, which this year took place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

A Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) spokesman said: “Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service has dealt with a significant increase in emergency calls and mobilisations to bonfire related incidents over July 9, 10 and 11.

“The service was exceptionally busy on each of the three nights, with direct intervention required by NIFRS to protect properties from radiated heat, embers, etc. from the bonfires.”

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson condemned the burning of Irish tricolour flags on some bonfires.

Sir Jeffrey told the BBC: “I don’t want to see election posters or flags burnt on bonfires, I think we can celebrate our culture and our tradition in a respectful way.

“Respect is a two-way street – if you want to gain respect for your traditions and culture you’ve got to show respect for the traditions, culture and symbols of other communities.”

Sir Jeffrey said work needed to continue to address safety issues around the size of some of the bonfires.

“I think we need to continue working with those who organise bonfires to look at safety issues and to look at the height of bonfires, where they are located.

“In the end public safety is absolutely paramount when it comes to this.”