Twelfth of July marked in NI amid coronavirus restrictions

Socially distanced Lambeg drummers mark the Twelfth of July in Hillsborough, Co Down. Credit: Graham Baalham-Curry
Social distanced Lambeg drummers mark the Twelfth of July in Hillsborough, Co Down. Credit: Graham Baalham-Curry

The Orange Order has cancelled hundreds of parades across Northern Ireland, but nearly 250 bands are going ahead with marking the Twelfth of July.

Only 30 people are allowed to take part in the mini-parades being held and crowds are being warned not to gather due to coronavirus restrictions.

Instead, leaders – including First Minister Arlene Foster – have encouraged people to mark the date at home.

Watch: Twelfth of July in Belfast:

The Twelfth of July is commemorated by unionists and loyalists every year to mark the victory of the Protestant King William of Orange over the Catholic King James at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

When it falls on a Sunday, as with this year, it is marked the following day.

The Orange Order’s decision to cancel parades is certainly rare, but it has happened before – during the First and Second World Wars and during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918.

Orange Order Grand Master Edward Stevenson has encouraged members and supporters to celebrate the Twelfth of July at home. Credit: GOLI/PA

However, some have expressed frustration at the limiting of gatherings to 30 people in the wake of hundreds lining the streets of west Belfast for the funeral of leading republican Bobby Storey.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Finance Minister Conor Murphy were among those who joined the funeral cortege.

The PSNI is investigating potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations.

Wreath-laying during Twelfth of July commemorations across Northern Ireland. Credit: Pacemaker

Health Minister Robin Swann has insisted the public health advice is as important now as it was at the start of the pandemic.

Unionist leaders have urged those frustrated by the situation to not allow that to lead to defiance of the rules.

Orange Order Grand Secretary Rev Mervyn Gibson has asked those who wish to celebrate to do so safely and within the regulations.

Watch: Tractor cavalcade in Clogher Valley:

“I will be waving to a band as they pass my gates,” Rev Gibson said.

“I would urge all to enjoy the music if it comes to your door, but if it doesn’t, please don’t go out to follow the bands - turn on Radio Boyne and listen to traditional tunes on the online station. ”

Marking the Twelfth of July in Portadown, Co Armagh. Credit: Pacemaker

Rev Gibson added: “Stay at home, have a barbeque, have a picnic with your family and any bubble you can go to.

“Whatever you do, obey the regulations.”

In Hillsborough in Co Down, socially distanced Lambeg drummers gathered at three separate venues – the castle, the war memorial, and the Orange hall.

Watch: Bandsmen entertain in Hillsborough

On Saturday night, a smaller than usual number of loyalist Eleventh bonfires were lit.

However, there were significant crowds at several fires that did go ahead.

A number of Eleventh Night bonfires were still lit across Northern Ireland. Credit: Presseye

Meanwhile, in north Belfast, there were two nights of sporadic disorder across Friday and Saturday near a community interface.

Police came under attack from petrol bombers in the nationalist New Lodge, close to a bonfire in the loyalist Tiger’s Bay area.

Police came under attack in the nationalist New Lodge area of north Belfast on two nights running. Credit: Presseye