First full Twelfth of July celebrations take place in Northern Ireland since pandemic disruption

Thousands took part in the first full Twelfth of July celebrations across Northern Ireland since the Covid-19 pandemic disruption.

For the past two years, celebrations were scaled back due to Coronavirus restrictions. But 2022 saw the Orange Order return to its traditional celebrations.

The head of the Orange Order said it is really good to see the traditional celebrations return. Grand Master Edward Stevenson described the day as "wonderful".

Around half a million people were expected to turn out for the festivities with 18 venues playing host to demonstrations to mark the 332nd anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.

Around 600 marching bands were involved overall. Armagh hosted the biggest parade of the year.

Edward Stevenson uncorked and poured Old Bushmills Distillery barrels full of Boyne water over Main Street in the Co Antrim town. Credit: Presseye

The Grand Master joined festivities in Bushmills and addressed those in attendance at the demonstration field.

“It’s hard to believe that it is three years since we have gathered properly as an Orange family for our traditional Twelfth of July celebrations,” he said.

“I’m sure I speak for everyone here today, whether taking part or watching, it is really good to be back!"

He added: “It was wonderful to parade today through the streets packed with spectators as we made our way to the demonstration field. While the Brethren, Sisters, Juniors and the bands form the parade, I always feel it is the support from the spectators who really help make the occasion something truly special.”

General view of the annual Twelfth of July celebrations in Bushmills, County Antrim. Credit: Presseye

Mr Stevenson praised Orange Order members and bands for stepping up during the pandemic, and said they “worked tirelessly to distribute much needed supplies to those much at risk in our communities”.

12th July celebrations in Ballymena Co Antrim. Ballee flute band on parade. Credit: Pacemaker

"We stepped up again recently when the plight of the people of Ukraine following invasion by Russia became clear. Our people rallied round and collected tonnes of essential products which were shipped out to those most in need,” he said.

“These are two examples on a major scale in which the Orange family has shown that it is an essential part of community life. We have a role to play and we are determined to play it to the full.

“I challenge you all here today to be proactive ambassadors for the Orange Institution in this area and do all you can to encourage family and friends to join our ranks.”

In Belfast - which hosted the longest parade covering six miles through the city - County Grand Master Spencer Beattie said around 10,000 were expected to take part with many more lining the streets.

“In 2020 we were cancelled because of Covid, so this is the first time back on the street in our full parade,” he said.

"We’ve had various smaller parades over the last couple of years, reduced down because of Covid, but it’s great to be back in full swing again. Hopefully, the day will be a celebration for everybody getting back out on to the street and enjoying the day.”

Four-year-old dog Barney takes some water from a cup during the hot weather in Belfast Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

“It’s just great to get everyone back out again. You’ll have noticed from the number of bonfires that were about last night that everybody is coming back into the spirit of the Twelfth of July again,” Mr Beattie said.

“It’s immeasurable how many spectators you have at the side of the road; that’s where you see the tourist part of it, in the city centre.

“People are just happy to be getting back into a traditional Twelfth of July. We understood the reasons why we had to reduce the size of the parade – we had to keep people at home in 2020 – last year we reduced and spread about the city to reduce the crowds.

“But now we have got the full parade back on the road, people are out with smiles and enjoying themselves.”

A couple embrace in silhouette at Craigyhill loyalist bonfire in Larne, Co Antrim Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

On Monday night around 250 bonfires were lit in loyalist communities across the region to usher in the main date in the parading calendar.

Police said they were gathering evidence after complaints about election posters and effigies being put on bonfires.

The Twelfth parades, which are organised by the Orange Order, commemorate the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

The battle, which unfolded at the Boyne river north of Dublin, saw Protestant King William of Orange defeat Catholic King James II to secure a Protestant line of succession to the British Crown.

Police Service of Northern Ireland Chief Constable Simon Byrne on a walkabout with an unnamed officer in Ardoyne, Belfast Credit: left

Those celebrations culminate on the Twelfth – the anniversary of the Boyne encounter.

UTV will have highlights from the parades at 10.45pm.

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