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Text: Neil Jarman and Dominic Bryan ... Page Design: Fionnuala McKenna

Parade and Protest:
A Discussion of Parading Disputes in Northern Ireland


This section offers a typology of parading based on the purpose of the parade rather than on the group organising the event. It is impossible to offer detailed numbers of the parades within each category as no statistical details are available, however an attempt is made to indicate the importance of each type of parade. Loyalist parades can be broken down into nine relatively discrete categories:

      1. Main Commemorative Parades
      2. Local Parades
      3. Feeder Parades
      4. Church Parades
      5. Arch, Banner and Hall Parades
      6. Social Parades
      7. Occasional Parades
      8. Competitive Band Parades
      9. Commemorative Band Parades

3.1 Main Commemorative Parades
These are few in number but they are regarded as the most significant events of the marching season. Within this category are the Orange and Independent Orange Institution parades held each year on the Twelfth of July; the Black Demonstrations at Scarva on 13 July; in County Fermanagh in early August (which marks the battle of Newtownbutler); and the six Last Saturday parades at the end of August. Finally it includes the Apprentice Boys 'Relief of Derry' parade on or near 12 August.

These few dates form the heart of the parading calendar and constitute what most people understand as basis of the loyalist parading culture or tradition. They form only a small percentage of the total parades but they attract the largest numbers of both marchers and spectators. While all these parades have symbolic significance among the Ulster Protestants, it is possible to focus even more closely and say that the Twelfth of July and the Relief of Derry parades are the principal dates of the Marching Season.

The Boyne anniversary parades are always held on the twelfth of July itself and Scarva the day after, unless the day falls on a Sunday in which case they are held a day later. The Twelfth of July is a public holiday in Northern Ireland and has been since 1926. All the other parades are held on the nearest Saturday, although as recently as 1986 the Relief of Derry parade was held on the anniversary itself The change to a Saturday was apparently made because many people found it difficult to attend on a week day.

Part of the significance of these events is their longevity as public celebrations. As anniversaries all are well established, and their continuing commemoration is integral to the sense of a Protestant identity. The Orange Order has held parades to commemorate the Twelfth of July since the year after its formation in 1795. However, the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne was by then already a long established public event. The custom of holding a parade to remember the Boyne victory began in Dublin in the early 18th century and was taken up in Ulster by the 1770s.

Parades were often the cause of violent disturbances during the nineteenth century, and repeated attempts were made to impose legal restrictions in the early decades of the century, which were largely unsuccessful. However, between 1849 and 1872, the Party Processions Act was utilised to suppress most parades, including the Twelfth. Since the repeal of this legislation in 1872, and despite occasional violent outbursts, the Twelfth has never been banned. Parades have been held every year, except 1916 and during World War Two, when parades were voluntarily cancelled.

In the contemporary parading calendar the Twelfth is marked by 19 main parades across Northern Ireland, although the number of feeder parade boosts the total number of parades on the day. Statistics provided by the RUC Central Statistics Unit put the number of parades on the Twelfth in 1995 at 547. Eighteen of the main parades are organised by the Orange Institution and one by the Independent Orange Institution. Belfast and Ballymena each host a parade each year while the venues for the remainder are rotated. Some areas follow a regular cyclical pattern in which the Twelfth visits a town or village every 4, 7 or 11 years, while others follow a more irregular rotation. The decisions about the location of Twelfth parades is made at either district or county level of the Institution but the cycles appear to be largely ordered by tradition. The 17 venues outside Belfast are divided as follows:

      County Antrim 6
      County Armagh 1
      County Down 4
      County Fermanagh 1
      County Londonderry 2
      County Tyrone 3

The largest of these parades are those held in County Armagh, where Orangeism originated and has remained prominent, and in Belfast. Twelfth of July parades are largely local events at which the Orangemen parade through their home districts and counties, although substantial numbers of Orangemen and bands come over from Scotland for the day. After a morning parade, the men assemble at 'the field', where a religious service is held and, in many areas, leading Unionist politicians make speeches from the platform. In the afternoon a return parade completes the day's events.

In contrast, the main Apprentice Boys anniversary, the Relief of the Siege of Derry, is marked by a single parade in the city. This event attracts members and bands from across Northern Ireland and beyond. Apart from the parade, the main event is a service in St. Columb's Cathedral in the morning which is largely restricted to the members of the Parent Clubs. There is no public platform and there are no political speeches during the celebrations. The Relief of Derry has been commemorated with a parade of some sort since the early 18th century, while the anniversary has been organised by the Apprentice Boys clubs since they were reformed in the early 19th century. Until early this century the anniversary was still largely a local affair but the growth of the rail network made it possible for people to come from all over the north to attend the parade. Newspaper reports suggest that the Relief celebrations have been growing in popularity and in importance since the 1950s and the anniversary now attracts crowds comparable to the Belfast Twelfth.

The original route of the parade seems to have been largely restricted to a circuit of the city walls, but as the scale of the proceedings increased so too did the length of the route. Since the end of the Second World War the parade route has been regularly extended because of the numbers of people walking. One year it took in parts of the cityside area and the next year it would cross over onto the Waterside. Violent clashes at the event in 1969, and the subsequent arrival of British troops in the city, is widely accepted as marking the beginning of the Troubles although earlier attempts to hold civil rights parades in the city had already led to violence and raised tension. In 1970 the Relief parade was included within a blanket, six-month, Ulster-wide ban on parades. When the anniversary was commemorated the following year, the city walls had been closed and the parade was forced to accept a new route which took it away from the Cityside and kept it largely on the Waterside.

The Black parades are more recently established. The Sham fight at Scarva, and parades to mark the battle of Newtownbutler in County Fermanagh, can be traced back to the 1830s, but they only became associated with the Royal Black Institution after the end of the First World War. Newspaper reports suggest that at this time that the Black began to grow in popularity and to organise more of its own parades.

The Black Institution is strongest in the eastern part of Ulster and in, the rural areas. In general it has an older membership and parades are more gently paced, with a predominance of melody, pipe and accordion bands. However, the Belfast Black parades, with larger numbers of blood and thunder bands and a younger membership, has more of the atmosphere of the Orange Twelfth. The main Black event is held on the last Saturday (Black Saturday or Last Saturday) in August when six separate county parades are held across the North. Belfast Blackmen parade through the city in the morning but their main parade is held in either County Down or County Antrim. These last Saturday parades were only fully established in the inter-war years and they have traditionally marked the end of the Marching Season.

3.2 Local Parades
This category includes the Orange mini-Twelfth parades, which are held from mid-June through into early July, and an increasing number of Somme Commemorations which are held on, or near to, 1 July. It also includes the celebrations to mark the landing of King William at Carrickfergus in early June; the Black parades in Bangor in July and in Belfast in mid-August; and the Apprentice Boys 'Closing of the Gates' parade in December and the Apprentice Boys Amalgamated Committee parade at Easter. Although not all of these parades mark specific anniversaries, all of these events have become an important part of the wider commemorative cycle. They often function as a prelude to the main parades. They are more localised demonstrations of strength and support and they incorporate routes, areas and districts that are not included on the main parade routes into the larger cycle.

Some of these parades are well established: for example the anniversary of the Closing of the Gates in Derry, at the end of which the figure of Lundy is burnt, was celebrated in the 18th century. Many of the others are much more recent. Despite popular perceptions, the Somme parades, as annual events, only date back to 1950s, rather than to the immediate post-war years. However, in the early years of this century, it was quite common for small parades to be held in a wide diversity of locations on or around 1 July, which was the original anniversary date of the Boyne prior to 18th century calendrical changes. The parade held by the Apprentice Boys Amalgamated Clubs on Easter Monday and the Junior Orange parade on Easter Tuesday both date back to the 1930s. They do not mark any anniversary, but were originally held to counter the Republican parades held the day before, on Easter Sunday. The parade to mark William's landing at Carrickfergus has only been re-established in recent years.

The mini-Twelfth and Somme parades appears to be a category that is on the increase, although they still account for only a small proportion of the total number of parades. More mini-Twelfth parades seem to be held each year especially in the areas outside of Belfast, a factor which has increased the overall visibility of Orange parades in the build up to the Twelfth. For instance Portadown District introduced a mini-Twelfth parade in 1990, and each year this event is focused on a different theme of Ulster Protestant or Orange history (Jones et al., 1996:57). The mini-Twelfths are significant in so far as they bring all the district lodges together as a preparation for the Twelfth itself and this is also the only occasion, apart from the Twelfth, at which all the lodges' regalia and banners are displayed. As the mini-Twelfths may well be the only substantial Orange parade in many towns, and as they are usually held on a Saturday or on a weekday evening, these parades often attract substantial numbers of people onto the streets.

In Belfast, where the custom has become well established, the mini-Twelfth parades begin in early June with a parade in North Belfast. This is followed by parades from Clifton Street, the Shankill Road, Sandy Row, Ballymacarrett (both on 1 July) and finally in Ballynafeigh in early July. On these occasions the Orangemen and their bands walk a circuit which begins and ends at the local Orange Hall. Participation is largely, although not exclusively, restricted to lodges that are based at the hall. The mini-Twelfth parades from the Ballynafeigh and Shankill Road Orange halls have both been subjected to protests in recent years. The Blackmen from Sandy Row and Ballymacarrett organise similar local parades prior to the Last Saturday demonstrations in August.

3.3 Feeder Parades
These are small parades held on the day of the Main Commemorative parades. There would be numerous such parades on the Twelfth of July, in towns and villages across the north when lodges parade locally before taking a bus to the main venue or, in the case of the larger towns and Belfast, parade from their local Orange Hall to the start of the main parade. A similar range of parades is held at the end of the day as lodges return to their halls. Feeder parades are therefore often (a) very small (b) held over very short, localised routes and (c) often held early in the morning, but they make up a substantial proportion of total numbers. Figures supplied by the RUC Central Statistic s Unit put the total number of parades on the Twelfth in 1990 at 361, in 1992 at 428, and in 1995 at 547.

As a category, feeder parades can be divided into two distinct groups, those that lead directly to a main parade in the same location and those that are held prior to a parade held elsewhere. Examples of both types are held on the lower Ormeau Road. The parade from Ballynafeigh Orange Hall to the City Hall on the morning of the Twelfth is an example of the first type. In this case the Orangemen state that they are taking both the most direct route and the traditional route in order to join up with the main body of men. The Apprentice Boys parades at Easter and in August fall into the other type in which the Belfast Walker Branch Club parade from the Ballynafeigh Orange Hall along the Ormeau Road before boarding a bus to another town. The custom of parading to a bus before departing to a main venue seems to have its origin in an earlier era when lodges met at their local hall and then paraded together to a railway station to take the train to another destination. When buses and cars became a more popular mode of travel, the parade from the hall was retained although it now took a shorter route to meet the waiting transport.

The argument for tradition informs the logic of both of these parades from Ballynafeigh when they have been challenged. The Orangemen and the Apprentice Boys both argue that they have been walking the same route for many years and they will continue to do so to uphold their traditions. However, while the claim that the route along the Ormeau Road on the Twelfth is the most direct and obvious one to take is certainly true and strengthens their argument, it does not justify the argument of the Apprentice Boys. The use of a bus or cars to go to a parade elsewhere makes many of these feeder parades unnecessary except as a ritual display.

3.4 Church Parades
All of the loyal orders hold a number of church services on a range of Sunday afternoons throughout the marching season. On these dates a lodge assembles at the local Orange Hall before parading to the appropriate venue. Some parades and services involve only a single lodge while other dates are events which are recognised across the entire institution. The main services for the Orange Order are the Somme memorial service held in late June, the Boyne anniversary service on the Sunday prior to the Twelfth and the Reformation Day services in late October. The City of Belfast Black Chapter have a collective service on the Sunday preceding the Last Saturday demonstration. The main service for the Apprentice Boys is held in St. Columb's Cathedral as part of the August and December celebrations.

An individual lodge or a District may attend services in a number of different churches in the course of the year and therefore be involved in a number of distinct, but still traditional, routes. Although the church parades are numerous they are usually small and again they are predominately local affairs: the Boyne anniversary services, for example, are organised on a lodge basis. However, there are larger scale gatherings such as the Loyal Orange Widows Fund charity service which is held in the Ulster Hall in late April and is attended by members from all Belfast Orange districts.

In the main, church parades receive little attention: in part this is because they are held on Sunday afternoons, in part because they lack the colour of the other parades and in part because there are usually only one or two bands present and the music that is played is usually religious. Church parades have little of the appeal of the larger commemorative parades and attract few spectators. However they can still have a symbolic significance as the events after the Drumcree church service last summer illustrate only too well.

3.5 Arch, Banner and Hall Parades
These are held on the occasion of the opening of an Orange Arch, an Orange Hall or at the unfurling of a new banner. There are always a number of such parades organised by Orange lodges in late June and early July and by Black Preceptories in August. They seem to be most common in smaller towns and rural areas. Some arch-opening ceremonies have been incorporated into mini-Twelfth parades, if they are not, they afford the occasion for a small parade. Banner unfurlings are occasional events which are held to mark the purchase of a new lodge banner. A banner can last upwards of 25 years if it is properly cared for, and so these are rare events for an individual lodge, they may be held perhaps only once in a generation. All of these are small local events, and there will rarely be more than one or two lodges present, although at least one band will be used to accompany the new banner as it is paraded through the area for the first time. Senior political figures are usually invited to these occasions, to help in the ceremonies, and to say few words to the assembled constituents: but often they are also used as a platform for rallying the party faithful. As such they contribute both to the general build up to the Twelfth and reaffirm the political allegiances of Orangeism.

3.6 Social Parades
This is little more than a catch-all category to accommodate the few remaining parades held by the loyal orders. Within this group can be included the (increasing) range of parades held by the Junior Orange Order and the occasional parade organised by the Women's Orange Institution. The Belfast area juniors hold a parade on Easter Tuesday and a number of other districts hold parades at other times of the year. On each occasion a short parade is held from the Orange Hall to a waiting bus and then the district usually goes to a coastal town, where, after another short parade, the boys have a day by the sea. Although organised under the auspices of the Junior Orange Institution there are usually as many adults as juniors on the parade, accompanying the boys and playing in the bands.

3.7 Occasional Parades
There are also occasions when parades are held as a one-off event, sometimes as a special commemoration, and sometimes as part of the broader political process. For example, in 1990 the Orange Order held a special parade in Belfast to mark the Tercentenary of the Battle of the Boyne. In November 1994, shortly after the two paramilitary ceasefires had been called, the Orange Order paraded to a convention in the Botanic Gardens in Belfast. Here prominent members spoke on the theme of 'British Citizens demand British Rights'. In 1995, Orangemen held parades to mark the 50th anniversary of VE Day in May, and throughout the year a number of events were held to mark the Bicentenary of the Order itself, culminating in a series of parades and a rally in Loughgall, County Armagh, in September.

3.8 Competitive Band Parades
As well as taking part in all the above categories of parades the bands participate in an extensive range of parades which are organised by other bands. Band parades have become extremely numerous in recent years. They are held on most if not all Friday evenings, Saturday aftemoons and Saturday evenings from the beginning of the marching season at Easter until the end of September. Many of the well-established bands have a regular date for their parade, and new bands may find it difficult to find a suitable date in the main part of the marching season. This has let to an extension of the marching season and on many weekends band parades are held at a number of locations. The parades are primarily social events although there is also a competitive side to them. A range of trophies are offered by the host band who judge the visiting bands on a number of different categories such as their appearance, their deportment and their musical abilities as they parade around the host town.

The success of a parade depends heavily on reciprocity. If a band wants to attract a large number of visiting bands to its own parade it must in rum travel to a good number of other parades. The largest band parades can easily attract 50 or more bands, and these are therefore second only to the Main Commemorative parades in their scale and in the numbers of people who turn out to walk. These parades often dominate a small town from early evening until midnight and draw substantial numbers of young spectators into town and onto the streets; they therefore also generate a good trade for publicans, shopkeepers and diverse food stalls.

Many of the bands do not take the competitive element very seriously but the parades have become a prominent part of their social life. Some bands will parade at three or more such events in a weekend, week in week out throughout the season. Some bands may only need to go a few miles to attend a parade but others are prepared to hire a bus and travel across the province regularly. These band parades build up and consolidate an extensive network of social relations which is connected to, but distinct from, the more established networks of the loyal orders.

3.9 Commemorative Band Parades
These appear to be similar to the competitive band parades in so far as they are largely made up of the marching bands, but they are held as anniversary commemorations. There are two types of commemorative parades. One would include the parades held to mark the battle of the Somme in July or Armistice Day in November. On these occasions the bands and representatives of the loyalist paramilitary groups lay wreaths at local commemorative plaques or murals. Such events may be held at the same time as official events that are taking place elsewhere.

Another type of commemorative parade has begun to be held to mark the anniversary of the death of loyalist paramilitary figures who have died in the Troubles. Although small in number they can attract substantial numbers of bands and spectators. Once again wreaths are laid against murals or against commemorative plaques. Members of the Orange Institution and representatives of the paramilitary groups may both take part in these ceremonies.

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