Centre for the Study of Conflict
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster
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A Discussion of Parading Disputes in Northern Ireland
The widely expressed importance given to the concept of tradition, and the emphasis placed on traditional parades, would suggest that a fairly consistent formal or regular pattern would underpin the parading year or marching season. But what exactly constitutes an average marching season? While there is a consistency at the heart of the loyalist parading calendar, it is difficult to be precise about what would constitute an average year. Most people would base such a year around the large traditional parades held on the Twelfth of July or the celebrations to mark the Relief of Derry, but these anniversaries constitute only a small proportion of the parading year. Furthermore, there can be a great deal of variation in the number of parades from year to year and from place to place.
There are number of ways that this issue can be approached. One way would be to consider an overview of the year through the calendrical cycle and describe all the anniversaries and commemorations that are marked by parades. Such a process would have to balance the general details that are applicable to all areas of Northern Ireland as well as note the regional variations. No two towns or villages, counties or districts, or even areas of towns or cities are the same as regards the overall parading calendar. Each town has its own traditions and its own customs and local parades which are organised in parallel with the more widely known major events. The local parading calendar may also vary from year to year depending on whether a town is to host a major parade, such as the Twelfth, or the Last Saturday of August parades. Some places will always have significantly larger numbers of parades than others. The total number of parades is boosted by a large number of small social parades which only continue, and may increase in number, in response to the enthusiasm of the participants and organisers, rather than through the dictates of tradition.
A second way would be to consider the marching season from the position of the various participants: a single individual, an Orange Lodge, a Black Preceptory and a marching band will all have a different perception of what constitutes an average year. The first part of this section describes the main events on the parading calendar as a chronology of an average year. The second part considers some of the variation in different towns and villages, while the third part considers the marching season from the perspective of a number of marching bands. Another approach, which will be considered in Section 5, would be to focus on the total number of parades and consider how the parading calendar and the number of parades varies. This might help to identify changing patterns and raise questions as to why the patterns are in fact changing. This in turn will raise questions about the issue of tradition: how long does a parade have to be held before it becomes ‘traditional’? How regularly does a parade have to be held for it to remain ‘traditional’? How much variation can be imposed on a parade route before it loses it ‘traditional’ character?
4.1 Chronology of the Main Parades
EASTER - Some Orange lodges hold church parades on the Sunday nearest to St. Patrick’s Day, 17 March, and Lame Juniors parade to church on Palm Sunday. But for most the Marching Season begins on Easter Monday when the Amalgamated Committee of the Apprentice Boys hold their parade. The organisation rotates among the several local committees and therefore the venue changes each year. Members from all parts of the Province assemble for this parade. The following day, Easter Tuesday, the Belfast and South Antrim lodges of the Junior Orange Order have their annual parade, usually at a coastal town. The final large gathering is held on a Sunday afternoon at the end of April when the Belfast Orange Lodges attend a charity service in the Ulster Hall, in aid of the Belfast Loyal Orange Widows Fund.
MAY - This is a quiet month. There are no major parades, although a number of church parades are held, including annual services in County Cavan and County Monaghan. The Scottish Apprentice Boys hold their annual parade around the middle of the month. At the end of the month the Junior Orangemen from Armagh, South Tyrone and Fermanagh hold their annual parade - again at a coastal town.
JUNE - In June the Marching Season begins to get fully underway. The first Orange mini-Twelfth parade is held on the first Friday in June in north Belfast, and the Belfast Branch Clubs of the Apprentice Boys parade on the first Saturday. On the second Saturday King William’s landing is commemorated in Carrickfergus, and Portadown District Orangemen hold their mini-Twelfth parade. Mini-Twelfths are held in north Belfast on the following weekend and a week later in west Belfast and in the Sixmilewater District of south Antrim.
JULY- The first of July, the anniversary of the beginning of the battle of the Somme, is second only to the Twelfth in the Orange calendar. Church parades are held on the nearest Sunday and, on the first itself, parades and wreath-laying ceremonies are held across the north. In 1995 long established parades were held in south and east Belfast, and others were reported in Armagh, Ballyronan, Castlederg, Cloughmills, Dromore, Dunmurray, Killylea, Lisburn, Lurgan, Markethill, Omagh, Poyntzpass, Rathfriland and Stewartstown on either 30 June or 1 July.
On the first Wednesday after the Somme parades, Belfast’s Ballynafeigh District hold their mini-Twelfth parade; and, on the Saturday before the Twelfth itself, Orange parades are held in Rossnowlagh, County Donegal, and at a number of venues in Scotland. The following day, the Sunday before the Twelfth, or on the Twelfth itself, if it falls on a Sunday, the Boyne anniversary church service is held at venues across the north.
The Twelfth of July is the highlight of the Marching Season for most people. The nineteen parades are held at locations across Northern Ireland. Apart from Belfast and Ballymena, a different range of venues is used each year. Twelfth parades have been held at over 130 different locations since 1968. The Twelfth is the climax to the series of small parades that have been taking place for the previous few weeks and it also marks the end of the Marching Season for the Orange Institution (with the exception of the Reformation Day church services in October).
The following day the first major Royal Black Institution parades are held at Scarva and Bangor in County Down. Scarva is the traditional venue for the main parade of the County Down and County Armagh Preceptories. It is also the occasion for the Sham Fight, which is held near a tree under which King William reputedly rested on his way south. The Lurgan District Blackmen go to the seaside for the day.
AUGUST- The Twelfth traditionally marked the beginning of the two-week holiday period and no major parades are during this time, although band parades may take place at the weekends. There is a gap of almost a month before the next important parade, which is broken only by minor parades. The East Belfast Junior Orange lodges have an annual outing to the seaside at the beginning of August and some District Black Preceptories have their annual church parades at this time.
Parading restarts in earnest on the Saturday nearest 12 August. On this day the Apprentice Boys parade through the city to celebrate the Relief of Derry, and the County Fermanagh Blackinen parade, at a rotating venue, to mark the battle of Newtownbutler. The Fermanagh parade attracts members from across the border, but the Londonderry parade draws people from all areas of Northern Ireland and beyond. The parade is second only to the Boyne anniversary as the major event of the season.
The second half of August is dominated by Black parades. Local parades are held in south and east Belfast as a prelude to the main County Black parades on the Last Saturday. On this day parades are held in Counties Antrim, Down and Londonderry and in both east and west Tyrone. The Belfast County Preceptories alternate their parade between a venue in County Down and one in County Antrim.
SEPTEMBER AND OCTOBER - The Last Saturday formally marks the end of the commemorative marching season, but the band parades continue through September although by the end of the month the evenings are too short, and often too cold, to make parading attractive either for large numbers of bands or spectators. The last official Orange Institution parade of the year is held on the last Sunday in October on the occasion of the Reformation Day services. In Belfast all Orange Districts independently parade to St. Anne’s Cathedral for the service.
NOVEMBER - A number of loyalist bands hold short parades to local memorials on Armistice Day, 11 November.
DECEMBER - The final parade of the year is held on the Saturday nearest 18 December in Londonderry, to mark the anniversary of the Closing of the Gates in 1688, the event that led to the Siege of Derry. This parade is much smaller than the August parade in the city and is largely of local interest. The climax of the day is the burning of the eighteen-foot high effigy of Lundy in the late afternoon.
This chronology shows that the three prominent parading bodies, the Orange, the Black and the Apprentice Boys have different and distinct parading calendars. The parades organised by the Orange Institution are largely held in the period of June to mid-July, although there are church parades both before and after these dates. From 13 July through to the end of August, the parades are organised by the Royal Black Institution, an organisation with a strong rural base and a more respectable and less popular character to it. In contrast the three main Apprentice Boys parades are almost equally spaced across the year: they begin the loyalist Marching Season at Easter, provide a second, popular climax in August and bring the cycle to an end in December. Although the main anniversaries, the Twelfth of July and the Twelfth of August, Scarva and the Last Saturday are focused on one or more main parades, each day is also the occasion for numerous small parades by Orangemen, Blackmen and Apprentice Boys as they parade in their home localities before moving on to the main event. It becomes almost impossible therefore to document the marching season in its entirety or in its full complexity. This will be clear when we consider the overall scale of the parading calendar and the increase in parades over recent years.
4.2 Local Variations
This extensive sequence includes both ‘Orange’ and band parades. The ‘Orange’ parades are in turn based on the numerous Orange halls throughout the city. The decentralised structure of the loyal orders means that nobody s necessarily aware of the scale of the broader picture across the city. The same is true of the smaller towns and villages where once again the emphasis is on very localised traditions and practices. Even confirming the details of the range of parades from a single hall can prove difficult. The number may vary according to the number of Orange lodges and Black Preceptories based at a hall, and whether there are also Junior lodges, women’s lodges, Purple Chapters and Apprentice Boys clubs or even affiliated bands who parade from a particular hall.
The Ballynafeigh district parades have proved the most contentious in recent years and there has been considerable uncertainty as to the total number of parades, and this has added to the suspicions and mistrust on both sides. Claims of 17 or more parades along the Ormeau Road each year, put forward by members of the Lower Ormeau Concerned Community (LOCC), have been strongly denied by the Orangemen. The fact that parades from Ballynafeigh were opposed on eight occasions only seems to contradict the LOCC claim. However, those parading argue that a single parade includes both outward and return legs, while the residents’ group define this as two separate parades through their area, since they occur at two distinct times of day. So what are eight parades for the loyal orders would be seen as up to sixteen parades to the residents. Changes to the return route of some of the parades in recent years has also helped to confuse the issue.
The information we have suggests that eleven annual parades leave Ballynafeigh Orange Hall, although special anniversary parades may increase this number. There is also an annual band parade unconnected to the ‘Orange’ parades. Eight of these parades seek to walk the length of the Ormeau Road. These include four Orange, two Black and two Apprentice Boys parades. Two others, the mini-Twelfth and a junior Orange parade, have, in the past, followed a similar route but they have now been rerouted. The Boyne Anniversary church parade remains in the Ballynafeigh area. In recent years the return routes of the main parades have been diverted away from the lower Ormeau area, so that last year the loyal orders had intended to walk the length of the road twelve times on eight different days, beginning on Easter Monday and ending at the end of October.
This would seem to be the average number of parades that one might expect to find leaving each of the five main Orange halls in Belfast, although the smaller halls would probably have less. Outside Belfast a similar variety exists between those small halls at which only one or two lodges are based and the larger district halls. In Saintfield the district Orange lodge holds a Boyne church parade and a mini-Twelfth annually, and hosts the Twelfth in rotation with a number of other districts. Individual lodges may parade only three or four times a year. Residents report a similar small number of parades through the nationalist village of Bellaghy: the local loyal orders hold two annual church parades, and they also parade the main street before departing for both the Twelfth and Last Saturday parades - which are only occasionally held in the village. These small parades appear to cause little friction but there is strong opposition to the larger mini-Twelfth band parade in early July.
In Larne there are eleven parades from the Victoria Orange Hall between late March and the end of October. These are the responsibility of a wide range of bodies: four parades are organised by the Orange Order and two each by the Black, the Apprentice Boys and Junior Orange Order while the local Royal Arch Purple Chapter has a single church parade. As in all areas there will also be a range of one-off parades for the unfurling of banners, lodge anniversaries and for women’s church services. A similar pattern emerges from Portadown where there are at least twelve parades each year from the Carleton Street Hall. These include five Orange parades, including three church parades, three Black, three Apprentice Boys and one Junior Orange parade. As in Belfast there will be other parades leaving each of the town’s Orange Halls and as well as this there are three annual band parades in the town.
Over the marching season it is not unusual for a town to host a parade every 2-3 weeks on average, although these will be the responsibility of several different organising bodies and few individuals will necessarily have a view of the overall picture. Despite these large numbers of different parades, most individual members of the loyal orders are unlikely to parade more than half a dozen times each year and many will wear their sash even less. However, more senior figures and officers at the district level and above, may be expected to turn out on many more occasions, especially those who belong to two or more of the orders. Most members of the loyal orders will only parade in the area where they live, or the area in which they grew up, and, apart from those men who travel some distance to the Apprentice Boys parades, they will only rarely be involved in parades outside their home county.
4.3 Band Parading Practices
Although the bands seem to be a support act at parades organised by the loyal orders, for many of the spectators it is the bands that provide both the entertainment and the spectacle at these events. As one person told us - No-one is going to stand on the street to watch a few hundred Orangemen walk by, unless there are a few bands and some music as well’. Members of the loyal orders and newspaper reports also regularly judge the scale of a parade by the number of bands present, rather than by the number of members of the organising body.
The marching bands themselves can be grouped into a number of discrete categories. The most popular form is the flute band, which comprise a bass drum, four or more side drums and anything from a dozen to thirty-plus flautists. The marching flute bands can in turn be subdivided into ‘blood and thunder’ and ‘melody’ styles. The former play a single keyed flute, the latter use a five keyed instrument, even though it can be difficult to discern the difference on the parades. Flute bands are predominately male, but girls often form the colour party. In contrast, women and girls often play a prominent role in the accordion bands, who play a less raucous music based on accordions, side drums and a bass drum. Pipe bands, silver bands and full music flute bands also take part in some parades, particularly Black parades and those in rural areas. Many of the blood and thunder and melody bands parade regularly in competitions throughout the marching season, but the most important events remain the commemorative parades. The quality of a band is determined not so much by the number of trophies they win in competition but by the ease with which they get booked to attend the big parades.
While the bands display a considerable range in the total number of parades they attend, even a band that parades only at ‘Orange’ events is out more often than the vast majority of Orangemen. The blood and thunder bands concentrate on the main commemorative events and few of them play at church parades, where accordion or silver bands are more widely used. There is also less demand for blood and thunder bands in the rural areas, where traditional bands are preferred and lambegs are still often used to accompany a lodge. This can be illustrated by a comparison of the two Black parades held on 13 July 1994. The Lurgan town preceptories who paraded in Bangor were accompanied by 10 blood and thunder bands, 2 accordion bands and a single traditional flute band; in contrast, at the county parade in rural Scarva there were 20 accordion bands, 19 flute bands, 18 pipe bands and 12 blood and thunder bands.
Table 4.1: Events attended by a sample range of bands.
This table shows a sample of the range of parades attended by different bands, which are labeled A to H. All are blood and thunder except B which is a melody flute band. All competed in numerous band parades last year except A which was restructuring and training new members. A and B are based in north Belfast, C and D are from south Belfast area, E is from Co. Down, F from Co. Tyrone and G and H are from Co. Armagh.
Blood and thunder bands also dominated the recent Apprentice Boys Closing of the Gates parade in December 1995, which included only one accordion band and two traditional flute bands among the 22 which paraded the city. Only five of these bands were based in Deny. Although other bands had come from nearby villages like Burntollet and Newbuildings, six bands had traveled from the Belfast area and others were from Antrim, Castlederg, Garvagh, Markethill and Millisle.
When travelling to ‘Orange’ parades the bands may have their costs covered by the lodge they accompany, but they also travel extensively to band parades and it is the ever increasing number of these that provides the main social occasion for the bandsmen. It is at these events that networks of friendship and rivalry between bands are built and sustained. But they must be worked on to be maintained and so bands must constantly attend other parades. A few examples to illustrate this point: the Red Hand Defenders parade in Downpatrick, held at the end of the marching season in September, drew 19 bands. Many of these were from nearby: Crossgar, Killyleagh and Inch. But others came from further afield: Banbridge, Belfast, Bessbrook, Kilkeel, Lisburn, Newtownards, Rathfriland and Waringstown. Some of the big band parades in Belfast attract 40 or more bands from as far as Ballymena, Castlederg, Coleraine, Londonderry, Markethill, Portadown and smaller places in between. The biggest parades in recent years in Ballymena and Markethill, draw bands from a similar broad area. One Belfast band travelled to Antrim, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Clogh Mills, Craigavon, Crossgar, Donaghadee and Maghera last year, as well as playing at numerous parades in the Greater Belfast area, while one of the Portadown bands played at competitions in Belfast, Enniskillen and Londonderry and numerous places nearer to home.
The growth in numbers of blood and thunder bands, and the parallel development of band parades, marks a ‘new wave’ in the loyalist parading culture. At the same time the heightened visibility of bandsmen in often elaborate uniforms, along with the adoption of paramilitary insignia and symbols on band regalia, have made the bands an easy target to be represented as the ‘cause’ of problems and violence at parades. However, as we indicate later, band parades themselves only rarely provoke protests or degenerate into violence. Band parades are less easily cloaked in the garments of tradition and are therefore more easily restricted under public order legislation. Most band parades are kept away from nationalist areas and only in isolated cases have bands demanded the right to march into the centre of marginal or mixed areas. This is not to suggest that individual bands or bandsmen do not increase tension or animosity by playing party tunes or playing louder at particular places, but that this largely happens at parades organised by the loyal orders.
Last Modified by Martin Melaugh :