Belfast Telegraph

Covenant parade biggest loyalist gathering for generations in Northern Ireland

It was one of the largest loyalist parades since the foundation of Northern Ireland, with tens of thousands of people turning out to mark the centenary of the Ulster Covenant.

A huge crowd of up to 30,000 people participated in the parade across Belfast, with countless more turning out to enjoy the spectacle as it weaved its way across the city.

And as the last marcher filed home with weary feet on Saturday evening there was a collective sigh of relief that the day had gone off much better than many dared hope.

There were accusations that some of the bands had pushed the boundaries of the Parades Commission’s ruling, particularly outside St Matthew’s Church, close to the Lower Newtownards Road.

But overall the PSNI was full of praise for everyone who played a part in making the day pass peacefully after weeks of tension.

History was very much to the fore for many of those taking part in the event, which saw the march begin in north Belfast, pass City Hall, where a number of events to mark the signing were held, and make its way to Stormont.

The sprawling grounds of the Estate saw a cultural festival marking the anniversary of the signing of the document in 1912, which laid the foundations for the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland a decade later.

Under the statue of Sir Edward Carson — the first man to sign the Ulster Covenant at Belfast City Hall in 1912 — the crowds of tens of thousands were addressed by the Grand Master of the Orange Lodge, Edward Stevenson.

During the religious service he called on unionists to remain “steadfast and loyal”.

Mr Stevenson described how the signing of the Ulster Covenant was a key event in shaping Northern Ireland. “It helped lay the foundation stone of the country we love so much,” he said.

The crowd spanned young and old and many recalled anecdotes which had been passed from generation to generation.

“My grandfather was one of the signatories,” said Janine Haveron. “We have a letter from him describing how he queued up to sign it. There was himself, his cousin, his neighbours. It seemed a really big event.”

James Patterson, his wife Joanne and two daughters had travelled from Co Armagh for the day. “It was important for us to be here,” said James. “It is a lovely day out, but there is also an important historical element.”

Assistant Chief Constable Will Kerr praised the efforts of those involved.

“The day passed off in relative peace and calm,” he said. “I would like to express my sincere thanks to all of those involved in the hard work behind the scenes over recent weeks, and right up to this evening, to make this possible.”

Despite the success of the mass celebration, the historic nature of the event went largely ignored by the London Press.

Among the national Press to completely ignore the event were the Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Express. The Sunday Times and Sun on Sunday both ran short articles.

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