Belfast Telegraph

Twelfth 2016 Portadown: Expectations exceeded as 25,000 turn out for Orange Order's flagship

by rachel martin

Around 25,000 cheering spectators turned out to watch the bands at this year's flagship Twelfth parade in Portadown - 10,000 more than expected.

And almost 5,000 Orangemen marched the six-mile-long route through the town that hosted one of the very first Orange marches back in 1796.

According to its County Grand Secretary, Roger Gardiner, Co Armagh has recently seen a resurgence in its membership. He said that over the last four years, membership had enjoyed a year-on-year increase of between 10 and 15%.

In total, 11 district lodges and 154 private lodges took part in this year's parade, including three Scottish lodges.

A common theme throughout this year's celebrations was the Battle of the Somme.

As the parade passed through the town it stopped at the War Memorial for a service reflecting on who those lost their lives in both world wars and more recent conflicts.

And in his speech, Orange Deputy Grand Master Harold Henning also paid a touching tribute to those men who fought and died for their country a century ago.

He said: "Earlier this month we remembered with dignity and pride the men of the 36th Ulster Division and our Orange brethren who paid the supreme sacrifice at the Battle of the Somme.

"I had the humble privilege to spend four days at the Somme and Flanders to pay homage to all those that died serving King and Country.

"We think of all those who fought and died, including John, James and Samuel Donaldson of Comber Old Standard LOL 567 in my own county of Down who all fell in France. The military contribution of our Institution was immense, with a small number of brethren receiving the Victoria Cross in recognition of their valour and heroism."

This year the parade thankfully passed off peacefully, but there were references to the past, when Portadown's marching dispute was at the centre of worldwide attention.

In the second half of the 1990s, violence flared annually between loyalists wanting to walk the Garvaghy Road and nationalist residents protesting against their presence.

A group of Orangemen have staged a protest in the town every Sunday since the Drumcree parade was banned from passing along the Garvaghy Road in 1998.

Mr Henning also paid a strong tribute to those involved in the Orange Order's weekly protests at Drumcree. Mr Henning said: "I know that as a district it is now almost 20 years since you have been able to complete the return parade from Drumcree Parish Church at your annual service.

"I commend the officers for their efforts on mediation and their offer to talk to the residents through facilitators which has unfortunately been met with no response.

"I pay tribute to these dedicated brethren who maintain the weekly protest.

"The Parades Commission continues to make ludicrous decisions against our traditional processions. There seems to an ongoing effort to suppress our cultural expression and religious freedom.

"The current legislation needs to be replaced with fair and equal laws, removing the republican veto."

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