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The Twelfth: Thousands attend annual Orange Order parades

By Rebecca Black

Tens of thousands of people are taking to the streets today for the biggest event in the Orange Order calendar.

The authorities have expressed cautious optimism that this year’s Twelfth will pass off peacefully, but a major policing operation is planned to deal with any unrest.

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First Minister Arlene Foster will attend a Twelfth demonstration at Maguiresbridge, Co Fermanagh, in her home constituency. The DUP leader will also travel to the picturesque Co Down village of Scarva tomorrow to attend the annual Royal Black Institution’s Sham Fight.

Writing in today’s Belfast Telegraph, the Orange Order’s Grand Master, Edward Stevenson, said the Twelfth celebrations have grown over the past 200 years to become an event unrivalled across the British Isles.

Generations of many families will step out together today to celebrate King William of Orange’s victory over King James at the Boyne in 1690. This year, Portadown and Kilkeel have been selected to host tourist flagship events.

In total, some 18 demonstrations and nearly 600 loyal order parades are due to take place across Northern Ireland.

Events are planned in Belfast, Maguiresbridge, Limavady, Castledawson, Coagh, Newtownstewart, Aughnacloy, Donaghadee, Comber, Dromore, Randalstown, Lisburn, Ballymena, Glenarm, Ahoghill and Ballycastle. Ballymena and Belfast are the only places that host a Twelfth demonstration every year, while across the rest of Northern Ireland the parades rotate around a number of towns.

Mr Stevenson, who will take part in the largest Co Londonderry demonstration, in Limavady, said every July more international visitors flocked to witness the spectacle.

“From the humble confines of Sloan’s parlour over 200 years ago and the signing of the first Orange warrants, the roots of Orangeism have grown and flourished into the worldwide organisation it is today,” he writes in today’s Belfast Telegraph.

“As we maintain our traditions and gather again in Christian fellowship, practising our way of life like our forefathers before us, we trust the next generation will ensure Orangeism and its values will be maintained.”

The Orange Order is encouraging its members, loyalist bands and supporters to stay off alcohol, with a campaign titled It’s About the Battle, not the Bottle. The Order plans to hand out thousands of bottles of water branded with the slogan.

Mrs Foster, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Justice Minister Claire Sugden called for a “peaceful, respectful and safe parading season”. In a joint statement, they said: “As we move into a period which has in the past resulted in heightened tensions, we encourage everyone to conduct themselves in a dignified and lawful way.”

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