Belfast Telegraph

Twelfth celebrations biggest in generation: Grand Master

By Staff Reporters

This year's Twelfth was the "biggest in a generation," with unprecedented numbers enjoying the festivities, the head of the Orange Order has said.

And the family-friendly atmosphere was praised not just by Grand Master Edward Stevenson, but one of Northern Ireland's most senior police officers who described it as "the most peaceful Twelfth of July for some years".

A delighted Mr Stevenson said: "The 327th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne will be forever remembered for the unprecedented numbers of people celebrating the largest annual festival in Northern Ireland.

"The wonderful weather exceeded our expectations; as did the tens of thousands of our members, band personnel and supporters, taking part in or lining the routes of 18 venues across the province.

Check out pictures from: Belfast - Annalong - Beragh - Cloughmills - Ballymena - Cookstown - Lisbellaw- Hillsborough Bangor - Kilrea - Ballynahinch - Coleraine - Cullybackey - Clogher Richhill - Newtownabbey - Broughshane - Banbridge Ardoyne

"Such a phenomenal spectacle bears testament to the continuing relevance and wide appeal of Orangeism.

"From Belfast to Banbridge, Cookstown to Coleraine, counties Armagh to Antrim, and further afield, the family-friendly and carnival atmosphere of our cultural heritage was equally apparent."

A total of just nine arrests were made over the Eleventh Night and Twelfth, with yesterday's parades passing off peacefully in places once marred by violence.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: "We have dealt with a number of minor incidents throughout the day and have made a small number of arrests but these were very much in the margins of what has been widely described as the most peaceful Twelfth of July for some years and a model for years to come."

Meanwhile, the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Rev Dr Laurence Graham, described the difference between an east Belfast bonfire on the Eleventh Night and the Orange Parade from the Ardoyne yesterday morning as "a tale of two cities".

"This morning the parade of Orange Lodges passing the Ardoyne Shops, a parade which in the recent past provoked angry and physical protests, passed in a respectful and dignified manner," he said.

"This in marked contrast to a bonfire in east Belfast which not only burned the election posters of parties they did not agree with but went beyond this by burning a coffin bearing the image of the late Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness.

"I join with many others in praying for more of the kind of reconciling conversation which led to the peaceful passing of the parade in Ardoyne."

At Twelfth Fields around Northern Ireland yesterday, the "militant cultural imperialism" of republicans and the Irish language was the focus for many of those speaking from platforms.

In Ballynahinch, the Orange Deputy Grand Master Harold Henning told crowds the Irish language was being used as a "cultural weapon" by republicans.

He insisted the Orange Order had no issue with the Irish language itself, noting a former Belfast Grand Master had championed the Irish language in the early 20th century.

"Language should threaten no-one -however, when language is used as a cultural weapon by political republicanism it clearly becomes a threat to our identity and community," he said.

"Republicans have driven more people away from ever cultivating a genuine interest in Irish language than they will ever attract to it through their current radical proposals."

In Bangor, the Institution's Grand Secretary Rev Mervyn Gibson accused the Parades Commission of being a "curse" on the Orange Order and added to the opposition towards an Irish language act.

"There has been talk about cultural rights and how we deny people their right to an Irish language," he said.

"The Irish language poses no threat to Northern Ireland; the threat arises when republicans politicise it and want to elevate it to a position that is neither sustainable or warranted.

"Respect, toleration and equality, all work both ways."

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