Somme centenary will add a special poignancy to Twelfth celebrations
Prince's visit to Order's Armagh birthplace was big highlight, writes Edward Stevenson
Today, tens of thousands of people will participate in or spectate at what is now widely regarded as one of the largest community festivals in Europe. At homes and Orange halls across the province there will be a real sense of excitement this morning as Orangemen and women don their collarettes, musicians make final adjustments to their instruments and banners are unfurled.
Grandparents, parents and young children alike will come together to enjoy the culture, music and pageantry of the Twelfth of July.
It is always a distinctly family affair, providing an opportunity to reminisce and catch up with old friends - as well as making new ones.
Once again, our brethren from the border counties are assured of a warm welcome. So too are those Orangemen and women who regularly join our ranks from across the United Kingdom.
Such is the worldwide appeal of our institution that members of the Orange fraternity from as far away as the United States and Canada will also be on parade this year.
Indeed, we continue to witness an increasing number of international visitors lining the footpaths, who are keen to experience at first-hand the spectacle of the biggest day in the loyal orders' parading calendar.
Surely, there is no other event on these islands that can bring such huge numbers of people on to the streets to enjoy our parades, either by taking part or simply to watch them go by?
I, myself, will have the pleasure of participating in this year's largest Co Londonderry demonstration in Limavady. From the Roe Valley to the Clogher Valley and further afield, our proud traditions will be on display - and equally apparent - at 18 separate venues throughout Northern Ireland.
Among them, the largest and one of the most scenic Twelfth parades have been selected as tourist flagships.
The parades in Portadown and Kilkeel will provide an enhanced cultural experience this year with both host districts offering a varied programme of events surrounding their respective demonstrations - as well as the colour, music and pageantry associated with the largest day in the parading calendar.
The flagship programme, which has been constantly evolving for more than 10 years, has been an enormous success and has helped to develop the potential of and broaden the appeal of our parades.
As part of our cultural tourism offering visitors will also be welcomed to each venue by fully accredited welcome hosts. July 12 is truly a day like no other as we celebrate much that is important to the reformed faith, our civil and religious liberties and our Protestant heritage.
This year, however, will have an added poignancy as we also commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
Orangemen and women will wear poppies on their collarettes as a potent symbol of the immeasurable sacrifice of our forefathers on the battlefields of northern France 100 years ago.
We will remember with pride those servicemen from the 36th (Ulster) Division and all who fought for King and country and reflect on the many tens of thousands of members of our institution worldwide who bravely enlisted at that time.
As an institution, we recall the courage and fearlessness of those who fought at the Somme and other battlefields; many who took their Orange ritual and tradition with them to the trenches, with some even wearing their sashes as they went over the top to face the enemy.
Today, we parade in their honour.
As well as publicly reaffirming our faith and British heritage, our Twelfth resolutions will also pay tribute to Her Majesty the Queen, in this her 90th year.
What a magnificent accomplishment for the United Kingdom's longest reigning monarch, who has devoted her entire life to the service of her country and the Commonwealth.
The Queen's extraordinary dedication, faith and unfailing sense of duty are simply incomparable - acting always in the best interests of her subjects.
In May we were delighted to welcome her eldest son, Prince Charles, to the birthplace of Orangeism in Co Armagh.
The royal visit to the Museum of Orange Heritage in Loughgall will live long in the memory for all of those in attendance.
The symbolism of the occasion cannot be underestimated, providing further vindication for the institution's ongoing community outreach.
From the humble confines of Sloan's parlour more than 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.
As we maintain our traditions and gather once 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.
I know fresh memories will continue to be forged around the experience, becoming milestones in people's minds and, in the years to come, will be recalled with much fondness, pride and affection.
As we celebrate the 326th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all your readers a glorious - and memorable - Twelfth of July.
- Edward Stevenson is grand master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland