Thousands take to streets of Belfast as the Somme parade passes off peacefully
A parade in east Belfast to mark the Battle of the Somme passed off without incident yesterday, police have said.
The Orange Order's annual parade featured around 34 bands and over 40 lodges and is the largest annual event to take place in the east of the city each year.
Check out pictures from last year's marches: Belfast - Annalong - Beragh - Cloughmills - Ballymena - Cookstown - Lisbellaw- Hillsborough - Bangor - Kilrea - Ballynahinch - Coleraine - Cullybackey - Clogher - Richhill - Newtownabbey - Broughshane - Banbridge - Ardoyne
This year's parade was held on a Monday as the anniversary fell on a Sunday.
A large police presence was on show in the Short Strand area before the parade began with steel barriers erected and road diversions in place.
Police said the heavy traffic disruption yesterday, particularly on the Albertbridge Road, was to be expected and "contrary to some reports on social media there have been no issues or disorder in any part of the city linked to this event".
There were also claims made on social media that a bus was attacked and windows were broken. Translink later said that one bus had been delayed by anti-social behaviour on the Albertbridge Road, but there was no actual damage caused to the vehicle.
Rev Mervyn Gibson, the Orange Order's Grand Secretary, was still in the crowds watching bands go by well after 10pm last night.
"I would say there's been record crowds out to watch it and it's been a tremendous success," he said.
"There were no incidents anywhere as far as I'm aware, so it's been a good parade all round."
He said claims of "disorder" that had been linked to the parade turned out to be "nonsense".
"The crowds have been fantastic, six or seven deep and even more in some places on the main routes," he said.
Rev Gibson said the short Act of Remembrance held at the Strandtown War Memorial had been a personal highlight.
"We had people walking up from Armagh, Banbridge, Antrim and Carrick with us."
He said he also hoped more people from a nationalist background had been able to enjoy the day.
"We don't know who is watching, but up at the Ballyhackamore area for example I would hope more people are getting the chance to see it," he said.
"As we move further away from the Troubles I hope more people feel able to enjoy the parades - it sets the tone for a great Twelfth of July and it doesn't hurt the weather's great."
The Battle of the Somme began on July 1, 1916 and over 3,500 men from across Ireland lost their lives, with over 40,000 perishing in the war.
The men of the 36th (Ulster) Division played a major role in the fighting, losing 2,069 men at the Somme.
The organisers have said the event is the longest running parade to mark the Somme in the world.
Speaking ahead of the event, Ballymacarrett District Master Brother Raymond Spiers said it was a deeply important fixture in east Belfast.
"The Battle of the Somme parade is the largest annual event in east Belfast, when thousands honour those who fought and died. It is always a very special night," he said.
On Sunday, the 102nd anniversary of the Somme was marked with ceremonies of remembrance all over Northern Ireland as well as on the battlefields of France.
At Belfast City Hall, Deputy Lord Mayor Emmet McDonough Brown laid a wreath at the Cenotaph and was joined by representatives of the armed forces, with the Irish business minister Heather Humphreys representing Dublin.
Sinn Fein's Lord Mayor Deirdre Hargey did not attend, but she left a laurel wreath before the service began, following a tradition created by the party's first Lord Mayor Alex Maskey in 2002.