The birthplace of Orangeism will host the largest Twelfth of July demonstration this summer, it has been confirmed.
The conservation village of Loughgall will be one of 17 venues across Northern Ireland holding processions to mark the 328th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.
Preparations are at an advanced stage for the biggest day in the parading calendar, with upwards of an estimated half-a-million people expected to participate or spectate in what is widely regarded as one of the largest annual festivals in Europe.
Thousands of Orangemen, women and juniors – accompanied by over 600 marching bands – will step out at the various locations with much pageantry, colour and heritage on display.
The traditional sight and sound of Lambeg drums will add to the festivities in Co Armagh. The parade will pass the Museum of Orange Heritage at Sloan’s House, where the Orange Institution was founded in 1795 following the Battle of the Diamond, located on the outskirts of Loughgall.
A large Scottish contingent is expected in Belfast, as the city hosts the longest Twelfth parade on the day, with participants walking over six miles to the field. The capital and Ballymena are the only venues where Twelfth demonstrations occur annually.
Other significant parades will take place in Londonderry, Brookeborough (Fermanagh), Ballyclare (Antrim), Donaghcloney (Down) and Stewartstown (Tyrone).
Meanwhile, breaking with tradition, over 1,000 Orangemen from Mourne District will join their neighbouring brethren at the Newcastle demonstration.
Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Edward Stevenson, hailed the enhanced cultural experience offered by the yearly celebrations.
“The Twelfth of July offers a unique opportunity for the Orange Institution and the bands community to showcase our culture and heritage, and we are confident of welcoming increasing numbers of visitors, tourists and families to all of our parades,” he said.
“There are very few events on these islands that can bring such vast numbers of people onto the streets, either by taking part or simply to watch the music and pageantry.”
Mr Stevenson will be in attendance at the Castlederg demonstration.
The senior Orangeman added: “The Twelfth 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 British heritage. Our proud cultural traditions will once again be on display at 17 venues throughout Northern Ireland.”
The Twelfth demonstrations will follow the traditional Rossnowlagh parade held in the Republic on the preceding weekend. This year the annual Donegal procession takes place on Saturday July 7.
The 17 demonstrations on Thursday July 12 2018, will be held in Loughgall, Belfast, Brookeborough, Stewartstown, Castlederg, Ballygawley, Newtownards, Newcastle, Donaghcloney, Londonderry, Garvagh, Ballyclare, Aghalee, Broughshane, Ballymena, Portglenone and Rasharkin.