Belfast Telegraph

Twelfth: It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen, says spectator from China

Sophie Black, Bobbie Joe Connor, Pheonix Magee and Lauren McCurry
Sophie Black, Bobbie Joe Connor, Pheonix Magee and Lauren McCurry
Jodie Parkhill
Ice-cream queue
Ryan Hutchinson with his 12th shades
Lydia Simpson, Isaac Simpson and Daisy Patterson
Leona O'Neill

Leona O'Neill

It may have been raining - but it didn't worry the thousands of people who took part in the Co Londonderry Twelfth parade, which weaved through the town just two days before the eyes of the world descended on the area for The Open.

Coleraine District once again played host to brethren from Limavady and Macosquin Districts, as well as the City of Londonderry County Grand Lodge, incorporating lodges and bands from north Donegal.

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More than 60 lodges and 40 bands passed through a packed town centre en route to 'the field', which this year was situated at Coleraine Showgrounds.

Enjoying the proceedings were Carl Oxley and his family. "This is a real family day out for us," he said. "It probably doesn't mean as much to me now as it did when I was a child, but it's a nice day out with the kids and lets them enjoy some culture."

And it wasn't just the bands people were in town to see. The Open fans were also trying to kill two birds with one stone.

Ballymoney man Michael Liken is marshalling at The Open on Sunday and came down to fit the Twelfth in to a packed weekend, too.

"I came here today to see the bands with my family and on Sunday, all the professionals are coming to The Open practice, so this is the start of a really fun-filled weekend for me."

Lily, a student from China, who was observing the parade, said it was "like nothing she had ever seen".

"I am here for a summer camp," she said. "This parade is great. I'm not sure what it is for, but it is colourful and noisy." The remnants of the Eleventh night bonfire was still smouldering and sending thick smoke across their path as they filed into the home of Coleraine Football Club.

Inside the demonstration field, stalls selling a mismatch of items - from UVF flags, to 'Soldier F' t-shirts, to Harry Potter wands and jewellery, to UDA music CDs and badges - lined one wall, while ice cream and burger vans, the queues for which ran 100 deep, ran parallel.

Liz McIlhaggerton and her daughter, Lisa, said they came every year for a "good family day out" and wondered why there were so few tourists.

"I haven't seen as many tourists as I was expecting, given The Open," said Liz. "I think perhaps The Twelfth wasn't well publicised and visitors maybe didn't know it was on. Tourists I spoke to during the week didn't know this was happening and it doesn't seem to be in the What's On guides, perhaps because of our divided history."

The platform for speeches was this year set up on the sidelines of the football pitch and the stands were a sea of orange collarettes, as opposed to the blue and white scarves normally seen at the Coleraine FC matches.

As he took his seat in the stands, Don Pearson, District Master of Raphoe LOL in Donegal, said he felt "at home" as an Orangeman in Northern Ireland.

"It is a family and religious tradition to come here," he said. "For us, from east Donegal where we are a minority, coming here is special. It is nice to be able to come and be in a friendly space and be embraced by our brethren.

"We have a great relationship with our own communities, but we feel more at home here.

"There is a growing trend, and we are pushing this, for it to be OK to be an Irishman and an Orangeman, and that is just beginning to be accepted."

Guest speaker, Past Grand Master of Scotland Henry Dunbar, used the platform to criticise "nationalist attempts to use Brexit to threaten the political integrity of the UK". He said: "Here in Northern Ireland, you have Sinn Fein refusing to go back into government at Stormont, playing up Leo Varadkar's reckless warnings about border controls and a return to violence.

"In England, there's been an alarming growth in English nationalism and a growing weariness and impatience with the other parts of the union."

Mr Dunbar said that "the vexatious matter of Brexit has been a frustration to us all" and that the new Prime Minister has to "get the job done".

"We live in troubled times," he said, "and we must be concerned to defend those things we hold dear - our civil and religious liberty and our constitutional monarchy and our democracy."

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