This year marks the first traditional Twelfth in three years after the 2020 and 2021 festivities were curtailed because of Covid.
For Orange Order Grand Secretary Rev Mervyn Gibson, it is a welcome return.
Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s marches, he said there were plans to modernise the institutions and the parades to make them more attractive to a wider audience, but at a pace that reflects the history of Northern Ireland.
“When someone joins the institutions, they are joining a family,” he added.
“We talk about the Orange family. That includes the bands and supporters and the wives and husbands and children who are not in the institutions.
“That family supports our culture and our tradition. We need to extend and promote that side of things more.”
With many of the issues surrounding contentious parades resolved and huge policing operations consigned to the past, Rev Gibson said the day should be one of “celebration”.
“I understand that during the Troubles it was all security policing, protecting the parade and protecting the people who were protecting the parade, but thankfully we’ve moved on from that,” he added.
“We had about five or 10 years when Sinn Fein decided to make us the focus of their attentions.
“While the Parades Commission is still a major issue for us, things have calmed down quite a bit around that, although I would say no thanks to them.
“We now simply want to go out and enjoy the day. For too long we allowed others with a hidden agenda to destroy our day.”
For the Grand Secretary, the Twelfth has an appeal that reaches far beyond Northern Ireland.
“Before Covid I met a man from Spain who had come here to watch the parades having previously been here on a cruise ship and seen them briefly. He wanted to come back and experience more,” he said.
“There’s the history, the pageantry and the colour, and I think we need to work more with the tourist board about attracting people here for the Twelfth.
“There are already a lot of people who come from Scotland and some from England as well, but I think there is an opportunity to attract more people.
“There are changes being made to the bonfires. If you look at pictures, such as the one in the shape of a teddy bear and the one built like a castle, people understand that it is not just doing a bonfire to burn flags. They want a bonfire to entertain their community.
“We get all the negativity — ‘It’s an old man’s organisation, the future isn’t good for unionism’ — but the future is secure, the future is in safe hands.”
Rev Gibson believes interest in the Orange Order grew in the aftermath of the pandemic.
“The Orange were in a place where we were able to help out during Covid and our numbers increased in many areas,” he said.
With the institution coming in for criticism over members being barred from marrying Catholics or attending Catholic church services, Rev Gibson said “there are always discussions” about potential changes.
“There is a new, outward-looking institution in all facets, whether it’s to do with religion or anything else,” he added.
“As the Troubles get further away, people can get more relaxed. However, there is the issue of legacy and there is the issue of the memorialising of those who murdered our members.”