Belfast Telegraph

Edward Stevenson: From Loughgall to Londonderry, Brookeborough to Belfast, is there another event in these islands to match the pageantry of the Twelfth?

 

Later today, tens of thousands of people will participate or spectate in what is now widely regarded as one of the largest community festivals in Europe. Right 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, sandwiches are packed 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.

There will also be an enhanced international dimension to our celebrations this year, following a very successful Orange Imperial Council, held last week in Edinburgh.

The worldwide Orange family will be very much apparent and made most welcome, with visitors from as far away as Australia, New Zealand, America and Canada.

We continue to witness an increasing number of international visitors to our celebrations, who are keen to experience first-hand the spectacle of the biggest day in the parading calendar. High-calibre music provided by some of the finest marching bands will only add to the festival atmosphere.

From Loughgall to Londonderry, Brookeborough to Belfast and further afield, our proud traditions will be on display at 17 different venues.

I, myself, will have the pleasure of participating in my "home" Twelfth in Castlederg. I attend many Orange events across the province and further afield, but there is always a special feeling spending the day in my native west Tyrone, in the company of my own lodge, family and friends. This will be the case for many enjoying the public holiday across Northern Ireland.

The Orange institution is always seeking to develop the potential of and broaden the appeal of our parades.

Anyone seeking to learn more about our cultural heritage can be assured of a warm and hospitable welcome.

We are delighted to cater for members of the public, not necessarily from the Orange tradition, on a daily basis at our Museums of Orange Heritage in Belfast and Loughgall.

Through these modern interpretative centres we are continuing to create a better understanding of Orangeism, its history and place in modern society to a wider and more receptive audience, including many schoolchildren from across the community divide.

Indeed, last month we were very pleased to welcome Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to our headquarters.

During his visit, it was clear he was genuinely interested in the Orange history and the many artefacts relating to the Glorious Revolution and the formation of the institution.

The Taoiseach was also shown a roll of honour dedicated to those Orangemen from Dublin who served during the Great War, one of numerous exhibits in our ongoing Service and Sacrifice exhibition.

Such a remembrance theme will also be evident at today's proceedings, as the institution commemorates the centenary of the ending of the First World War.

Armistice will be marked in our resolutions and in wreath-laying and some may also wear poppies on their collarettes as a potent symbol of the immeasurable sacrifice of our forefathers on the battlefields 100 years ago.

At the field, we will reflect on the many tens of thousands of members of our institution worldwide who bravely enlisted at that time.

We will also remember all those, regardless of background, who fought for King and country.

As well as publicly reaffirming our faith and British heritage, our resolutions will also pay tribute to Her Majesty the Queen and the Royal family.

The Queen's extraordinary dedication, faith and unfailing sense of duty are simply incomparable, acting always in the best interests of her subjects. The Orange fraternity was also delighted at the recent marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, also proudly known locally as Baron and Baroness Kilkeel.

Our institution, like the Royal family, has had to adapt to maintain its relevance in an ever-changing and modern world, whilst retaining its values. Later this year, we will host our second Orange Heritage Week, providing a full programme of events and activities informing audiences about the history and culture of the loyal order, its membership and its influence on wider society.

Taking place in September, we hope to once again showcase the impressive cultural heritage of Orangeism and underline its ongoing relevance in contemporary society.

Today, the significance of such Orange traditions will be underlined by the scale of our parades.

Surely, there is no other event on these islands that can bring such vast numbers of people on to the streets to enjoy our processions, either by taking part, or simply to watch them go by?

It is a custom which has been maintained for over 200 years, passed through generations, and no doubt will continue to be upheld for many years to come. Orangeism is ingrained in the cultural fabric of these islands and is a way of life for so many.

I know fresh memories will continue to be forged around the experience, which will be recalled with great pride and affection by all those involved on our annual flagship occasion.

Amid the celebrations, I trust and pray all of our parades at this busy juncture will take place in an atmosphere of mutual respect and tolerance.

As we mark the 328th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all Belfast Telegraph readers a memorable and glorious Twelfth of July.

Edward Stevenson is Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland

Belfast Telegraph

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