50 Orange Order lodges descend on Co Donegal seaside village for parade
The rolling hills of Co Donegal provided a spectacular backdrop as 50 Orange Order lodges from across Ireland joined brethren from Northern Ireland for the 'Donegal Twelfth' at Rossnowlagh yesterday.
There was a festival atmosphere as thousands of people lined the quiet country roads surrounding the tiny Donegal seaside village as bands and members from Donegal, Cavan, Leitrim and Monaghan joined lodges from Fermanagh, Derry, Antrim and Armagh to march from St John's Parish Church to the demonstration field just yards from the shoreline of Rossnowlagh beach.
There they heard from Stuart Brooker, Assistant Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland and Co Donegal Grand Master, David Mahon.
Mr Mahon told Sunday Life that the Donegal Twelfth was the 'main day of the year' for southern orange men and women. "It lifts my heart to see people coming from the north to support us," he said. "There are many people whose family were originally from here and maybe their family moved away.
"So they love to come back to Rossnowlagh for the Twelfth. We are carrying on a tradition that has been here for hundreds of years."
After the speeches the beach was awash with orange sashes and many of the marchers cooled off in the waves at Rossnowlagh beach or queued 20-deep for ice creams and cold drinks from a variety of stalls and vans which lined the route.
Among those in attendance was DUP leader Arlene Foster who said the day was always very special.
"It's always a hugely enjoyable Twelfth in Rossnowlagh," she said. "It's always very relaxed and family focused. So it's great to be here again. It may be the Donegal Twelfth but you have bands and lodges from Tyrone and Fermanagh and even lodges from Belfast coming to support them.
"I'll be in Brookeborough in Co Fermanagh for the Twelfth this week. The day is a hugely important one in the calendar because we get a chance to enjoy the culture, the heritage, the bands, the music, to meet up with people that you haven't seen in a long time and to enjoy the day with family and friends, and that is always a very important part of the day."
Yesterday marked the start of the Orange Order's marching season and the only major march to take place in the Republic of Ireland.
The Twelfth in Donegal has been held in Rossnowlagh since the 1900s and has taken place every year since 1978. It is traditional to hold the parade on the Saturday before the main Twelfth parades, meaning lodges can also attend the demonstrations in Northern Ireland.
Thursday's celebrations across Northern Ireland will draw an estimated half-a-million people to participate or spectate in proceedings. As is tradition, Armagh will once again host the 'biggest Twelfth gathering in the world' as Orangemen and women from across the county congregate in the village of Richhill. Belfast will hold the longest parade on the day, with participants walking over six miles to the field.
Other sizeable parades will take place in Lisbellaw in Co Fermanagh, Cookstown in Co Tyrone, Coleraine in Co Derry, and Banbridge in Co Down.