14 July 2008

Royal York in the Newsletter Supplement

Orangefest draws the crowds in Belfast

The Twelfth of July burst back on to the streets of Belfast this year in a bright symphony of colour, music and enthusiasm. More than 1200 lodges and 700 bands took part in the festivities across the Province marking the 318th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.

A blend of lodge and band members young and old, male and female congregated at Carlisle Circus to set off.

The early grey skies and mizzley rain in the morning soon gave way to glorious sunshine baking the thousands who turned out along the route
to the field at Barnett's Demense.

While the Twelfth is currently undergoing an image revival, one of the founding ideals of the order - to bring together Protestants from all walks, was evident both among those parading and those watching with elected representatives taking a break from the Big House to don their collarettes.

Among the politicians on parade were Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey, North Belfast DUP Assembly Member Nelson McCausland, North Down DUP Assembly Member Peter Weir and Belfast DUP City Councillor Christopher Stalford.

Even politicians from across the water were among the crowd including former Conservative shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe, who was spotted talking to television cameras while drawing curious looks from passers-by.

A variety of languages mingled with local voices among the spectators with TV crew taking full advantage interviewing tourists from mainland Britain, the US, Europe and Africa.

One American woman told the News Letter that while she had heard of the Twelfth before, she hadn't realised the significance of the date when she booked her trip.

"I'm having a great time at it though and I'd definitely think about coming back again for it," she said.

The main parade left Carlisle Circus at 10am for a wreath-laying ceremony at the City Hall before winding its way through the city centre streets to Barnett's Demense.

Traditional hymns and marching tunes such as The Sash were joined by modern classics such as Yellow Submarine by the Beatles on the playlist of the bands.

Departing from the typically male stereotype which dogs the order, an exclusively female band and lodge from Glasgow raised a cheer as they paraded past resplendent in all pink uniforms.

The News Letter followed the progress of one of Belfast's oldest lodges, the Royal York 145 from Carlisle Circus to Barnett's Demense.

Their distinguished membership includes Ulster Unionist Lords Laird and Rogan.

Despite being one of the oldest lodges in the city, they can also boast one of the youngest Worshipful Masters in Ireland, Graham Barton (23).

The Royal York were accompanied by a float depicting the history of "Brethren in Arms" with members in costume representing fallen Brothers in the Williamite Wars, the 1798 rebellion, the First World War, World War Two, the RUC, the UDR and the "modern Orange Soldier".

Worshipful Master Brother Graham Barton said while some may see the display as provocative, the lodge wanted to remember the sacrifice made by past members.

"We felt it was very important to remember our fallen brethren," he said.

At the field the lodge members took the opportunity to rest tired feet and refuel with an impressive buffet style lunch prepared by the ladies of the lodge

Entertainment included a piper, songs and Ulster-Scots poetry and readings.

Veteran lodge member Brother John Harcourt got a special cheer as he collected his medal after 50 years service.

Outside the Royal York tent spectators were treated to a carnival like atmosphere in the field with live music as friends and family caught up with lodge and band members for a well deserved lunch.

A more sombre tone prevailed during the service of thanksgiving at the main platform when the 90th anniversary of the 1918 Armistice - which silenced the heavy guns of the First World War after four years of fighting - was acknowledged.

After walking almost ten miles to the field and back, a weary procession made their way back to Belfast Orange Hall at Carlisle Circus.

Despite a scattering of protesters at the latter stages of the return journey, the 2008 was a more colourful, peaceful and multi-cultural Twelfth than ever before.

First published in the Newsletter Twelfth Supplement Monday 14th July 2008