The flagships will be the standard bearers for the 18 demonstrations being organised by the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland on Tuesday, July 12, 2011.
The Twelfth in Randalstown, organised by the East Antrim Combine, and the Mid-Down demonstration in Comber, will enjoy flagship status this year.
Grand Lodge will now work closely with the organisers of the flagships to promote the Twelfth.
The Orange Order Director of Services, Dr. David Hume explained:
“This is the sixth anniversary of our Twelfth Tourist Flagship programme and we believe that it has been a huge success and has helped to develop the potential of the parades. We know that more than half a million people either take part in the parades or watch them – that is a huge proportion of the population. For very many people it is the biggest day of the year.
“There is strong evidence that an increasing number of tourists are planning trips to Northern Ireland at that time of year so they can see the parades. All of our parades are very important and we will be working with all the organisers to maximise the positive impact of the Twelfth parades. But Grand Lodge decided that we should put a special effort into the two flagship demonstrations in Randalstown and Comber.
“The Twelfths in Randalstown and Comber will be big occasions with huge crowds. The organisers are working on programmes of events leading up to the big day and there will be plenty for people to see and enjoy.
“The idea behind the Flagship Twelfths is to look at the demonstrations through the eyes of tourists. We are thrilled by the number of people who come out to enjoy the Twelfth but we are never really satisfied. We want even more people, and visitors, to enjoy the spectacle and understand its importance to this community.
“Cultural tourism is a growing industry and we are determined that the Orange Order will play its part in developing this sector of business. We have been working closely with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Tourism Ireland to attract more visitors to the province in July and they have been extremely helpful.
“The Twelfth of July offers a unique opportunity for the Orange Institution and the bands community to showcase our culture and heritage and we are confident of welcoming increasing numbers of visitors, tourists and families, to the event in the years ahead. While every Twelfth celebration is in our opinion worth visiting, the flagship venues have an added element of specifically catering for tourists through the Welcome Host programme and additional attractions and we are delighted at the efforts made by those venues.”
The Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Edward Stevenson, said:
“The Twelfth is a unique day. It has special significance in the history and culture of our country and is enjoyed by massive crowds. There is no other single event that can produce crowds like the Twelfth. Right across Northern Ireland, and in Co. Donegal the weekend before, tens of thousands of people will be attending Twelfth demonstrations. There are 18 different locations in Northern Ireland, all with distinct characteristics that make it such a special day of religion, culture, music and pageantry.
“We want people to visit theTwelfth and enjoy the atmosphere for themselves and we believe that the work we are doing with the tourist authorities is crucially important.”
The East Antrim Twelfth in Randalstown will see approximately 3,000 Orangemen, from nine districts, on parade. About 60 bands will take part in the parade, which will also include the Junior Orange Order, Ladies Orange Lodges and members from England and Scotland.
This year is the 95th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme and this takes on special significance for Randalstown as the site for the Twelfth Field at Dunmore Park was used as a training camp for soldiers prior to them going off to fight in France.
A number of events are planned to mark the anniversary and an exhibition of artefacts from the First World War will be on show prior to the Twelfth.
The other Flagship Twelfth is in Comber and more than 60 lodges, accompanied by about 40 bands, will be on parade in the historic town.
Comber is the gateway to the tourist area surrounding Strangford Lough and is rich in heritage. It was the home of the Andrew’s Family who were key in the building of the Titanic and a large statue of the 18th century Army General Rollo Gillespie stands in the square. The town is also the birthplace of Edwin De Wind, who won a Victoria Cross in the First World War.
The organisers are drawing up plans for a number of major local events leading up the Twelfth.
The Rossnowlagh Twelfth in Co. Donegal will be on Saturday, July 9.
The demonstrations in Northern Ireland, on Tuesday, July 12, will be in:
Belfast, Killylea, Lisnaskea, Stewartstown, Sixmilecross, Clogher,Limavady, Ballyronan, Cullybackey, Ballycastle, Broughshane, Randalstown, Ballymena, Aghalee, Holywood, Comber, Rathfriland and Ballymartin.