October 31, 2020

Twelfth: Bands march in local Twelfth parades across NI

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Media captionTwelfth: ‘It’s different but it’s still the Twelfth of July’

Bands have been marching in their own Twelfth of July parades across Northern Ireland.

The Orange Order called off large demonstrations because of Covid-19 and asked people to celebrate the event in their own homes and gardens.

But the Parades Commission was notified of 248 parades from individual bands.

The Order said it did not want people to follow the bands or congregate in groups of more than 30 people due to coronavirus regulations.

Its advice was followed in some areas but social distancing was ignored in some areas of Belfast.

A crowd of more than 100 people gathered on the Shankill Road, where people thronged the footpaths and stood outside bars to watch one of the bands which had been playing.

Image caption A crowd gathered on the Shankill Road on Monday afternoon

In the south of the city people lined Egmont Gardens, off the Donegall Road, to watch a parade.

However, in many other areas in Belfast, people stayed in their homes and watched bands as they passed.

After viewing pictures of the Shankill Road, the Order’s grand secretary, the Rev Mervyn Gibson, said what happened must be “put into perspective”.

He told the BBC: “Normally we have up to half a million people on the streets of Northern Ireland on the Twelfth day.

“If you are talking about one or two pubs with more than 30 gathered outside them, it’s no different to what happened in Ballyholme (beach) etc.

“It doesn’t make it right but I hope the police will encourage those people to go home.”

He added: “The vast majority of people on the Shankill obeyed the regulations and stayed at home and I would applaud everyone for doing that.”

However, Sinn Féin’s Gerry Kelly said social distancing rules were broken at a number of parades.

“Clearly that was a nonsense to say that [social distancing] was going to happen,” he said.

Image caption A “No surrender to Covid-19” sign was erected in Belfast

‘Officers worked tirelessly’

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said he was pleased that the day passed off without major incident.

He said: “I would like to thank and acknowledge the hard work of the organisers of many of today’s events and those within local communities who contributed to this largely successful day.

“I would also like to thank my officers and staff who have worked tirelessly and will continue to do so throughout the night to keep our communities safe.”

ACC Todd urged everyone to work with the PSNI to ensure that the rest of the holiday period remained peaceful.

Each year, the Orange Order marks the anniversary of the victory of Protestant William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690.

Commemorations are usually held on 12 July but due to the Twelfth falling on a Sunday this year, it is being marked on Monday, 13 July.

On Monday morning, the Orange Order held a religious service and wreath-laying ceremony at the cenotaph in the grounds of Belfast City Hall.

Image copyright Graham Baalham-Curry
Image caption The Orange Order held a wreath-laying ceremony at the cenotaph in Belfast

In Armagh, a short wreath-laying ceremony was held on the Mall, in memory of lodge members killed during the Troubles.

BBC News NI’s Mark Simpson: Social distancing started to crumble

It’s been an evolving situation on the Shankill Road today – I first drove up it at 10 o’clock this morning, not a problem, a few people on the streets, you could hear a few bands in local housing estates.

I went back at three o’clock and you could see that social distancing was starting to crumble on parts of the road, mainly outside bars.

By four o’clock a very loud, noisy crowd had developed, you couldn’t get down the road, people either had to turn around and go elsewhere or wait.

A crowd – and this is a conservative estimate – of 100 people, if not more, gathered on the road dancing along with a stationary band.

Any other year it wouldn’t be all that remarkable, but there was virtually no social distancing.

But I’ve been all round Belfast today and this is very much the exception to the rule.

In Londonderry, Victor Wray of City of Londonderry Grand Orange Lodge laid a wreath with fellow members in the Fountain estate.

“It’s a different type of Twelfth, but one in which we must follow government guidelines and save lives,” he said.

Elsewhere in the county, Twelfth commemorations were brought to the doorstep of local residents in the village of Newbuildings.

Image caption Families celebrate in their gardens in Newbuildings, County Londonderry

The Pride of Orange and Blue flute band played a number of hymns before parading around the area.

In County Fermanagh, the Enniskillen Fusiliers Flute Band paraded through the town with small groups of people lining part of the route, while other parts of the town were deserted.

Image caption In Florencecourt, County Fermanagh, a new arch had been put up this year

Outside the Old Gate Orange Hall in Florencecourt, County Fermanagh, a new arch had been put up this year.

Although unable to march, lodge members gathered outside to display their old banners, including two from the 1930s.

In the Clogher Valley, Orange Order members took to their tractors to parade around local halls.

Around 60 tractors took part and many were decorated with union flags, balloons and orange banners, while others paid tribute to the NHS.

Image caption Orange Order members paraded in tractors in County Tyrone

“We didn’t want the occasion to pass unmarked so being a rural and agricultural community, what better way to mark it than with a tractor run?” said Ian McClung, district secretary of Fivemiletown District.

“Rather than people coming together in one place for the Twelfth, we brought the Twelfth to the people.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption People gathered in their front gardens this year to hear the bands

“We asked people to decorate their tractors appropriately. We have the normal decorations that you see around the Twelfth, but also a number of flags and banners in support of the NHS.

“We are very conscious of the role the NHS and health workers have played in the current crisis and we have many members associated with that ourselves, so we want to just say thank you to them.”

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Twelfth of July celebrations took place in Portadown with six local bands parading through streets.

Health minister Robin Swann, who attended a drive-in service organised by the Ballymena district lodge on Sunday, had urged people to follow the regulations set by the Northern Ireland Executive.

The latest Covid-19 guidance from the Northern Ireland Executive allows for up to 30 people to meet outdoors while social distancing, so many smaller parades were given the go-ahead.

The Parades Commission said it considered it necessary to impose restrictions on three parades based upon “pre-existing parading tensions in those specific locations”.

It added there had been a “high level of positive engagement with the vast majority of organisers”.