Centre for the Study of Conflict
School of History, Philosophy and Politics,
Faculty of Humanities, University of Ulster
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A Discussion of Parading Disputes in Northern Ireland
This section offers a typology of parading based on the purpose
of the parade rather than on the group organising the event. It
is impossible to offer detailed numbers of the parades within
each category as no statistical details are available, however
an attempt is made to indicate the importance of each type of
parade. Loyalist parades can be broken down into nine relatively
2. Local Parades
3. Feeder Parades
4. Church Parades
5. Arch, Banner and Hall Parades
6. Social Parades
7. Occasional Parades
8. Competitive Band Parades
9. Commemorative Band Parades
These few dates form the heart of the parading calendar and constitute what most people understand as basis of the loyalist parading culture or tradition. They form only a small percentage of the total parades but they attract the largest numbers of both marchers and spectators. While all these parades have symbolic significance among the Ulster Protestants, it is possible to focus even more closely and say that the Twelfth of July and the Relief of Derry parades are the principal dates of the Marching Season.
The Boyne anniversary parades are always held on the twelfth of July itself and Scarva the day after, unless the day falls on a Sunday in which case they are held a day later. The Twelfth of July is a public holiday in Northern Ireland and has been since 1926. All the other parades are held on the nearest Saturday, although as recently as 1986 the Relief of Derry parade was held on the anniversary itself The change to a Saturday was apparently made because many people found it difficult to attend on a week day.
Part of the significance of these events is their longevity as public celebrations. As anniversaries all are well established, and their continuing commemoration is integral to the sense of a Protestant identity. The Orange Order has held parades to commemorate the Twelfth of July since the year after its formation in 1795. However, the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne was by then already a long established public event. The custom of holding a parade to remember the Boyne victory began in Dublin in the early 18th century and was taken up in Ulster by the 1770s.
Parades were often the cause of violent disturbances during the nineteenth century, and repeated attempts were made to impose legal restrictions in the early decades of the century, which were largely unsuccessful. However, between 1849 and 1872, the Party Processions Act was utilised to suppress most parades, including the Twelfth. Since the repeal of this legislation in 1872, and despite occasional violent outbursts, the Twelfth has never been banned. Parades have been held every year, except 1916 and during World War Two, when parades were voluntarily cancelled.
In the contemporary parading calendar the Twelfth is marked by 19 main parades across Northern Ireland, although the number of feeder parade boosts the total number of parades on the day. Statistics provided by the RUC Central Statistics Unit put the number of parades on the Twelfth in 1995 at 547. Eighteen of the main parades are organised by the Orange Institution and one by the Independent Orange Institution. Belfast and Ballymena each host a parade each year while the venues for the remainder are rotated. Some areas follow a regular cyclical pattern in which the Twelfth visits a town or village every 4, 7 or 11 years, while others follow a more irregular rotation. The decisions about the location of Twelfth parades is made at either district or county level of the Institution but the cycles appear to be largely ordered by tradition. The 17 venues outside Belfast are divided as follows:
The largest of these parades are those held in County Armagh, where Orangeism originated and has remained prominent, and in Belfast. Twelfth of July parades are largely local events at which the Orangemen parade through their home districts and counties, although substantial numbers of Orangemen and bands come over from Scotland for the day. After a morning parade, the men assemble at 'the field', where a religious service is held and, in many areas, leading Unionist politicians make speeches from the platform. In the afternoon a return parade completes the day's events.
In contrast, the main Apprentice Boys anniversary, the Relief of the Siege of Derry, is marked by a single parade in the city. This event attracts members and bands from across Northern Ireland and beyond. Apart from the parade, the main event is a service in St. Columb's Cathedral in the morning which is largely restricted to the members of the Parent Clubs. There is no public platform and there are no political speeches during the celebrations. The Relief of Derry has been commemorated with a parade of some sort since the early 18th century, while the anniversary has been organised by the Apprentice Boys clubs since they were reformed in the early 19th century. Until early this century the anniversary was still largely a local affair but the growth of the rail network made it possible for people to come from all over the north to attend the parade. Newspaper reports suggest that the Relief celebrations have been growing in popularity and in importance since the 1950s and the anniversary now attracts crowds comparable to the Belfast Twelfth.
The original route of the parade seems to have been largely restricted to a circuit of the city walls, but as the scale of the proceedings increased so too did the length of the route. Since the end of the Second World War the parade route has been regularly extended because of the numbers of people walking. One year it took in parts of the cityside area and the next year it would cross over onto the Waterside. Violent clashes at the event in 1969, and the subsequent arrival of British troops in the city, is widely accepted as marking the beginning of the Troubles although earlier attempts to hold civil rights parades in the city had already led to violence and raised tension. In 1970 the Relief parade was included within a blanket, six-month, Ulster-wide ban on parades. When the anniversary was commemorated the following year, the city walls had been closed and the parade was forced to accept a new route which took it away from the Cityside and kept it largely on the Waterside.
The Black parades are more recently established. The Sham fight at Scarva, and parades to mark the battle of Newtownbutler in County Fermanagh, can be traced back to the 1830s, but they only became associated with the Royal Black Institution after the end of the First World War. Newspaper reports suggest that at this time that the Black began to grow in popularity and to organise more of its own parades.
The Black Institution is strongest in the eastern part of Ulster
and in, the rural areas. In general it has an older membership
and parades are more gently paced, with a predominance of melody,
pipe and accordion bands. However, the Belfast Black parades,
with larger numbers of blood and thunder bands and a younger membership,
has more of the atmosphere of the Orange Twelfth. The main Black
event is held on the last Saturday (Black Saturday or Last Saturday)
in August when six separate county parades are held across the
North. Belfast Blackmen parade through the city in the morning
but their main parade is held in either County Down or County
Antrim. These last Saturday parades were only fully established
in the inter-war years and they have traditionally marked the
end of the Marching Season.
Some of these parades are well established: for example the anniversary of the Closing of the Gates in Derry, at the end of which the figure of Lundy is burnt, was celebrated in the 18th century. Many of the others are much more recent. Despite popular perceptions, the Somme parades, as annual events, only date back to 1950s, rather than to the immediate post-war years. However, in the early years of this century, it was quite common for small parades to be held in a wide diversity of locations on or around 1 July, which was the original anniversary date of the Boyne prior to 18th century calendrical changes. The parade held by the Apprentice Boys Amalgamated Clubs on Easter Monday and the Junior Orange parade on Easter Tuesday both date back to the 1930s. They do not mark any anniversary, but were originally held to counter the Republican parades held the day before, on Easter Sunday. The parade to mark William's landing at Carrickfergus has only been re-established in recent years.
The mini-Twelfth and Somme parades appears to be a category that is on the increase, although they still account for only a small proportion of the total number of parades. More mini-Twelfth parades seem to be held each year especially in the areas outside of Belfast, a factor which has increased the overall visibility of Orange parades in the build up to the Twelfth. For instance Portadown District introduced a mini-Twelfth parade in 1990, and each year this event is focused on a different theme of Ulster Protestant or Orange history (Jones et al., 1996:57). The mini-Twelfths are significant in so far as they bring all the district lodges together as a preparation for the Twelfth itself and this is also the only occasion, apart from the Twelfth, at which all the lodges' regalia and banners are displayed. As the mini-Twelfths may well be the only substantial Orange parade in many towns, and as they are usually held on a Saturday or on a weekday evening, these parades often attract substantial numbers of people onto the streets.
In Belfast, where the custom has become well established, the
mini-Twelfth parades begin in early June with a parade in North
Belfast. This is followed by parades from Clifton Street, the
Shankill Road, Sandy Row, Ballymacarrett (both on 1 July) and
finally in Ballynafeigh in early July. On these occasions the
Orangemen and their bands walk a circuit which begins and ends
at the local Orange Hall. Participation is largely, although not
exclusively, restricted to lodges that are based at the hall.
The mini-Twelfth parades from the Ballynafeigh and Shankill Road
Orange halls have both been subjected to protests in recent years.
The Blackmen from Sandy Row and Ballymacarrett organise similar
local parades prior to the Last Saturday demonstrations in August.
As a category, feeder parades can be divided into two distinct groups, those that lead directly to a main parade in the same location and those that are held prior to a parade held elsewhere. Examples of both types are held on the lower Ormeau Road. The parade from Ballynafeigh Orange Hall to the City Hall on the morning of the Twelfth is an example of the first type. In this case the Orangemen state that they are taking both the most direct route and the traditional route in order to join up with the main body of men. The Apprentice Boys parades at Easter and in August fall into the other type in which the Belfast Walker Branch Club parade from the Ballynafeigh Orange Hall along the Ormeau Road before boarding a bus to another town. The custom of parading to a bus before departing to a main venue seems to have its origin in an earlier era when lodges met at their local hall and then paraded together to a railway station to take the train to another destination. When buses and cars became a more popular mode of travel, the parade from the hall was retained although it now took a shorter route to meet the waiting transport.
The argument for tradition informs the logic of both of these
parades from Ballynafeigh when they have been challenged. The
Orangemen and the Apprentice Boys both argue that they have been
walking the same route for many years and they will continue to
do so to uphold their traditions. However, while the claim that
the route along the Ormeau Road on the Twelfth is the most direct
and obvious one to take is certainly true and strengthens their
argument, it does not justify the argument of the Apprentice Boys.
The use of a bus or cars to go to a parade elsewhere makes many
of these feeder parades unnecessary except as a ritual display.
An individual lodge or a District may attend services in a number of different churches in the course of the year and therefore be involved in a number of distinct, but still traditional, routes. Although the church parades are numerous they are usually small and again they are predominately local affairs: the Boyne anniversary services, for example, are organised on a lodge basis. However, there are larger scale gatherings such as the Loyal Orange Widows Fund charity service which is held in the Ulster Hall in late April and is attended by members from all Belfast Orange districts.
In the main, church parades receive little attention: in part
this is because they are held on Sunday afternoons, in part because
they lack the colour of the other parades and in part because
there are usually only one or two bands present and the music
that is played is usually religious. Church parades have little
of the appeal of the larger commemorative parades and attract
few spectators. However they can still have a symbolic significance
as the events after the Drumcree church service last summer illustrate
only too well.
The success of a parade depends heavily on reciprocity. If a band wants to attract a large number of visiting bands to its own parade it must in rum travel to a good number of other parades. The largest band parades can easily attract 50 or more bands, and these are therefore second only to the Main Commemorative parades in their scale and in the numbers of people who turn out to walk. These parades often dominate a small town from early evening until midnight and draw substantial numbers of young spectators into town and onto the streets; they therefore also generate a good trade for publicans, shopkeepers and diverse food stalls.
Many of the bands do not take the competitive element very seriously
but the parades have become a prominent part of their social life.
Some bands will parade at three or more such events in a weekend,
week in week out throughout the season. Some bands may only need
to go a few miles to attend a parade but others are prepared to
hire a bus and travel across the province regularly. These band
parades build up and consolidate an extensive network of social
relations which is connected to, but distinct from, the more established
networks of the loyal orders.
Another type of commemorative parade has begun to be held to mark
the anniversary of the death of loyalist paramilitary figures
who have died in the Troubles. Although small in number they can
attract substantial numbers of bands and spectators. Once again
wreaths are laid against murals or against commemorative plaques.
Members of the Orange Institution and representatives of the paramilitary
groups may both take part in these ceremonies.
Last Modified by Martin Melaugh :