Loyalist bands march in local parades as Orange Order scale back events in Northern Ireland

Loyalist bands march in local parades as Orange Order scale back events in Northern Ireland

Loyalist bands have marched in localised parades across Northern Ireland after annual Twelfth of July celebrations were scaled back due to the coronavirus emergency.

The Orange Order formally cancelled its plans for the traditional key date in the loyal order parading season at the outset of lockdown, urging members and supporters to instead mark the day at home.

That remained the Order’s key message on Monday, with bands instead parading within loyalist neighbourhoods as people gathered on their doorsteps, with some holding small street parties.

PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said he was pleased the day had “passed 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 ask everyone, particularly those with influence, to continue to work with us to ensure that the rest of this holiday period can be enjoyed in peace and safety.”

Around 250 parades were organised for the day.

On July 12 every year, unionists and loyalists mark the victory of the Protestant King William of Orange over the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

This year’s events were always going to be held on Monday July 13, due to the fact the Twelfth fell on a Sunday.

Loyalists take part in a parade on the Shankill Road in Belfast

While the main parades and demonstrations were cancelled, some Orange Order memorial events did proceed, but on a much smaller scale.

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Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Ireland Rev Mervyn Gibson said it was a Twelfth like no other in recent memory.

“It’s a different Twelfth but hopefully an enjoyable Twelfth for everyone as they celebrate in their home or in their gardens,” he said.

“We’ve been planning for several months now, we have known there would be no big parades.”

He said the recent decision by the Stormont executive to increase to 30 the number allowed to attend outdoor gatherings had enabled bands to organise parades.

There were two further coronavirus-linked deaths reported in Northern Ireland on Monday, taking the total recorded by the Department of Health in the region to 556.

Mr Gibson said he knew people were missing the large-scale events that the Twelfth is renowned for.

“A lot of people are disappointed today but they understand it needs to be done to stop the coronavirus spreading,” he said.

One of the streets that organised its own party was Beechfield Court in east Belfast.

Residents erected an orange arch made of balloons and several bands paid a visit during the day.

Orangemen observe social distancing as they take part in a wreath laying ceremony at Belfast City Hall

John Williamson, from the local community group, said everyone had pulled together to stage the event.

“We thought we would approach the Twelfth of July in a different manner because of what’s going on with the virus so we decided to have a socially distanced street party to bring the kids into it, decorate our court and put an orange arch up,” he said.

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“We have brought the community together, the community has actually worked together to prepare the court and prepare the party.”

The Twelfth is usually ushered in by Eleventh Night bonfires lit in loyalist areas across Northern Ireland.

A smaller than usual number were lit on Saturday night due to calls to respect the coronavirus regulations.

However, there were significant crowds at several fires that did go ahead.

The weekend also witnessed bouts of sporadic disorder near a community interface in north Belfast as police came under attack from petrol bombers and stone throwers in the nationalist New Lodge close to a bonfire in the loyalist Tiger’s Bay area.

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