The ‘Last Saturday’ Black parades are highly popular, traditionally huge spectator events that climax the loyal order marching season.
There was again the appealing flavour and colour at six Royal Black Institution demonstrations on Saturday in Banbridge, Ballymoney, Dungannon, Newtownards, Ballyronan and Castlederg.
An estimated 18,000 preceptory members paraded behind 365 bands, many Ulster’s top quality in flute, silver, accordion and pipe categories.
Sovereign Grand Master Millar Farr, speaking in Ballyronan, urged his members to do all they lawfully can to protect their British culture and he asked fellow members residing in the Commonwealth to support their colleagues in efforts to resist the ongoing “attack” on their identity. He said the institution had members in Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Togo and Ghana.
“We as loyal subjects of Her Majesty cherish the many freedoms which our democracy provides for us. One of these freedoms is the right to identify with the flag of the nation to which we profess our allegiance,” said Mr Farr.
“The removal of the Union Flag from the City Hall in Belfast and other locations is regarded as an attack on our identity and culture.
“The flag of any country should be treated with dignity and respect and its appearance in public should not be limited or restricted.”
Banbridge hosted the largest event with 8,000 Sir Knights on parade from 112 preceptories in 13 districts – Lower Iveagh, Lecale, Castlewellan, Newry, Ballynahinch, Banbridge, Rathfriland, Mourne, Largymore, Comber, Newtownards, Saintfield and Bangor. They were headed by 100 bands.
Banbridge, with its long main wide thoroughfare, is a perfect town for a large parade and thousands of spectators lined the route to watch the two-hour parade.
An historical pageant of fife and drum bands assembled at Solitude Park, before the main parade moved off, headed by south Armagh band Tullyvallen Silver. Platform proceedings were chaired by Colin Whiteside, Co Down County Grand Master, and among those on parade were Strangford DUP MP Jim Shannon and Stormont minister Danny Kennedy. Elijah’s Chosen Few RBP 208, Kilkeel, the institution’s largest preceptory with 270 members, made an impressive sight in ranks of three.
Top Co Down part flute bands – Ballygowan, Ballywalter, Ballylone, Hunter Moore Memorial (Newry) and Lord Londonderry CLB, Newtownards – stood out for high quality music, with a range of pipe, silver, accordion and melody and ‘blood and thunder’ flute also making an impression.
Eighty preceptories and 79 bands from six districts were in Ballymoney for the Co Antrim demonstration.
The parade assembled at the Showgrounds and ended at Joey Dunlop Centre, with preceptories from six districts – Lisburn, Ballymena, Antrim, Larne, Ballymoney and Ballyclare. Seventy nine bands, several from Scotland, headed 6,000 institution members.
A service was conducted by institution chaplains Rev Robert Campbell and Rev Nigel Reid.
In Dungannon, 60 preceptories, 4,000 members, and bands provided a colourful spectacle in the south Tyrone/west Armagh demonstration. The parade began at Lord Northland Park, moving around Dungannon town centre.
Preceptories from Monaghan, Cavan and Fermanagh joined Primatial (Armagh city), Summerisland (Loughgall), Killyman, Aughnacloy and East Tyrone districts. Platform proceedings were chaired by Richard Emerson, Deputy County Grand Master of Tyrone.
City of Belfast Grand Black Chapter’s demonstration was in Newtownards and, before the parade, a drumhead service was held at Londonderry playing fields where Belfast Grand Master William Mawhinney was speaker. Sixty preceptories were on parade, 2,300 institution members, led by 33 bands, a number from Scotland.
In Ballyronan, 35 preceptories from Raphoe, south Londonderry, City of Londonderry and Coleraine districts were led by 30 bands. It was a special day for South Londonderry District, who celebrated their centenary.
In Castlederg, 1,200 members, from 28 preceptories, were led by 25 bands, from Castlederg, Strabane and Omagh districts, with contingents from counties Donegal and Fermanagh. Preceptories were welcomed by Harry Monteith, Castlederg District Master, and a service was led by Rev Rodger McElnea, a Co Monaghan chaplain.