THE 324th anniversary of the Shutting of Londonderry’s Gates against the advancing Jacobite forces in December 1688 took place peacefully in the Maiden City on Saturday.
The cold conditions failed to have any impact on the day’s main attraction, the burning of the effigy of the notorious traitor Lundy, who, as ever, perished in a swathe of flames at the conclusion of the proceedings.
In contrast to times past, there was no protest, shops around the Diamond remained open, and the city’s first Continental Christmas market gave the city centre a more festive feel than ever before.
Spirits were high, as Londonderry prepares to begin its term as the first ever UK City of Culture next month.
If Saturday’s spectacle and the general atmosphere was anything to go by, 2013 will be special as all citizens of the historic city join together to celebrate this unique opportunity.
While the perennial torching of the likeness of Robert Lundy – who was governor of Londonderry as the famous Siege approached and who attempted to betray the citizenry to King James – is a renowned spectacle, it is a visual distraction from the true meaning to those who organise the annual event, the Apprentice Boys of Derry.
In essence, the commemoration of the Shutting of the Gates is the single most important event in the calendar of the loyal order because of the global historical impact that the Siege of 1688-89 had on political and religious history.
As Governor General of the Apprentice Boys, Jim Brownlee, told the News Letter: “Without the Shutting of the Gates, there would have been no Siege, no Glorious Revolution, no William III and no parliamentary democracy as we know it now, that grew and spread across Europe and replaced autocratic monarchies.
“It is arguable that without the Siege the French or American Revolutions would never have happened and it showed that 30,000 destitute and starving people could hold out against a king’s army. It was a true example of people power – of how tyranny could be deposed.”
More than 1,000 band members and between 1,500 and 2,000 members of the Apprentice Boys took part in Saturday’s historical and cultural events, with marchers attending from as far away as London and the Republic.
The traditional parade path was observed with members proceeding from the Waterside via Craigavon Bridge through Carlisle Road and past Londonderry’s Cenotaph, where flags and banners were lowered and a single drum beat replaced music in remembrance of the war dead.
A service of thanksgiving was held in St Columb’s Cathedral and as tradition demands a wreath was laid upon the Siege heroes mound to honour the original 13 Apprentice Boys by the General Committee and Murray Parent Club officers.
Departing parade members returned to the Waterside to return home after the burning of Lundy but not before a salute was taken by the Governor General.
Londonderry’s PSNI district commander Steven Martin said: “Everybody has acted in a respectful and adult way and, overall, we’re very pleased and we’re pleased with the policing operation as well.”
He added that it was unfortunate the PSNI still had to maintain a “very sizable policing operation” for the event but he said he believed the situation was improving.
“I think there is less tension in the city this year and I note that some traders who traditionally would have closed for this parade have remained open,” said Mr Martin.