There was an extra spring in the step of County Armagh’s 5,000-plus Orangemen – and sprinkling of Orange-women – as they and 80 bands took part in what was boldly dubbed “the biggest demonstration in the world”.
There aren’t all that many major demos outside Northern Ireland. But the members from the Orchard County had many reasons to be especially proud of their big ‘Flagship’ day out in a packed Portadown as they made their three-mile march from Edenderry on the northern end of the town, to the new Field at Armagh Road.
This was a unique year in the county where the Orange Order was founded in 1795.
For Prince Charles visited Sloan’s House in nearby Loughgall in May to give the Royal Seal of Approval to the historic venue – now a museum – where the Order was formed.
But even the aura surrounding The Prince of Wales took a back seat to recent happenings in the Portadown District. Poignant memories marking the 100th anniversary of the Somme on July 1 – where so many Brethren perished – took the main place of honour.
This was manifested when the Field was re-named ‘The Somme Field’, with special new gates in a ceremony conducted by Rev John Pickering, former Rector of Drumcree.
Portadown’s District Master Darryl Hewitt spoke with deep pride of the gates – decorated with red metal poppies – and of the spacious 19-acre Field.
As an experienced, farmer he described he verdant expanse as “perhaps the best-drained in Orangeism. It proved its worth during the one heavy deluge of the Twelfth, with about 30,000 pairs of feet putting it to the test”.
The 11 districts of the county were all well represented – Portadown, Richhill, Killylea, Loughgall, Lurgan, Newtownhamilton, Markethill, Tandragee, Armagh, Bessbrook and Keady, Portadown being the biggest with 28 lodges and the South Armagh districts small but steadfast.
It all went exactly to plan, climaxing a hectic few days for Mr Hewitt and his team. They held a series of Somme events, including the unveiling of a memorial to Lieutenant Geoffrey Cather-Shillington, who has town connections and was awarded the posthumous Victoria Cross.
There was a fun night to inaugurate the new Field. And in the middle of it all was the annual ‘Drumcree Sunday’ followed by yesterday’s immaculate arrangements, praised by County Grand master Denis Watson and their special guest, Deputy Grand Master of Ireland Harold Henning.
Speakers and Resolution proposers included both Mr Henning and Mr Watson, as well as Mr Hewitt and his Deputy Joseph Campbell.
The religious part was shared among various chaplains, Rev Dr Alan McCann, Rev Maurice Laverty, Rev Canon William Murphy, George Robinson, with Cecil Allen delivering the main address.
It included an Act of Remembrance for all the victims of The Somme and World War One.
The Field, though, had an element of fun, with all sorts of side shows for the children, the plethora of catering tents and the rattle of mighty Lambeg drums for which County Armagh Districts – especially Markethill – are famed.
All was quiet, though, by teatime, with the Field deserted, and the parade – led by Edgarstown Accordion Band, the Ex-Servicemen’s Lodge LOL 608 and the various officers – leading the 11 districts back though Portadown to Edenderry and the first leg back home to all corners of the county.