Around 10,000 people, many in period dress from 1913, took to the streets of East Belfast on Saturday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the old UVF by Lord Edward Carson in opposition to Home Rule in Ireland.
Around 40 bands took part in the event, which started on the Ravenhill Road and walked through East Belfast to Craigavon House.
Marchers wore period costumes and some carried replica weapons. Organisers - who hailed the event “a masterpiece of organisation” -
had said the emphasis was on marking the events of 1913 and there was no link to the modern-day organisation.
Among those who addressed the crowd from Craigavon House on Saturday was a great granddaughter of Sir James Craig and Progressive Unionist Party leader, Billy Hutchinson.
“Be under no illusions, this is in many ways the physical and spiritual home of Loyalism,” Mr Hutchinson told the crowd. “The words of the covenant were finalised behind these walls and its words first aired publicly by Carson on these steps.”
Setting the scene, the PUP leader added that Craigavon House “served as HQ to the UVF during the most intense moments of the Home rule
struggle” and that “logistical details of Operation Lion were hammered out in these rooms where Crawford and his
UVF gun runners plotted to bring over 200 tons of armaments to the Volunteers”.
He said the massive turnout at the parade on Saturday was “in itself an impressive spectacle”.
“The attention to detail, done true to history is venerable,” he added. “The fact that so many, feel so powerfully one hundred years on is inspirational and should give us as a people strength.”
Mr Hutchinson said now that “we have taken war to its conclusion - now we must pursue politics with equal vigour”.
“Politics is war without bloodshed - we must adapt to that new war. The Union will depend on our adaptability as well as our commitment.
After decades of bombs and bullets, today we reaffirm our commitment to the principles enshrined in the Ulster Covenant and cornerstone of the Volunteers. The demand for equal citizenship within the Union. The right to civil and religious freedom.
“The struggle to ensure the material well being of this country and her people.
“Most pertinent to here - the commitment to resist, by all means necessary, any attempt to usurp our inalienable right to free choice.
“These principles we must call home. Principles we must return to again and again. Principles timeless, indivisible by generation or political backdrop.”