The Twelfth: Cherished traditions, family, old friends and a day like no other

Edward Stevenson will be parading today in Cookstown in his home county of Tyrone
Edward Stevenson will be parading today in Cookstown in his home county of Tyrone

EDWARD STEVENSON, Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, sets the scene for the biggest marching day of the year

The Twelfth of July is truly a day like no other.

Grandparents, parents and children all enjoy the spectacle of the Twelfth together

Grandparents, parents and children all enjoy the spectacle of the Twelfth together

Tens of thousands of people are anticipated to participate or spectate in what is now widely regarded as one of the largest community festivals in Europe.

There will be a real sense of anticipation and excitement from early this morning right across the Province as Orangemen and women dust off their collarettes, shoes are shined and banners are unfurled for the flagship occasion.

Musicians will make final adjustments to their instruments, as picnic baskets are stocked with provisions and flasks are filled for the day ahead at the field.

Grandparents, parents and young children alike will come together to enjoy the culture, music and pageantry of the Twelfth.

It is always a distinctly family affair, providing an opportunity to reminisce and catch up with old friends, as well as making new ones. A day to relax and unwind away from the busy and hectic schedule of everyday life.

Once again, our members from the border counties of the Republic of Ireland are assured of a warm welcome, following their own successful Rossnowlagh parade at the weekend. So too are those Orangemen and women who regularly join our ranks from across the United Kingdom, and in particular Scotland.

Such is the worldwide appeal of our institution; members of the Orange fraternity from as far away as Canada and other jurisdictions will also be on parade this year.

Our visitors will be joined by an increasing number of international spectators intrigued to witness the spectacle, and sample the unique atmosphere, of the biggest day in the parading calendar.

Surely there is no other event on these islands that can bring such huge numbers of people on to the streets to enjoy our parades, either by taking part or simply to watch them go by.

The cultural tourism aspect of the Twelfth celebrations is simply undervalued. For instance, accommodation vacancies will be at a premium, and our airports and boat terminals have been busy in recent days – not necessarily with those leaving – but facilitating those travellers making their way into Northern Ireland for the annual festivities. This may not be widely reported, but is a refreshing and actual annual phenomenon.

The Orange Institution is always seeking to develop the potential of and broaden the appeal of our parades. Anyone seeking to learn more about our cultural heritage can be assured of a warm and hospitable welcome.

We are delighted to cater for members of the public, not necessarily from the Orange tradition, on a daily basis at our Museums of Orange Heritage in Belfast and Loughgall. Through these modern interpretative centres, complemented by the recent opening of a new heritage centre in Limavady, we are continuing to create a better understanding of Orangeism, its history and place in modern society to a wider and more receptive audience.

I, myself, will have the pleasure of participating in this year’s Twelfth demonstration in Cookstown.

As a proud Tyrone man, it will be a familiar and pleasant experience to parade in the familiar surroundings of my home county.

The longest and widest main street on this island will undoubtedly play host to a carnival atmosphere; brimmed to capacity as the some of the highest calibre marching bands add much sound and fervour to proceedings.

From Cookstown to Cloughmills, from Banbridge to Belfast, our proud traditions will be on display at a total of 18 venues across Northern Ireland.

Added to the cultural offering, the Christian message at the core of our existence will once again be prevalent at the field. This year, foremost in our fellowship will be the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

As an organisation based on Biblical principles, it is only fitting this year we recognise and celebrate such a significant evangelical landmark, and the lasting impact of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg.

In our resolutions, we will reaffirm our loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen in this her Sapphire Jubilee year and acknowledge the outstanding supportive role played by the Duke of Edinburgh, ahead of his impending retirement.

We will also remember with pride those servicemen from the 36th Ulster and 16th Irish Divisions, and all who fought for King and country in this the 100th anniversary year of the Battle of Messines. In this decade of centenaries, it is only fitting we pause and reflect on the many tens of thousands of members of our institution worldwide who bravely enlisted at that time.

Having practised our faith, renewed some old acquaintances and perhaps taken a well-deserved rest, it will quickly be time to leave the field and for lodges, bands and supporters to return home.

It is a relatively straightforward but cherished tradition; one which has stood the test of time, has been maintained through the generations and continues to be eagerly anticipated each and every year.

I pray that will long continue to the case.

There will be sore feet and maybe a few blisters at the end of the day – but it will all have been worth it.

The countdown to do it all over again next year has already started!

On the 327th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all your readers a glorious and memorable Twelfth of July.