The parading season has officially begun with hundreds lining the streets of east Belfast to help the Apprentice Boys celebrate their three hundredth anniversary year.
From youngsters waving Union flags and beating their own toy drums to grandparents seated comfortably in deck chairs, all those gathered awaited the arrival of the 5,000 marchers for the annual Easter Monday demonstration.
With the sun shining and temperatures climbing to the mid teens it could well have been the height of the marching season, as families came together to support relatives and friends on parade, or simply enjoy a day out.
Sixty clubs from across Northern Ireland, Scotland and England took part yesterday, headed by more than 50 bands.
With a route beginning at Templemore Avenue, heading along the Newtownards Road and finishing up at Ormeau Embankment marchers did not pass any flashpoints and the event passed off peacefully.
Marchers stopped at the war memorial at the junction of Belmont and Holywood Roads for a service in this, the centenary year of the beginning of the First World War.
And marking three centuries since the formation of the Apprentice Boys is something to be celebrated, said UUP MLA Michael Copeland who was there to watch the parade.
“I think it’s important for people to remember dates that are significant to them, and certainly these events that the Protestant Unionist Loyalist community take part in do take on an additional significance,” he told the News Letter.
Buses lined Ormeau Embankment from the late morning, many waiting to take bands and supporters home to Londonderry after their day out in the Ulster capital.
Helen Thompson travelled from Limavady with “a busload” of friends and family, including her 10 year-old granddaughter Rachael.
The fifty-five year-old said she had watched various sections of the parade and was impressed not only by the crowds that turned out but also by the welcome she and fellow Londonderry visitors had received.
“It is just a brilliant atmosphere and the Belfast people couldn’t help you any better,” she said.
Explaining that her family have been part of the bands and Apprentice Boys tradition for generations, Helen said she feels it is important to continue to support those on parade.
“It is very important, it is our history and it is our right to be here,” she said.
As the feeder bands travelled through the city to gather together in east Belfast for the main parade, one person tweeted that filming for The Fall television show had to take a break while the bands marched by.
Watching her first ever parade yesterday was little Lily Green, who sat quietly in her pram waiting to see her dad Darren march by as part of Millar Memorial band.
As she looks forward to her first birthday tomorrow (Wednesday), the young girl’s mother Sarah explained that she was excited for her daughter to be part of this year’s marching season.
“This is her first one so we’ll get her used to them,” Sarah, originally from Aberdeen but now living on the Shankill Road, told the News Letter. “We would go and watch the majority of them and support them. My husband has been in the band for 25 years. His father and brothers were too and my grandparents were in the Orange Order back in Scotland.
“Just hearing the band music is so enjoyable. I think the Apprentice Boys are thriving.”