WATCH: Riot of colour as the Irish Guards parade through Newtownards after being accorded the Freedom of the Borough

The streets of Newtownards were lined with well-wishers at the weekend as an event which had been well over two years in the making finally took place – a parade in honour of the Irish Guards.

By Adam Kula
Sunday, 26th June 2022, 3:03 pm

The march on Saturday, and the accompanying service, marked the granting of the Freedom of Ards and North Down to the British Army infantry regiment.

And as councillor Naomi Armstrong-Cotter said, it came about due to the tight local links which the regiment has.

The DUP councillor for Newtownards town (who is also an assistant to Strangford MP Jim Shannon) told the News Letter yesterday: “It was obviously planned pre-Covid, but it’s had to be delayed. This has been in the offing for years, and we’ve just managed to pull it together.

“It was great – I was away for the weekend, but I came back into Newtownards for it.

“The crowd was eight or nine deep in some parts.

“We had hymns, the crowd was saying The Lord’s Prayer, and at the end singing the national anthem.

“There was a real sense of community and everybody taking part.

“There were people who must own some of the buildings who were out on the roof. I haven’t seen the like of it since I don’t know when. There were definitely thousands [of spectators].”

She added that they had to “bid” to host the parade, with Lisburn also vying for the chance to stage the event.

“The thing that swung it for us it the guards’ membership and associations are so large in Ards – they say ‘The Guards from Ards’ for a reason.”

The freedom of a town or borough used to confer the ability to do things like move through the area without having to pay tolls, but today is a purely honourary title – although if the Irish Guards want to drive a flock of sheep through central Newtownards, councillor Armstong-Cotter said the accolade grants them the right to do so unhindered.

They are one of five regiments of the British Army with ‘Irish’ in their name, the others being the Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry, Royal Irish Regiment, 253 (North Irish) Medical Regiment, and 152 Regiment RLC.

Alliance councillor Karen Douglas, the borough mayor, said she was “honoured” to take part, particularly since Saturday had been her birthday.

(The video here is taken from Goldsprings LOL 1037’s public Twitter account; pictures from @ArmedForcesNI, @AcfBallygowan, and @KarenDouglas_NI)