What a day of pageantry and spectacle!
The tens of thousands of participants and spectators who attended the various annual Last Saturday demonstrations at the weekend truly enjoyed a glorious finale to the traditional summer parading season.
From east to west, from Newtownards to Donemana, and at all six venues across the Province, sir knights stepped out in customary fashion, publicly manifesting our faith and cultural heritage, which has spanned generations.
They were suitably accompanied by a large number of Ulster’s finest marching bands, showcasing their musical prowess to the many onlookers lining the streets.
I, myself, had the pleasure of attending one of the larger parades in Cookstown and it was a fantastic experience. Bumper crowds were in attendance, with young and old enjoying the colourful procession from various vantage points on Ireland’s longest and widest main street.
Whilst I have enjoyed the Last Saturday on many previous occasions, this was my first as sovereign grand master. It was humbling to receive the good wishes of so many members, and indeed the wider public. I fully intend to repay their faith in the weeks and months ahead, by working with the wider membership to develop and progress our great institution.
As ever, our Christian faith was at the centre of our celebrations at the weekend, both on parade and at the field. As well as an important expression of our culture, preceptories carried and displayed banners with prominent Biblical references. Later, the religious service was an integral component of the day, as attendees heard the Word of God and worshipped together.
Our respective resolutions on faith, loyalty and the constitution underlined the institution’s standpoint on a range of matters.
The Royal Black’s charitable outreach was also apparent, not only through the involvement of representatives of our designated charity appeal – Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) – but also a number of other worthy causes benefiting through collections on the day.
There is more to our organisation than just parading. As our mission statement outlines, the institution exists to give its members the opportunity to not only engage in such outreach, but also study Holy Scripture; increase knowledge of the Reformed faith; and encourage responsible citizenship.
We hope wider society will gain an even greater understanding of our ethos and outworkings through the impending development of our new headquarters in Loughgall, which is due to open to the public in 2020.
The Royal Black Institution is in a good place, evidenced by our exciting plans for the future and the ongoing appeal of our flagship annual events, including the Scarva Sham Fight.
Detractors of the loyal orders often question our relevance and significance. However, even our harshest critics could not fail to be impressed by the occasion of Black Saturday. It really is a wonderful day out – with untapped tourism potential –enjoyed immensely by those taking part and the vast numbers watching. All maintaining a proud tradition passed on by our forefathers.
We look forward with confidence and optimism, and to doing it again next year, as we keep our heritage alive for the next generation.