A 12,000-strong parade of Apprentice Boys and band members will mark the ‘Relief of Derry’ celebrations in Londonderry today.
Apprentice Boys branches from across Northern Ireland, the Republic’s border counties, Scotland and England will converge on the ‘Maiden City’ for this major loyalist marching event.
First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster will be in the city for both the anniversary service in the historic St Columb’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, and later to watch the main parade.
The 10.30am traditional service will be conducted for the last time by the dean, the Rev Dr William Morton, who moves to become Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin in September.
The Apprentice Boys of Derry have strong links with St Columb’s Cathedral, for it was there that the besieged Protestant citizens of Londonderry sheltered during the Siege of 1688-89 when the Roman Catholic Jacobite forces threatened from outside the walls.
The Siege was successfully relieved and the danger thwarted on July 28, 1689 by two ships – The Mountjoy and The Phoenix – which had arrived in Lough Foyle with much-needed supplies.
On Saturday morning, parent clubs will hold their traditional parade of the city walls before the cathedral service.
The initiation of new members takes place in the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall, a ceremony, which according to the loyal order’s rules, can only be conducted within the city walls.
The main three-mile parade, lasting two and a half hours, will commence at 12.30pm, from Society Street, heading through the city centre, across Craigavon Bridge to the mainly unionist Waterside area.
In the late afternoon, the Londonderry parent clubs and bands will return back to their headquarters on the west bank of the Foyle.
The Black Skull flute band from Glasgow will once again lead the main parade, with the Apprentice Boys governor Jim Brownlee joined by senior members of the loyal order. Up to 150 bands will take part.