The most senior Orangeman in Ireland told his colleagues at the Twelfth in Castlederg that he was “intensely proud” of their stand during the Troubles, having lost more members to terrorism than any other county.
Grand Master Edward Stevenson, who hails from near Castlederg, reminded the demonstration that republicans murdered 85 Tyrone Orangemen – but that the order would not allow the killers to “rewrite history” and justify their campaign.
“I am intensely proud to be a Tyrone man and I am proud of the way that the Orange brethren in this county have stood firm and resolute over many difficult years,” he said in his address.
“It is well documented you faced a vicious campaign by republicans who were intent on genocide in border areas.
“Tragically, the local cemetery bears testimony to the sacrifice paid by so many people, and in particular members of the Orange institution.”
He noted that around one of every 10 victims of the Troubles was a member of the order.
“During the Troubles we had 336 members murdered – almost entirely by republicans. More than half of them were singled out because they were serving their community in the security forces. Others were targeted simply because they were Protestant and members of the Orange Order.
“This county suffered more than any other with 85 members, including one Orangewoman, paying the ultimate sacrifice. In this particular area alone, we think of Sister Heather Kerrigan, a UDR corporal, who was murdered in an IRA landmine explosion alongside her colleague, and Orangeman, Norman McKinley, 34 years ago this weekend.”
Six districts – Sixmilecross, Strabane, Fintona, Omagh, Killen and Newtownstewart – were on parade in the west Tyrone town.
Fifty-six lodges and about 50 bands assembled at Mitchell Park on the Lower Strabane Road at 12.30pm, and walked along Upper Strabane Road, William Street, John Street, Main Street and along the Castlegore Road to the demonstration field.
As an area of Northern Ireland with a particularly strong piping tradition, pipe bands provided most of the music, although there were also some flute and accordion bands as well. A novel feature this year were local highland dancers performing at the head of the parade.
The religious address was conducted by local minister, Rev David Reid, a grand chaplain of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. Also attending was past County Tyrone grand master, Jim Emery, and Rev Jason Lingiah, a grand chaplain of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland.
Local lodge Kilclean LOL 773 displayed a new banner, unfurled for the first time just before the Twelfth.
In his speech Mr Stevenson also remembered the six members of Tullywhisker LOL who were murdered – the most of any individual Tyrone lodge.
The order’s designated victims’ day is September 1, he said.
“Republicans are daily attempting to rewrite history to make it look as if their campaign of murder was somehow justified. We will never allow the perpetrators of violence to become the victims, and that would be an insult to those who lost their lives and to their families. This will be a cornerstone of our annual day of remembrance.”
He added: “The true victims did not wear balaclavas and skulk behind walls and hedges. There must be no comparison between the victims and victim-makers, the terrorists.”
The order continues to consult with victims’ groups and unionist political parties on dealing with the past. Last month he was part of an Orange delegation to discuss the issues with Secretary of State, Karen Bradley.
In the coming weeks, the order will make a formal submission to the government on the issues.
“We have been through a lot, none more so than in this area, but we have come out at the other end as a stronger people,” he said.