Fascinated tourists from six different countries attended the Twelfth in Comber yesterday and were impressed with the quality of the many bands on parade,
District Secretary LOL 15 Robert Kirk said that crowds of 15,000 came out to watch 2,500 Orangemen and bandsmen parade - a total of 52 bands and 60 lodges taking part in the celebrations in Mid-Down. Five districts took part – Comber, Saintfield, Lecale, Castlewellan and Ballynahinch.
To mark the Somme centenary, Comber Square was decorated with 12 specially commissioned bannerettes marking the sacrifice of local Orangemen who died. During the parade, lodge Worshipful Masters symbolically placed poppy crosses at the Cenotaph’s garden of remembrance. The parade started from Park Way playing fields and proceeded through the town with guest speaker the Rev Stanley Gamble, a Grand Orange Lodge chaplain, giving the address.
Acting as marshall on the town square through the day Mr Kirk said he met, it seemed, a veritable united nations of tourists attending the pageant.
“There were Belgians, Germans, French, Canadians, Americans and Italians.
“They were really interested and did not know what it was all about,” he said. “Because of perceptions on the news it was not what they expected - particularly for the Americans.
“They were all really impressed with the quality of the bands - silver, brass, accordion, pipe, flute and Lambeg drums.”
He had no idea why there were so many nationalities present but says it is a growing trend at Twelfth celebrations in the area.
“Many of them bought booklets about the order to learn more. The amount of foreign visitors is growing. They were fascinated.”
The crowds in the square generally had a great enthusiasm for the parades, he added.
“I personally know half a dozen Catholic friends who came out to watch. This is not a political event. It is just a day of family fun and fellowship.”
One man who attended the celebrations posted a photograph on Facebook which showed that you never quite know who you will bump into at the Twelfth.
James Meharry put up a photograph of former Northern Ireland star striker David Healy crouching down to have his photograph taken with an unnamed boy.
“[You] never know who u might run into at the Twelfth parades in comber - young fan with David Healy,” he said.
Mr Kirk said Comber always avoids political speakers yesterday’s was former UKIP MLA David McNarry, whom he noted has now retired from politics.
“David asked the young men to remember the three Donaldson brothers who famously died at the Somme. He said that by contrast the young men present in the field had to thank them for their freedom and liberties - that they gave their today for our tomorrow.
“He asked the young men present who may have been on the fringes of things to keep calms heads and instead to join the Orange Order.”
Mr Kirk said the parade itself was led by a vintage tractor with symbols of local industry down through the years - including linen, potatoes, whiskey and agriculture.
He said: “We are more than just a political organisation - we are a community organisation and we are involved in our community,”
He emphasised that the order must change perceptions and become more actively engaged in communities.
“Going forward the order must adapt and be more than just a parading organising,” he said. “We must be an organisation that is involved in community groups.”