A massive parade to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland brought tens of thousands of spectators into Belfast on Saturday

A massive parade to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland brought tens of thousands of spectators into Belfast on Saturday.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 30th May 2022, 7:21 am
Updated Monday, 30th May 2022, 8:41 am

Crowds began gathering at Stormont before 10am, while those determined to get the top viewing spots were already beginning to line the streets around the city centre well before the parade set off at around 1.20pm.

The commemmoration was organised by the Orange Order to mark 100 years since the creation of Northern Ireland in 1921.

Around 25,000 members of the various loyal orders took walked the four miles from Parliament Buildings to Belfast City Hall.

Crowds take a pause at Stormont

Police estimate the parade was watched by 100,000 people, with specators four deep on the footpaths for much of the route.

The scenes were quite chaotic along the Newtownards Road where police motorcyclists and Orange Order marshals struggled to clear enough space though the crowds for the lead colour party and first bands to get through.

It was a full four hours between the head of the parade setting off and the last band leaving Stormont, meaning it was around 7pm before the Belfast bands and brethren were exiting the city centre en route to their dispersal points back in their respective districts.

Unionists of all shades, from every county of Ulster, England and Scotland, had come together in what was an extremely good-natured and family-friendly mass gathering.

While political deadlock remains in the Province, attendees at the delayed centenary event were upbeat and in a relaxed mood as they gathered to celebrate the past, present and future of Northern Ireland.

They said the celebration was not overshadowed by the ongoing and bitter row over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

However, the post-Brexit arrangements which have paralysed politics in the Province were mentioned repeatedly by speakers and others as one of the great threats to the place of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom.

The Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, Rev Mervyn Gibson, appealed for unity within unionism as he hit out at US President Joe Biden and US congressman Richard Neal in his speech at Stormont.

There were loud cheers as the parade arrived in the city centre via High Street and Donegall Place.

On arrival at the city hall, the marchers were greeted by the Grand Master of the Orange Order, Edward Stevenson.

Many businesses had closed early, with every street in the city centre thronged with enthusiastic observers of the parade.

A large police presence was stationed in parts of Belfast as the parade continued late into the afternoon, however, there was no sign of any nationalist protestors as the parade passed the potential flashpoint at Short Strand.

The PSNI confirmed that the parade had ended by 8.30pm.

Chief Superintendent Darrin Jones thanked organisers and those in attendance for “making the event a success”.

“An event of this nature requires extensive logistical management and we worked throughout the day to facilitate travel where possible and ensure roads were reopened and areas returned to normal at the earliest opportunity.”

The celebration at Stormont included prayers, a short act of remembrance and the singing of ‘God Save the Queen’.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was among many unionist politicians who joined the parade.

Many families took deck chairs as they awaited the arrival of the parade in the May sunshine. The event came after the Covid-19 pandemic postponed the celebrations last year.

The PSNI warned ahead of Saturday that the parade was likely to cause delays and diversions for motorists in and around the city.

Members of the Association of Loyal Orangewomen of Ireland, the Junior Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, the Royal Black Institution and the Apprentice Boys of Derry also took part in the parade.

Although the Executive parties at Stormont failed to reach the necessary agreement to have the Union Flag flown from Parliament Buildings on the day, the building was illuminated orange on Saturday evening.

Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler said he was delighted that his party’s proposal on the illumination had been accepted.

“Given the parade is leaving from the Stormont Estate I felt it important that Parliament Buildings could play a role in marking the day and I am delighted that we have secured permission to light it up orange,” he said.

Mr Butler added: “I hope that everyone taking part in and watching the parade on Saturday has a fantastic day as we look to the next one hundred years of Northern Ireland.”

l Morning View, page 14