Northern Ireland Centennial: final preparations for colossal parade

Final preparations will be made today for the “mammoth task” of getting thousands of loyal order members from all over Northern Ireland into the grounds of Parliament Buildings ahead of the NI Centennial parade.

Final preparations will be made on Friday for the “mammoth task” of getting thousands of loyal order members from all over Northern Ireland into the grounds of Parliament Buildings ahead of the NI Centennial parade.

From 10am on Saturday, Stormont will be a sea of colours as more than 300 buses and minibuses arrive on site to enjoy the food stalls and entertainment ahead of the parade at 1pm.

The event was postponed in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Grand Lodge deputy Grand Master Harold Henning stepping out in Rathfriland. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye

The nominated charity for the event is the Air Ambulance NI and a collection will take place along the route.

Grand Lodge deputy Grand Master Harold Henning has worked tirelessly to ensure everything is in place for one of the largest parades in Northern Ireland’s 101 year history.

“I have been involved in two Co Down ‘Last Saturday’ parades as chief marshall, and that is the biggest Black day in Co Down, which gives you a bit of an insight, but that is dealing with 120 buses. We are dealing with 260 buses plus 70 minibuses, so it is a mammoth undertaking in terms of the logistics,” he said.

“We are dropping off at Stormont on Saturday morning from 10 o’clock onwards, getting those people de-bussed and up to get their food in the food village, and then get the buses out and down into the city centre into their respective holding places.

The Ulster Covenant centenary march to Stormont in 2012. Picture: Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.

“Then we have to get 70 minibuses in and then into their order for the parade so that they are dovetailing into the parade procession as it comes out through the main gates at Stormont.

“We have 120 districts on parade or thereabouts so the PSNI has a massive task, as do the bus people, both private and Translink,” Mr Henning said.

The head of the parade is expected at Belfast City Hall around 2.30/2.45pm. There will be marshals with every district along the parade route.

It is expected to take more than three hours for the loyal order members to form up and to clear the grounds of Stormont.

Grand Lodge Grand Master Edward Stevenson

At Parliament Buildings there will be food stalls, children’s bouncy castles, games, pipe bands playing, Lambeg drummers, singers all there from 10am to mid-day.

There will also be Lambeg drumming at CS Lewis Square (off the Newtownards Road) prior to the main parade.

Mr Henning added: “The platform proceedings will be at mid-day, lasting about 25 minutes, then we will be getting ready to muster to the rattle of the Lambeg drum and the pipers.

“There will be around 140 bands with Orangemen behind in ranks of four [abreast]. That is not our usual way of walking, If we walked in our traditional way, with only two lines, we would have been walking all day and half the night.

“Even so, it will still take three to three-and-a-half hours to pass any one spot.”

Kellswater Flute Band from Ballymena – celebrating its 75th anniversary this year – has the honour of leading the parade on it way to Belfast city centre.

The full route will be: Prince of Wales Avenue; Upper Newtownards Road; Newtownards Road; Bridge End; Ann Street; Victoria Street; High Street; Castle Place; Donegall Place to City Hall.

Due to the scale of the event, Grand Lodge Grand Secretary Rev Mervyn Gibson has urged spectators to arrive early to secure a prime viewing location along the route.

“This will be easily be twice the size of the annual Twelfth parade in the city, so we are encouraging people to come early and pick their spot because it will be difficult to get parked,” he said.

Earlier this week, spokesperson for the Visit Belfast tourist centre said: “The Centennial event provides a once in a lifetime spectacle for the many visitors expected to be in Belfast next Saturday, as well as for those coming to watch and participate in the parade.”

The PSNI said it will have a traffic management plan in place but delays and diversions can be expected all day.

Chief Superintendent Darrin Jones, Belfast Area, said: “This is a big event with up to 25,000 people expected to take part. We are also anticipating large numbers of spectators along the route.

“We are asking everyone who is planning on travelling through Belfast on Saturday to plan ahead and leave extra time for their journeys.

“We will have traffic diversions and management in place and would ask all visitors to the city to be patient and follow the instructions of marshals and our officers.”

A message from Grand Lodge Grand Master Edward Stevenson

“On Saturday, thousands of people will parade from Stormont Estate to Belfast City Hall as the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland celebrates Northern Ireland’s CentenNIal year.

This marvellous milestone for our country is a real cause for celebration and what better way to do it than with a spectacular parade in the capital city befitting such a special occasion?

We are expecting around 20,000 people to take part in what will be the biggest parade of the year and a great day out for all the family.

I am delighted that we will be joined by members of all Loyal Orders for the parade. Representatives of the Association of Loyal Orangewomen of Ireland, the Junior Grand Lodge, the Independent Orange Institution, The Apprentice Boys of Derry, the Royal Black Institution and the Royal Arch Purple Chapter. We will also be joined by many of our Brethren and Sisters from across the United Kingdom, with some visitors making the trip to Belfast from as far away as Canada.

Added to that will be the superb musical talents of our marching band community. More than 130 bands will be taking part.

This promises to be an event not to be missed and we are expecting thousands of spectators and supporters to line the streets to enjoy the day.

The Stormont Estate will be a hive of activity from 10am as the lodges and bands start to gather. With entertainment available before the parade in Stormont Estate and CS Lewis Square the atmosphere will be building from early on.

This event marks the culmination of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland’s Northern Ireland CentenNIal celebrations.

Over the past 12 months and more the Orange Family has been proudly celebrating Northern Ireland and the role our Institution has played in it.

It is now almost 18 months since the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland welcomed in Northern Ireland’s CentenNIal year with a musical fanfare.

Throughout 2021 we celebrated with exhibitions, displays, concerts, sporting events and a gala dinner. We are immensely proud of Northern Ireland – the place we call home – and of all those from our Institution who have played such a prominent role in shaping and developing the country we know and love.

It is a place that has produced innovators and inventors, soldiers and scholars, world beaters and record breakers. There is no doubt that Northern Ireland – a place that is small geographically – has made a massive impact on the world stage.

We are encouraging as many people as possible to come and with join us on Saturday. Be part of history as we celebrate 100 years of Northern Ireland!”