Orange Order not surprised by huge interest in Northern Ireland Centenary parade date announcement

An Orange Order chief says he is not at all surprised by the dramatic level of interest shown in plans for a gigantic Orange parade marking 100 years of Northern Ireland’s existence.

By Philip Bradfield
Thursday, 4th November 2021, 4:00 am
Updated Thursday, 4th November 2021, 11:03 am

Yesterday the News Letter reported that the order will parade on May 28 next year to celebrate the centenary - an event originally planned for May this year but delayed due to Covid. The story proved exceptionally popular online.

Orange Order Grand Secretary Mervyn Gibson said he was not in the least surprised by the level of interest. “We knew everybody was awaiting a new date and looking forward to the celebration parade,” he said. 

“People very much enjoyed the 2012 Ulster Covenant parade and wanted to see it replicated in many ways. It was so huge that the parade was still leaving Sandy Row as the platform proceedings had finished at Stormont. ”

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Next year’s parade is planned to follow the same route, but in reverse.

“I don’t think you could heighten interest any more - this will be people’s first chance to have a large centenary celebration,” he added

Nationalist commentator Malachi O’Doherty said he hopes the Orangemen have a good day.

“But there is no sense now in which an Orange Celebration can be regarded as representative of Northern Ireland, a region which is no longer defined by Protestantism or Orangeism,” he said.

Tens of thousands took part in the Ulster Covenant centenary parade in 2012. The Orange Order says many people want to replicate the experience. Picture: Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.

“There was a time in my youth when a minister might lose his job for not being an Orangeman or for attending a Catholic mass. But those days are long over. Let them celebrate the survival of Orangeism into a secular and diverse culture, but if they want to say they are celebrating Northern Ireland, then let them invite [LGBT] Pride and a few others to join them.”

Commentator Ruth Dudley Edwards said opposition to NI Centenary celebrations will only have heightened interest in the parade.

Sinn Fein’s “mean-mindedness” in stifling a range of centenary events and Irish President Michael D Higgins’ decision not to attend a commemoration event in Armagh were “bound to provoke a reaction” among grassroots unionists, she said, “as was the establishment’s timidity about commemorating the centenary”.

She added: “But I’m all for a great celebration of the courage of all those from all backgrounds who withstood terrorism democratically and who worked hard to make Northern Ireland prosper. I’m much encouraged at how many young people reject tribal labels and just love the place where they live. I look forward to being in Belfast next year to cheer the parade.”

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