The ‘Last Saturday’ Royal Black demonstrations are always highly colourful spectacles and, at the five venues, record numbers of spectators turned out to watch the last parades of the loyal order marching season.
In the heart of the Mournes, Co Down’s demonstration drew tens of thousands of spectators who thronged the route to Kilkeel for the 10,000-strong parade of 107 preceptories and 100 bands, about a dozen from Co Armagh.
A ‘Last Saturday’ veteran going back 50 years observed: “I’ve never seen a turn-out of people like this for a Last Saturday.”
To set the scene, Mourne District – the biggest numerically in Co Down – had the world’s largest preceptory in the ranks, Elijah’s Chosen Few RBP 208, which has a membership of almost 300 and on Saturday had 260 on parade. Walking impressively three deep, 208 took up the entire length of Greencastle Street.
Twelve other districts were in the parade – Lower Iveagh, Lecale, Castlewellan, Newry, Ballynahinch, Banbridge, Rathfriland, Largymore, Comber, Newtownards, Saintfield and Bangor.
Bands are always an attraction in Co Down and there was high-quality music from the world-grade flute outfits – Ballylone, Ballygowan, Ballywalter, Hunter Moore (Newry) and Lord Londonderry CLB (Newtowards).
Top pipe, accordion and silver bands also stood out in the two and a half hour parade.
The biggest loyal order parade in the west Tyrone village in living memory marked the 150th anniversary of Strabane Black District.
At the twin-county event were 84 preceptories and bands from eight districts in Tyrone/Armagh – Strabane, Omagh, Castlederg, Aughnacloy, Killyman, East Tyrone, Primatial City (Armagh) and Summerisland (Loughgall). Contingents from counties Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan were especially welcomed in the parade, from Baronscourt Road to Castle Brae.
“Newtownstewart has never had a parade this size before; thousands are here to watch,” reported proud west Tyrone man and journalist Austin Hunter.
The Co Antrim parade of 79 preceptories and 75 bands also pulled out the crowds in large numbers.
Districts represented in the walk to Wallace Park were Lisburn, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Larne, Antrim and Ballyclare, who were welcomed by the Lisburn District Master Edward Carson.
A service was held at the war memorial with platform proceedings later at Wallace Park. There, Co Antrim Grand chaplain Rev Robert Campbell called on Institution members to renew their Christian vows.
“Our personal faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross brings life: newness, eternal and abundance of life,” he said.
Belfast’s 59 preceptories and 33 bands received a warm welcome on Bannside by the large crowds present.
A service was held in Holy Trinity church before the parade, conducted by the rector the Rev Roderic West.
“Banbridge was an ideal venue for our preceptories and bands. People warmly welcomed us,” said Belfast Orange Grand Master George Chittick.
Causeway Coast holiday-makers boosted the crowds for the Londonderry parade.
The 32 preceptories and bands from Coleraine, South Derry, City of Londonderry and Raphoe (Co Donegal) districts created a special atmosphere, proceeding along Strand Road and promenade to Warren Park.
Londonderry Grand Master David Hay presided, with the address given by Ballymena Presbyterian minister Rev Joseph Andrews.