Over 1,000 Orangemen from Mourne district took part in one of the most scenic Twelfth parades in Northern Ireland.
The magnificent backdrop of the Mourne Mountains and the Irish Sea provided the perfect setting for probably the most intimate procession of the season.
Fourteen of the 15 lodges were accompanied by their own bands, adding to the special family atmosphere during the day out in the Co Down seaside village.
Among them was the biggest individual private lodge on parade, with Ballyvea LOL 343a boasting a total of 162 members.
District Master Neal Cousins said: “It has been a brilliant day, with lots of sun and a great turnout.”
A total of 1,069 Orangemen and 15 bands – pipe, silver, flute and accordion – all took part.
“It is the most scenic of all the Orange parades, with brethren walking from Kilkeel to Annalong against the amazing backdrop of the Mournes.”
He affirmed the old tradition that the men of the Kingdom of Mourne are a breed apart, separated from the rest of the country on one side by the sea and on the other by mountains.
Despite years of invitations to visit fellow Orangemen elsewhere on the Twelfth, they always graciously decline in favour of savouring the day on their home territory.
“You would never leave Mourne on the Twelfth,” he said with a smile.
The epitome of the quaint and family rural Twelfth, every Mourne lodge brought “a picnic lunch” for their families and members.
“So really it was just a great big family picnic,” said Mr Cousins.
Such is the family atmosphere that the Mourne diaspora often make a point of migrating home for the event – from all corners of the globe.
On this occasion one such returnee was the past grand master of New York State, John Agnew. Originally from south Down, he left many years ago and, now in his 80s, returns to enjoy a traditional Mourne Twelfth.
The order in south Down has also seen an influx of new members in 2017.
“There are probably about 30 people have joined,” said Mr Cousins.
Asked why the sudden influx, he replied: “It is just a Mourne tradition that has not died away – ‘the Sash my father wore’.
“When you are growing up, most of your friends are in the Orange and you agree with its principles.
“Mostly the Twelfth here is about coming together and meeting many old friends.”
As is tradition, lodges left Kilkeel Orange Hall at 10.45am and walked the five-mile route to Annalong where they met their fellow Orangemen at Valley Road, before the entire district paraded through Annalong to the demonstration field.
In the village, the procession walked along the Shore Road, only a few yards from the sea.
A number of new banners were on display, including a tribute by Aughnahoory Heroes LOL 343b to local war hero Robert Hill Hanna.
The Kilkeel native, a senior soldier in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, received the Victoria Cross for his outstanding bravery during the First World War.
Kilkeel True Blues LOL 1034 also recently unfurled their new banner, depicting the town’s harbour.
This year, Glenloughan Loyal Sons of Ulster LOL 1914 are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the opening of their hall. The building is known for its impressive viewpoint, overlooking Carlingford Lough.
The religious service began at about 2.15pm. The guest speakers were Sam Walker, the County Down grand master, and Rev Bobbie Stevenson, a Presbyterian minister and member of Mourne District.
County Grand Master Mr Walker spoke from the platform at the field, bringing greetings of the county to the members.
He also reaffirmed the tenets of the faith in this, the 500th, anniversary year of the Reformation.