Countless thousands of Orangemen, women, bands and supporters pounded the streets of the Province with pride yesterday in what the Grand Master Edward Stevenson called “a perfect day”.
In a jubilant-sounding post-event message, he said brethren had been delighted to welcome a number of figures to the Twelfth for the first time – including Secretary of State Karen Bradley, and Ireland’s tourism minister Brendan Griffin – citing it as evidence of the growing appeal of Orange culture.
Mrs Bradley had been formally invited to the Twelfth recently by the grand master, and the order said it is believed this is the first time a serving secretary of state has accepted such an invitation.
In addition, ex-Ireland rugby captain Brian O’Driscoll made a surprise appearance at the Loughgall gathering – wowing onlookers by attempting a spot of Lambeg drumming.
Mr Stevenson said: “The 328th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne will be remembered as a perfect day for the extraordinary numbers of people celebrating the largest annual festival in Northern Ireland.
“The favourable weather conditions added to the sense of occasion; as tens of thousands of our members, accompanying bands and spectators revelled in the pageantry and spectacle of the Twelfth at 17 different venues across the Province.
“There was an enhanced international flavour, with many visitors taking part in our parades, and many tourists sampling the carnival atmosphere.
“We were delighted to welcome all those experiencing their first Twelfth, including representatives from our own government and the Irish Republic. The Orange fraternity of Co Armagh were also thrilled to be in the company of former Irish rugby international, Brian O’Driscoll, who excelled himself on the Lambeg drum.
“Such developments are to be commended and highlight the broad and growing appeal of our cultural traditions.
“I trust everyone involved – participants, supporters, onlookers and traders – had a wonderful day; and we look forward to doing it all over again next year.”
The upbeat day took place despite rioting by some loyalists the previous night, and several days of republican violence – including attempted murders – in Londonderry.
This continued yet again last night, with police saying petrol bombers had targeted them in the Bogside, with young children among those assembling in a crowd.
• See full Twelfth coverage in today’s News Letter