A Presbyterian cleric launched a broadside against “scheming” nationalists and republicans at the large-scale Twelfth gathering in Newtownstewart, and issued a call for the UK to remain a unified state.
Rev David Reid, a grand chaplain of the Orange Order and minister of the Ardstraw and Douglas Bridge congregations, was speaking as thousands of Orange marchers and bandsmen were gathered in the north-west Tyrone town.
Tuesday was the first day the Twelfth has been held in the town since 2010.
Pipe bands played a particularly prominent part in the day – of the 51 bands listed as participating on the Parades Commission’s website, 33 were pipe bands.
Rev Reid noted that this year is the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, and hailed the courage of the thousands of men from the 36th Ulster Division who died in the initial stages of the 141-day long Great War battle.
He also added that next year will mark the 500th anniversary of “the Reformed Protestant Faith” (1517 having been the year when Luther was said to have begun his public protest against the Catholic Church).
During his address he spoke of the political “turmoil” wrought by the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, observing that “the Prime Minister is on his way out and may soon be followed by the leader of the opposition”.
He told those gathered in the demonstration field near Abercorn Bridge off the A5: “Whatever your opinion of Brexit the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has voted to leave.
“In spite of the scheming of nationalist and republican politicians, I believe that it has to be emphasized that we leave or stay as a United Kingdom.
“This was after all a national vote not a regional one.
“In particular the government of the south should have no role in attempting to negotiate on behalf of Northern Ireland.”
He went on to reflect on the first of this year’s three agreed resolutions, which were read out at Orange gatherings across Northern Ireland.
The resolution states: “We deplore the efforts of those in positions of authority who not only tolerate, but actively promote, immorality and injustice.”
The Rev Reid added: “We see this going on around us everyday.
“We are told that we need to be enlightened and part of the modern world.
“Brethren, the enlightenment we need is what we already have.
“It is in all of our homes and lodge rooms.
“It is the Word of God in the pages of Holy Scripture.
“We need to read the Bible and be led and guided by what it says.”
He also lamented recent attacks on Orange Halls, and restrictions on Orange marches by what he dubbed “the Anti-Parades Commission”; a body he described as “discredited and dysfunctional”.
He said: “As an Institution we respect the right of all men, even those with whom we disagree, to believe what they wish.
“In doing so we expect others to give us the same courtesy.”
District secretary Derek Tinney, from LOL9 in Newtownstewart, said that in total 56 lodges had been present on the day, plus another three women’s lodges.
He estimated that the total number of bandsmen and Orange marchers together would have been roughly 2,000 to 2,500.
Despite intermittent showers, he said there had been a strong turnout, with crowds up to three people deep on the main route through the town.
“The mood and atmosphere is just fantastic,” said the 69-year-old retired civil servant from the Sion Mills area.
“People are just enjoying themselves, and there’s a joviality.
“I’ve been going to Twelfths for the last 50 to 55 years. This is up there among the best.”