VIDEO: Vast loyalist parade sweeps through city in honour of WW1 dead

An enormous loyalist parade snaked its way across Belfast on Saturday afternoon, in remembrance of the 36th Ulster Division.

Ranks of marchers dressed in period costume, including Great War-era nurses and soldiers bearing rifles, walked from north Belfast through the centre and then to the eastern side of the city.

Loyalist parade through Belfast

Loyalist parade through Belfast

Police were unable to provide an estimate for the day’s turnout when asked by the News Letter.

Originally up to 15,000 participants were expected to be involved, and Alan Hill – one of the day’s main organisers – said officers had informed him there could actually have been up to 18,000.

“It must have been up around what the Orange Order have on the Twelfth of July”, he said.

Among those on the march were Orangemen and Apprentice Boys from as far away as Londonderry, Fermanagh and possibly Co Cavan, with some representatives of Somme associations in Scotland and England also present.

The Somme commemoration parade as it makes its way through east Belfast

The Somme commemoration parade as it makes its way through east Belfast

The parade also featured ‘soldiers’ on horseback, an old-fashioned ambulance, and a Jeep-type vehicle with a Maxim-style machine gun mounted on the back of it.

Mr Hill, 55-year-old chairman of Lagan Village Somme Society, said the horses themselves appeared to have proved a hit with camera-toting tourists.

He told the News Letter the whole event had been nine months in the making.

It was staged in the name of the 36th Ulster Division Memorial Association.

“The date wasn’t chosen, as such – history dictated it,” he said.

The event marked the departure from Belfast – on May 8, 1915 – of the Ulster Division.

They went to England, where they completed their basic training before being shipped to the Somme.

A great many never saw Ulster again.

“It is just to remember the fallen, our forefathers, and the sacrifices they made,” said Mr Hill.

“I think it was nice; it was done in a very orderly, dignified fashion. People are remembering World War One now. It’s not just one side; it’s both sides. All the communities lost fathers, sons, brothers in those days.”

While he said it would “probably be right” to describe the parade as being a loyalist/unionist one, he stressed that any community groups or associations were welcome to attend.

The money for the costumes and vehicles had all been raised by groups or individuals themselves.

To give some scale of the cost involved, he said his own Ulster Division uniform alone had cost around about £250, with the boots costing another £75.

There were hundreds, if not thousands, wearing similar period dress on the streets.

Asked why they had opted for May 9 instead of 8, Mr Hill said: “If we had it on Friday, when people were trying to get to work and come home from work, it would have been total bedlam.”

He said the ‘no alcohol’ rule had been adhered to by those involved, and said “the only so-called restriction” placed on the parade was that only hymns should be played outside St Matthew’s chapel at the Short Strand.

As far as he was aware this was kept to.

By co-incidence, the march co-incided with the funeral of IRA man Jock Davison nearby – something he said was “just one of those strange things”.