Twelfth of July parade in Belfast

 

The Twelfth of July is one of the biggest festivals in Northern Ireland, and celebrates the Protestant King William III (aka Prince William of Orange) defeating the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Although not as internationally famous as Rio’s Carnival or New Orleans’ Mardi Gras festival, “The Twelfth” can boast a history going back centuries. The Orange Order was set up in 1795 to defend Protestants’ civil and religious liberties, and they have been celebrating King William’s victory every year since then.

Orangemen march up the Lisburn Road
Orangemen march up the Lisburn Road
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Children browse the selection of merchandise on offer at this pop-up Twelfth stall, while a flag of King William catches the eye of a passer-by
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Orangemen too old to march find other ways to take part in the parade

The Twelfth: an Extravaganza of Colour and Music

Like Mexico’s Cinco de Mayo, the Twelfth of July (also called Orangefest) goes beyond simply commemorating a historic battle, but is a celebration of cultural identity for Northern Ireland’s ProtestantUnionist community. Parades are held throughout the province and feature sash-wearing Orangemen (members of the Orange Order) carrying an assortment of colourful flags and banners, accompanied by marching bands playing flutes and drums. Spectators line the streets waiving Union Jacks to celebrate their British identity, while kerbstones are painted red, white and blue for the same reason.

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People enjoying a colourful Twelfth of July parade in 2014, despite the rain

However, the holiday is not celebrated by everyone in Northern Ireland. Many in the CatholicNationalist community view it as triumphalist and sectarian. They dislike when Orangemen march through their streets, and occasionally riots can break out between the two communities during the “marching season”.

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King William Park between Lisburn Road and University Road is closed off to protect it over the Twelfth this year, but the barrier has been vandalised with graffiti
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Orange marches are unwelcome in some areas

 

 

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