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.
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 Protestant–Unionist 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.
However, the holiday is not celebrated by everyone in Northern Ireland. Many in the Catholic–Nationalist 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”.