Orange Parades are a Celebration

A parade or procession, is not unique to the Orange Order. In the British Isles, many examples can be found  of other organisations parading in celebration of their history. There are Saint Patrick's Day Parades in Armagh, Dublin and even New York. The Ancient Order of Hibernians parade on Lady's Day on 15th August and within the UK there are many parades on Remembrance Sunday. Worldwide there are the Fourth of July Parades in the United States, Bastille day in France and Mardi Gras in Rio, to name a few.

Orange Order Parade in Toronto, Canada circa 1870

What We Celebrate

Orangemen celebrate the victory of King William III at the Battle of the Boyne on 1st July (old calendar) and on the 12th July (modern calendar). Several other battles were part of William's campaign in Ireland and these include The Siege of Derry, The Resistance of the Enniskillen men and the battle of Aughrim. Collectively these form the Boyne Celebration on the 12th July.

The Battle of the Boyne, by Jan Wyck,
National Army Museum, London

The Boyne is celebrated, not because the victory guaranteed the Protestant Ascendancy, but rather, because it guaranteed civil and religious liberty for all. Until the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when King James was replaced by King William and Queen Mary, the British Isles were classed as an absolute monarchy (where the reigning monarch has total control over the country). After 1688, the British Isles were established firmly on the path to Parliamentary Democracy. Thus it can be seen that the freedoms and liberties which we hold dear in today's United Kingdom, can be traced directly to King William and the Glorious Revolution.
The parades celebrate the Protestant religion, culture and it's survival. They also celebrate the Political and Cultural links which remain to this day between Britain and Ireland.

A Display of Pagentry

The parades involve much use of colour, music and pagentry. The sash is a collarette worn in remembrance of King William, who wore such a sash at the Battle of the Boyne.  The Lodges carry flags and banners which are unique to their own Lodge.

Caddy L.O.L 1124 of Randalstown showing
King William crossing the river Boyne

Most banners are painted with cultural,religious or political symbols such as, William crossing the Boyne, Cromwell, Churchill, Lord Carson, Samson and Goliath and the Martyrdom of Bishops Latimer and Ridley, to name a few. Other subjects would include deceased members of Lodges and famous landmarks or churches within the district which the Lodge is from. Officers within the Lodges will carry bibles, ceremonial swords and other items associated with the organisation. Overall it is a very colourful, lively and loud spectacle!

Millar Memorial Flute Band from Belfast 

The bands which accompany the Lodges are of varied style: accordian,flute, bagpipe, brass, fife and drum. Many of these bands carry on a first class musical tradition, where dedication and hours of practise have been rewarded with many awards at music festivals both locally and Nationally. They variety of music played is wide, from hymns,marching tunes, to party songs like "The Sash My Father Wore", popular tunes and even today some Irish tunes, such as "The Town I loved So Well" often get an airing.

Lambeg Drums

One of the oldest forms of music associated with Orange Parades is the Lambeg drum. The tradition of these drums is older that the Orange Order itself and it has links with the Dutch Regiments which accompanied William on his way to the Boyne. The heavy drums are beaten with Malacca canes and are extremely loud, but are a fantastic sight and certainly add to the overall spectacle. Unfortunately these drums are mainly only seen in the country 12th July Parades in Northern Ireland, as they are so heavy, they sometimes slow down the larger city parades.

A Statement of Beliefs

The classic example of this is the carrying of the open Bible - God's open word. Also the symbols on the banners and on collarettes indicate the priorities of every Orangeman. For example, the Bible and Crown on collarettes reflect a belief in religion and a way of life based on Biblical Truth and obedience to the crown as a symbol of lawful authority.

Pride of Norris Green Accordian Band from Liverpool

A Sense of History and Tradition

The Parades provide a sense of linking with past generations and family members. Most Orangemen have a deep sense of pride when taking part in the parade. In many areas, Orangemen are parading with the same Lodge and on the same roads where their family members paraded, over 200 years ago. Often sashes or collarettes are passed down the family lines and there is a great feeling of pride when wearing the sash my Father or Grandfather wore, to quote a famous song!

Battle of the Boyne Commemoration Parade in Glasgow

A Focal Point for Lodge and Community

Orange Lodges do not exist just for parading. Many Lodges do wider community and charitable work. Especially in more rural areas, the local Orange Hall can be a focal point for the community and indeed many halls are hired out or loaned to groups for staging a variety of activities ranging from aerobics classes to amateur dramatics societies!

Tandragee, County Armagh

Individual Lodges erect arches in their area, put up bunting and decorations, organise Church services and parades as part of the celebration of their religion and culture.

The Twelfth of July Parade is the culmination of their yearly activities and a source of immense pride.