Northern Ireland is renowned for rolling green farm lands, beautiful coast lines and famous geometric pillars. Each of its 6 counties holds diversity in landscape, history and community. This country has been tested in many ways and is still trying to find the balance between its societies and cultures.
Northern Ireland has seen a swell of tourism and commerce in the last few years. Mainly thanks to the MTV European Music Awards in 2011 and Radio One’s big weekend in 2013 hosted within Derry/Londonderry, a walled northern city that was awarded City of Culture the same year.
These mainstream televised events showed Northern Ireland for what it is, a welcoming beautifully landscaped place that’s finally regaining its feet after years of controversy. It has justly gained a reputation as a tourist highlight for those seeking culture, boundless atmosphere, rich antiquity and folklore.
This week brings to Northern Ireland the annual Orangemen’s 12th day parade. Locally known as ‘the twelfth’ this is an Ulster-protestant celebration. Led by the Orange Order-Northern Ireland’s largest protestant community. This parade tributes to several protestant events dating back to the 17th century. Namely the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, where Dutch protestant King William of Orange defeated catholic King James II of England.
The lead up to the twelfth is celebrated with streets lined with union jack and Ulster flags, bunting and painted curbs. Huge towering bonfires are lit on the 11th July in most unionist areas, creating a dramatic image. While it can be viewed as a family friendly occasion to celebrate religion, it has also been dissected as a show of strength and challenge to others outside the protestant community.
To honour the ancient Battle of the Boyne victory, parades of Orangemen and local bands march through their communities displaying the banners of their town. The pride is evident from those involved, whether they’re marching for the 20th year or baton twirling front and centre for the first time.
The march ends in a large field or park where parade marchers, friends and family eat, drink and celebrate. This is a spectacle to view for its atmosphere and gathering of many generations. The loud reverberating lambeg drums hold a beat that can be heard for miles around. Held in over 14 different locations across Northern Ireland, the twelfth resonates with an excitement and spirit that is an experience to remember. It is a celebration that has adapted 17th century tradition to involve all ages and generations.
Northern Ireland’s history has seen injustice and resistance with its people divided by religion. With the country’s population split almost evenly into catholic and protestant communities, a celebration like the twelfth parade, is a joyous day for some and a day of strain for others.
For those that will watch this demonstration in any part of Northern Ireland know that for many, this is a day of simple joy and celebration, a tradition to celebrate the origins and history of a people. It verifies the friendly, welcoming nature Northern Ireland is known and loved for.
The twelfth is a great example of the different perspectives one long standing tradition may have. That sometimes there can be a fine line between honouring your traditions and respecting the beliefs of those around you. Perception and respect are crucial to this July festival, especially when beliefs and values are handed down to the next generation. To watch a twelfth parade, is to watch a part of history. A history that is deeply rooted in freedom and division.
How freely are you able to celebrate your beliefs?