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The Twelfth

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The Twelfth

The Twelfth
Orangemen parading in Bangor on 12 July 2010
Also called Orangemen's Day,
Observed by Orange Order and many Ulster Protestants
Significance Celebration of the Glorious Revolution (1688) and victory of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne (1690)
Celebrations Parading, Eleventh Night, erecting flags and bunting
Date 12 July
Next time 12 July 2015 (2015-07-12)
Related to Eleventh Night

The Twelfth (also called Orangemen's Day)[1] is an Ulster Protestant celebration held on 12 July each year. It originated during the 18th century in Ulster, a province of Ireland that was heavily colonised by Protestant settlers from northern Britain. It celebrates the Glorious Revolution (1688) and victory of Protestant king William of Orange over Catholic king James II at the Battle of the Boyne (1690), which helped ensure Protestant supremacy in Ireland. On and around the Twelfth, large parades are held by the Orange Order and Ulster loyalist marching bands, streets are bedecked with British flags and bunting, and large towering bonfires are lit. Today the Twelfth is mainly celebrated in Northern Ireland (where it is a public holiday), but smaller celebrations are held in other parts of the world where Orange lodges have been set up. The Twelfth involves thousands of participants and spectators, although not all Ulster Protestants celebrate it.

In Ulster, where about half the population is from a Protestant background and half from a Catholic background, the Twelfth has been accompanied by violence from both communities since its beginning. Many Catholics and the Troubles. The Drumcree conflict is perhaps the most well-known dispute involving Orange marches. Attempts have recently been made to downplay the political aspects of the marches and present the Twelfth as a cultural, family-friendly event at which tourists are welcome. Although most events pass off peacefully, some continue to result in violence.


The Shankill Road decorated with flags and bunting for The Twelfth

Orangemen commemorated several events dating from the 17th century onwards, celebrating the survival of Protestantism during the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and triumph in the Williamite War in Ireland (1689–91). The first such commemoration was the anniversary of the 1641 rebellion on 23 October, an attempted coup d'état by Irish Catholic gentry who tried to seize control of the English administration in Ireland. The second major day was the birthday of William of Orange, Protestant victor of the Williamite war in the 1690s on 4 November. Both of these anniversaries faded in popularity by the end of the 18th century.

The Twelfth itself originated as a celebration of the Battle of Aughrim, which took place on 12 July 1691 in the Julian calendar. Aughrim was the decisive battle of the Williamite war, in which the predominantly Irish Catholic Jacobite army was destroyed and the remainder capitulated at Limerick. The Twelfth in the early 18th century was a popular commemoration of this battle, featuring bonfires and parades. The Battle of the Boyne (fought on 1 July 1690) was commemorated with smaller parades on 1 July. However, the two events were combined in the late 18th century.[2] The first reason for this was the British switch to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, which re-positioned the Battle of the Boyne to 11 July in the new calendar, the eve of the Battle of Aughrim, on 12 July in the old calendar. The second reason was the foundation of the Orange Order in 1795. The Order preferred the Boyne, due to William of Orange's presence there. It has also been suggested that in the 1790s (a time of Roman Catholic resurgence) the Boyne, where the Jacobites were routed, was more appealing to the Order than Aughrim, where they had fought hard and died in great numbers.[3]

The Order's first ever marches took place on 12 July 1796 in Portadown, Lurgan and Waringstown.[4] The Twelfth parades of the early 19th century often led to public disorder, so much so that the Orange Order and The Twelfth were banned in the 1830s and 40s (see below).


An "Orange Arch" and bunting raised over a road in Annalong (see for more pictures)

Lead-up to the Twelfth

Loyalist flags flying outside (foreground) and from within (background) the Catholic chapel in Dervock. The flags have been erected for the 12th of July celebrations and have attracted criticism from Nationalist politicians for its blatant sectarianism. At the bottom right of the picture, the kerbstones outside the chapel have been painted red, white and blue.

In the weeks leading up to the Twelfth, the Orange Order and Ulster loyalist marching bands hold numerous parades in Northern Ireland. The most common of these are lodge parades, in which one Orange lodge marches with one band. Others, such as the "mini-Twelfth" at the start of July, involve several lodges.

From June to August, Protestant, unionist and loyalist areas of Northern Ireland are bedecked with flags and bunting, which are usually flown from lamp-posts and houses. The most common flags flown are the Union Jack and Ulster Banner. Kerbstones may be painted red, white and blue and murals may be made. Steel or wooden arches, bedecked with flags and Orange symbolism, are raised over certain streets.[5] These 'Orange arches' are inspired by triumphal arches.

As well as the Union Jack and Ulster Banner, the flags of illegal loyalist paramilitaries—such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA)—are flown in some areas. The raising of these flags near Catholic and Irish nationalist neighbourhoods, or in "neutral" areas, often leads to tension and sometimes violence. It is seen as deliberately provocative and intimidating.[6]

Eleventh Night

A bonfire prepared for the 11th night in Newtownabbey

On the night before The Twelfth—the "Eleventh Night"—huge towering bonfires are lit in many Protestant, unionist and loyalist areas of Northern Ireland. In many of these areas the bonfires are seen as family-friendly community celebrations. However, not all Protestants attend the bonfires and people from the Irish Catholic community avoid them, as they have been associated with sectarianism and alcohol-fuelled violence.[7] Effigies and symbols of the Irish nationalist and Irish Catholic community are often burnt on the fires.[7] More recently, symbols of the large Polish immigrant community have been burnt on the fires, which the Polish Association of Northern Ireland has described as "racist intimidation".[8] Loyalist paramilitaries have also used the event to hold "shows of strength", in which masked gunmen fire volleys of shots into the air.[7] Another issue that has been raised is the environmental pollution, as tyres are often burnt.[7] However, in recent years, there have been attempts to make the bonfires more family-friendly and environmentally-friendly.[9]

Main events

Orangemen and supporting bands parading in Omagh on 12 July 2008

The main way in which the Twelfth is celebrated is through large parades involving Orangemen and supporting bands. Most of the parades are in Northern Ireland, though Orange lodges elsewhere often hold parades too. The parade usually begins at an Orange Hall, proceeds through the town or city and out to a large park or field where the marchers, their friends and family, and the general public gather to eat, drink and listen to speeches by clergymen, politicians and senior members of the Order. In the past the Twelfth has been a major venue for discussion of the political issues of the day. A church service will also be held and sometimes band prizes will be awarded.[10] Within Northern Ireland, each District Lodge usually organises its own parade. In rural districts the parade will rotate around various towns, sometimes favouring those in which there is less likely to be trouble, but in other years choosing those in which it is felt the 'right to march' needs to be defended.

Orangemen in full regalia on 12 July 2011 in Belfast

In Northern Ireland, there is a long tradition of Protestant and loyalist marching bands, which can be found in most towns. The Orangemen hire these bands to march with them on the Twelfth. The bands have a reputation as being less respectable than the Orangemen, although they are seen by many as serving the useful purpose of keeping young men from working class areas out of trouble. An instrument almost unique to these marches is the Lambeg drum. Popular songs include "The Sash" and "Derry's Walls". Explicitly violent songs such as "Billy Boys" may also be played.

The vast majority of marchers are men, but there are some all-women bands and a few mixed bands. Some all-male bands have female flag or banner carriers. There are also some Women's Orange Lodges who take part in the parades. Orangewomen have paraded on the Twelfth in some rural areas since at least the mid-20th century, but were banned from the Belfast parades until the 1990s.

Orangemen returning from the field less formally

Orangemen on parade typically wear a dark suit, an Orange sash, white gloves and a bowler hat.[9] Certain Orangemen carry a ceremonial sword. In hot weather, many lodges will parade in short-sleeved shirts. Orangewomen have not developed a standard dress code, but usually dress formally. The supporting bands each have their own uniforms and colours. Both the Orangemen and bands carry elaborate banners depicting Orange heroes, historic or Biblical scenes, and/or political symbols and slogans. The most popular image is that of King William of Orange crossing the River Boyne during the famous battle.[11]

At the field, some lodges and bands don humorous outfits or accessories and make the return journey in them, and the mood is generally more mellow, although in times of tension it can also be more aggressive.

The Northern Ireland parades are given extensive local TV and press coverage and the BBC programme The Twelfth is the longest running outside broadcast programme in Northern Ireland.

Controversies and violence

In Northern Ireland, where almost half the population is from an Irish Catholic background, The Twelfth is a tense time. Orange marches through Irish Catholic and Irish nationalist neighbourhoods are usually met with opposition from residents, and this sometimes leads to violence. Many of them see such marches as sectarian, triumphalist,[12][13][14][15] supremacist,[15][16][17][18] and an assertion of British and Ulster Protestant dominance. The political aspects[19][20][21] have caused further tension. Marchers insist that they have the right to celebrate their culture and walk on public streets, particularly along their 'traditional routes'.[22][23] In a 2011 survey of Orangemen throughout Northern Ireland, 58% of Orangemen said they should be allowed to march through Catholic or Irish nationalist areas with no restrictions; 20% said they should negotiate with residents first.[24] Some have argued that members of both communities once participated in the event;[25] although it has always been a Protestant affair and many Catholics opposed the marches.[26]

Violence has accompanied Twelfth marches since their beginning.

A depiction of the 12 July 1871 riot in New York City
  • On 12 July 1797, eight Catholic members of the County Kerry Militia died in a clash with Orangemen and local yeomanry in Stewartstown.[27]
  • Clashes broke out between Orange marchers and Irish nationalists in Belfast on 12 July 1813. Several Orangemen opened-fire on the crowd in Hercules Street, killing two Protestants and wounding four other people.[28][29]
  • On 12 July 1829, eight people were killed during Orange marches in Enniskillen, seven were killed in Clones and one was killed in Stewartstown. In Maghera, several Catholic homes were burnt down, prompting the intervention of the military. There was also trouble at marches in Armagh, Portadown, Bellaghy, Comber, Greyabbey, Glenoe and Strabane.[30]
  • Five Catholics were reportedly shot dead in Rathfriland and three or four were drowned in the river near Katesbridge after Twelfth marches in 1831.[31] The following August, all Twelfth marches were banned by the Party Processions Act. This Act was to be enforced for 5 years, until August 1837.
  • The military used six pieces of artillery to help quell trouble at a Twelfth gathering at Scarva in 1836.[32]
  • A gun battle broke out on the Twelfth in 1849, when Orangemen marched through the rural Catholic community of Dolly's Brae near Castlewellan. Orangemen clashed with Catholic Ribbonmen, leaving a number of Catholics and Ribbonmen dead. This became known as the "Battle of Dolly's Brae". As a result of the clashes, the Party Processions Act was renewed the following year.
  • Following the 1857 Twelfth marches in Belfast, sectarian rioting erupted in the city and lasted for ten days.[33]
  • The Portadown News reported that 16 Catholics were shot by Orangemen in Derrymacash on 12 July 1860. One died of his wounds. Stone-throwing had broken out when the Orangemen tried to march past the Catholic chapel. Outnumbered, some of the Orangemen opened-fire on the Catholics and retreated. This led to the passing of the Party Emblems Act in August that year, which forbade the carrying of weapons and the wearing of party colours in procession.[31]
  • There were clashes two years in a row during Twelfth marches in New York City. In 1870, eight people died in the clashes. In 1871, over 60 civilians (mostly Irish Catholics) and three Guardsmen lost their lives and over 150 were wounded.
  • Throughout the summer of 1886, there were a string of riots in Belfast. Violence was particularly fierce during and after the Twelfth. By September, an estimated 31 people had been killed.
  • In 1935 the Twelfth led to the worst violence in Belfast since the foundation of Northern Ireland in 1922. The violence allegedly began when Orangemen tried to enter the Catholic enclave of Lancaster Street. Nine people were killed and 514 Catholic families, comprising 2,241 people, were forced to flee their homes.

During the Troubles (late 1960s to late 1990s), the Twelfth was often accompanied by riots and paramilitary violence. In 1972, three people were shot dead on the Twelfth in Portadown.[34] On the Twelfth in 1998, during the Drumcree standoff, three young boys were killed when loyalists firebombed their house in Ballymoney. The boys' mother was a Catholic, and their home was in a mainly-Protestant housing estate. The killings provoked widespread anger from both sides of the community.

The Shankill Protestant Boys on 12 July 2011 in Belfast

Since the Troubles began, some bands hired to appear at Twelfth marches have openly shown support for loyalist paramilitary groups, either by carrying paramilitary flags and banners or sporting paramilitary names and emblems.[35][36][37] A number of prominent loyalist militants were Orangemen and took part in their marches. In February 1992, the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) shot dead five Catholic civilians in a betting shop in Belfast. When Orangemen marched past the shop that 12 July, some marchers held up five fingers in mockery of the five dead. The Secretary of State, Patrick Mayhew, said that they "would have disgraced a tribe of cannibals".[38]

Every Twelfth between 1970 and 2005, British Army soldiers were deployed in Belfast to help police the parades.[7] Due to improved policing, dialogue between marchers and residents, and the Northern Ireland peace process, parades have been generally more peaceful since the 2000s. The Parades Commission was set up in 1998 to deal with contentious parades.

During the Troubles some Irish Catholic and nationalist areas organised festivals to keep their children away from the parades, where they might come into conflict with Protestant children, and to make the Twelfth more enjoyable for their communities.

The Twelfth outside Northern Ireland

Orangemen parading in Larkhall, Scotland (July 2008)

Although mostly a Northern Ireland event, the Twelfth is also celebrated in other countries with strong links to Ulster or a history of settlement by Irish Protestants. Outside of Northern Ireland, The Twelfth is widely commemorated in Scotland - particularly in and around Glasgow, where most Scots-Irish traditionally settled. In England and Wales Orange marches are uncommon and Orange Order membership is found primarily in the Merseyside region, though numbers are still small.[39] Marches here tend to be held a week or so before the Twelfth, due to the number of bands and lodges who travel to Northern Ireland to march there. The Liverpool lodges parade both in the city and in the seaside resort of Southport on the 12th July.

There are also Twelfth marches in Canada and Australia. As the longest consecutively held parade in North America (starting in 1821), the Twelfth March was the largest parade in Toronto until the 1970s[40] when thousands of Orangemen would march in front of tens of thousands of spectators.[41] At the time, the Orange Order held such sway that membership in the Orange Order was an unspoken pre-requisite for holding civic office.[42] However, the march's popularity has drastically diminished in recent years, as only about 500 people participate in modern Orange parades,[40] making its size a mere fraction of other parades in Toronto such as Carnival, Khalsa Day, and Gay Pride. Twelfth parades were also common in Eastern Ontario and the Niagara region, which were heavily populated by descendants of Loyalists from the American colonies who fled after American independence. 'Orangemen's Day' is still a significant holiday in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, where it is an official provincial paid-holiday.[43] Parades were also formerly held in New Zealand on the Twelfth.[44]

Until the Partition of Ireland, the Twelfth was celebrated by Protestants in many parts of Ireland, but the shrinking of the Protestant population in what is now the Republic of Ireland has greatly lessened the number held. The only remaining yearly parade is in Rossnowlagh and was held on the Twelfth until the 1970s, when it was moved to the weekend before.[45]

In July 2010, former Tánaiste Michael McDowell said that the Twelfth should be made a national holiday in the Republic of Ireland as well as in Northern Ireland.[46]

See also


  1. ^ Bank holidays NI Direct
  2. ^ Padraig Lenihan, The Battle of the Boyne, Tempus, 2003, ISBN 0-7524-2597-8 p258-259
  3. ^ Padraig Lenihan, 1690 Battle of the Boyne, page 258-260)
  4. ^ McCormack, W J. The Blackwell Companion to Modern Irish Culture. Wiley-Blackwell, 2001. Page 317.
  5. ^ Jarman, Neil. Material Conflicts: Parades and Visual Displays in Northern Ireland. Berg, 1997. p.209
  6. ^ "Loyalists erect flags outside Catholic primary school and church in Carrick". Belfast Telegraph. 22 June 2012.
  7. ^ a b c d e Mark Simpson (10 July 2009). "Turning hotspot into friendly fire". BBC News. Retrieved 13 July 2009. 
  8. ^ "Poland flags burned on bonfires across Belfast on 11 July"BBC News19 July 2012
  9. ^ a b "The boy and the bonfire". Belfast Telegraph, 9 July 2010.
  10. ^ Bryan, Dominic. Orange Parades: The politics of ritual, tradition and control. Pluto Press, 2000. p.147-148
  11. ^ Bryan, p.99
  12. ^ "Orangemen take part in Twelfth of July parades".  
  13. ^ "Protestant fraternity returns to spiritual home".  
  14. ^ "Ormeau Road frustration".  
  15. ^ a b "Kinder, gentler or same old Orange?".  
  16. ^ Connolly, Sean J (2008). Divided kingdom: Ireland, 1630–1800. Oxford University Press. p. 432. Modern Irish republicans may look back to the United Irishmen as the founders of their tradition. But the one present-day organisation that can trace an unbroken descent from the 1790s is the Protestant supremacist Orange Order. 
  17. ^ Roe, Paul (2005). Ethnic violence and the societal security dilemma. Routledge. p. 62. Ignatieff explains how the victory of William of Orange over Catholic King James 'became a founding myth of ethnic superiority...The Ulstermen’s reward, as they saw it, was permanent ascendancy over the Catholic Irish'. Thus, Orange Order marches have come to symbolise the supremacy of Protestantism over Catholicism in Northern Ireland. 
  18. ^ Wilson, Ron (1976). "Is it a religious war?". A flower grows in Ireland. University Press of Mississippi. p. 127. At the close of the eighteenth century, Protestants, again feeling the threat of the Catholic majority, began forming secret societies which coalesced into the Orange Order. Its main purpose has always been to maintain Protestant supremacy 
  19. ^ Tonge, Johnathan. Northern Ireland. Polity, 2006. Pages 24, 171, 172, 173.
  20. ^ David George Boyce, Robert Eccleshall, Vincent Geoghegan. Political Thought In Ireland Since The Seventeenth Century. Routledge, 1993. Page 203.
  21. ^ Mitchel, Patrick. Evangelicalism and national identity in Ulster, 1921–1998. Oxford University Press, 2003. Page 136.
  22. ^ Cracks in the Orange Order BBC News, 15 July 2008
  23. ^ Loyalist parade sparks riots in Catholic area The Guardian, 13 July 2004
  24. ^ "Order poll on Catholic 'IRA sympathy'". UTV News. 22 November 2011. Retrieved 25 November 2011.
  25. ^  
  26. ^ Agnes Irene Caldwell, ‘Rising from Our Knees: Nationalist Response to Loyal Order Parades in Portadown, 1945-1993’, (PhD dissertation), Wayne State University, Detroit, 2004
  27. ^ James, Lawrence. Warrior Race: A History of the British at War. Hachette UK, 2010.
  28. ^ Hepburn, A C. A Past Apart: Studies in the history of Catholic Belfast, 1850-1950. Ulster Historical Foundation, 1996. p.1
  29. ^ Farrell, Seán. Rituals and Riots: Sectarian violence and political culture in Ulster, 1784-1886. University Press of Kentucky, 2000. pp.32-33
  30. ^ Gray, Tony. The Orange Order. Bodley Head, 1972. p.114
  31. ^ a b Mulholland, Peter. Two-Hundred Years in the Citadel. 2010.
  32. ^ Murphy, Desmond. Derry, Donegal and modern Ulster 1790-1921. Aileach Press, 1981. p.56
  33. ^ "Chronology of Key Events in Irish History, 1800 to 1967". Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN)
  34. ^ Sutton's Index of Deaths: 12 July 1972. Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN)
  35. ^ Bryan, Dominic. Orange Parades: The politics of ritual, tradition and control. Pluto Press, 2000. p.146
  36. ^ Ross, Marc Howard. Culture and Belonging in Divided Societies. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. p.72
  37. ^ "Loyalist paramilitaries and the Orange Order". Republican News, 29 June 2000
  38. ^ "Chronology of the Conflict: July 1992, Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN)
  39. ^ Northern Ireland: Conflict and Change, Jonathan Tonge. Pearson. p. 102.
  40. ^ a b
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^ Government holidays for 2012. Newfoundland & Labrador Public Services Secretariat
  44. ^ Ruth Dudley Edwards, The Faithful Tribe: An Intimate Portrait of the Loyal Institutions, London, 2000, p.136
  45. ^ Ó Cuív grants €250,000 to promote Orange Order Irish Times, 5 February 2008
  46. ^ Twelfth 'should be a national holiday' in the South BBC News, 22 July 2010

External links

  • The Twelfth in pictures BBC News, 12 July 2006
  • Gallery Orange Chronicle
  • North Belfast parade passes peacefully RTÉ News, 12 July 2006
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