THE 12th of JULY by a BELFAST ORANGEMAN
It’s the 11th July and all final preparations are being made for the big day tomorrow. I go and collect my suit from the dry cleaners. My shirt and tie are pressed and ironed and I polish up my shoes. Next on the agenda is to go to the supermarket with a few lodge members and purchase burgers, sausages, baps and rolls, ketchup, paper plates, tissues, drinks and a few disposable barbecue kits. My final duty of the day is to go to a fellow member’s house and help him bring the lodge banner and poles up to my house.
It’s 7.00am on the 12th morning and I am in the bathroom having a shave and shower and then get ready. I get my breakfast and then start boiling more water to make flasks of tea for when we arrive at ‘the field’. A few other lodge members arrive at the house and they get some bacon butties to eat and tea to drink. One of the members has brought a bunch of Orange Lilies which his neighbour allows him to cut and take every 12th morning from her garden. We tie the lilies onto the top of both banner poles. A friend arrives with the car that we will take with us on the parade. We get the car decorated up with bunting, flags and lilies. Then we fill the boot of the car with food, drinks and mobile chairs. We all ask each other ‘Now have we got everything before we go ? pole straps, collarettes, gauntlets, gloves, umbrellas, hats, ’ We dander round to Sandy Row and carry the wrapped up banner and poles on our shoulders. Our secretary who has the District and Parade plans directs us to position our lodge opposite the Rangers Club on the Donegall Road. We unfurl the banner and get it up onto the poles. The other lodges start doing the same around different street locations at the top of the Row. Our treasurer collects money from any members who owe dues to ensure that we keep within the rules of the organization that all members must be clear in dues to be able to parade.
It’s 9.00am and the District Officers parade down from the Orange Hall. (There is one sure thing about the Officers of Belfast Orange District Number 5 – If they say they are leaving at a certain time, there is no messing about or delay they’re on the button right on time). The lodges then follow in their numerical numbers behind the lead of the parade. The parade stops at the War Memorial beside Sandy Row Community Centre and the Officers lay a wreath. We have still not moved yet, suddenly one of our members shouts up ‘The Banner is round the Wrong Way!’ The King Billy side of the Banner is pointed heading out. Tradition holds that King Billy is on the front of the Banner coming home not going out. The Banner Carriers twist it around and we are on our way. We snake out of Sandy Row with shouts from friends and supporters ‘Have a Good Day’ We turn out of Hope Street into Great Victoria Street. I have always loved listening to the bands as we pass the Europa Hotel and the Echo Sound Tunnel created here opposite Robinsons and the Crown Bar. We swing right at the Blackman down Wellington Place past the City Hall and into Donegall Place/Royal Avenue. People are beginning to gather and get their spot and set up mobile chairs for the main parade, we turn up into North Street where we see the hordes of people and spectators making their way down Peter’s Hill to get a spot to watch the main parade. It also gives you a realization seeing these masses of people passing you by to make their way into the city centre, of the people from the Shankill’s shear loyalty. We continue up Peters Hill onto the Shankill and then turn into Denmark Street where we stop. This is the District Assembly point for the commencement of the parade. A few other friends in other lodges and bands come along to have a chat with us while we wait for the commencement of the main parade. The main parade starts at 10.00am and we wait our instructions to proceed. We head out of Denmark Street and around Carlisle Circus onto Clifton Street and past Belfast Orange Hall. I look at the wire fortifications around the Orange Hall required to protect it from attack and cannot understand the hatred generated by so many people against the Orange Culture.
We arrive at Donegall Street and Millfield junction where a police landrover has a big electronic screen on top of it which reads ‘As per Parades Commission Ruling bands are not permitted to play music at this point for a distance of 500 meters’ We pass about a couple of dozen protestors who hold a banner up stating ‘Respect St Patrick’s Church’. No problem with me on that score I will follow the principles of Orangeism – Religious Freedom and Liberty for All ! The parade will pass another 7 churches on its way to ‘the field’ and the bands shall play merrily past them without any issues.
We turn out of Donegall Street into Royal Avenue and it is here that you see the masses of spectators lined along both sides of Belfast’s main commercial heartland and centre. Friends and people who I have worked with down the years shout out to me as I continue to walk towards the City Hall. Once at the City Hall War Memorial we show our respects, our secretary shouts ‘Eyes Left’ and all our members turn their eyes towards the Memorial until we pass and he shouts again ‘Eyes Front’ We now head down Bedford Street, past the BBC and up the Dublin Road into Shaftsbury Square and Bradbury Place. Lots of friends and families of the members of the lodge will be gathered here to shout out words of encouragement.
We stop at the bottom of the Lisburn Road which means there is a 10 minute break in the main parade demonstration. This allows members to go to the car in front of us and get refreshments from the boot of the car to drink. It also gives any members a chance to smoke. They turn their collarettes inside out not to show their orange colours as they smoke, I was never quite sure if this was a rule in the organization, but our lodge has always maintained that colours should not be worn or shown if you are smoking.
The break also gives our lodge member Billy and representative for the Orange Widows Fund a chance to come round all the members for a donation to his collection card for this cause.
The parade gets back underway as we head up the Lisburn Road past the City Hospital and past Tates Avenue. Again there are lots of shouts of encouragement from both friends and families of lodge members. We turn into Balmoral Avenue and by this stage a few of the older members have got into the car to get a bit of a break from walking. I always like turning into the Malone Road as you know that you are close to ‘the field’ from here.
Our secretary asks me will I take a lift off the banner, ‘No problem I reply’ he gives me and another member a banner pole holder strap to put on and we both walk up to the front of the lodge and relieve the two members who had been carrying the banner.
The District always gets a good reception at the top of the Malone Road Roundabout because it is here that spectators from Taughmonagh, Finaghy and Belvior will be watching the parade. During the early 70s a lot of people and families from the Inner Sandy Row area of Belfast moved out to these southern suburbs of the city and still maintain strong connections within the lodges of Number 5 District.
At last we arrive at Barnetts Park and the Field. The car gets parked at its usual spot and we set the banner up along the railings of Malone House. (This is where the leaders shall have their lunch, but we are the rank and file and not so lucky, but we are happy enough with our wee set-up). The car boot is unloaded, chairs are set up, drinks are handed around to all members, the barbecues are lit and cooking of hamburgers and hotdogs commences. All the members are glad to get a rest and receive the drinks and food being passed around to all. We laze about at our location, some members take a walk down to listen to the speeches from the platform in ‘the field’ others take a dander around the stalls which have been temporarily set up.
It’s 4.00pm and the Lead District (there are 10 districts of the Belfast County, each district will take its turn to lead the parade on different years) has commenced the journey home, we start packing up and dumping any rubbish into the park rubbish bins. We get the Banner and fall into our position within our order in the District. Our homeward journey is the same route as we took earlier to arrive at ‘the field’ It’s not too bad going home as you are walking with the bit of slope going down the Lisburn Road. It’s even better when we hit Bradbury Place and Shaftsbury Square, it lifts your heart with emotion as the bands rattle up ‘the sash my father wore’, the banners are ‘dancing’ (the banner carriers will zig-zag in synchronized quick step, which gives the effect of the banner dancing from side-to-side) and the spectators and crowds erupts into singing, dancing and cheering and waving of flags – these are my people ! – this is where I come from ! – these are the people who have gave so much so that I can parade on this day ! The smiles and happiness on their faces says it all ! I have often been asked in my life what is the most emotional and adrenaline feeling to experience, it is without doubt walking home through ‘The Square’ (Shaftsbury Square) on the 12th of July. To a person not familiar with Belfast and my culture, one might say it is madness and fanaticalism but to me it is magic ! My cousin had never witnessed a Belfast 12th July before but a few years ago she and her boyfriend watched the County Armagh Parade and then travelled down to Belfast to watch the parade coming home and both of them stood outside Lavery’s Bar in Bradbury Place. I asked her what did she think of it ? – Absolutely Fantastic and Brilliant, What an Atmosphere, The Bands, The Orangemen, The Spectators, completely different from the Country Parades.
Our District turns off from the Dublin Road , across Great Victoria Street, into Hope Street and up Sandy Row, the District Officers line the top of the Row as we shake hands with them and proceed to walk back to our Master’s house. We arrive back at his house where his family distribute food and drinks to everyone. Our secretary thanks everyone concerned and presents a big bunch of flowers to the Master’s Wife. It’s 9.30pm so I say my thanks and farewells and dander back to my house. Once I am home, I throw the suit off, fill up a basin of water and soap, sit this basin on the floor in front of the chair, sit down and ease my aching feet into the water and watch the highlights of the other 12th July Demonstrations around the country on the TV. At the end of the TV Programme the commentators say ‘Well that’s the 12th over for another year’ and it’s also goodnight for me !