The 12th of July 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.                          

District Number 5 Assembly Point - Denmark Street
District Number 5 Assembly Point – Denmark Street

 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. 

Belfast Orange Hall - Clifton Street
Belfast Orange Hall – Clifton Street

 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.

Parade Break - Dublin Road - Belfast 12th July
Parade Break – Dublin Road – Belfast 12th July

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 !

TE Lawrence


The 18th of December !


This is a blog about the Apprentice Boys of Derry 18th of December Commemoration Parade and although other writers and historians have wrote about this parade this article is slightly unusual as it comes from a Belfast perspective and participation in the event.

The Apprentice Boys of Derry are a historical society which celebrates the Siege of Londonderry of 1688-1689. This siege occurred during this period because King James and his Jacobite Army arrived at the walled city to enter through its gates and take control of the city. 13 young apprentices from within the city ran and closed the gates on the 18th December 1688 which commenced the longest siege in British history. The siege was finally ended when two armed merchant ships the Mountjoy and Phoenix supported by the frigate HMS Dartmouth broke through a wooden boom that the Jacobites had laid across the Foyle on 12th August 1689. A crimson banner was hosted up high from the city in recognition of this feat and the relief of the city, the crimson colour symbolizes the bloody struggle of the defenders of Derry.

This is the reason why the Apprentice Boys of Derry wear crimson coloured sashes/collarettes and parade in the city to commerate these two dates and events each year.

abod 4
Apprentice Boys parade the walls of Londonderry

                                                                                                                                                                     The organization consists of eight parent clubs : Apprentice Boys of Derry, Walker, Mitchelburne, No Surrennder, Browning, Baker, Campsie and Murray with various branches of the clubs all over the United Kingdom and membership worldwide. As a member of a No Surrender branch club, I would always have to listen to my father joke that I was not a real apprentice boy but he was because he was a member of a Campsie branch club. From the eight Apprentice Boys Parent Clubs the only one named after an actual apprentice who helped shut the gates of Derry is Campsie.

It also has another unique ritual in that you cannot be a member of the Apprentice Boys unless you “are made” within the inside of the walls of the city. Basically this means that you must attend an initiation ceremony in the Apprentice Boys Memorial Hall in Society Street which is located within the old city wall boundary.

For Belfast guys the 18th of December was also unique as we would start of our journey earlier in the dark and cold winter mornings and finish our day in the dark cold winter evenings. It also meant having to take a day off work and losing a day’s pay out of your Christmas pay packet because the Apprentice Boys then marched on the actual day of the 18th December. Today they parade on the first Saturday of December for this commemoration parade.

It meant meeting at the President of the Apprentice Boys Club (A president is similar to a lodge master who holds this office and position for usually a period of one year) house at 7.00am in the morning. Members would then pay any outstanding dues they owed and their train fare ticket to the club treasurer. Sandwiches, biscuits and drinks would be handed around to both members of the club and the accompanying band members. The two policemen who would walk and accompany the club and band on parade to meet the other Belfast ABOD Clubs would gladly accept the offer to get some hot tea and something to eat inside the house.

Burning of Lundy - Bishop Street - Londonderry
Burning of Lundy – Bishop Street – Londonderry

We would parade through the city centre of Belfast to Central Railway Station to get the 9.00am train to Londonderry. I always felt sorrow for the Ballymena and Coleraine guys getting on the same train as all the seats would be taken and they had to stand until we arrived at Londonderry Waterside Station at about 11.00am.

Once at this location we would be met by the Parent Clubs of the organization and we would parade across the Craigavon Bridge to the City Side and to the APOD Memorial Hall Headquarters. Here any new members would be “Made” as mentioned previously.

The main parade would commence from the Memorial Hall and parade around the centre of the city and then around the Diamond where the Parent Club Officers would lay a wreath at the war memorial. It would finish at St Columbs Cathedral for a Church Thanksgiving Service.

Seamus the owner of the Anchor Bar in Ferryquay Street would contact our secretary by phone about a week before the 18th December and ask how many of us was coming up from Belfast ? ”Including the band allow for about 40 of us”. “OK, I’ll bring the wife and two daughters in and we’ll cook enough stew for all yees”

We were always glad to get to the Anchor especially if it was snowing and get the hot stew into our bellies. Before we left these premises a money collection was made around the bar by us and given to the staff and a tin of sweets and a Christmas card was given to the owner’s wife.

Sadly this would be the last time we would visit the Anchor. The following year the Provos decided they did not wish to have others cultural expressions about the place and all bars in the city centre where instructed to close their doors on the 18th December and not reopen until 5.00pm later that day.

We would reassemble outside the Cathedral and parade back through the Diamond and up to Bishops Street where a huge effigy of Lundy would be burnt outside the Court House to the cheering crowds of spectators. Robert Lundy was the Governor of Derry and identified as a traitor who had wished to negotiate with King James during the siege and surrender the city.

Apprentice Boys perform Walkers Salute
Apprentice Boys perform Walkers Salute

Once Lundy was burnt we would gather ourselves with the other Belfast Clubs and parade pass the Parent Club Officers who we would give Walkers Salute to and march back to the railway station. Walkers salute is another unique display by the apprentice boys where you raise your left hand up and point.This action is in remembrance of Rev George Walker who conducted the same motion when he was addressing the citizens of the city during the siege towards the ships coming up the Foyle to relieve them.

It would be a very dark and cold night by the time the train pulled back into Belfast but one of the highlights of the day was of a thinly built man with silver hair called Ricky D from the Mitchelburne Club – Renfrew, who always attended the ABOD parades with us and carried a big Crimson Flag. As we are coming up Royal Avenue towards the front of the City Hall the band would strike up the song “The 18th of December” “Let it Go Ricky” would be the shout from both band and club and he would zig-zag and dance between the band and club to cheers from all of us in front of the Belfast Christmas Tree. We were home, back in our city !

We would finish at the Presidents house where we had started off from so early in the morning and again food and drinks would be distributed around to all.

The wise would call it a day and head home to get up for work the next day, the unwise would head to the local bar to strike up a few chorus of “King James and all his rebel band came up to Bishops Gate”

It had been a very long time since I last participated in an 18th December Day parade but lucky enough I was able to attend last year’s parade. It is very much more sophisticated now with much bigger participation because it is now held on the first Saturday of December and very well marshalled. We travel to the Maiden City (name given to Londonderry as it was never taken) by coach now, long gone are the days of being herded like cattle onto freezing cold trains As we sat in the Masonic Club in Bishop Street to have lunch we talked about the old days and a lot of the memories that I have just written about. Like I said at the start of this article it is a unique parade in the loyalist parading calendar but just possibly some like myself might debate is the best.

TE Lawrence














The Loyalist Bonfires



The Loyalist Bonfires of Northern Ireland are a tradition that very few political or historian commentators have considered or written about so I am going to do a bit of a blog on the topic and see where it gets us too.

Tradition holds that the bonfires commemorate the lighting of fires on the hills of counties Antrim and Down which helped King William of Orange Ships navigate through Belfast Lough at night and land at Carrickfergus and also as beacons to let the population know of the King’s arrival in Ireland.

The activity of lighting bonfires on the 11th July night to commemorate the above comes from the Orange Culture and its supporters who would perform this ritual before they would parade on the next day “12th of July” to commemorate King William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne.

With the industrialization of Belfast in the 19th century along came with the people its culture and its bonfires. Previously bonfires would have been lit in country fields now there was the logistic problem of erecting and lighting bonfires at street corner junctions in a built up city.            

11th Night Bonfire - Belfast 1952
11th Night Bonfire – Belfast 1952

I will fast forward to the 1960’s which commences my introduction and experience to this activity. As a very young boy I would remember around about the month of June older boys in the street collecting bonfire wood and storing it in their house backyards and against the back of houses walls in the entry of the street. The Binmen who would come weekly to the entry to collect and dump the Metal Dustbins full of coal ashes and rubbish would be informed not to touch or dump the wood stacked beside the bins as this was for the street bonfire.

It has to be noted that every house within those streets in the centre of Belfast was fully occupied during this period of time and the backyards and back entries was the only place where bonfire material could be stored.

The women of the street would gather at Mina’s house where she would bring out a large bag of streamers (red,white,blue bunting) for the street which they would equally distribute to each other to wash and return back. Once this was carried out a decision was made what streamers needed repaired or dumped and what new streamers had to be made or bought.

The next item on the agenda would be to calculate the number of children in the street who would be attending the 11th Night Street Party and make a list of sweets, buns, bread, fruit and drinks and other accessories that was needed to be bought for the party. This created a budget of costs and money required. The ladies would then knock on each house door of the street for a donation towards the party and new streamers for the street.

The streamers would be put up in the street a few days just before the 1st July (traditionally all loyalist decorations and flags must go up for the 1st July and come down again after the last Saturday in August, this would be in recognition of the Orange Order 1st and 12th July parades and the Apprentices Boys 12th August Relief of Derry parade and the Royal Black Institution Last Saturday in August parade).

The streamers would be put up by young men from the street. They would climb up a ladder and tie the streamers to the terraced houses roof spouting wall brackets from one side of the street to the other. They would also knock at your door and ask if ‘you want your flag out’ I would get our flag on a white painted pole which was stored at the side of our bedroom wardrobe and give it to the guys who would climb up their ladder and erect the flag pole with flag into the permanent flag holder installed on front of our house between the two upstairs bedroom windows.

At about 6 o’clock on the 11th July, once work had finished for the holidays the older boys of the street would start bringing the wood and materials for the bonfire from the bottom end of the entry and start erecting it at the bottom junction of the street.

Once they had undertaken this activity they would help the ladies and mothers of the street bring their kitchen tables and chairs out and join them together in a line in the middle of the street close to the bonfire for the children’s party.

A large record player would be located outside on the street footpath closest to the party and neighbours would share their loyalist records to play.

The children would gather and party games and prizes would commence followed by all the children sitting along the table to share all the party foods and drinks.

The Bonfire would be lit and there would be cheering, singing and dancing from all the neighbours of the street.

pass 4
11th Night Street Party


This activity happened in every street of the district. You could look down from my street junction and see five bonfires all in a line as per each street name.

In one of these streets they had a bonfire at the top and bottom of it, a complete Orange District of Belfast had to parade along this street the next morning to meet the 12th July Main Parade. This meant that once the two bonfires had finished water had to be thrown over them and the burnt ashes shoveled and brushed into the corner of the footpath to allow the parade.

Belfast and its streets changed dramatically in the early 70’s due to the movement of people and the dereliction of its Inner City.

As bonfire collectors we had plenty of empty houses to strip out for bonfire material, we had plenty of empty houses backyards to store these materials, however what had also changed was our numbers, gone where the days of every street having a bonfire and party, we were now a collective group of people from surrounding streets.

However this did not dampen our enthusiasm to partake in the game of trying to have the biggest bonfire and stealing our rival’s bonfire material and even sabotaging the size of their bonfire by prematurely burning it before the 11th Night.

The above now brings me to the activity of ‘Staying out with the Bony’ basically which means staying out overnight to guard and protect the bonfire material from either being stole or burnt. We had a double edged sword on that front because not only did we have other bonfire rivals but our bonfire was the closest to the frontline and the ‘Taigs’.

We would engage in running battles with both before it was all over on the 11th Night.

Staying out overnight was the genesis of the bonfire huts. Once the bonfire material had come out from the safe havens of empty houses and backyards into the exposed street the first basic form of construction was the hut. This would consist of wardrobes position side-by-side with doors position on top as a roof. The bonfire material would then be built on top and around this hut.

Staying out also meant a camp fire to keep you warm through the night, we would scavenge through our kitchens to see what we could bring to cook at the camp fire. We were quite lucky because at the top of the street from our bonfire was a potato and egg distribution warehouse. ‘Who’s starving?’ would be the cry from the team. ‘Ok you, you, and you are good climbers away and get us a bag of spuds and a box off eggs from the top of the street.’

The potatoes would be then wrapped in tin foil and baked in the fire and the eggs would be fried along with bread in the frying pan on top of an impoverished iron re-bar cooking plate above the camp fire. All the cooked food would be equally dished out to the Bony Guards.

It was also a bad time of year for the Milkman and Paper Shops. The milkman would start his rounds at about 5.00am and the morning papers would be delivered outside the shops about the same time. Once again the orders would be relayed to the ‘doers’ ‘OK we need X amount of pints of milk’ and a list of the type of morning papers to get to read would be instructed and ‘for f sake don’t be taking anything from our side of the road get it on the other side !’

Bonfire and Flute
A young boy plays a flute at a bonfire

Staying out during the weekdays could be quiet but was a bit more dangerous as there would be only a handful of the bonfire team as a rota was drawn up into which night of the week you had to stay out and protect the Bony. You would be glad when other rival bonfire friends would come round and visit you and sit around the camp fire and have a chat and something to eat together. The old motto holds dear ‘Strength in Numbers’ especially when you were only a few street corners away from enemy territory.However the weekends would be the noisiest and wildest, once the pubs closed their doors after last orders the majority of the punters would arrive at the Bony to continue drinking and sit around the camp fire. This is when the singing and playing of flutes would commence, it was also when the arguments and fights would occur.

There would be visits from the Police and Army while staying out in the middle of the night. ‘How’s it going Lads everything alright ?’ would be their introduction. Sometimes a landrover of the Army would pull up and a group of squaddies would get out and come and stand around the camp fire with us, they would be given food and drinks and have a general chat, we would be warned however that if the Army Military Police appeared at the Bonfire and asked did we see any army patrols we were to report back that we seen them driving about a few times at the bottom of the street.

When the Police appeared there was not the same friendship or welcome as with the Army. The Peelers where just snooping around to see what materials should not be used in the bonfire, so items like tyres had to be well hidden from their eyes.

As I mentioned previously a big source of our bonfire materials was obtained from the derelict and empty houses which would have had their doors and windows sealed with concrete blocks. We would climb over the backyard walls of the empty houses and smash in the concrete blocks of the back kitchen door. We would take out any old furniture left in the empty house and transport it out the way we had entered the house. Two guys would position and sit on the back yard wall while one team lifted the furniture up to them from the yard to swing over and drop down to the other team on the other side in the entry. Once we had the furniture removed from the house we would remove the inside wooden doors of the house. The simple technic of removing the doors was to wedge a piece of wood between the door hinges and slam hard which ripped the hinges and door completely away from its wooden frame.

This material would be transported back to the bonfire by guiders (Go Karts), trollies and hand carried, it would not be usual to see a group of children carrying doors on their backs down the streets during the bonfire collection period.

Our district was lucky as we had so many other avenues to gather materials, there was factories and warehouses for pallets, the railway line for sleepers, the binyard, but the place of most interest that we would visit every day was the garages and the greatest prize of them all used and old tyres. This was the material that made the smoke and identified when your bonfire had been lit. On the 11th night you could look up into the sky and see the black smoke rising and identify which bonfire it was. It was also the material that put us into the biggest conflict with the police The ‘Owl Dolls’ of the street would cry their eyes out to the peelers once they seen us wheeling used tyres down the streets. The Police would then try to do snatch hits on the bonfire and confiscate and collect any tyres they seen in the collection.

For this reason the tyres where hidden away in a safe empty house backyard close to the bonfire. They would be brought out just when dawn was breaking early 11th July morning to commence the building of the bonfire in the junction of the street. They would be piled high in the centre of the bonfire and then surrounded by furniture and wood. No one seen the structure of how the bonfire was built and as far as an outside observing eye was concerned there was no tyres in the bonfire.

Before we lit the bonfire we had to wedge old doors up against resident’s house windows closest to the fire to stop the glass from cracking with the heat. Once the fire was lit we would run in and out of peoples kitchens to get basins of water to douse over the houses and the telegraph poles. I can still remember the black tar seeping out of them poles due to the intense heat of the fire.

We would spend the rest of the evening throwing onto the fire the rest of the bonfire materials until it had all been burnt. My memory of this would be off a mate and me carrying a full settee at both ends each and swinging it into a projection and on the count of three releasing it as close to land in the the middle of the fire as possible.

The Young Bonfire Collectors
The Young Bonfire Collectors

Alas the derelict streets of Belfast made way for new housing redevelopment and new social housing planning of cul-de-sacs and parking facilities and its streets had gone into the folklore of history and memories. It was now a case of finding a piece of waste ground for the bonfire and another generation of bonfire collectors. The days of throwing wood onto the bonfire were over, these bonfires would be fully build up with all materials on the waste ground and burnt in one go.

As the years rolled on the waste grounds got eaten up by new buildings and so did the bonfires. Today the district is left with one bonfire. I had a chat at the bonfire last year with a childhood friend who informed me ‘we had a good team staying out last night, just in case the other side would try anything’ The replanning of Inner City Belfast had removed the old frontline between ‘Us and Them’ which this guy and me would have remembered. A new frontline has emerged today, in that there is only one available waste ground left to have a bonfire in the district and just maybe ‘Them’ is now Commercialization and Development ?

Today the Councils will support environmental friendly bonfires and will supply any district who wishes to apply for a framed metal pyramid shape beacon filled with wood chip and metal base for burnt ashes which will not damage roads.

To me it kind of takes away the excitement for children actually collecting for a bonfire and protecting it, however I have a good friend who enjoyed seeing such a beacon lit a few years ago in Brownstown Estate, Portadown and stated ‘It was good to see a bonfire again in Brownstown’

Finally I stood at our bonfire a few years ago and had a chat with a good friend who I would consider one of the best bonfire men from my district even though when I first met this guy along time ago he was the leader of a rival bonfire. As both of us gazed into the burning flames I asked him what did he see ? ‘I see Happiness, Fun, Excitement, Adventure, Comradeship, and I wish I was 10 years old again, but it’s not the same as it used to be !’

I replied back ‘maybe them two little boys just in front of us will say the same thing as you have just said in another 50 years time ?’

 TE Lawrence

Loyalist Vote – Deciding Factor


 With the Westminster Elections in May 2015 vast approaching I wish to take a look at the two major constituencies of North & East Belfast and detail how the Progressive Unionist Loyalist Vote could be the deciding factor to the winning of these constituencies.

 Belfast North Westminster 2010             Belfast North Council 2014

                                       Votes                   PUP (FP) Votes in DEA

DUP  Nigel Dodds             14,812                         Crumlin                456

S/F    Gerry Kelly                12,588                         Woodvale            456

SDLP Alban Maginness      4544                         Oldpark                774

UUP  Fred Cobain                2837                         Castle                    657

All      Billy Well                      1809                         Macedon              503

                 Total Vote      36,590             Total PUP Vote   2,846



  Belfast East Westminster 2010               Belfast East Council 2014

                                        Votes                  PUP (FP) Votes in DEA

All       Naomi Long             12,839                        Titanic                 1150

DUP  Peter Robinson        11,306                       Ormiston               720

UUP  Trevor Ringland          7305                       Lisnasharragh       630

TUV   David Vance                1856                        Castlereagh E       492

S/F   Niall O’Donnaghalie       817  

SDLP  Mary Muldoon              365                          

                   Total Vote      34,488             Total PUP Vote   2,992

 As you can see from the above figures the PUP holds 3K of votes in both constituencies. This vote could be the deciding factor to the winning of both seats.

                 Billy Hutchinson

 Billy Hutchinson Leader of the PUP elected to Belfast City Council 22 May 2014

 2 District Electoral Areas (DEAs) of his Court Ward fall within the North Belfast Westminster and Northern Ireland Assembly Constituency.


These Electoral Constituency Area for both North and East Belfast Westminster Elections shall also be used in the 2016 Northern Ireland Assembly Elections to elect 5 MLAs per constituency. With PR Voting System for the Assembly Elections, having a base vote of 3K could be a good platform to push and gain the last seat in each constituency, could a deal be done between the DUP/PUP to enhance that position and thus put Loyalist Representation back into the Northern Ireland Assembly?


One would say very highly unlikely given the fractured relationship between Unionism at the present time over the North Belfast Parades Panel Fallout.


It would entail the DUP dropping out a candidate in both constituencies and running 2 candidates in East Belfast with a return of 2 DUP, 1 UUP, 1 PUP, 1 Alliance and running 1 candidate in North Belfast with a return of 1 DUP and Either 1 UUP or 1 PUP It will be a dog fight for the last MLA in this constituency between Unionism and Nationalism, it could go either way.


Again I can’t see the DUP excepting such a proposition as they will believe that East Belfast shall return 3 DUP and North Belfast 2 DUP MLA’s


However another option maybe for both shades of Loyalism to work together to try and increase the 3K First Preference Votes closer to 5K and the quota margin required for a candidate to be elected. The PUP and UPRG have a very strong working relationship with each other at the Twaddell Camp Protest in North Belfast.

The UPRG ran a very successful public campaign of Single Transferable Vote (STV) informing supporters to transfer their vote right down the voting paper to all Unionist candidates of their choice in 2014 Council and European Elections.

They may decide that it is more beneficial to support the PUP Candidate in both North and East Belfast in the interests of Loyalism and representation in the Assembly.


TE Lawrence


The Loyalist Bands



With the recent release of Government files in Belfast accordingly it has been claimed that the Ulster Unionist Leader James Molyneaux made admission during 1985 talks over Orange Parades that there were too many ‘Kick the Pope’ bands getting involved in Orange Marches. This has lead me to look at the development of the Loyalist Bands and while one might say that Unionism has diminished slightly over the last 30 years this cannot be said about the Loyalist Bands which have flourished and become stronger during this period.

I will try to chart a path of progress to this phenomenon. So let’s start by asking the question of which social background do the members of these bands come from, it is clearly evident that they come from a Protestant Working Class Social Background. These would be the type of people who have come through the Northern Ireland Secondary School Education System and would hold a various range of blue collar jobs and a lot would be unemployed. Apart from being interested in bands you will most likely also find these people very much active in either playing or supporting football teams and socializing around bars and clubs.

The Loyalist Bands can trace their origins back to the Old Irish Military Bands of the British Army. These bands would have lead and paraded thousands of young men through Ulster’s Towns/Villages and Belfast of to the Great War.

Traditionally Orange Lodges on parade would have been led by a Lambeg Drum and Fifer, but as lodges swelled in size bands began to be formed both inside the lodges and independently. To this day there is a lot of bands still connected to a particular Lodge (typically know as Lodge Bands who will show their Lodge Number on their Bass Drum on parade).

It is significant to talk about the Lambeg Drum Culture as this also gives an insight and parallel to the culture of the Loyalist Bands. My Grandmother would always say ‘They’re a curse them drums they cause more bloody fights than enough’ Not only would the Lambeg Drums parade on the 12th of July but during the summer months they would be played at Drumming Competitions across the Fields of Ulster. As a young girl she loved walking into them fields behind her brothers playing the family drums into them competitions. It was also an exciting place to meet new friends and young men. Even when the Whiskey started to kick in on the participates and the arguments followed as to who had the best drum and the fists flew with some having to get cuts stitched up on the spot with needle and thread and a splash of whiskey you can still see the appeal and excitement of all the events for youthfulness.

The number of bands began to grow in the country after the Second World War and loyal order lodges would now pay fees to bands to accompany and lead their lodges at parades.


Donegall Pass Defenders FB Belfast 1954 parade in Civilian Clothes until they are able to afford to buy uniforms
Donegall Pass Defenders FB Belfast 1954 parade in Civilian Clothes until they are able to afford to buy uniforms

                                                                                                                                                                      The biggest drive and dramatic increase in the Loyalist Bands occurred from the early/ mid 1970’s. It is difficult to analysis why in this period of time band numbers grew so dramatically but I have listed below my opinion.

  1. Commencement of Northern Ireland Troubles and Polarization of Communities.
  2. Formation of a band with like minded people to protect ones identity and culture.
  3. Formation of a band to identify and support a specific town or district of city where it is from.
  4. Formation of a band due to no other recreational facilities for youth within a community.
  5. Disenchantment of political direction of Orangeism by Protestant Youth.

It was not a problem getting young members for these new bands sprouting up all across the country, however its members would have to go around collecting for money donations and raising funds to purchase instruments which was the biggest financial expenditure. Uniforms would be kept simple and cheap to allow all band members to be able to afford to purchase these themselves. Trousers/Shirt/Pullover would be the normal dress code. So mobilized was the so called ‘Kick the Pope’ bands. Unsure who invented the KTP name for these bands but it seems to stem from the fact that these bands would play Loyalist Party and Folk Songs while out on parade which would make them popular with the general public watching these parades who would know the words of these songs and therefore could sing and dance along and participate with these bands while watching them parade.

These bands would parade with lodges on the following dates. Easter Monday – Orange Junior Parades, Easter Tuesday – Apprentice Boys of Derry (Belfast District), 1st July – Orange Somme Memorial Parades, 12th July Orange Parade, 13th July – Royal Black Institution, Scarva Day, 12th August – Apprentice Boys of Derry Parade, Last Saturday in August – Royal Black Institution Parade, 18th December – Apprentice Boys of Derry Parade. They would also parade from an old orange lodge master’s house to a new master’s house (Lifting the Banner) and other Loyal Order Church Services.

The bands would meet weekly in Band Halls, Orange Halls, Community Centres, Public Houses, Social Clubs to practice tunes, arrange fund raising events and hold meetings.

Band Officers would consist of a Band Captain, Deputy Band Captain, Leading Drum Tip, Deputy Drum Tip, Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, and a Committee.

Loyalism is very tribalism and the bands reflected this in their behavior while on parade. During the parade the game was to try to ‘blow off the road’ a rival band from another town or district playing in front of you in the parade, this would entail your Drum Major (Leader) instructing his drummers to keep as tight and close to the backline of the band’s lodge in front to get as close as possible to the other band so that the noise produced by the band behind would disrupt the playing of the band in front (more so its fluters who would be unable to hear it’s on band drums). As with any teenage/youth culture alcohol would play a major part in the activities of the bands. As soon as the parades arrived at their interval destinations which would normally be a field it was straight to the closest bars for the bands and its members. This is where the songs would start, Band Songs, Football Songs, Loyalist Songs against each other. Unfortunately young bandsmen do not politically negotiate, their fists and boots is the only form of negotiation they know, so the inevitable fights would occur between bands and their supporters and be carried back onto trains and other modes of transport until the various tribes dispersed back to their own towns or districts.

Discipline would be conducted by the organizing bodies of the parades, the Loyal Orders. However the Loyal Orders could only adjudicate and make decisions regarding their parade, but most commonly the fights between the bands in the bars got carried back into the parades on the way home anyway. This would result in the bands concerned in the parade disturbances being banned from that particular Loyal Order’s parades or commonly known at the time as ‘Kicked off the Road’

Most of the bands who faced such discipline would maintain their instruments and members, regroup and reappear under a new band name.

I was often told Competition produces Quality and this was the biggest transformation that revolutionize the Loyalist Bands. This occurrence arose because of the bands needs to fund raise. It commenced in the late 70’s and early 80’s. An individual band would decide on a date to stage a competition, they would then decide on a parade route and get approval from the Police for this route, they would then invite bands to attend the competition and collect money from the general public and participating bands for the musical entertainment of the event.

It is interesting to note that very few loyalist band competitions parade routes cause controversy or disputes and protest from the Nationalist/Republican community. The organizing band wishes to parade in as much districts to be able to collect as much money as possible, therefore in the city and towns of such events you will have parade routes that will endeavor to take in as much financial opportunity as possible.

Judges would be selected and positioned at different locations of the parade route to judge the participating bands and marks would be scored for various categories of a band , Drum Major, Drum Corps, Bass Drum, Style & Appearance, Colour Party, Overall Performance. The Bands further split into two categories, Melody Flute (A band which wished to play marching music and wished to be highly disciplined in marching and parading). Blood & Thunder (A band as the category suggest wished to produce music loudness across all instruments it would play) It can be said that the ‘Kick the Pope’ bands progressed to be the Blood & Thunder Bands and Melody Flute Bands came from existing old traditional marching bands and Blood & Thunder Bands.

Cups and Trophies would be presented to the best bands and competing individuals on parade. All of a sudden this changed the mindset of the young men parading within the bands. They had to march correctly, they had to play their instruments in synchronization, they had to look smart and tidy, and one mistake by any individual regarding these issues could cost your band some points which could be the difference in winning a trophy. They became team players.

The ethos between the bands changed, they had to give each other plenty of space between themselves to correctly allow each band to be judged on parade. They had to support each others competitions, friendships were established between rival bands, towns and districts, and probably the greatest thing of all a Loyalist Bands Social Network was created.         

Band Competition - Markethill
Band Competition – Markethill

                                                                                                                                                                            It is unfair to identify the Loyalist Bands with anyone particular political ideology. As with Loyalism it is so diverse, you will have members of bands who support every shade of Loyalist and Unionist political opinion.

You will have bands which carry old British Army Irish Military Standards with Regimental and Battalion Numbers which will identify the region of Northern Ireland where them particular regiments came from in similarity as where the band carrying them is from.

Today the Loyalist Bands hold major competitions that can generate up to thousands of both participates and the general public being in attendance at such events. Staging such events requires transport, buses, catering facilities, loyalist souvenir stalls, policing and the same form of organization that would go into staging a major sporting event.

The Tailoring Industry and Musical Instruments Industry have benefited from this cultural activity. Let’s take an average band size of 40 members and give it a value :

40 Uniforms åt £400 = £16,000

10 Drums at £500 =     £ 5,000

30 Flutes at £100 =       £ 3,000

                 Total :     £24,000

The bands go to great lengths now to get the latest instruments that might give them an edge over their competitors, Higher Pitched Flutes, Side Drums with tighter output in sound, they have established their unique and individual way in drumming and playing, they have become individually identifiable with the uniforms and colours they wear, one would say they have become professional.

On the basis of this professionalism they even now judge and categorize themselves into major and small B&T awards just as football teams would play in different league divisions, you can also see the comradeship of the bands by doing this to help smaller and up and coming bands get established and enjoy attending the competitions. They have created a huge band scene across both Northern Ireland and Scotland and they wish to keep growing and parade in different and new places, this is why they will always rally round and give their full support and help to new bands starting up.

What has emerged over the years is a vibrant band scene which has no hang ups about its culture and identity, it has a purpose, it has a direction and it knows where it is going to. I was once asked how and why the Loyalist Bands succeeded and why they never went into decline and the simple answer is they had and always will have the magic formulae of sustainability Youth

Finally in the ever changing political arena and the defensive and negative appearance which Unionism is presented by the media and its political opponents it may just be that the Beacon of Light at the End of its Torch is the Loyalist Bands.


 TE Lawrence