Tomorrow (Saturday) is The Twelfth of July, and Portadown District No 1 will – like the other 10 Districts in County Armagh – be converging on the town of Markethill for the only one of the main demonstrations in Northern Ireland to be contained within a geographic county.
Of course, County Armagh has the distinction of being ‘The County of the Diamond’ with the Orange Order having been formed in Sloan’s House, Loughgall, in 1795. And it is widely accepted that County Armagh’s is now the biggest demonstration of them all.
Markethill District Master Lewis Singleton assures the brethren of the town that there will be a special welcome for them, with the field a short walk along the Mowhan Road (close to the High School), and indeed a welcome for all 11 districts.
“There are many close ties between Portadown and Markethill, just a 15-minute drive down the road,” said Lewis. “Many citizens of Markethill (myself included) are keen fans of Portadown Football Club, and I’m reliably informed that Portadown Male Voice Choir has, in its ranks, very capable singers from our town – just two example of the ties.”
It will all mean an early start for the 28 lodges and 12 bands of Portadown District, led by District Master Darryl Hewitt. Roll-call is at Carleton Street Orange Hall at 8am and the parade moves off at 8.10. Several lodges have to come in from the country areas – stretching from Derrykeevan to Brackagh, Ballylisk to Kilmore and they’ll be on the road much earlier.
Two wreaths will be laid at the War Memorial this year on the downtown parade from Carleton Street – one to commemorate all Orangemen who died in various conflicts throughout the years and the other to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One in 1914. Then, it’s quick-march to the buses at Bridge Street (the area adjacent to Joseph Street) for the short journey to Markethill. The parade goes via Church Street, Market Street, High Street, Castle Street and Edenderry.
Meanwhile, over in Markethill, the district there is giving everyone “a Twelfth to be proud of”. Said Mr Singleton, “After positive consultations with the NI Tourist Board, we have given the event a special branding, with signs and logos all over the place, co-operating with schools and churches and making it a day for everyone in the wider community to enjoy.
“We have issued special literature, businesses in the town have redecorated their premises and really entered the spirit of things. Markethill is an ‘Orange’ town and we expect this one to be even bigger and brighter than 2003 when we last hosted the County Armagh Twelfth. Our numbers have grown by 12.5 per cent since then.”
There will be large, electronic illuminated signs on the main Armagh-Newry Road showing the closing times to accommodate the Twelfth.
Markethill’s own parade to the Twelfth morning service will be at 8.30, and the 12 lodges from the district will then lead the main county parade, leaving from the old hotel site at 9.15, followed by the various districts from all over the county. Portadown will be fourth in line, and the rest are Loughgall (22 lodges), Lurgan (21), Tandragee (21), Armagh (14), Killylea (12), Newtownhamilton (10), Keady (7), Richhill (6) and Bessbrook (4).
It will be a ‘compact’ march with the field not all that far away from the centre of Markethill, and an early start is anticipated at the field. There will be the usual religious service and resolutions, although there is a real festive mood in the activities in the Twelfth fields these days.
It will be all the fun of the fair for the children, with churches and other organisations catering in the usual way,and raising much-need funds.
The pre-Twelfth festivities, which have been running all week, finish tonight (Friday) with a community festival at the field. The welcome from Markethill to the general public is ‘Don’t Miss It’ and ‘Get There Early’.
Portadown will be the fourth district to leave the field (at around 3.30) and the parade back in town is scheduled to start at 5pm from Brownstown roundabout and proceed down West Street and through the town centre to Edenderry and back up to Carleton Street.