Around 5,000 Orange Order members from 11 districts in Co Armagh converged on Portadown today (Tuesday) for the flagship Twelfth demonstration - the largest anywhere in the world.
Thousands of spectators thronged the town’s streets as the Orangemen and women made their way through the town centre to the new field on the Armagh Road.
The lodges were Portadown, Richhill, Killylea, Loughgall, Lurgan, Newtownhamilton, Markethill, Armagh, Tandragee, Bessbrook and Keady.
Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge in Ireland, Harold Henning, congratulated Co Armagh Orange members on the hard work and arrangements for the day and paid tribute to Portadown District No 1.
He said, “I know as a District it is now almost 20 years since you have been able to complete the return parade from Drumcree Parish Church at your annual service.
“I commend the officers for their efforts on mediation and their offer to talk to the residents through facilitators which has unfortunately been met with no response.
“I pay tribute to these dedicated brethren who maintain the weekly protest.
“The Parades Commission continues to make ludicrous decisions against our traditional processions. There seems to an ongoing effort to suppress our cultural expression and religious freedom. The current legislation needs to be replaced with fair and equal laws, removing the republican veto.”
He urged the Government to introduce new parading legislation which would bring the protestors and objectors to the same level as parade organisers.
Mr Henning also paid tribute to County Grand Master Denis Watson and the brethren of Armagh for their continuous endeavours to promote the Institution, both locally and further afield.
He said, “I would mention in particular the County Armagh Orange Community Network who recently received the Queen’s Award. The work they do is immense and can only be good for the future of Orangeism in this county and throughout this jurisdiction.
“Just under two months ago we gathered in the heart of County Armagh at the birthplace of Orangeism to welcome His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales.
“As the Prince listened to the victims’ stories, he also planted an apple tree not only to remember the 68 Armagh brethren but the 332 from our Institution who paid the supreme sacrifice.
“What a day that was for our glorious Institution. No subjects have been more loyal to the crown than within the Orange fraternity. We as an Institution realise the significance of that day and the message it sent out – one that we are and remain a major stakeholder and an integral part of this society.
“Earlier this month we remembered with dignity and pride the men of the 36th Ulster Division and our Orange brethren who paid the supreme sacrifice at the Battle of the Somme.
“I had the humble privilege to spend four days at the Somme and Flanders to pay homage to all those that died serving King and Country.
“We think of all those who fought and died ... The military contribution of our Institution was immense, with a small number of brethren receiving the Victoria Cross in recognition of their valour and heroism on the front line.”
He added, “What a turnout there has been today but this Institution needs more. We need our brethren back who have drifted away, we need to encourage our
young people into membership of the Loyal Orders. We need to encourage our band members to join the Orange Institution.
“We need to ensure that our members are involved in our churches and schools and indeed that our church leaders play a part and stand by our own community,
and think of the mission field at home as well as overseas.
“As we begin making arrangements to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant reformation next year, this will focus our attention on the fundamental principles of our cause.”