Marching on a pin head as Belfast District LOL No 6 squares up to the Parades Commission (updated)

This morning, I headed across to the Orange Hall on the Albertbridge Road. The 31 Orange lodges that make up Belfast District LOL No 6 were converging to start their parade down Templemore Avenue, turning onto the Newtownards Road, and later joining up with the main Belfast parade (made up of 9 districts).

(You can catch the video of their 25 minute parade through East Belfast down below.)

There was much banging, tooting and just a little accordion heaving as the various bands steered their hiring lodges up the road to get into position.

District Master Raymond Spiers speaking before the LOL 6 parade in East Belfast (mp3)

Referring to “the vindictive Parades Commission” the District Master Raymond Spiers talked about his hopes for the day as around 1,000 men (30 lodges) and 40 women (in the ladies’ district lodge) would take to the streets accompanied by 20 bands (flute and accordion). The bands are hired by lodges to walk with them. In Belfast, the bands are often much larger than the lodges marching behind (putting quite a financial burden on lodges).

Raymond made the point that brass and pipe bands don’t join in the Belfast parade as they walk a lot further than the rural parades. Some Belfast Orangemen will have an 18 mile round trip from home to Barnett’s Demesne and back today. A considerable number of bands in the Belfast parade were over from Scotland – explaining a lot of the accents I could hear at the bonfires last night.

Commenting on what could potentially cause trouble later in the evening on the return leg he said:

We’ll be quite content that our Brethren are well disciplined, our bands are well disciplined, and so are our support base. You’re right to say that alcohol is a factor. Sometimes those who would imbibe a little too much aren’t prepared to listen to reason. Public order issues follow every civic gathering. The Orange Order parades are no different.

Your use of contentious is interesting. We would say that there’s no such a thing as contention on the Newtownards Road where only Protestant residents reside.

Stall outside Methodist Church in East Belfast (mp3)

For the last four or five years, just around the corner from the Orange Hall, the local Methodist Church on the Albertbridge Road has spent the early morning making fries for lodges, selling flags and kids drums, and a tuck shop. This year they were raising money to fund a new church kitchen.

Mum and 3 girls talking about Twelfth on Templemore Avenue (mp3)

Further on down Templemore Avenue, a woman was standing with her daughters and their friend. She explained that “this is the highlight of our summer”. Her highlight was the Orange men; the girls favoured the bands men. The woman pointed to an increasing number of tourists spectating on the Twelfth, and the shop opening that replaced the dead city centre that used to stay shut while the lodges were up at the field.

The district parade started after a short delay. As they turned left at the bottom of Templemore Avenue and headed down the Newtownards Road, a group of women stood in the middle of the road holding banners encouraging the parade not to kowtow to the Parades Commission.

Protesters at LOL6 district parade in East Belfast (mp3)

When I caught up with one of the protesters afterwards, she explained:

On the banners we were making a statement to the Parades Commission that there’s a community in the Lower Newtownards Road who are entitled to celebrate their culture. We’re also showing Number 6 District that the residents in this area are 100% behind them.

You can watch the full district lodge parade and listen to the (distorted) sound of its bands as they passed down the Newtownards Road, just opposite the police camera and St Matthews chapel. There’s the added accompaniment of the crowds standing on the footpath who, for the most part, got particularly animated and vocal whenever they recognised the tune of ‘The Sash’ being played. Some bands had obviously been instructed by their hiring lodges to play other tunes, or to march to a simple drum beat for this part of the parade. Most observers (the ones with notepads) reckoned they heard six bands play ‘The Sash’ on the way past.

After the parade passed out of the Newtownards Road, a team of people picked up empty bottles lying on the pavements. The bins were relatively empty. The level of on-street drinking was at a much lower level to what I saw three years ago, though I still didn’t see anyone being asked to stop.

I caught up with District Lodge No 9 in the main parade as they went up the Dublin Road, roughly two thirds of the way back in the overall Belfast parade.

Sydney Spence, Grand Master of South Australia (mp3)

Originally from Belfast, Sydney Spence, Grand Master of South Australia was back home on holiday and parading with his local brethren. While numbers of Orange men in South Australia are shrinking, they have their own flute band (made up of Glasgow Rangers supporters). Funnily, having exported all that Northern Ireland and Scottish culture to the other side of the world, the weather over there at the moment is cold and windy – much like Belfast earlier this morning. And in this morning’s parade, he spotted a Canadian friend he hadn’t seen for 42 years. A small – orange – world.

Scottish band fans (mp3)

On Bedford Street, one woman was flashing her Union Flag bra and knickers – in a relatively family-friendly, comedic way! – at a band going past. She and her fellow wigged friends were over from Scotland with the band for the Twelfth. An annual pilgrimage, she said “the Twelfth means absolutely everything to us as a family”.

Councillor Gavin Robinson explains his Orange regalia (mp3)

During the break in the parade, DUP councillor Gavin Robinson explained the significance of the white gloves and collarette he was wearing.

Older Orange man in a car is nonplussed with the parade (mp3)

I talked to one older Orangeman who, no longer able to walk the long distance, was being driven along the parade in a car. With a 40 year history or parading on the Twelfth, what did the day mean to him? He was decidedly nonplussed, saying

“It means very little. All you hear are drums … not that great.“

Everybody in the District LOL 6 feeder parade was handed a notice that on one side reproduced the Parades Commission’s determination in full, and on the other explained the District Lodge’s reaction to it and instruction to the marchers and bands. It all centres around the definition of ‘hymn tune’.

12 July 2011

To All Participants

The Parades Commission issued a determination which attempted to prohibit the playing of any music whatsoever along a section of the Newtownards Road on the 12th July. It did so without consultation with the local residents, who have a right to enjoy their culture and heritage. The Commission claimed it contacted all local Politicians concerning the parade, but no political party has any record of such correspondence.

When the deficiencies in the process were identified, the Commission was forced to review its determination (see overleaf). The new version states only hymn tunes may be played on an identified section of the route.

There is no specific definition of what constitutes a hymn tune, but it must be the case that this refers to any tune to which “sacred” or “hymn type” words could be sung. The District Lodge would be grateful if all participants could endeavour to ensure this is the case.

[The District Lodge are combining this legal advice with the fact that the words of Psalm 23 ‘The Lord’s my shepherd’ can be sung to the tune of ‘The Sash’.]

There are clear statements from the Unionist leadership that the time is long overdue when the Commission should be consigned to history. Their disgraceful handling of this parade and of many others risks damaging community relations all across Ulster and therefore directly contradicts one of their professed aims. It is vital that we do not allow the Parades Commission and its desire to interfere with the human rights of paraders, supporters and our community. There can be no justification for its approach of restriction and bullying.

We know that the temperature has been raised due to the manner in which this matter has been handled by the Commission. Even the climb-down has not entirely repaired the damage done. We are confident that we can all delivery a peaceful 12th of July parade in East Belfast, as we always do.

We will be following up this episode with our elected representatives and will strenuously pursue a rapid end to the farce that is the Parades Commission.

Enjoy and celebrate our 12th of July celebrations peacefully.



Key parts of the determination are:

C. On the notified outward route no music, other than hymn tunes, shall be played between the Memorial Garden opposite the Newtownards Road and the Susan Street junction and the junction of Bridge End Flyover and Bridge End.

D. On the notified return route no music, other than hymn tunes, shall be played between the Bridge End Flyover … and the Susan Street junction.

These are the sections of road that are closest to, and in some instances back onto, Short Strand.

H. The parade organiser shall bring to the attention of the stewards the guidance for parade participants … The Commission would refer the parade organiser to Appendix B of its Code of Conduct, ‘Guidance for Anyone Participating in Parades in the Vicinity of Sensitive Locations and in Particular Places of Worship’ and specifically to part A which states that ‘Only hymn tunes should be played’ when passing places of worship and ‘When church services are taking place, no music should be played’ when passing places of worship. The organiser shall take every reasonable step to ensure that participants in and supporters of this parade adhere to these guidelines.

I. The Commission would reiterate to the parade organiser that all participants and supporters of this parade must behave with due regard for the rights, traditions and feelings of others in the vicinity; refrain from using words or behaviours which could reasonably be perceived as intentionally sectarian, provocative, threatening, abusive, insulting or lewd; obey the lawful directions of parade organisers and stewards at all times …

J. The Commission also reiterates to the organiser in interface areas, behaviour must be respectful; there must be no loud drumming; participants must refrain from conduct, words, music or behaviour which could reasonably be perceived as intentionally sectarian, provocative, threatening, abusive, insulting or lewd; and marching must be dignified.

K. More generally, paramilitary-style clothing must not be worn at any time during the parade; flags bannerettes and symbols relating to a proscribed organisation must in no circumstances be displayed; and musical instruments must not bear any inscription or mark of a proscribed organisation.

A big thank you to the District Lodge and all those who agreed to be interviewed (well, voxpopped) over the past couple of days in East Belfast. Details and offers around republican bonfires and parades will be considered subject to diary clashes … alaninbelfast AT gmail DOT com

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  • UlsterScotty

    I think we are being much too hard on a group quite clearly suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. I mean, these people ran the country, literally and figuratively, for many many years so the shock associated with such a loss has caused severe psychological damage. The sooner we start treating these people as victims, the better.
    I’d personally prefer to see them in secure accommodation and on strong medication. I’m certain they could be cured within a matter of decades but let’s not rush this.

  • galloglaigh

    I’m sure Iris knows someone who can cure them all. Right enough he’s done a fine job on her good (not) self.

  • Toastedpuffin

    “I mean, these people ran the country, literally and figuratively for many many years ”

    Now there speaks a man with first hand experience of the Protestant working class. I can well remember me da coming back with a lobster supper from the local delicatessen after a tiring day running the country before heading out again for a late round of golf with the chaps.

    At least I think that’s what I remember – perhaps it’s just the medication…..

  • Dearbhla

    THey need another presidential visit so that they can have someone to’love and squeeze them tight…’. Then they need another 17 years for their ‘civilianisation’ to be completed. Then they need the PSNI to apologise profuesly for insulting their illegal flags… Some people are just too needy!!!!!

  • sparrow

    Whether the Protestant working class used to run the country or not, Stormont was prorogued 40 years ago. The majority of those marchers, as with the majority of people alive today in Northern Ireland, were not even born, and most of those who were born were mere children.

    Nationalists need to get a new mantra than “the Protestants oppressed us” because they increasingly sound like the Poles who tried to get extra votes in the EU Council compared to Germany to recompense them for the Second World War, irrespective of the truths of what did and did not go on 40 years ago.

  • UlsterScotty

    Forgive my ignorance of your father, who judging from your post, seems to have been an Orangeman. I thought that Ian Paisley was the first non Orange premier this country ever had. I thought all our (old style) Stormont unionist MPs and indeed Westminster Unionists MPs were Orangemen. Similarly Unionist councillors, there being pretty much only Unionists of one stripe, back in the day.
    How could I have gotten things so wrong. Perhaps it was republican propaganda.
    I didn’t mean to imply that Orangemen voted blindly for sash-wearing bigots. Their election must have been pure coincidence. Or perhaps it was a deliberate choice.
    I don’t know, since as a non Orangeman, I’m probably not entitled to a view, or at least, not one that needs to be heeded.
    And the notion that people might be offended by kick the pope bands and bonfires bedecked with papal flags, posters of nationalist politicians and Irish tricolours is almost certainly a very recent phenomenon, doubtless the work of Gerry Adams.
    Thanks for putting me right.
    I personally enjoy the 12th. The sight of all those DUP politicians at the field, fresh from their love-in with Sinn Fein up at Stormont. I know it makes me laugh, it must be a tonic for the brethren.

  • I’ve heard the 23rd Psalm set to the tune of the sash a number of times… and I was of the understanding that it was originally a hymn tune before the “sash” fame.

    I don’t really see how Belfast No.6 following the parades commission’s guidelines is squaring up to them.

  • Toastedpuffin

    Ah yes, the (old style) Stormont, I remember it well, as does the old pater don’t you know – he ran it of course!!

    No doubt District 6 will remember it too, in fact if they’re anything like me they’ll think of nothing else. Not a moment goes by that I don’t pine for the good old days when pater drove his Bentley out on some jaunt when he wasn’t “running the country” as you say, when we used to flick our half-eaten quail drumsticks at the poor Catholic urchins on the edge of the family estate and laugh as they scrabbled about on the ground looking for some tasty pickings.

    Yes, your incisive analysis of the unionist psyche is spot on the money and no doubt a result of much discussion with working class unionists. Excellent work, old chap, now leave me while I select tonight’s port.

  • Too many Orangemen (not all of them) do not give a monkeys about community relations. It would have been so easy to respect the ruling of the Parades commission but some of them just dont seem to be capable of thinking outside their sectarian box. They are also being utterly stupid because next year, they wont be allowed to March there if somebody complains.

    An offence has been committed under Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 section 8(7).

    So Alan, do you fancy being a prosecution witness?

  • lamhdearg

    “They are also being utterly stupid because next year, they wont be allowed to March there if somebody complains”. i dont think the parades com will ban east belfast from walking to the city centre, they are not enough police in the u.k. to enforce that one.

  • Drumlins Rock

    How many main roads are there into Belfast? at this rate Seymour would have the Orangemen arriving by boat, or maybe even that would not be allowed. A tune is a tune, I have often sang “Stand Up Stand Up For Jesus”” to the tune best known as the Sash, although I will admit “The Billy Boys” tune might offend millions of Southerners, that folks from the Southern USA, as the tune is better know as “Marching Through Georgia” there. I’m not quite sure how a building can get offended by a tune, but the parades commission gets more farcical by the day.

  • Zig70

    Don’t think Alan will need to be called, video will do nicely. @Seymour, you don’t think the legal advice was accurate? Hope not.

  • lamhdearg

    what has happened to the post where we could describe the good (and bad) of various “field trips” clogher aint that far away , surely mark and co are back by now.

  • Zig70,

    It is not difficult to see what has happened, reading between the lines. They have issued that written statement “The District Lodge would be grateful if all participants could endeavour to ensure this is the case” as a piece of manufactured defence precisely because they knew they were going to break the law.

    However, they haven’t thought it through. By making the Commission’s statement so public, they have put the bandsmen in the frame.

    Section 8 states:
    “A person who knowingly fails to comply with a condition imposed under this section shall be guilty of an offence”

  • But will DPP prosecute?

  • lamhdearg

    are then not just claiming the sash (tune) is a hymn.

  • “But will the DPP prosecute?”

    A different question altogether.

    If somebody complains, there will certainly be a police investigation. That happened recently after an apparently illegal republican parade in Fermanagh. It is too early to say that there wont be a prosecution for that incident but the time limit for laying information in the Court is now up and there has been no news about it.

    I would not like to be the person making a decision on a prosecution. A prosecution has to pass a public interest test. A prosecution is likely to be highly incendiary. The DPP will want to avoid it. If, in the case of the republican parade, an organiser said “sorry about that, we’ll apply for permission next year”, I dont think it would go ahead. On the other hand, if the Commission is repeatedly defied, a prosecution will have to take place to restore its authority.

  • “are then not just claiming the sash (tune) is a hymn”

    As a legal defence, that is about as useful as a chocolate radiator

  • Drumlins Rock

    As a defence I could produce a former Moderator ( a moderate non Orangman) as a witness to singing Psalm 23 to the tune commonly known as the Sash. I have also sang it numerous time with the words of Stand Up Stand Up for Jesus, and will stand up in court and say so, it is a tune hymns are sung too, therefore a Hymn tune.

  • UlsterScotty

    Why mention religious beliefs? What has religion to do with anything?

  • JR

    The sash is a re-write of an older song “Irish Molly”,

    She was young and she was beautiful,
    The likes you’v never known,
    The lilly of old Ireland,
    The flower of Tyrone,
    … …

    Music belongs to no-one.

    I personaly think it is low of an organisation that claims to be christian to pretend they are playing this as a hym though.

  • Master McGrath

    I have just listened to Jeffrey Donaldson trying to square the circle in his defence of the playing of the Sash and pretending that it is a usual practise to sing the words of the 23rd Psalm to it.
    The great pity here is that Jeffrey seems not to understand his knee jerk response to using this as another chance to condemn the Parades Commission and not taking the lead in saying to the Lodge who organised the stunt might feel they won the battle but cannot see they are losing the war of support for positive publicity.
    More importantly unionist politicians like Jeffrey should be seen to be leading from the front in addressing the need to make progress by standing up and saying the right and not the ‘political’ thing.
    It makes it look to the wider population that the unionist politicians are afraid to deal with contentious problems arising from their own supporters’ actions if they are difficult to address.
    Is it any wonder that when it comes time to vote the growing numbers who simply do not bother because politicians are seen to be creatures of the lowest common denominator and the easiest way out.

  • Reader

    Master McGrath: …organised the stunt might feel they won the battle but cannot see they are losing the war…
    Quite – leadership should look ahead for years. This lot might work out quite soon that they might have to do next year with no bands, or no music at all, along this stretch

  • eddie poole

    ‘Is it any wonder that when it comes time to vote the growing numbers who simply do not bother because politicians are seen to be creatures of the lowest common denominator and the easiest way out’

    Absolutely true, Master. The easiest way out every time. When these craven cowards call at our doors at the next election, it would be nice to ask them what actions they took to challenge the terrorists who orchestrated the violence in recent weeks.Feck all squared is the obvious answer, apart from our Glorious Leader serving them tea and buns at Stormont.

  • “As a defence I could produce a former Moderator ( a moderate non Orangman) as a witness to singing Psalm 23 to the tune commonly known as the Sash.”

    Perhaps, but would a defendant swear on oath that has he was playing the tune at a 12th July parade, they were thinking of the words of “the Lord is my Shepherd” instead of “the Sash”

  • Seymour Major – while they may have been thinking about the words to “the Lord is my Shepherd” many spectators and a small minority of paraders were mouthing and vocalising the words of the Sash.

  • Greenflag

    Mixing religion and science is a fraught business not that there is too much science around the 12th festivities . Here’s another take on marching backwards into history from a more famous contest between those of the 6,000 year old creation and those of the enlightenment . References to turning Protestant against Catholic and vice versa are purely coincidental .

  • Greenflag


    References to turning Catholic against Protestant and Protestant against Protestant are purely coincidental .

    ‘Fanaticism and ignorance need forever feeding ‘ so folks better get used to same in Northern Ireland and just hope it doesn’t get any worse 🙁

  • Nunoftheabove

    Alan in Belfast

    It’s a tough call figuring which particular toe-tapping pant-swinging ditty is worse. I’d be inclined to feel sorry for people who were singing a song which acknowledges – if not celebrates – their self-identification as sheep as these folks don’t appear strong on irony to me. If only they’d just leave it at that then we could merely pity them; when they start trying to legislate their beliefs into public life so that the rest of us have to be forced into esteeming their shepherd-worship and the moral bankruptcy which goes with it however then that’s more befitting of the general public’s scorn as far as I’m concerned. Unbecoming either way but let’s stop assuming that the hymns are uncontroversial either. They’re much closer to the core of the fundamental folly and wickedness spinning out from – and towards – this spectacle than is ever normally or commonly acknowledged.

  • babyface finlayson

    Whether or not a prosecution would be successful I don’t know, but I would think it unlikely. If it can be said that a hymn can be sung to the tune of ‘The Sash’ then the bands can say they followed the letter of the ruling if not the spirit.
    However, I think it is utterly disingenuous to try and defend this action. A mean spirited and deliberate dig at the other side. Whereas a more conciliatory gesture would have shown the Orange in a much better light and given them the moral high ground on this one.