Only two sleeps to go till the big parade, and I’m starting to get quite excited about it. It has only been the last two weeks that it has dawned on me this is likely to be a special occasion, one to remember for the rest of my life. I still remember the Tercentenary Celebrations in 1990, the Belfast parade that year was extremely impressive, I had a bit of a role in it that time too, however the highlight of that year was taking part in a large scale re-enactment of the Battle of the Boyne in a field outside Cookstown, I carried the standard for the “2nd Battalion of Huguenots” leading them across the river and mourning the loss of brave Duke Schomberg. The Diamond celebration in 1995 were also memorable in the rolling hills and orchards of Armagh, but I’m starting to sense Saturday is going to be something equally special, grander and more poignant, with the characters we remember sharing our names and faces, addresses, churches and lodge numbers.
Normally the biggest parade of the year is the Relief of Derry Celebrations in August, with about 140 bands and clubs, most of those bands will have completed the five mile parade before my club & band has started, now try to picture up to 200 bands and lodges parading 3 or 4 deep, a solid mass of people from Sandy Row to the steps of Stormont, then double it, that I think will be quite a sight and sound, there will be a good selection of silver, pipes and accordions however of course it will still be mainly flutes, which many of us will still clearly hear 3 or 4 days later!
For me the novelty of parading in the city will be something that makes it more of an occasion, with the culture being slightly different, in the country we sometimes take the dignified observing of parades a little too seriously, in the city you have a more responsive audience cheering and clapping and occasionally dancing along! I expect Saturday to be just the right mix of town and country to ensure the best of both worlds on this ossacion. Parading through built up urban areas also adds to the occasion, the colour, symbolism and structure of the parade often refects the history and architecture of the urban Landscape, even for a little while reclaiming the streets for the people from the car. I have paraded in London and Toronto in the past, but I think Belfast can hold its own.
From our two local villages we are taking two bands, one silver and one accordion, and a total of 4 buses at present, the Silver Band has the immense privilege of leading the entire parade with the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, a great honour for them and the district. We would hope to have over 100 members parading behind the accordion band, unfortunately the alphabet seems to place Tyrone rather far back in the parade so we could be waiting quite a while to even start!
Most importantly I won’t forget the reason I am parading on this occasion, having already attended a parade and service on Sunday as part of the Covenant Commemorations, it really struck home what the original covenanters signed up to when I saw all the WWI memorial in the church, it was more than just a parade and form of protest to them. They of course went on to sign a different roll and some including members of my own family didn’t come home, personally I believe what was achieved by their generation was one of the greatest displays of community activism and solidarity in the annals of history, it is worthy of remembering.
Forgiving Churchill his betrayal at that time and dreary steeples comment after, his later tribute to Northern Ireland after World War Two shows the true reward for all those who signed that day, the free world owes them a debt of thanks and I hope at least some will celebrate with us on Saturday.