Light hearts and prodigious drinking mark the Twelfth

Boisterous youth chime with more sedate older couples on Orange day out in Belfast

There was a small attendance at 9am Mass in St Patrick's Church on Belfast's Donegall Street as Orange bands passed outside. They were on the way to the starting point of their parade from Clifton Orange Hall at nearby Carlisle Circus.

The single assertive drumbeat was loud as they passed. That drumbeat was allowed by the Parades Commission as Orangemen passed the church. It reverberated through the building as a priest read the provocative words of Jesus from the gospel of the day: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the Earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household."


Small groups of police were outside the church door, one policeman filming.

The focus of activity was at Clifton Street Orange Hall with its impressive statue of King Billy on his horse and its boarded-up windows.


Bands were gathering from all over the city and from across Northern Ireland, the Republic and Scotland.

A shop on the Antrim Road was busy as men, boys and girls in blue, scarlet, black, white and khaki uniforms bought soft drinks and sandwiches.

An elderly Orangeman sat in a bus shelter with a middle-aged couple who were drinking cider waiting for the parade to start.

Crowds were beginning to gather, many carrying union flags, some dressed in union hats, Northern Ireland hats, and some wrapped in the union flag.

Soon a group of elderly men in suits, sashes, bowler hats and carrying standards paraded primly to a spot on the roundabout where they posed for photographers. They then led the parade off on its journey through the city to the accompaniment of a fife and drumbeat all the way, except when passing St Patrick’s Church. Then it was back to a single beat.


Crowds got thicker on both sides of the street as the parade came to City Hall, with families sitting on collapsible chairs to see all in comfort and as the morning rain held off.

What was soon evident was the prodigious amount of drinking going on, although it was not yet midday.

This was the case all along the route, involving men and women, young and old. But the mood remained light, ranging from the boisterous youth to the more sedate older couples sitting inside a wall at Windsor Presbyterian Church eatingpicnics of tea and sandwiches. Street signs warning of £500 fines for those caught drinking in public were being royally ignored.

The crowds, which numbered thousands in the city centre areas, thinned as the parade headed to the countryside. And the rain fell, helping everyone disperse as the clean-up began.

At Shaftesbury Square the litter scene was more akin to the aftermath of a rock concert, while traffic squashed empty beer tins and broken bottles. A large noisy crowd had gathered nearby up the Donegall Road.

Back in St Patrick’s Church a solitary woman was left, blessing herself. A gospel lay open at the reading from Sunday, July 12th where Jesus instructs his disciples on their mission.

He told them: “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times