THE 12 JULY celebrations across Northern Ireland will look very different this year. While some restrictions are easing, the Orange Order has said that celebrations will remain very much socially distanced.
Back in April, the Grand Orange Lodge announced that the celebrations would be cancelled in response to the pandemic – the first time the parades have been called off since World War II.
In theory, that means no lambeg drums echoing across streets and no sign of the parades that usually mark the commemoration of William of Orange’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne.
There have been some suggestions in recent days that the pause on 12 July celebrations might not be uniformly followed. This week, the Parades Commission said that it was expecting more applications following the decision by the Northern Ireland Executive to allow up to 30 people to meet outdoors while social distancing.
Some bands have also announced that they’ll host smaller-scale parades, although people will be encouraged to stay at home this year and let the ‘parades come to them’.
Yet officially, everything remains cancelled – which means something of a novel set of celebrations will be witnessed across the North later this month when the 330th anniversary commemoration takes place on 13 July (since the 12 July is a Sunday).
“This year will be a different Twelfth – but just because our parades and gatherings are cancelled, does not mean that we cannot celebrate King William’s momentous victory,” said Deputy Grand Master, Harold Henning.
“Our challenge is to ensure this Twelfth is marked in style,” he said. “Online, in your home, at your door, with families and neighbours. Together we can make it a fun-filled, extra-special – socially distanced 12 – that will be talked about for years.”
So what does a socially distanced 12 July – worlds away from the parades and marching bands of normal years – actually look like?
Well, at the centre of the celebrations will be ‘Radio Boyne’ – a pop-up radio station that will begin broadcasting on 10 July.
With music, chat and a thought-for-the-day section, the Grand Orange Lodge is hoping that people tune into shows such as the ‘Twelfth Request Sunday Show’ and ‘Auld Orange Ballads’.
People are also being encouraged to take up some crafts – the Grand Orange Lodge website has tutorials on how people can make their own bunting or Orange lilies.
There’s also recipes – retro Mandarin Orange Trifle, for instance – for people to make 12 July picnics to join in with the celebrations at home.
Speaking to TheJournal.ie, north Belfast DUP councillor Dean McCullough encouraged people to follow the programme of events and to celebrate in “imaginative and creative ways”
A member of the Orange Order, he called on people “not to look at recent examples and not matter how others act, let us act in a way that is fitting to the colours we wear.”
“We are in unprecedented times and we should always aim to commemorate in a dignified and respectful manner,” he said.
The eve of the 12 July, normally called the Eleventh Night, sees bonfires lit across Northern Ireland. This year, the Orange Order is also asking members to forego the occasion.Source: Orange Order/YouTube
However, bonfire building has returned as lockdown eases.
The Irish News reported this week that some community groups are starting to build large bonfires once again. In previous years, these constructions have sparked anger and concern – both from a health and safety perspective and for inflaming community tensions.
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In recent years there have been several stand-offs between organisers of some bonfires and local councils over dangers posed by the towering structures, while in 2017 a coffin with an effigy of Martin McGuinness was placed on a bonfire in east Belfast.
In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for the Grand Orange Lodge said: “Crowds have the potential to spread the coronavirus. People should respect the restrictions and not gather in crowds of more than 30 people, while adhering to the social-distancing guidelines at all times.”
McCullough re-iterated that people should follow public health advice.
“I think back to the world wars and the impact that had on celebrations then. There are times throughout and our history and indeed, our future, when we will need to adapt,” he said.
Celebrate, he said, “in a way that you’re not potentially putting anyone at risk, including yourself”.