More than 20,000 people flocked to the conservation village of Loughgall to witness the sights and sounds of the colourful Co Armagh Twelfth parade, which this year had an unexpected visitor.
Rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll, the former Leinster, Ireland and British and Irish Lions captain, caused quite a stir when he turned up at the event to film scenes for a TV documentary.
The retired centre posed with brethren for selfies and even had a go at playing a Lambeg drum, much to the delight of the crowd.
Upwards of 5,000 Orangemen from 11 district lodges and more than 150 private lodges took part in the so-called “largest Twelfth parade in the world”, which this year was hosted by Loughgall District LOL No 3.
Ladies from the Women’s Institution were also on parade, along with members of several Junior lodges.
The County Armagh Grand Orange Lodge has had a significant increase in membership over the past year and many brethren were on parade for the first time.
More than 60 bands, including a number from Scotland, accompanied the lodges, with some of the finest pipe, accordion, silver and flute bands in the Province on parade. There were also plenty of traditional Lambeg drums on display.
According to the Orange Order, at least two new banners got their first outing at the parade, namely those of Derrykeevan Temperance LOL 352, Portadown District, and Derrycorry Purple Guards Temperance LOL 52 from the host district.
The Loughgall district has the distinction of having the Diamond area within its boundaries, the scene of the famous Battle of the Diamond on September 21, 1795.
The parade passed the Museum of Orange Heritage at Sloan’s House, where the first Orange warrants were signed after the battle.
Ahead of the main parade, members of the host district made their way to the war memorial close to the parish church in the village for a short act of remembrance and wreath-laying to commemorate all those who made the supreme sacrifice in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts, including the Troubles.
The main parade, led by Drumderg Loyalists Flute Band, Keady, was headed by the County Grand Lodge officers.
Loughgall District members were followed by those from Richhill, Killylea, Lurgan, Newtownhamilton and Portadown districts, then brethren from Armagh, Markethill, Keady, Bessbrook and Tandragee.
Marchers made their way through the historic village to the demonstration field on the Portadown Road for the religious service, conducted by Rev Dr Alan McCann, county grand chaplain.
The main address was given by Rev William Anderson, Loughgall District chaplain.
During the proceedings, a collection was taken up for the Newry Hospice and Drew Nelson Legacy Project.
Roger Gardiner, county grand secretary for Co Armagh, said it had been “a terrific day”.
“It all went very well,” he told the News Letter. “Weather-wise it was just nice and pleasant. It wasn’t too warm.
“It was a great parade and everything went well.
“We had a full turnout – 5,000 brethren, 65 bands, 11 districts – and everything went like clockwork.
“We had big, big crowds, especially on the approach to the demonstration field. And in the demonstration field the platform was at the top of the field and looking down the field you could see the massive crowd, you’re easily talking 20,000 or 25,000 people. It was fantastic.”
Staff from Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council moved in straight after the parade to begin the clean-up operation.
“Loughgall is a conservation village, so obviously we want to leave it the way we found it this morning,” Mr Gardiner continued.
“It was a very successful day and we had no problems at all. We spoke to the police as we left and they had no issues whatsoever.”