THIS year’s 12th of July celebrations will be vastly different from previous years due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland took the decision in early April to cancel all parades this year, including the 12th, with the County Demonstration due to have been held in Armagh City, hosted by Armagh District LOL No 5.
Whilst the local brethren were obviously disappointed, they accepted that as a responsible organisation, the health, safety and well-being of the members, bands-people and spectators was of paramount importance.
With the lovely Spring and early Summer weather experienced during the pandemic lockdown, the traditional Orange Lilies have been in full bloom, perhaps a little too early, in many gardens, but they certainly add a beautiful array of colour at this time of year.
As the largest community-based organisation in County Armagh, many Orange Lodges have been very active in their local areas, in providing help and support to all sections of the community and in total over £61,000 has been expended by the Institution in various ways.
The County Grand Lodge spent almost £23,000 from its own resources, including a donation of £10,000 to Craigavon Area Hospital; £5,000 to the Southern Area Hospice in Newry; and the purchase of £8,000 of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
The County Grand Lodge would wish to express sympathy to all those families who lost loved ones to COVID-19 and indeed other illnesses in the past year.
Whilst the usual Church Services on Sunday, July 12, and parades on Monday, July 13, have been cancelled, most of the District Lodges in County Armagh have arranged drive-in services and small socially-distanced wreath-laying ceremonies.
The following drive-in services have been arranged for Sunday 12th July:-
Portadown: 3pm - Turkington’s Yard, Mahon Road
Loughgall: 7pm – Annaghmore Parish Church Car Park
Tandragee: 11am – Tandragee Free Presbyterian Church Car Park
Killylea: 3pm – Killylea Parish Church Car Park
Keady: 7pm – The Temple Presbyterian Church Car Park
Newtownhamilton: 3.30pm – Field beside Tullyvallen Orange Hall
Markethill: 3.30pm – Field at Mowhan Road
Bessbrook: 7pm – Green in front of Bessbrook Town Hall
Those attending are requested to follow the instructions of the marshals on duty.
In addition, Armagh and Lurgan Districts have organised online services, and Richhill District is having a wreath-laying ceremony at the War Memorial in the village.
Then, on Monday, July 13, several District Lodges have arranged small wreath-laying ceremonies and the County Grand Lodge will be holding a short, socially-distanced Twelfth Commemoration at the Museum of Orange Heritage, Sloan’s House, Loughgall. Portadown and Bessbrook Districts will have Lambeg Drum performances.
Most of the towns and villages in County Armagh are going ahead with street decorations and the erection of their arches as the brethren celebrate the ‘12th At Home’. Grand Lodge has a designated page on their website for all sorts of activities for the day.
BBC Northern Ireland will be showing film footage of past Twelfth parades, with accompanying interviews in ‘The Twelfth Revisited’, on Sunday, July 12, at 8pm and part of the filming was undertaken recently at Sloan’s House and the Diamond, Loughgall.
So a very different feel and format to the annual Twelfth celebrations this year, but as Her Majesty the Queen said in her broadcast to the nation at the height of the pandemic: “…better days will return; we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”
The County Armagh Grand Master, Rt Wor Bro Denis J Watson, and his County Officer team, have extended their best wishes to all the Lodges and Brethren in the County of the Diamond, “The Birthplace of the Orange Institution”, for an enjoyable, happy and above all safe Twelfth.