July 12, Orangemen’s Day or simply The Twelfth, commemorates the victory of Prince William of Orange (a Protestant) over James II (a Catholic) at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The celebration is held by the Orange Order, a Protestant fraternal organization.
The colors of the Irish tricolor flag are easily recognizable: green, white and orange. Green may be self-explanatory; after all, Ireland is called “the Emerald Isle” and pictures illustrate just how green the landscape is. But white and orange? Perhaps most people have never given this much thought. The green field of the flag represents the predominantly Catholic republic of Ireland. The orange field represents the Protestants of Northern Ireland. And the white represents the hope for lasting peace between the two.
Orangemen’s Day is primarily celebrated in Northern Ireland, where it is a public holiday. Smaller celebrations take place around the world where Orange lodges exist, including Newfoundland, where it is a provincial holiday. Not all protestants, however, celebrate Orangemen’s Day. Celebrations typically include large parades held by the Orange Order marching bands, British Union Jack flags and buntings, and large bonfires.
The celebrations have historically been viewed by many Catholics and Irish nationalists as sectarian and supremacist. During the Troubles, the decades-long sectarian conflict, The Twelfth celebrations were often accompanied by violence and unrest. Orange order parades sometimes would march through predominantly Catholic areas to incite trouble.
Since the Good Friday Agreement and in more recent times, an attempt has been made to downplay the political aspect of the march. Organizers have tried to present the Twelfth as a family-friendly event where tourists are welcome. Results, however, have been mixed; many events pass peacefully, although occasionally violence occurs as old prejudices still exist.
Orangemen on Parade
The majority of marchers are men, although there are some all-women bands and mixed bands. Their outfit consists of a dark suit, an Orange sash, white gloves, and a bowler hat. The Orangemen carry elaborate banners depicting Orange heroes, historical scenes, and political symbols and slogans.
The marching bands have their own uniforms and colors and carry their own banners. One of the instruments played is the Lambeg drum, a large (3 feet in diameter by 2 feet deep and weighing 35-40 pounds) drum beaten with curved malacca canes. The Lambeg drum (along with the bagpipe) is one of the loudest acoustic instruments, often reaching over 120dB.
Because of the size of the instrument, smaller replicas have begun to appear in most parades. The full-sized instrument has started to reappear, usually on a float.