Commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne through parades is something which predates the Orange Order, for an account from July 1791 in County Armagh has survived. This was four years before the formation of the Orange Order, which first commemorated the Battle of the Boyne anniversary in July 1796.
Orange Lodges also parade to mark anniversaries such as the First World War Battle of the Somme, the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and other occasions.
The parading tradition which the Orange Order upholds is an honourable and historic tradition, which was the norm for other fraternities in the past. The parades of the Orange Order are the largest public Protestant witness of their kind anywhere in the world.
The Loyal Orange Institution was formed in September 1795 and some ten months later it held its first Boyne Commemoration Parade, on 12th July 1796.
Parades therefore are very much part of the Orange tradition and heritage. However the concept of parades by the community that gave birth to the Orange Institution was well established long before 1796 and it is a matter of historical record that parades were a feature of that community for many years prior to the formation of the Orange Institution.
The Protestant community is not in any way unique in that aspect. People the world over love to parade. There is a seemingly endless list of parades throughout the world ranging from the Carnival in Rio through Mardi Gras in New Orleans 4th July across the United States of America, Bastille Day in France, St. Patrick's Day in Dublin and New York to the Lord Mayor's Show in London.
Orange Parades are commemorative. Various events in the history of the people are commemorated by parades that take different forms. These range from the solemn remembrance of the fallen at the Somme in the First World War to the cultural extravaganza that is the 12th of July commemorating the Glorious Revolution secured at the Battle of the Boyne.
The parades are a glorious display of pageantry. The colour of the collarette or sash, the uniforms of the bands and the beautiful paintings on the banners combine to make an Orange Parade a visual kaleidoscope.
The Flags and Banners are full of religious, cultural, and political symbolism depicting, biblical scenes, famous people or events in history and in themselves portray the rich cultural heritage of our people in picture form.
The music provided by the accompanying bands is of a very high standard and you will find countless competition bands including world champions in the ranks, of flute, brass, accordion, and pipe bands participating in Orange Parades. Of course you will also find, particularly in rural areas, the instrument that in many peoples minds is synonymous with Orangeism - the Lambeg Drum.
Orange Parades follow traditional routes. Parade routes are not picked to cause offence, but by and large are main arterial routes along which successive generations of Orangemen have peacefully paraded. What the parade organisers have no control over is those who desire to be offended and often travel great distances to achieve that objective. It has been shown that even travelling by bus past certain areas is sufficient for some people to attack those of our tradition.
The Orange Institution has a responsible attitude to parades witnessed by its own stewarding arrangements and it is a matter of historical record that some Lodges for a variety of reasons (including those of security) have changed the pattern of parades.
One important aspect of Orange Parades that is conveniently ignored by some people is that they are organised locally by Orangemen in the general area.
When an attempt is made to prevent a peaceful parade it therefore follows that it is not just an attack on the legitimate traditions and culture of a people and a denial of basic civil liberties but it is an offence against local people within the community. That however will not affect the thinking of those who believe that the way to understand a different tradition or culture is to remove it.
In a democratic society there must be the right to peaceful procession by law abiding citizens along traditional routes. That right obviously brings responsibilities. We are willing to meet those responsibilities but we demand our basic rights.