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Thousands gather in Portadown to mark 500th anniversary of Protestant Reformation

Thousands gathered in Portadown to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Picture by Justin Kernoghan

THOUSANDS of loyalists have gathered in Co Armagh to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Up to 60 marching bands representing the Royal Black Institution, the Orange Order and the Apprentice Boys paraded through Portadown on Saturday evening.

It culminated at Shamrock Park, where an open-air religious service was held to mark the year Martin Luther challenged the teachings of the Catholic Church in what is widely viewed as being the start of the Reformation in Europe.

The parade is believed to be one of the largest public events organised on the continent ahead of the anniversary in October.

It avoided predominantly nationalists areas of a town which has been at the centre of bitter marching disputes in the past.

Orangemen have been banned from marching along Obin Street since 1985 and Garvaghy Road since 1998.

Despite the passing of two decades, the Orange Order continues to apply to the Parades Commission to walk through the nationalist Garvaghy Road district each week.

Jointly organised by the Orange Order and Royal Black Institution, DUP leader Arlene Foster was among those who attended Saturday's event.

The Orange Order said in a statement that "upwards of an estimated 10,000 people" were in attendance.

The parade paused at the Bann Bridge, where a wreath was laid to commemorate Protestants killed in the 1641 Portadown Massacre.

Respects were also paid at the town's cenotaph to those who died during the two World Wars and in service of the British Crown.

Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Edward Stevenson, said: "The massive scale of the commemoration was a fitting tribute to Martin Luther and the other great Protestant reformers. Like them, 500 years later, we are gratified to once again take a stand for the Gospel."

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