A Twelfth like no other in recent memory - as supporters left 'disappointed'
LOYALIST bands have marched in localised parades across Northern Ireland after annual Twelfth of July celebrations were scaled back due to the coronavirus emergency.
The Orange Order formally cancelled its plans for the traditional key date in the loyal order parading season at the outset of lockdown, urging members and supporters to instead mark the day at home.
That remained the order's key message on Monday, with bands parading within loyalist neighbourhoods as people gathered on their doorsteps, with some holding small street parties.
However, it emerged last night that social distancing regulations had been ignored in some loyalist areas of Belfast.
It was reported that crowds of more that 100 people had gathered outside on Shankill Road and Sandy Row districts yesterday evening.
In the Shankill area, a large crowd gathered to watch a local band.
Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Ireland Rev Mervyn Gibson urged crowds of more than 30 to disperse.
“We had a great Twelfth day around the province,” he said.
“But we don't want to spread coronavirus and crowds spread coronavirus - you are not doing yourself any good, you are not doing your community any good,” he told the BBC.
Around 250 parades were organised for the day across the north.
This year's events were always going to be held on Monday July 13, due to the fact the Twelfth fell on a Sunday.
While the main parades and demonstrations were cancelled, some Orange Order memorial events did proceed, but on a much smaller scale.
Rev Gibson said it was a Twelfth like no other in recent memory.
"It's a different Twelfth but hopefully an enjoyable Twelfth for everyone as they celebrate in their home or in their gardens," he said.
"We've been planning for several months now, we have known there would be no big parades."
He said the recent decision by the Stormont executive to increase to 30 the number allowed to attend outdoor gatherings had enabled bands to organise parades.
Mr Gibson said he knew people were missing the large-scale events that the Twelfth is renowned for.
"A lot of people are disappointed today but they understand it needs to be done to stop the coronavirus spreading," he said.
One of the streets that organised its own party was Beechfield Court in east Belfast.
Residents erected an orange arch made of balloons and several bands paid a visit during the day.
John Williamson, from the local community group, said everyone had pulled together to stage the event.
"We thought we would approach the Twelfth of July in a different manner because of what's going on with the virus so we decided to have a socially distanced street party to bring the kids into it, decorate our court and put an orange arch up," he said.
"We have brought the community together, the community has actually worked together to prepare the court and prepare the party."