Northern Ireland news

Orange Order parade in Broughshane causes "upset and delay" for trekkers heading for annual St Patrick's Day Slemish pilgrimage

Slemish Mountain in Braid Valley near Broughshane, in Co Antrim
John Breslin

THOUSANDS of Orangemen marched around a Co Antrim village for several hours on St Patrick’s Day, causing "delay and upset" for many making the annual Slemish Mountain pilgrimage, it has been claimed.

Officials at Mid and East Antrim Borough Council will be questioned by a local representative over whether there was any consultation with Orange Order representatives. The council organises the Slemish event.

An eyewitness described traffic at one point slowing to a crawl on the dual carriageway out of Ballymena, while others who had arrived earlier in the day were reportedly stuck for a time as they were coming down from the mountain.

No parking is permitted within two miles of the Slemish site and mountain trekkers are encouraged to park at the Michelin plant outside the village and take a bus.

The witness said he saw buses being blocked and delayed. He said it was "beyond comprehension" why it was decided to have a parade on St Patrick's Day.

Several thousand people make the annual pilgrimage trekking the trail around the mountain every year. Slemish is where St Patrick as a young man is said to have worked as a shepherd and converted.

Last year a mini-festival with outdoor entertainment, including traditional music, dance and street theatre took place at the site,

Braid LOL this year then applied to have a parade, the first time one known to have taken place on St Patrick’s Day in the village. Eleven bands, an estimated 2,000 members and a crowd of 5,000 were expected to take part.

The parade began at noon, around about the peak time for visits to the mountain. The Orangemen applied to march through the town for two hours before parading again for three hours from 3pm, according to documents filed with the Parades' Commission. However, the parade ended around 4pm.

Braid LOL did not respond to a request for comment. In a social media post prior to the parade, the lodge wrote: "Happy St Patricks Day. The sun is shining and the pan is on for Paddys breakie in Broughshane Orange Hall."

Mid and East Antrim Alliance Mayor Noel Williams, who was on the mountain for a time, said he personally did not encounter any issues but that a "couple of groups said they were prevented from moving through Broughshane".

Police told him everything was clear as he was leaving.

Sinn Fein councillor James McKeown, of nearby Carnlough,said: "This caused delay and upset, with some changing plans at the last minute. I am going to be asking whether there was any contact with the organisers with the parade and discussions about timing."

A PSNI spokesperson said: "Police were aware of short delays due to traffic in Broughshane on Friday 17th March.

"Local diversions and traffic management were in place to facilitate road users and pedestrians. Officers engaged with those in the area to minimise disruption."

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