Northern Ireland

Ulster Covenant centenary celebrations - the plan for Saturday

As Belfast prepares for one of its largest parades in living memory - and the biggest policing operation in the city in two decades - Mark Simpson takes a look at the plan for Saturday's commemorations.

The Orange Order is promising a "family day of enjoyment and celebration" as up to 30,000 marchers mark one of the most significant dates in unionist history.

Saturday's six-mile parade from Belfast city centre to Stormont will mark the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant in 1912.

People planning on travelling to and through the city using public transport on Saturday have been advised that there will be significant changes to some Ulsterbus and Metro services.

Motorists are also advised that a number of roads will be closed to traffic during the parade.

'Major event'

A century ago, the signing of the document laid the foundations for the partition of Ireland and the formation of Northern Ireland a decade later.

In spite of fears of trouble on the fringes of Saturday's parade, the Orange Order says it is expecting a fun-filled day.

Dr David Hume, the order's director of services, said: "This will be a major event and a family day for enjoyment and celebration. We look forward to welcoming people from across Northern Ireland and beyond."

This is what is planned:

  • 10.15 BST: feeder parades set off from Sandy Row and Carlisle Circus to Belfast City Hall
  • 11:00 BST: main march sets off for Stormont from Belfast City Hall
  • 13:00 BST: marchers begin arriving at Stormont
  • 15:00 BST: religious service at Stormont and speech by Orange Grand Master, Edward Stevenson
  • 16:15 BST: Belfast-based marchers parade back into city; others return home by bus

On the Stormont estate, covenant exhibitions and displays will open at 10:00 BST for the public, as well as face-painting and balloon modelling.

There will also be performances from the Ulster Scots Folk Orchestra, the Bright Lights Highland Dancers and the County Antrim Fife and Drum.

The six-mile route from Belfast city centre to Stormont will include:

  • Donegall Square North
  • Chichester Street
  • Albert Square
  • Queen Elizabeth Bridge
  • Newtownards Road
  • Prince of Wales Avenue

The Orange Order estimate that between 25,000 and 30,000 marchers will take part in the main parade, including 190 bands.

They will include members of other loyal orders, including the Apprentice Boys and Royal Black Institution.

Contentious

Image caption Orange Order Grand Secretary Drew Nelson, poses beside an old photograph of the original event

The feeder parade from Carlisle Circus in north Belfast will include 14 bands and six lodges, amounting to around 2,000 people in total.

The most contentious part of their route is past St Patrick's Catholic Church on Donegall Street. This is expected to happen around 10:30 BST on the outward journey and around 18:00 BST on the return journey.

At Belfast City Hall, before the main parade leaves, there will be a re-enactment of the signing of the Covenant. This is expected to be between 09:30 BST and 10.30 BST.

The main parade will include members of the loyal orders from England, Scotland and the Irish Republic.

Although efforts have been to ensure the parade passes off peacefully, the police operation surrounding it will be one of the biggest seen in Belfast in the past 20 years.

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