The leader of the Royal Black Institution has hailed today’s “Last Saturday” parades as “an overwhelming success that bodes well for the future of the Institution”.
The Loyal Order’s flagship day usually involves major demonstrations at six locations across Northern Ireland.
However, this year, with Covid still in circulation, the Institution held “Local Last Saturday” parades, with events organised at District level.
Today witnessed around 17,000 members of the Institution taking part in 28 separate demonstrations.
Approximately 350 preceptories, most accompanied by bands, brought a colourful parade of music, pageantry and beautiful banners to various cities, towns and villages across the Province.
Among those to host a “Local Last Saturday” parade were Lisburn, Ballymena, Antrim, Larne, Ballymoney, Ballyclare, Killylea, Loughgall, Belfast, Dromore, Clough, Newry, Ballynahinch, Banbridge, Rathfriland, Kilkeel, Comber, Newtownards, Ballygowan, Bangor, Coleraine, Limavady, Desertmartin, Dungannon, Aughnacloy, Cookstown, and Castlederg.
Sovereign Grand Master Rev William Anderson, who was on parade with fellow Sir Knights in Desertmartin, said it had been a successful day.
“The Royal Black Institution has once again staged a very enjoyable day for our members, their families and supporters,” he said.
“Last year, our traditional Last Saturday demonstrations were cancelled due to Covid, but we managed to mark the day by holding wreath-laying events and drive-in services.
“Of course, we would have dearly loved to return to holding six main demonstrations again this year, but we thought it was more responsible to organise District parades.
“It seems the public have responded to this very favourably, with people enjoying a Last Saturday closer to home, and the day has been an overwhelming success that bodes well for the future of the Institution.
“After 18 months of the pandemic, the Institution has proven today that it is as strong and vibrant as ever before, and we are deeply appreciative of the support and affection shown by the public towards us at each of the 28 parades across Northern Ireland today.
“And God willing, we’ll be able to make a full return to our traditional ‘Last Saturday’ parades in 2022.”
A short religious service was held at each of today’s Last Saturday parades.
“It was wonderful to join with fellow Sir Knights and worship Almighty God,” said Rev Anderson.
“We have so much to be thankful for – His guiding hand continues to lead us through the pandemic and, of course, we thank God for all the brave health workers who have worked tirelessly to care for us and administer the vaccine rollout.”
Today’s parades were also an opportunity for participants and supporters to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Northern Ireland.
At each of the parades, resolutions were passed by Sir Knights on Faith, Loyalty, and the Constitution, with the latter calling for the removal the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“We wish to remain in the United Kingdom and our citizenship of such is not open for negotiation or to be used as a bargaining tool by either Her Majesty’s Government or any foreign power,” said the resolution.
Many Sir Knights on parade today had already been “stepping out” to celebrate Northern Ireland’s centenary over the last fortnight, having taken part in the Institution’s “Centenary Circuit”.
Relay teams of Sir Knights embarked on a 10-day sponsored lap – on foot and bicycle – of the Province, with all money raised going to the Institution’s Designated Charity Appeal, The Somme Nursing Home in Belfast.
Billed as a chance to “Rediscover your home”, the route – which incorporated all six counties of Northern Ireland – was divided into 29 different sections, covering a total of 176 miles.
The Circuit got under way on Monday, August 16 at Tynan Abbey in Co Armagh, home of the late Sir Norman Stronge, a former Sovereign Grand Master who was murdered by the IRA in 1981.
The event concluded with a three-mile walk to the finish line at the Institution’s new headquarters in Loughgall on Friday afternoon.
The Centenary Circuit was a hugely rewarding experience for everyone who took part, according to the Sovereign Grand Master, who was on location across each of the 10 days.
“What a wonderful way to celebrate 100 years of Northern Ireland, by walking around our beautiful country and taking time to enjoy its fascinating landmarks, amazing scenery and, of course, its fantastic people,” said Rev Anderson.
“Along the route, I met so many inspiring Sir Knights and their families, who love God, love their country, and love their Institution. They took part to raise money for a very worthy cause, and are full of Christian compassion for their fellow citizen – which is the very essence of our Institution.
“Many new friendships were made, and it was an experience that will live long in the memory.”