Northern Ireland

Ulster Covenant: Thousands due at centenary parade

Northern Ireland's biggest policing operation in 20 years is under way in Belfast.

It is estimated as many as 30,000 marchers will take part in a parade to mark one of the most significant dates in unionist history.

The six-mile march from central Belfast to Stormont will mark the 100th anniversary of the Ulster Covenant, to oppose Home Rule for Ireland in 1912.

Thousands of spectators are also expected to watch the parade.

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

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.

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

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

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

Part of their route is past St Patrick's Catholic Church on Donegall Street where there has been controversy and violence associated with parades during the summer.

The parade is due to pass the church about 10:30 BST on the outward journey and around 18:00 BST on the return journey.

The Parades Commission has ruled that only hymn music is to be played as bands pass the church and has limited any nationalist protest to 150 people.

The commission has also placed the sacred music restriction on those bands that will pass St Matthew's Catholic Church on the Newtownards Road, close to Stormont.

All the parading is due to be finished by 18:00 BST.

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

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

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