The Orange Order holds its first “Twelfth of July” marches in Portadown, Lurgan and Waringstown on July 12, 1796. The Twelfth marches celebrate the Glorious Revolution (1688) and victory of Protestant king William of Orange over Catholic king James II at the Battle of the Boyne (1690), which begins the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland.
On and around the Twelfth, large parades are held by the Orange Order and Ulster loyalist marching bands, streets are bedecked with British flags and bunting, and large towering bonfires are lit. Today the Twelfth is mainly celebrated in Northern Ireland, where it is a public holiday, but smaller celebrations are held in other parts of the world where Orange lodges have been set up, including the Canadian province of Newfoundland where it is a provincial holiday. The Twelfth involves thousands of participants and spectators, although not all Protestants celebrate it.
In Northern Ireland, where almost half the population is from an Irish Catholic background, The Twelfth is a tense time. Orange marches through Irish Catholic and Irish nationalist neighbourhoods are usually met with opposition from residents, sometimes leading to violence. Public disorder during The Twelfth parades of the early 19th century led to them being banned in the 1830s and 1840s.
Many Catholics and Irish nationalists see the Orange Order and its marches as sectarian, triumphalist, and supremacist. The Order is also politically a unionist/loyalist organization. Violence related to the Twelfth in Northern Ireland worsens during the 30-year ethno-political conflict known as The Troubles. The Drumcree conflict is the most well-known dispute involving Orange marches.
Attempts have recently been made to downplay the political aspects of the marches and present the Twelfth as a cultural, family-friendly event at which tourists are welcome. Although most events pass off peacefully, some continue to result in violence.