The first recorded “Twelfth of July” sectarian riots erupt in Belfast on July 12, 1813 as clashes break out between Orange marchers and Irish nationalists. Several Orangemen open fire on a crowd in Hercules Street, killing two Protestants and wounding four other people.
The Twelfth, also called the Glorious Twelfth or Orangemen’s Day, is an Ulster Protestant celebration held on July 12. It is first held in the late 18th century in Ulster. It celebrates the Glorious Revolution (1688) and victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 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 Ulster, especially 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 established. The Twelfth involves thousands of participants and spectators.
In Ulster, where about half the population is from a Protestant background and half from a Catholic background, the Twelfth has been accompanied by violence since its beginning. Orange marches through Irish Catholic and Irish nationalist neighbourhoods are usually met with opposition from residents, who see the Orange Order and its marches as sectarian, triumphalist and supremacist. This sometimes leads to violence.
The Order is also politically a unionist/loyalist organisation. Violence related to the Twelfth in Northern Ireland escalates 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. The majority of events pass off peacefully, however, there is a small contingency who occasionally stir up trouble.
When July 12 falls on a Sunday, as it does this year, the parades are held on the following day instead.