The Battle of the Boyne holiday is also commonly known as Orangemen’s Day and the Twelfth. It’s a commemoration of the Glorious Revolution in 1688 and the culmination of that revolution in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
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At the Battle of the Boyne, the troops of William of Orange defeated those of James II and this began the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. Some of the political divisiveness of this holiday has been lost in recent decades, and celebrations have changed heavily as a result.
Revolutionaries who supported William of Orange sought to usurp the Catholic monarchy that was supported by followers of James II in the late 17th century. They were able to ultimately overthrow King James II and march his forces into Ireland, where they were defeated in Oldbridge, County Meath.
Jacobite forces who had supported James II viewed the war as a stand for Irish sovereignty. They also felt that it was fought to defend religious freedom for members of the Catholic Church.
Williamite forces viewed the war as an opportunity to stabilise Protestant and English rule in Ireland. Many of them were afraid that their lives and property would be in jeopardy if James’ forces remained in control of Ireland.
Contemporary sources stated that the Battle of the Boyne took place on July 1, 1690. The date was revised to July 11 due to changes in the dating system used in European countries. Ironically the battle is actually commemorated in modern days on July 11, which has lead to many people simply calling the celebration the Twelfth.
Many people have viewed the holiday as relatively controversial due to the complex political background that the Battle of the Boyne carries with it. Nevertheless, things have changed quite a bit. Modern celebrations tend to downplay politics and instead present the holiday as a cultural event that welcomes tourists.
Modern Cultural Observances
Celebrations in the modern era generally start the night before, which is often referred to as the Eleventh Night in Northern Ireland. Large bonfires are often lit on this night. While some sectarian activities still accompany these bonfires in many areas, there have been numerous attempts to make the event more family-friendly as well as to cut down on the pollution generated by the bonfires.
Some of these fires are fed by a combination of wooden pallets and rubber tires. They can often reach well over 100 feet tall.
Parades are generally scheduled for the next morning. Members of the Orange Order organise many of these parades, which is a Protestant fraternal organisation that’s has its headquarters in Ulster. The holiday used to be known as Orangemen’s Day because of the large number of parades that this group organises. Orangemen typically wear a dark suit with an orange sash when on parade. They might also put on white gloves and a traditional bowler hat for the event.
There are several other ways that people mark the occasion besides the marches:
- Loyalists tend to dress various streets up with bunting and Union flags. Some people have argued that this is a traditional aspect of the holiday, but it has caused problems in the past when these banners are hung near areas with Republican sentiments.
- It has become customary for modern people to watch the parades on television, and a great deal of local TV coverage is given to the events. The Twelfth is the longest running outside broadcast program that originates in Northern Ireland. Many people have come to enjoy waving in front of television cameras as the traditional political activities associated with the holiday have receded further into the past.
- Lambeg drumming contests have become popular as well. A Lambeg drum is a large musical instrument that’s beaten with a pair of curved malacca canes. Full-sized drums are always starting to become popular with individuals who travel through parade routes on floats. They’re usually not comfortable to carry otherwise.
Celebrations Going Forward
Numerous efforts to make the holiday more inclusive have really started to change the celebration of the Twelfth. Some politically neutral customs are becoming popular now, such as releasing balloons. One purple or orange balloon is released for every year since 1690. While some people continue to see the celebrations as divisive, they’re likely to become comparatively relaxed.