Somme slaughter dampens Twelfth Celebrations
Belfast, 13 July 1916 - This year’s Twelfth of July celebrations were like none experienced in living memory. There were no drums beating and no Orange sashes worn on the streets of Belfast and the city fell silent for five minutes as a mark of respect for the men of 36th Ulster Division who lost their lives in France last week.
Belfast was bustling with business as usual throughout the morning, but on the stroke of noon the noise and clamour came to an abrupt stop as the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Sir Crawford McCullagh, accompanied by the Lady Mayoress and the City Chamberlain appeared on the steps of City Hall. A death-like hush descended; traffic ground to a halt and every business and the majority of private residences lowered their blinds. Similarly, while Orange flags were everywhere being flown, most were at half-mast. It was, the Belfast Correspondent of The Irish Times has reported, ‘the most impressive spectacle Belfast has witnessed for many a day, and showed how deeply all hearts have been touched by the gallantry of the regiments of the Ulster Division’.
The day was dominated by the memory of Ulster’s recently fallen sons. A special memorial service was held in the Protestant Cathedral and in a message sent to the Belfast City Mayor, Sir Edward and Lady Carson noted that their ‘prayers and solemn thoughts’ would, at midday, be with all the people of Belfast ‘in memory of our illustrious dead, who have won glory for the empire and undying fame for Ulster. May God bless and help their sorrowing families’.
The solemn scenes in Belfast were replicated in Derry and across Ulster where traditional Twelfth demonstrations were cancelled at the request of the Orange Order’s Grand Lodge of Ireland. A belief that public celebrations would have been inappropriate at a time when so many families were mourning the loss of their sons at the Somme was one reason for the cancellation. Another reason the processions are prohibited is the fact that martial law prevails in Ireland, and in a message to the Orangemen of Ireland, Sir James H. Stronge, Grand Master, remarked:
‘No excuse must be given for any relaxation of the proclamation in respect of disloyal or doubtful gatherings affecting he peace and security of their friends in the South. Any disregard of the wishes of the military authorities would be looked upon as treason.’
[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]