Tens of thousands of people are attending the annual Orange parades in Northern Ireland.

The main Twelfth of July parade got under way earlier in Belfast.

The first disputed march took place in north Belfast when a feeder parade passed shops in Ardoyne, a mainly nationalist area, without incident.

The DUP MP for the area, Nigel Dodds, joined his lodge at Ligoniel.

A small group of 30 nationalist protestors carrying placards staged a silent demonstration and the bands accompanying the lodges played a single drum beat.

Junior Minister Gerry Kelly of Sinn Féin observed the parade, saying he hoped this evening's return march would also pass off quietly.

Meanwhile, the Grand Orange Lodge has condemned an attack on four buses taking Orangemen through Armagh this afternoon.

They say bricks, stones and bottles were thrown at the buses as they travelled on Friary Road around 4.15pm. 

A number of people were injured by flying glass and it is understood some of them needed medical treatment and one person was taken to hospital.

The buses were bringing Orangemen and band members back from the demonstration at Loughall.

Stones were also thrown at a number of private cars containing spectators who had attended the demonstration.

The PSNI said they were investigating a report that the buses had been attacked.

Many businesses are closed for the annual holiday and parades will take place at 18 venues across Northern Ireland.

The Independent Loyal Orange Institution parades in Ballymoney, Co Antrim, and the First Minister Ian Paisley will address members there.

A small number of the parades are contentious, and while protests are planned in some areas, police said they hoped all the parades would pass off peacefully.

Meanwhile, President Mary McAleese hosts some 350 guests from all traditions all over Ireland at a state-funded commemoration to mark the 12 July anniversary at Áras an Uachtaráin.

Calls to fire service down 40% 

Last night bonfires were held in many loyalist areas to begin the Twelfth of July festivities.

The Northern Ireland Fire Service said the number of calls received last night was down 40% on last year.

There were almost 200 calls associated with bonfires, compared with around 350 last year.

The busiest period was the first hour after midnight when the service was dealing with an alert every 85 seconds.

However, firefighters came under attack in Belfast, Portadown and Banbridge.

In Banbridge and Portadown, firemen were cooling down nearby houses with water to prevent them igniting when they were attacked with stones and bottles.

And in Springfield in west Belfast, fire crews had to withdraw when they came under similar attacks.

A Fire Service spokesperson said that while there were few such incidents last night, it was 'unfortunately something we encounter regularly'.