On 12 July every year thousands of people take part in parades across Northern Ireland to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne.
The marches, part of a celebration known as The Twelfth or Orangemen’s Day which is marked with a bank holiday, celebrate the victory of King William of Orange – affectionately known as “King Billy” – in the late 17th century.
This year there are parades across 18 venues in Northern Ireland to mark the 333rd anniversary of the battle – here’s everything you need to know.
What is the Battle of the Boyne?
The Battle of the Boyne was the key engagement in the Williamite War in Ireland, which was fought between the deposed King James II of England and Ireland (VII of Scotland) and King William III (William of Orange).
James was the last Catholic monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland, and still had control of Ireland at the time of the battle.
William and his wife Mary II – James’ daughter and his own cousin – had jointly acceded to the Crowns of England and Scotland in 1689, the year before the battle.
The Battle of the Boyne took place on 1 July 1690 across the River Boyne near the town of Drogheda, in modern day Republic of Ireland.
William’s forces, positioned north of the river, decisively defeated James’s army to the south, causing him to flee to France and never return.
Although the war continued until October 1691, this battle is considered the turning point, and ensured continued Protestant supremacy in Ireland.
When did the 12th July marches start?
The first Orange “Twelfth” marches were held on 12 July 1796 at Portadown, Lurgan and Waringstown.
Originally, early celebrations on the date had commemorated the Battle of Aughrim, which took place on 12 July 1691 and brought the war to a decisive close.
However, these events were combined with the smaller-scale celebrations marking the Battle of the Boyne at the end of the 18th century, after the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar in 1752 moved the date of the Boyne to later in July.
By 1798, there were large parades held in Belfast, Lisburn and Lurgan where the General Officer commanding in Ulster, Lieutenant-General Lake, inspected the parade.
Today, they have become part of the Protestant loyalist community in Northern Ireland’s celebration of their heritage and culture.
However, they have been controversial in the past becoming flashpoints for tension and confrontation with the mainly Catholic nationalist communities
Who was ‘King Billy’?
William of Orange – known in Northern Ireland as “King Billy” – was born in the Hague on November 4, 1650.
He held the title of Prince of Orange from birth – it refers to a region in what is now the south of France.
Throughout the early 1670s he was embroiled in conflict as he extended his power over the Netherlands, with the Protestant Dutch fighting the Catholic French and their allies.
William was the grandson of King Charles I, and his marriage to Mary gave him a strong claim to the English throne.
When the Catholic James II took the thrown, William of Orange was encouraged by protestants in England to invade and seize power.
He landed in November 1688 with a large fleet and army, and after meeting little resistance was crowned King William III of England, Ireland and Scotland alongside his wife on 11 April 1689 – an event known as the Glorious Revolution.
James II fled England to Ireland, where he could count on the support of Roman Catholics, so in the summer of 1689 William sent his army and navy, thus starting the Williamite War.