The Twelfth - A Brief History

The Twelfth is an annual Protestant celebration on 12 July, originating in Ireland. It is alternatively known also as Orangemen's Day, as the Boyne celebrations, commemorating the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and the Glorious Revolution. It is occasionally known as the Glorious Twelfth, but that term is more commonly used to refer to 12 August. Members of the Orange Institution stage parades throughout Northern Ireland and to a lesser extent in several other parts of the world. While it is a Protestant celebration, not all Irish Protestants celebrate it, whether due to political or cultural reasons or indifference. More recently, attempts have been made to play down explicitly political aspects of the parades (as well as any violent history) and present the Twelfth as a "cultural" event, at which tourists are welcome. Prior to the Troubles, members of both communities participated in the event, although it was dominated by Protestants and some Catholics opposed the celebrations. Irish Protestants commemorated several events from the 17th century onwards, celebrating the survival and triumph of their community in the face of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 and the Williamite war in Ireland (168991). The first such commemoration was the anniversary of the 1641 rebellion on October 23, when it was believed that a plot to massacre all Protestants in Ireland had been narrowly averted. The second major day was the birthday of William of Orange, Protestant victor of the Williamite war in the 1690s on 4 November. Both of these anniversaries faded in popularity by the end of the 18th century.

The Twelfth itself originated as a celebration of the Battle of Aughrim, which took place on 12 July 1691 in the Julian calendar. Aughrim was the decisive battle of the Williamite war, in which the predominantly Irish Catholic Jacobite army was destroyed. The Twelfth in the early 18th century was a popular commemoration of this battle, featuring bonfires and parades. The Battle of the Boyne (fought on July 1, 1690) was commemorated with smaller parades on 1 July. However, two events were combined in the late 18th century to switch the Twelfth commemorations to the Boyne. The first reason for this was the British switch to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, which put the Boyne rather than Aughrim on 12 July. The second reason was the foundation of the Orange Order in 1795. The Order preferred the Boyne, due to William of Orange's presence there. It has also been suggested that in the 1790s (a time of Catholic resurgence) the Boyne, where the Jacobites were routed, was more appealing to the Order than Aughrim, where they had fought hard and died in great numbers. The Twelfth parades of the early 19th century often led to riots and public disorder, so much so that the Orange Order and the Twelfth were suppressed in the 1830s and 40s.