News Letter
9 April 2012

‘PLEASE respect unionist history’ was the prevailing message at the launch of a major event that will be held in Belfast next month to commemorate the centenary of the Balmoral Review.

Representatives of unionist and loyalist groups including the County Grand Lodge of Belfast, Apprentice Boys, political parties, Independent Orange Order, the 36th (Ulster) Division Memorial Association and the Somme Association have come together under the Joint Unionist Centenary Committee (JUCC) to organise the event.

Launching plans at the home of former Northern Ireland Prime Minister James Craig in east Belfast, the group has appealed for people to attend, enjoy the festivities peacefully and learn about the events of 100 years ago.

The year 1912 was a significant year for unionism with the seemingly inevitable passage of the third Home Rule Bill through parliament which threatened the break-up of the Union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

On Easter Tuesday 1912, two days before the introduction of the third Home Rule Bill in the House of Commons, up to 200,000 Unionists gathered in a demonstration at the Royal Ulster Agricultural Show grounds at Balmoral in protest.

That event has since become known as the Balmoral Review.

Those gathered were addressed by unionist leader Edward Carson and the then leader of the Conservative Party Andrew Bonar Law.

It was also attended by more than 70 Conservative MPs from across the UK.

The JUCC said it decided not to hold the centenary event on Easter Tuesday and selected May 19 for logistical reasons.

Balmoral Showgrounds were not available for the event.

The group said Ormeau Park was selected for its proximity to Belfast city centre.

The event will continue over two days, starting at 6pm on Friday, May 18 with entertainment, leading on to fireworks at 10pm before it closes at 10.30pm.

On Saturday, May 19, parades to the event will leave from Alexandra Park Avenue, Sandy Row, Shankill Road and Clifton Street at 9.45am and arrive at Ormeau Park via the Ravenhill Road by 12 noon.

A religious service will take place at 1pm, before entertainment, including a cultural village, commences at 1.30pm to 5pm when the parade leaves and the national anthem will be played to close the event.

JUCC chairman David Nicholl told the News Letter that when the group was set up two years ago, it carried out wide consultation within the unionist community and found that a wish for the opportunity to learn more about its history was a strong priority.

He said: “However this is not just an event for unionists. We are reaching out and inviting minority communities such as the Chinese community and Polish community to come along on the Friday evening.

“We want the Saturday to be a peaceful day of celebration to kick-start the first of our centenaries positively.”

The JUCC has urged all who plan to attend to be on their best behaviour, to follow the instructions of the PSNI and stewards and to take the opportunity to learn about the seismic events in unionist history that took place 100 years ago.

The event is aimed at being family-friendly with a strict no alcohol policy.

The JUCC was formed two years ago to provide central planning for several major anniversaries which are coming up over the next number of years.

The next major event in the calendar will be the centenary of half a million men and women signing the Ulster Covenant and Declaration in September.