The first organised celebrations of the Relief of Londonderry after the historic Siege took place on 8th August 1689 when a Thanksgiving Service was held in St. Columb’s Cathedral, starting the practice of holding services annually in the Siege Cathedral.
The full title of the organisation is the "Associated Clubs of the Apprentice Boys of Derry". This is derived from the fact that the organisation is essentially a number of separate Clubs who came together to form the organisation as it is today.
The first Apprentice Boys Club was formed on 1st August, 1714 (the date of the annual commemoration that year) by Colonel John Mitchelburne who had been Governor of the City towards the end of the Siege. Although this Club ceased to exist after his death, the memory of the Siege was always celebrated each year in some form by informal groups right through the 18th Century.
The first formal 'Apprentice Boys of Derry Club' was formed in 1814 by Benjamin J Darcus. Over the next 40 years or so other Clubs were founded to commemorate the Siege heroes. The Walker, Mitcheburne, Baker, Murray and Williamite Clubs all confined to Londonderry. These six Clubs came together in 1859 with John Guy Ferguson as Chairman, who became Governor when a General Committee was formed in 1862.
The Williamite Club became extinct, but three new Clubs were founded called No Surrender, Browning and Campsie. This brought the number of Clubs to eight, which reflects the eight Regiments formed within the City at the time of the Siege.
Around this time also the first interest was stirring, mainly from among exiled Derrymen, to form clubs outside Londonderry. This was at first resisted by the General Committee, but as demand increased from exiles in Glasgow, Omagh, Belfast and Dublin they relented and started to issue charters. One of the earliest clubs was in Lurgan. In 1866 the Governor presented Lurgan ABOD Club with President and Vice-President Jewels, which continue to be proudly worn today. With the advent of the railways and improved travel in the latter part of the 19th Century, Clubs forming outside Londonderry continued to increase. It was decided to call them Branch Clubs, and that they would be an extension of the eight Londonderry Clubs who became known as Parent Clubs.
The organisation and structure of the Apprentice Boys of Derry Association is as a tree with many branches. The roots of the tree are firmly embedded in Londonderry. In this way the focal point of Londonderry is always to the fore, protecting the heritage of the Apprentice Boys and assuring that the Governing Body is always derived from the Parent Clubs.
As the Association continued to expand throughout the 20th Century it was decided to form Amalgamated Committees, the first in Belfast in 1925. The purpose of Amalgamated Committees is to organise Clubs in their local areas to ensure that Church Services and parades should not clash.
As a Branch Club is an extension of the Parent Club, and if it also belongs to an Amalgamated Committee (it is not mandated or required that they should so belong), then it will have in effect at least five representatives (four from the Parent Club and one from the Amalgamated Committee) speaking on its behalf on the Governing Body, the General Committee.
The Parent Clubs are the key to the Association, with General Committee acting as a co-ordinating and supportive role most particularly in respect of the two significant annual Commemorations, The Shutting of the Gates and The Relief of Derry in December and August respectively.