15 September 2005 Edition
Remembering the Past - Orange Order's bloody history
Throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries Irish land continued to be confiscated by English colonists. Landlords were becoming stronger, possessing larger and larger tracts of land. The peasantry, both Catholic and Protestant, found themselves frequently in competition for the little land that was available and this struggle led the peasantry to form secret agrarian societies. These groups fought against the landlords, using sabotage and other guerrilla tactics.
In 1784 a largely Anglican peasant organisation, calling themselves the 'Peep o' Day Boys' were hijacked by the ruling class and given the direction to begin attacking Catholic homes. This was in the context of struggles between landlords and tenants in the area of which the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh said: "The worst of this is that it stands to unite Protestant and Papist, and whenever that happens, goodbye to the English interest in Ireland."
Intimidation included placing notices on Catholic doors, including one which read: "Captain Rakeall and Captain Firebrand, will come and destroy you and send your souls to hell and damnation." To defend themselves Catholics formed their own group known as the 'Defenders'. For several years these groups, and others like them, attacked landlords, churches and each other.
In 1795 the Battle of the Diamond in Loughgall, County Armagh, raised the stakes for sectarian conflict. On 21 September a group of Peep O' Day Boys attacked the Defenders in a fierce battle and afterwards, victorious over the Catholics, the Peep O' Day Boys formed the 'Orange Society', named after their dubious hero William of Orange who, with the support of the Pope, defeated King James at the battle of the Boyne over 100 years beforehand. This latest development was to begin a campaign of terror aimed denying full citizenship rights to Catholics for the next 200 years.
Dissolved in 1825, the Orange Order was re-constituted three years later to combat the granting of Catholic Emancipation in 1829. Having lost that battle they then concentrated on opposing Daniel O'Connell's campaign to repeal the Act of Union.
Re-constituted once more in 1845, the organisation opposed the Tenants' Rights League of the 1850s and the plans to disestablish the Church of Ireland in 1869. With the defeat of the later campaign, they went on to oppose the prospect of Home Rule Bill in 1886.
There were riots and violence following Orange marches in almost every decade of the 19th and 20th Centuries. A number of Catholics were killed in riots following Orange marches in 1849 and 1857, and further severe disturbances in 1886 and 1935.
When the Parliament Act of 1911 brought the prospect of Home Rule closer, Orange leaders organised the Solemn League and Convenant, signed in September 1912 and the Ulster Volunteer Force a paramilitary unionist organisation which carried out hundreds of sectarian murders in the following decades.
The Orange Order was fundamental to the establishment of the Northern Ireland state. All of its Prime Ministers were Organgemen. The organisation, through the organs of the new state, instituted sectarian discrimination against the nationalist population for the following 50 years.
Qualifications from the Order's handbook state: "An Orangeman should... strenuously oppose the fatal errors and doctrines of the Church of Rome and scrupulously avoid countenancing any act or ceremony of Popish Worship; he should by all lawful means, resist the ascendancy of that Church, it encroachments and the extension of its power..."
The only reason for Expulsion is : "Any member dishonoring the Institution by marrying a Roman Catholic shall be expelled; and every Member shall use his best endeavours to prevent and discountenance the marriage of Protestants with Roman Catholics..."
Over the last 210 years the Orange Order has been the vanguard of reaction in Ireland dedicated to dividing communities through sectarianism. History has shown that whenever change is in the air, the Orange Order is there to try and thwart it. It continues in this work to the present day.