History of the Orange Institution

The Orange Institution, better known as the Orange Order, is a Roman Catholics and close relatives of Catholics as members.[1] The Order has a substantial fraternal and benevolent component.[2]


  • Background 1
  • Foundation of the Order 2
  • Early years 3
  • Conflict and suppression 4
  • Revival 5
  • Role in the partition of Ireland 6
  • In Northern Ireland 7
  • Military contributions 8
  • References 9


William III ("William of Orange") King of England, Scotland and Ireland, Stadtholder of the Netherlands

The Orange Order arose out of the division between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. Sixteenth century attempts by the English to impose Protestantism on the Irish had been largely unsuccessful, and so the Irish speaking majority in Ireland, consisting of Gaelic Irish and the descendants of medieval Norman settlers, remained Catholic, in contrast to post-Reformation Planters from Britain, who were mostly Protestant. In the early seventeenth century the English, partly in response to an uprising based in Ulster, settled large numbers of English and Scottish Protestants in the province, a process known as the Plantation of Ulster.[3] This changed Ulster from the most Catholic and Gaelic of the four Irish provinces[4] to the most Protestant and British, although many Catholics remained. The two communities feared and resented each other, and when James II of England was overthrown by William of Orange in 1688 most Irish Catholics (in Ulster and elsewhere) continued to support James while the Protestants supported William. After initially fleeing to France, James arrived in Ireland in 1689 with French troops and money provided by Louis XIV, who was at war with William. Due partly to uncertainty as to who was the legitimate king, James' supporters (Jacobites) controlled most of Ireland, with the exception of Ulster. Here the Protestants held out for William, especially at Enniskillen and Derry, which were besieged by Jacobite forces. General Frederick Schomberg, 1st Duke of Schomberg and a small army were sent by William to Ireland, but they failed to make progress against the Jacobites. In 1690 William came to Ireland himself, and soon defeated James in the Battle of the Boyne. James fled again to France and although the Williamite War in Ireland was not resolved until the following year, William had achieved a decisive victory over James.

In England, William's overthrow of James is remembered as the Glorious Revolution, so called because in that country there was little bloodshed, and because it established significant limits on royal power. For many years the Revolution was seen as a major turning point in English and world history,[5] as an important step towards democracy and against arbitrary government. In Ireland, William's victory signalled the beginning of the Protestant Ascendancy. Although the Treaty of Limerick negotiated at the end of the war was in some ways generous towards the defeated Catholics,[6] it was not properly ratified and was repeatedly broken by the Protestant-controlled Parliament of Ireland. Ironically, the increased powers won for parliament in the Revolution meant that William was unable to prevent it from overturning the promises he had made in the Treaty.[7] Subsequent penal laws barred Irish Catholics from most aspects of public life and reduced the majority to poverty.[8] Although there were no uprisings or wars in Ireland in the hundred years after the Battle of the Boyne, there continued to be tension and some conflict between the Protestant and Catholic communities.

Foundation of the Order

Under the influence of the United Irishmen according to T. A. Jackson, political unity was replacing sectarian divisions in Ulster. This he says inspired "public-spirited zeal" in Catholic areas with areas like Armagh where the population had been evenly divided and the scene of sporadic violence between the Peep O'Day Boys and Catholic Defenders for years dying down to nothing under the influence of the United Irish. However with the arrival of the new pro-Catholic Viceroy, Earl Fitzwilliam the Peep of Day boys resumed their activity after nearly a two-year absence. Jackson suggests that it is impossible to miss the connection between this fact, and the lie propagated by the Clare-Beresford faction that Fitzwilliam was there to replace the Protestant ascendancy with a Catholic one. With Defenders, again in action, he says, every successful defence against Peep of Day attack being then portrayed as a "Catholic outrage." This "artificially worked-up pogrom" would culminate in what came to be known as the Battle of the Diamond.[9] In the aftermath of the "battle" which occurred on 21 September 1795 the Orange Society was founded, with the first Orange lodge established in Dyan, County Tyrone. Its first grand master was James Sloan of Loughgall, in who's inn the victory by the Peep O'Day Boys was celebrated.[10]

According to Robert Kee, the Peep O'Day Boys would reorganise under the name the Orange Society, which he described as a crude organisation at the time.[11] However,

  1. ^ "... No catholic and no one whose close relatives are catholic may be a member." Northern Ireland The Orange State, Michael Farrell; McGarry, John & O'Leary, Brendan (1995). Explaining Northern Ireland: Broken Images. Blackwell Publishers. p. 180.  ; The Orange marches
  2. ^ a b c Tim Pat Coogan, 1916: The Easter Rising, Phoenix, 2001, ISBN 0-7538-1852-3, p. 14
  3. ^ Hiram Morgan "O'Doherty, Sir Cahir" The Oxford Companion to Irish History. S.J. Connolly. Oxford University Press, 2007; Hiram Morgan "Ulster plantation" The Oxford Companion to Irish History. S.J. Connolly. Oxford University Press, 2007.
  4. ^ "Ulster" A Dictionary of British History. Ed. John Cannon. Oxford University Press, 2001.
  5. ^ Jeremy Black "Glorious Revolution" Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment. Ed. Alan Charles Kors. Oxford University Press 2003.
  6. ^ Bruce Philip Lenman "Limerick, treaty of" The Oxford Companion to British History. Ed. John Cannon. Oxford University Press, 1997.
  7. ^ S.J. Connolly, 'The Penal Laws', in W.A. Maguire, ed., Kings in Conflict: The Revolutionary War in Ireland and its Aftermath, 1689–1750, Belfast, 1990, pp.160–1.
  8. ^ "penal laws" The Oxford Companion to Irish History. S. J. Connolly. Oxford University Press, 2007.
  9. ^ Ireland Her Own, T. A. Jackson, Lawrence & Wishart, Fp 1947, Rp 1991, ISBN 0-85315-735-9 pg. 142-5
  10. ^ A New Dictionary of Irish History from 1800, D.J. Hickey & J.E. Doherty, Gill & Macmillan, Dublin 2003, ISBN 0-7171-2520-3 pg375
  11. ^ Robert Kee, Vol I, pg.71.
  12. ^ Ruth Dudley Edwards: The Faithful Tribe, page 220. Harper Collins, London, 2000.
  13. ^ After Protestant homes were attacked in Belfast News Letter on 1 February 1793, which referred to a meeting of the 138 members of the Orange Boys held on 22 January 1793." The Orange Boys Wallace writes, were predominantly Presbyterian. William Blacker, Robert Hugh Wallace, The formation of the Orange Order, 1795–1798: Education Committee of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, 1994 ISBN 0-9501444-3-6, ISBN 978-0-9501444-3-6 Pg 49
  14. ^ Ruth Dudley Edwards: The Faithful Tribe, pages 220 and 227–228. Harper Collins, London, 2000.
  15. ^ Mervyn Jess. The Orange Order, page 18-20. The O’Brian Press Ltd. Dublin, 2007
  16. ^ William Blacker, Robert Hugh Wallace, The formation of the Orange Order, 1795–1798: Education Committee of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, 1994 ISBN 0-9501444-3-6, ISBN 978-0-9501444-3-6 Pg25.
  17. ^ William Blacker, Robert Hugh Wallace, The formation of the Orange Order, 1795–1798: Education Committee of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, 1994 ISBN 0-9501444-3-6, ISBN 978-0-9501444-3-6 Pg 126,78
  18. ^ a b Smyth, Jim (1995). "The Men of No Popery: The Origins of the Orange Order". 1798 Ireland. 
  19. ^ William Blacker, Robert Hugh Wallace, The formation of the Orange Order, 1795–1798: Education Committee of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, 1994 ISBN 0-9501444-3-6, ISBN 978-0-9501444-3-6 Pg 49
  20. ^ Ireland Her Own, T. A. Jackson, Lawrence & Wishart, Fp 1947, Rp 1991, ISBN 0-85315-735-9 pg. 145
  21. ^ William Blacker, Robert Hugh Wallace, The formation of the Orange Order, 1795–1798: Education Committee of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, 1994 ISBN 0-9501444-3-6, ISBN 978-0-9501444-3-6 Pg 37
  22. ^ Bartlett, Thomas; Kevin Dawson; Daire Keogh (1998). The 1798 Rebellion: An Illustrated History. Roberts Rinehart Publishers. p. 44.  
  23. ^ Bartlett, Thomas; Kevin Dawson; Daire Keogh (1998). The 1798 Rebellion: An Illustrated History. Roberts Rinehart Publishers. p. 71.  
  24. ^ William Blacker, Robert Hugh Wallace, The formation of the Orange Order, 1795–1798: Education Committee of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, 1994 ISBN 0-9501444-3-6, ISBN 978-0-9501444-3-6 Pg126.
  25. ^ Mervyn Jess. The Orange Order, page 20. The O'Brian Press Ltd. Dublin, 2007
  26. ^ Mervyn Jess. The Orange Order, page 18. The O'Brian Press Ltd. Dublin, 2007
  27. ^ Ruth Dudley Edwards: The Faithful Tribe, pages 236–237. Harper Collin, London, 2000.
  28. ^ Collins, M.E.; Geraldine F. Grogan (1993). Ireland, 1868 1966 History in the Making. Edco, The Educational Company of Ireland.  
  29. ^ "Home Rule—The Elections of 1885 & 1886". Cork Multitext Project. 
  30. ^ "1850–1909: Parnell, Gladstone and the battle for Home Rule". BBC News. 18 March 1999. 
  31. ^ Collins, M.E.; Geraldine F. Grogan (1993). Ireland, 1868 1966 History in the Making. Edco, The Educational Company of Ireland. p. 202.  
  32. ^ Hopkinson, Michael (2004). Irish War of Independence. McGill-Queens University Press. p. 157.  
  33. ^ M.W. Dewar, John Brown and S.E. Long, Orangeism: A New Historical Appreciation, Belfast, 1967, pp.43–6.
  34. ^ Michael MacDonagh, The Irish on the Somme, London, 1917, p.48.
  35. ^ McDonald, Henry (9 September 2007). "Fury as Basra troops appear in pro-UVF magazine". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 4 May 2010. 


Numerous lodges have been formed by serving soldiers during various conflicts, with varying levels of official approval. In September 2007 there was controversy when a photograph of British soldiers in Iraq, wearing Orange sashes and carrying a banner reading 'Rising Sons of Basra', appeared in the Ulster Volunteer Force magazine The Purple Standard.[35]

Orangemen have fought in numerous wars, including the Robert Hanna, Robert Quigg[34] and Abraham Acton during World War I; and Rev. John Weir Foote in World War II.

Military contributions

To this day, according to Tim Pat Coogan, Orangemen still overlook the Papal input to the creation of their icon William of Orange.[2] However at least one Orange publication has mentioned the Pope's support for William,[33] and so it would be wrong to assume that Orangemen in general are ignorant of the Pope's role.

Traditionally, the Orange Order was affiliated with the institutions of establishment Unionism: the Ulster Unionist Party and Church of Ireland. It had a fractious relationship with the Democratic Unionist Party, Protestant paramilitaries, Independent Orange Order, and the Free Presbyterian Church. The Order urged its members not to join these organisations, and it is only recently that some of these intra-Unionist breaches have been healed.

The Order's political influence suffered greatly when the Unionist-dominated Stormont parliament was prorogued in 1972. Since then the Order has existed primarily as a pressure group, although many Ulster Unionist Party MPs and officials are members of the Order. The Order also suffered considerably in the Troubles, although the majority of murdered Orangemen were killed as members of the security forces rather than as Orangemen per se. Numerous Orange halls have been subject to arson and other vandalism, with some requiring heavy security and being uninsurable. As nationalists gained increased power within Northern Ireland, the Order became less able to parade along many of its traditional routes through Catholic neighbourhoods. This issue has led to considerable verbal and physical conflict both within the Order and between the Order and other groups, especially concerning the Drumcree conflict in Portadown.

The Orange Order began to lose influence in the 1960s, when it came into conflict with a movement towards modernisation and a reduction in sectarianism led by Cabinet minister Phelim O'Neill quit the Order rather than have it discipline him over his attendance at a Catholic ceremony, becoming one of only four Stormont Cabinet ministers in history not to belong to the Order. The Order was also challenged from the other side by The Rev. Ian Paisley and his followers, who accused the Order of being insufficiently opposed to Catholicism, humanism and ecumenism. Since 1965, membership has gone into decline, notably in Belfast and Derry. There was a membership spike following the beginning of The Troubles, but most new members who signed up did not remain long.

It had very close ties to the ruling Unionist Party and the senior leadership of both frequently overlapped. Lord Craigavon said in 1934, "I am an Orangeman first and a politician and a member of parliament second." Membership of the Order was also useful in obtaining jobs and public housing. The Order's principal commemoration on 12 July was made a public holiday and in effect, Northern Ireland's national day.

The Orange Order had a central place in the new state of Northern Ireland. It acted as a basis for the unity of Protestants of all classes and as a mass social and political grouping. At its peak in 1965, the Order's membership was around 70,000, which meant that roughly 1 in 5 adult Protestant males were members.

In Northern Ireland

The Fourth Home Rule Act was passed as the Government of Ireland Act 1920, the north eastern part of Ulster being partitioned from Southern Ireland as Northern Ireland. This new self-governing entity within the United Kingdom was confirmed under the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. Southern Ireland became the Irish Free State in December 1922, then, in December 1937, it became Éire. This independent Irish state has been popularly known (in English) as the Republic of Ireland since it left the Commonwealth in April 1949.

After the war, the island of Ireland became embroiled in the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921), which pitted the Irish Republican Army (the I.R.A.) against British Crown forces. The Orange Order appealed for Protestant unity in this period, condemning militant labour action such as strike for a 40-hour week in Belfast in 1919. In addition, some members of the Order were involved in paramilitary activities against nationalists. The leader of the Ulster Volunteer Force, Colonel Wilfrid Spender, wrote to Sir James Craig, 1st Bt., in 1920, "Some of the Orange Lodges have decided that the UVF is too slow and have decided to raise a special force of their own."[32] Many Orangemen were subsequently recruited into the Ulster Special Constabulary, an Auxiliary, mostly Protestant police force. Many of them were allegedly involved in attacks on Catholics, in which over 350 people were killed in the period 1920–1922.

In addition, in 1911 some Orangemen in County Tyrone had begun to arm themselves and engage in military training with the intention of resisting Home Rule. To facilitate this, several Justices of the Peace revived an old law permitting the formation of militias "for the purpose of maintaining the constitution of the United Kingdom as now established."[31] This practice spread to other Orange lodges under the name Ulster Volunteers, and in 1913 the Ulster Unionist Council decided to bring these groups under central control, creating the Ulster Volunteer Force, a militia dedicated to resisting Home Rule. There was a strong overlap between Orange Lodges and UVF units. A large shipment of rifles was imported from Germany to arm them in April 1914 in what became known as the Larne Gun Running. Civil war looked likely to break out between the Ulster Volunteers and the nationalist Irish Volunteers. However, the crisis was interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 and the temporary suspension of the Home Rule Act placed on the statute books with Royal Assent. Many Orangemen served in the war with the 36th (Ulster) Division suffering heavy losses and commemorations of their sacrifice are still an important element of Orange ceremonies.

In 1912, the Ulster Covenant a pledge to oppose Home Rule that was signed by up to 500,000 people.

Role in the partition of Ireland

In the first decade of the twentieth century, the Order suffered a split, when Lindsay Crawford, that unionists might accept Home Rule under certain circumstances. It later became associated with more traditional unionist politics, but remained critical of the close relationship between the Orange Order and the Unionist Party.

In 1894, the Order and the Unionists successfully opposed the Second Home Rule Bill, which was passed in the House of Commons but rejected by the House of Lords. British Prime Minister William Gladstone hinted at this time that special provision might need to be made for Ulster, a proposal that prefigured the subsequent Partition of Ireland.[30]

The Order's revival was completed by the controversy over Home Rule (or self-government for Ireland), which it virulently opposed on the grounds that Protestants would face discrimination in a Catholic dominated Ireland. Many of the Order's backers were also industrialists and valued the economic common market which the William Ewart Gladstone's Home Rule Bill was before Parliament. The Bill was defeated in June, and serious rioting broke out in Ulster, continuing on into the marching season in July. By September, fifty people were dead, and thousands had been driven from their homes.[29]

By the later 19th century, the Order was in decline. However, its fortunes were revived by the spread of Protestant opposition to Irish nationalist mobilisation in the Irish Land League and then around the question of Home Rule. Some Protestants perceived the Land War (sometimes violent agitation for the rights of tenant farmers) to be anti-Protestant, as most of the Landowning class were Protestants. As a result, the Orange Order, in October 1880, sent 50 labourers from counties Cavan and Monaghan to work the lands of Captain Charles Boycott (who was being boycotted by his own tenants) in County Mayo. They also established the Orange Emergency Committee in 1881, to oppose the Land league and to help landlords. These actions gave the Order greater appeal among the Ulster Protestant landed gentry and business community.


Many Orange songs of the 19th century period suggest that the Royal Irish Constabulary were sympathetic to the Thrashers and turned a blind eye to numerous skirmishes in County Down. In July 1849 near Castlewellan, County Down there was a skirmish shortly before the Battle of Dolly's Brae. This 'battle' took place on 12 July 1849 as the result of a parading dispute. At least 30 Catholics were killed in clashes between Ribbonmen and Orangemen. The British government banned Orange Order marches again after this incident. The Grand Master of the Order, Lord Roden, was forced to resign his position as a justice of the peace after it emerged that he incited the Orangemen before the incident at a gathering hosted on his estate nearby.

In 1836, the British Army used artillery to quell trouble at the annual gathering at Scarva, County Down.

"For some time past the peaceable inhabitants of the parish of Drumcree have been insulted and outraged by large bodies of Orangemen parading the highways, playing party tunes, firing shots, and using the most opprobrious epithets they could invent... a body of Orangemen marched through the town and proceeded to Drumcree church, passing by the Catholic chapel though it was a considerable distance out of their way."

In 1835, a Parliamentary Committee set up to investigate the activities of the Order heard from a local magistrate, William Hancock, that:

The Orange Order, along with other organisations, was banned between 1823 and 1845 by the British government because of its involvement in sectarian violence in Ulster. Although they were then illegal the parades continued. In 1829, seven people were killed during disturbances in Clones, County Monaghan, and eight in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. The first Orange-related disturbances in Scotland were reported in 1830.

Of the acquittal a song says, "The Judge he then would us condemn Had it not been for the jurymen Our grateful thanks are due to them For they cleared the boys of Garvagh." The Ribbonmen were found guilty but were acquitted at a later assizes when it was stated "that both parties had become reconciled and were ready to give bail for their future good behaviour."

"The 26th July, 1813 is memorable as the day on which a conflict occurred between Loyalists and Ribbonmen. The latter, who assembled to the number of 1500, attacked the house of a resident named Davidson, where the Orange Lodges were in the habit of meeting. The owner of the doomed premises, warned of their intentions, had a few trusty friends at hand to lend any necessary assistance. Three of the Ribbonmen were killed outright, while others, mortally wounded, died soon after. This did not end the trouble because a month later twelve men from the neighbourhood of Garvagh were charged before Judge Fletcher at Derry for murder. Three of the accused were acquitted and the others found guilty of manslaughter."

A report from the time says:

In the early 19th century, much of the Order's activities were bound up with violent conflict with the Ribbonmen, a Catholic secret society.

Conflict and suppression

By the early 19th century, the Order had spread outside of Ireland, reaching England in 1807. In some areas, particularly around Liverpool, it was used by the Tories against the Liberals. The Order also spread to the United States, and Tim Pat Coogan argues that it "manifested itself" in movements as the Know Nothings and the Ku Klux Klan, and also proved useful to employers as a device for keeping Protestant and Catholic workers from "uniting for better wages and conditions."[2]

Many Orangemen fought on the government side in the subsequent Irish Rebellion of 1798. Moreover, there were accusations that the Institution was involved in reprisal attacks after the rebellion, in which over 60 Catholic churches were burned. However Orange historians would point out that in County Antrim Orangemen were among the first to contribute money to a repair fund for a Catholic chapel damaged in the violence.[27] Anti-Catholic actions were fuelled by rebel atrocities against Protestants, such as the Scullabogue Barn massacre. In the wake of the rebellion, once its usefulness had passed, the Orange Order was once again seen by the authorities primarily as a threat to public order.

Orange historians state that the first Orangemen did not sympathise with the Peep of Day Boys or "wreckers" (of Catholic homes and churches) and never allowed them to join the Orange Institution.[24] Others have stated that some Peep of Day Boys might have "slipped through the net"[25] but if so they found themselves in a vastly different organisation.[26]

The Order spread rapidly in mid-Ulster and many Orangemen found their way into the government militia and Yeomanry. For their part, the United Irishmen exacerbated Catholic fear of the Order by spreading fabricated rumours of an "Orange extermination oath" to massacre all Catholics. Nevertheless, Protestant factions did expel up to 7000 Catholics from their homes in this period and by 1797, Henry Joy McCracken, the United Irish leader, was receiving word of the "barbarities committed on the country people in Moneymore, County Londonderry, by the Yeomen and Orangemen."[23]

The Governor of Armagh, Lord Gosford, gave his opinion of the late 18th century disturbances to a meeting of magistrates: "It is no secret that a persecution is now raging in this country... the only crime is... profession of the Roman Catholic faith. Lawless banditti have constituted themselves judges..." According to Col. R.H. Wallace, whoever the Governor believed were the "lawless banditti" they could not have been Orangemen as there were no lodges in existence at the time of his speech.[21] Against the background of the seditious activity of the United Irishmen, the government backed the Orange Order from 1796. Thomas Knox, British military commander in Ulster, wrote in August 1796, "We must to a certain degree uphold them, for with all their licentiousness, on them we must rely for the preservation of our lives and properties should critical times occur."[22]

Much of the Order's early activities involved opposition to the Society of United Irishmen, a revolutionary organisation set up to abolish sectarian distinctions and to create an independent Irish republic. It was composed of Anglicans, Dissenters (i.e., non-Anglican Protestants, mainly Presbyterian), and Roman Catholics. The United Irishmen were violently opposed by the Orange Order.

Early years

Many of the Orange Order's terms and language are derived from Freemasonry (e.g. lodge, grand master,[18] and degrees.) The two movements have since grown apart; today the highest bodies in Freemasonry specifically deny any connection between the two institutions.

James Wilson was joined by Daniel Winter and James Sloan.[18] The infant Orange Order according to Wallace, had both Presbyterian and Anglican members.[19] The colour orange had long been a popular symbol with which to celebrate the victory of William of Orange over James II a century before. The Orange Order proper was founded in Loughgall in County Armagh 21 September 1795 in the aftermath of this Battle of the Diamond.[20]


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