The Unlawful Associations Act of 1825

Unlawful Associations ActThe persistence of the Orange Order in murdering and intimidating Catholics with militaristic demonstrations of their supremacy and various atrocities by the Ribbonmen resulted in the passing of the Unlawful Oaths Act of 1823.

One Catholic man was shot dead and a number of others were wounded by Orange demonstrators at Killileagh, Co Armagh, in July 1823. Michael Campbell was returning from a fair at Caledon when he was shot. Four Orangemen were charged with the murder but were acquitted at the Spring Assizes. When discharging the Orangemen judge Johnson said:

"They all knew the strong feeling that prevailed in the country respecting their silly processions. Was it to triumph over the fallen - to exult in victory - to insult a large portion of their fellow subjects, that they made such mischievous exhibitions? "

Hansard reports that Viscount Duncannon, in moving the committal of the Unlawful Oaths (Ireland) Bill, said, the subject to which the bill related had engaged for the last twenty or thirty years the attention of the Government in Ireland, and an act was passed to enable the Government to put down parties bound together by unlawful oaths in that country. That Act was amended by another statute, the which was found, however, to be equally inefficient, and eventually a representation was made to the Government to extend the powers of another Act to Ireland. That application was made to the Government in a very able dispatch of the Marquess Wellesley, which stated the matter so clearly, that he would read an extract to their Lordships. It was addressed to Sir Robert Peel, dated the 29th of January, 1823, and was as follows:

'I have not referred in this despatch to the dangerous system of associations, under the obligation of secret and mysterious oaths. Having some time since submitted to you a separate dispatch, relative to the trial and conviction of several persons denominated Ribbandmen, I added to that dispatch some observations, suggesting the necessity of strengthening the law of Ireland against the peril of those societies. The question of the increase 23 or diminution of the spirit of this association is stated differently, according to the particular views, imaginary interests, and flagrant zeal, of conflicting parties. In this contention (ludicrous in principle and theory, but mischievous to the State in practice) it is at least an advantage to the King's Government to have completely detected and publicly exposed the whole craft and mystery of the Ribband conspiracy. And I cannot believe that such an exposure, accompanied by such convictions, sentences, and punishments, should neither assuage the zeal, nor abate the bravery, of these covenanters, nor relax the holy bond of their illegal oaths, and treasonable contract. But I request your attention to the suggestions which I have submitted for the more effectual restraint of this system of mysterious engagements, formed under the solemnity of secret oaths, binding his Majesty's liege subjects to act under authorities not known to the law, nor derived from the State, for purposes undefined; not disclosed in the first process of initiation, nor until the infatuated novice has been sworn to the vow of unlimited and lawless obedience. The vigour and activity of the law should be exerted to extirpate this mischief, which has been a main cause of the disturbances and miseries of Ireland. The mystery is now distinctly exposed; I, therefore, anxiously hope and trust, that his Majesty's Government will add to the various benefits which they have already imparted to this country, the inestimable favour of abolishing by law in Ireland an evil which has been abolished by law in England.'

The Act in question was extended to Ireland, but still it was found very difficult to put down illegal societies, and they had engaged the attention of the Government from time to time from that period up to the present moment. It had always been found extremely difficult to fix the guilt on persons who had taken unlawful oaths, although it was well known that there were such persons in many parts of Ireland. This subject had also engaged the attention of her Majesty's Government during the past year, and in consequence of information which had been received, the present bill had been prepared. He would now only allude to that part of the bill relating to the use and possession of pass-words, for the purpose of stating that he hoped to meet an objection which had been started by a noble Lord opposite by inserting the words "without lawful excuse." The object of the bill was to discover and punish those who used passwords, and it was necessary that the law should be severe, or the suppression of these illegal societies could not be effected.

The Unlawful Oaths Act was not sufficient to put a stop to Orange violence and subversion of the law and it continued to persecute Catholics and obstruct the movement for Catholic Emancipation. In 1825 the act was reinforced with the Unlawful Associations Act. This effectively outlawed the Orange Order and the Dublin based Grand Lodge of Ireland, LOL 176, went into voluntary dissolution. However, the Orange fanatics in Portadown were determined to persevere and when the town magistrates, who generally supported Orangeism, were obliged by the new law to prevent an illegal 12th July demonstration they claimed they had insufficient forces 'at their command' and the Orangemen demonstrated without hindrance.

In July 1826 Portadown Orangemen joined up with their brethren from Lurgan in a mass demonstration. Meanwhile the mayor of Derry, Richard Young, and a number of magistrates and landlords of the county appealed in vain to the Orangemen there to abandon their demonstrations.

On July 29th 1826 Orangemen attacked and burned a small Catholic altar at Tartaraghan. Twenty-one men were charged with the crime but all were acquitted despite being identified by eyewitnesses. On the 5th of November two Catholics were shot dead and several others wounded when Orangemen marched into the predominantly Catholic village of Hilltown.

In 1827 Portadown magistrate, Curran Woodhouse, who had quit the Orange Order, attempted to persuade the Orangemen not to flout the law. He called their leaders to a last minute 12th meeting but his requests were rejected and the Orangemen marched to meet up with their Lurgan allies at the Red Cow Inn on the Portadown to Lurgan road. With the Lurgan Lodges for reinforcement the 5,000 Orangemen marched into Portadown where there were only 14 policemen on duty.

On May 14th 1828 Orangemen who marched into Blackwatertown murdered a Catholic. One of them was charged with murder and received 12 months for manslaughter. Five Catholics and two Orangemen were charged with rioting. Each Catholic got one months hard labour. The Orangemen were fined sixpence each.

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