The Orange Order
The Orange Institution (more commonly known as the Orange Order, the Orange Lodge, or the Orangemen) is a Protestant fraternal organisation based mainly in Northern Ireland and Scotland, though it has lodges throughout the Commonwealth and United States. The Institution was founded in 1796 near the village of Loughgall in County Armagh. Its name is a tribute to Dutch-born Protestant William of Orange, who defeated the army of Catholic James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. William and James were both grandsons of the beheaded Charles Stuart, canonized by the Anglican church as Saint Charles the Martyr. As much a Stuart as Bonnie Prince Charlie, William III was co-monarch with Mary II, his first cousin, daughter of King James whom they deposed. The Orange Order as it presently exists, or more correctly the Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland, came into existence after the Battle of the Diamond in 1795, which took place on 21 September near Loughgall, a few miles from Drumcree. It was a clash between Catholic 'Defenders' and the Protestant 'Peep-o'-Day Boys' in which four to thirty (mostly un-armed) Catholic Defenders were killed. The Governor of Armagh, Lord Gosford, gave his opinion of the violence in County Armagh that followed the "battle" at a meeting of magistrates on 28 December 1795. He said:
"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 judge."
However, two former grand masters of the Order, William Blacker and Robert Hugh Wallace, have questioned this statement, saying 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. In truth there were atrocities on both sides as the cold light of history reveals.
Portadown has always been recognised as one of the greatest strongholds in Irish Orangeism and that has been the case since the earliest days of the Order. In fact, no other District, with the possible exception of Loughgall is more steeped in the traditions of the organisation formed after the Battle of the Diamond a few miles from the town. Portadown was little more than a village in 1795 when the Battle of the Diamond took place, but it was poised for great expansion with the industrial revolution of the early 19th century just over the horizon. The village of Portadown was surrounded by the rich rolling countryside of central Armagh, and it was among the farmers and later the weavers of the surrounding townlands that Orangeism took deep root.
Memories of the 1641 massacre at the Bann Bridge were still strong in the Portadown area. No other part of Ulster had suffered more from the Irish Rebellion than Co. Armagh, where the English settlers were put to the sword and cast out into the wilderness to starve in the forests which harboured wolves and wild boar in the early 1600s.
The 1790s were a time of political and religious conflict in Ireland. On one side were the Irish nationalists (mostly Irish Catholics, but also some High Church Anglicans or Anglo-Catholics) and on the other were the "Protestant Ascendancy" and its supporters. In October 1791 the nationalist Society of United Irishmen was founded by liberal Protestants in Belfast. Its leaders were mainly Presbyterians. They called for a reform of the Irish Parliament that would extend the vote to all Irish men (regardless of religion) and give Ireland greater independence from Britain.
In 1793 the Irish Militia was re-organised and county units raised. Lurgan, possibly due to its geographical position, sent very few men into the Armagh Militia. Three years later Yeomanry Corps formed and Lurgan acquired a Cavalry and Infantry Corps the latter in the next century became involved in certain squabbles of a political nature, whereby its loyalty to authority became suspect. Part of the trouble was due to the then agent who was very anti-Orange in his views. A coat of the Lurgan Corps survives in the National Museum, Dublin, and very full records presented by the late Sir William Allen are preserved in Armagh Museum.
Although the United Irishmen were trying to unite Catholics and Protestants behind their goal, northern County Armagh was undergoing fierce sectarian conflict. Catholics and Protestants set up rural "vigilante" groups, as mentioned above, on the Catholic side was the "Defenders" and on the Protestant side was the "Peep-o'-Day Boys".
On the 29th February, 1796, the Protestants of the Dean Blacker estate in the neighbourhood of Portadown, met to consider what measures should be adopted in reference to threatening papers posted in the district. It was unanimously resolved that the disturbed condition of the country called for the exertions of every honest man to protect himself and his neighbour, and all present pledged themselves to do their utmost to prevent illegal meetings thereafter, and to give information to the nearest magistrate against every person who violated the peace, no matter what his profession. A little more than a fortnight later, on the 16th March, the Protestants of Lurgan and its neighbourhood assembled in the courthouse of that town, and, under the presidency of Mr William Brownlow, passed resolutions condemning the outrages which continued in the county. The examples set at Portadown and Lurgan were followed on the 17th and 18th of the same month by the tenantry of the Manors of Legacurry and Mullalelish, who met at Richhill. An association was formed of the Protestants of the parishes of Drumcree and Seagoe, who deprecated the efforts to spread discontent, condemned the correspondence of the United Irishmen with the French, declared at the hazard of life and fortune to support and defend the King George the Third, against all foreign and domestic enemies, and resolved to discourage and oppose all treasonable practices. These Associations, naturally, formed a basis for the spread of the Orange Order.
The Order's three main founders were James Wilson (founder of the Orange Boys), Daniel Winter and James Sloan. The first Orange lodge established in nearby Dyan, County Tyrone. Its first grand master was James Sloan of Loughgall, in whose inn the victory by the Peep-o'-Day Boys at the Battle of the Diamond was celebrated. The purpose of the Institution was to bring the Protestants of various denominations - Episcopalian - Presbyterian - Independents - Huguenots - Quakers - into one united group to maintain their Protestant religion and way of life and as a distinctive affirmation that they intended to hold fast to the freedom of religion won at such a high cost at the Reformation. The Orange Order's first ever marches were to celebrate the "Battle of the Boyne" and they took place on 12 July 1796 in Portadown, Lurgan and Waringstown.
By the time the Orange Order formed, the United Irishmen (still led mainly by Protestants) had become a republican group and sought an independent Irish republic that would "Unite Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter". United Irishmen activity was on the rise, and the government hoped to thwart it by backing the Orange Order from 1796 onward. Nationalist historians Thomas A. Jackson and John Mitchel argued that the government's goal was to hinder the United Irishmen by fomenting sectarianism, it would create disunity and disorder under pretence of "passion for the Protestant religion". Mitchel wrote that the government invented and spread "fearful rumours of intended massacres of all the Protestant people by the Catholics". Historian Richard R Madden wrote that "efforts were made to infuse into the mind of the Protestant feelings of distrust to his Catholic fellow-countrymen". Thomas Knox, British military commander in Ulster, wrote in August 1796 that: "As for the Orangemen, we have rather a difficult card to play. 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".
When the United Irishmen rebellion broke out in 1798, Orangemen and ex-Peep-o'-Day Boys helped government forces in suppressing it. According to Ruth Dudley Edwards and two former grand masters, Orangemen were among the first to contribute to the repair funds for Catholic property damaged in the violence surrounding the rebellion.
When the Orange Order was formed, its principles were quickly adopted in Lurgan. In 1797 the town was the place of meeting for the second demonstration since the Order's formation. Great preparations had been made. From sunrise that morning crowds of people were on their way. Districts west of the Bann joined together at Portadown where they were inspected by Major Acheson (later Lord Gosford) then a candidate for the county.
About that time William Blacker of Carrickblacker received a present from his grand-uncle, Col. Carey, of some horse furniture used by King William at the battle of the Boyne, and the meeting was deemed a most fitting occasion for its exhibition. Blacker, accordingly, placed it upon a magnificent black hunter and escorted by twelve of the finest looking men in the country, all above six feet high and dressed alike, two of whom led the horse whilst the others tried to keep off the crowds who strove to touch the valued relics as they passed along. They were accompanied by several hundred well mounted horsemen, many of whom had come from Killyman and other parts of Tyrone, followed by the districts in their order with all manner of music. The story from this point had best be told in William Blacker's own words.
" At Lurgan we were met by two other processions from Down and Antrim and there we found General Lake, the Commander-in-Chief of the Northern district, waiting to receive us, attended by one or two other General officers and their entire staff in full rig. We defiled past these grandees near the head of the Castle Lane, down which we proceeded into Mr Brownlow's demesne and round the lake which was completely surrounded and more, the head of the procession having reached the street of Lurgan again ere the last had entirely quitted it. I do not recollect having ever since seen a sight so beautiful as the lake surrounded as it was upon that occasion by a slow moving processional mass. The day was extremely fine. The women gaily dressed were as numerous as the men. There was a marked sparkling of scarlet, the Yeomanry wearing their uniforms, the Banners, the music coming softened across the water, the general appearance of cheerful exultation, all conspired to form a scene which can never be obliterated from my memory. In less than two hours afterwards the town was cleared. My father and I dined there with a large party of gentlemen and on going home on horseback about ten at night I do not think we saw four people on the road between Lurgan and Carrick. One of these was old Frank Baird, a fiddle playing school-master from Drumlyn Hill, whom we came up with near the "Red Cow" fiddling and dancing a pass seul along the road which he actually kept up with unabated spirit until we reached the turn to Carrick and no doubt continued it the entire way to his domicile. It has frequently happened to me to traverse many miles of the country on the night of the 12th of July and I can safely assert that I invariably found the roads more quiet on that night than on any other. It seemed a point of honour among the Protestants to keep that night from becoming marked by an impropriety. Men whose conduct might be loose enough 364 nights in the year were on their guard on that one."
On 19 July 1823 the Unlawful Oaths Bill was passed, banning all oath-bound societies in Ireland. This included the Orange Order, which had to be dissolved and reconstituted. In 1825 a bill banning unlawful associations – largely directed at Daniel O'Connell and his Catholic Association, compelled the Orangemen once more to dissolve their association. When Westminster finally granted Catholic Emancipation in 1829, Roman Catholics were free to take seats as MPs (and take up various other positions of influence and power from which they had been excluded) and play a part in framing the laws of the land.
Brownlow House, or Lurgan Castle, so named presumably after the Rt. Hon. Charles Brownlow, who built it in 1833, was created Baron Lurgan in 1839, was owned by the Brownlow family until the turn of the century. Changing fortunes resulted in the property being sold to the Lurgan Real Property Company Ltd. and subsequently the House and surrounding grounds were purchased on behalf of Lurgan Loyal Orange District Lodge. The legal document of conveyance is dated 11 July 1904. In appreciation of the effort of the late Sir William Allen, KBE, DSO, DL, MP in obtaining the House, an illuminated address was presented to him by District Lodge and now hangs in the Dining Room beside the portrait of Sir William painted by Frank McKelvey. He together with Messrs. Hugh Hayes, John Mehaffey, George Lunn Jun. and James Malcolm Jun. were the first Trustees. Not only does Brownlow House claim to be the largest Orange Hall in the world but as the headquarters of the Imperial Grand Black Chapter of the British Commonwealth, it is in fact well known throughout the world.
Brownlow House, built in an age of grandeur and cultured tastes, is an imposing building. It has retained much of the atmosphere of bygone days and one can readily pause and still imagine what life was like when it was occupied as a dwelling. While the echo of successive Brownlow Households along its corridors has long since died away, the building has however remained alive ever since it became the home of Orangeism in Lurgan almost one hundred years ago.
Situated within a few minutes walk from the centre of the town, the House is a prominent landmark with its lantern-shaped tower and forest of tall chimneys dominating the skyline. It commands a fine view across the park and lake, which were once part of Lord Lurgan's estate and are now owned by Craigavon Borough Council. The building which is of Scottish sandstone was designed in the Elizabethan style by the famous Edinburgh Architect, William Henry Playfair and it was recently listed by the Department of Environment (NI) as being of special architectural and historical interest. (The collection of Playfair's 383 drawings of the House are in Edinburgh University Library) The elegant wrought iron entrance gates are also listed. Originally the entrance to the avenue started at Market Street where there was a stone-arched gateway and Lodge house, but no trace of either remains today. Likewise Castle Lane, where the previous Lurgan Orange Hall Building had stood has also been demolished with other houses once occupied by many of the tradesmen employed by the Brownlows.
The Qualifications of an Orangeman according to the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland are:
- The Master and Members of every Lodge into which a Candidate is proposed to be elected must satisfy themselves with all due solemnity previous to this admission that he possesses the following qualification. It is to these criteria that every Orangemen should dedicate himself:
- An Orangeman should have a sincere love and veneration for his Heavenly Father, a humble and steadfast faith in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, believing in Him as the only Mediator between God and man.
- He should cultivate truth and justice, brotherly kindness and charity, devotion and piety, concord and unity, and obedience to the laws; his deportment should be gentle and compassionate, kind and courteous; he should seek the society of the virtuous, and avoid that of the evil.
- He should honour and diligently study the Holy Scriptures, and make them the rule of his faith and practice.
- He should love, uphold, and defend the Protestant religion, and sincerely desire and endeavour to propagate its doctrines and precepts.
- He should strenuously oppose the fatal errors and doctrines of the Church of Rome and other Non-Reformed faiths, and scrupulously avoid countenancing (by his presence or otherwise) any act or ceremony of Roman Catholic or other non-Reformed Worship; he should, by all lawful means, resist the ascendancy, encroachments, and the extension of their power, ever abstaining from all uncharitable words, actions, or sentiments towards all those who do not practice the Reformed and Christian Faith.
- He should remember to keep holy the Sabbath Day, and attend the public worship of God, and diligently train up his offspring, and all under his control, in the fear of God, and in the Protestant faith.
- He should never take the name of God in vain, but abstain from all cursing and profane language, and use every opportunity of discouraging those, and all other sinful practices, in others.
- His conduct should be guided by wisdom and prudence, and marked by honesty, temperance, and sobriety, the glory of God and the welfare of man, the honour of his Sovereign, and the good of his country, should be the motives of his actions.
However, many Orangemen themselves fear that from the 20th century onwards the Order has moved away from their core Christian beliefs toward a more Unionist political standpoint. Politically, the Orange Institution is strongly linked to unionism. Critics have accused the Institution of being sectarian, triumphalist and supremacist. Catholics, and those whose close relatives are Catholic, are banned from becoming members. Non-creedal and non-trinitarian denominations (such as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Unitarians and some branches of Quakers) are also ineligible for membership, although it is fair to say that these denominations do not have large congregations where most Orange lodges are to be found.
The Independent Orange Institution was formed in 1903 by Thomas Sloane, who opposed the main Order's domination by Unionist Party politicians and the upper classes. The Independent Order originally had radical tendencies, especially in the area of labour relations, but this soon faded. In the 1950s and 60s the Independents focussed primarily on religious issues, especially the maintenance of Sunday as a holy day. With the outbreak of the Troubles, Ian Paisley began regularly speaking at Independent meetings, although he is not and has never been a member. As a result the Independent Institution has become associated with Paisley and his Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster and Democratic Unionist Party. Recently the relationship between the two Orange Institutions has improved, with joint church services being held. Some people believe that this will ultimately result in a healing of the split which led to the Independent Orange Institution breaking away from the mainstream Order. Like the main Order, the Independent Institution parades and holds meetings on the Twelfth of July.
Parades form a large part of Orange culture. Most Orange lodges hold an annual parade from their Orange hall to a local church. The denomination of the church is quite often rotated, depending on local demographics. The highlights of the Orange year are the parades leading up to the celebrations on the Twelfth of July. The Twelfth, however, remains in places a deeply divisive issue, not least because of the triumphalism, anti-Catholicism and anti-nationalism of the Orange Order. In recent years, most Orange parades have passed peacefully.
As of 2007, Grand Lodge of Ireland policy remained non-recognition of the Parades Commission, which it sees as explicitly founded to target Protestant parades since Protestants parade at ten times the rate of Catholics. Grand Lodge is, however, divided on the issue of working with the Parades Commission. 40% of Grand Lodge delegates oppose official policy while 60% are in favour. Most of those opposed to Grand Lodge policy are from areas facing parade restrictions like Portadown District, Bellaghy, Derry City and Lower Ormeau.
In a 2011 survey of Orangemen throughout Northern Ireland, 58% said they should be allowed to march through nationalist areas with no restrictions; 20% said they should negotiate with residents first.
The Orange Order runs a number of charitable ventures including:
- The Grand Orange Lodge of British America Benefit Fund
- Lord Enniskillen Memorial Orange Orphan Society
- The Orange Foundation
- The Orange Orphans Society – Registered Charity Number 1068498
Our kind thanks to the County Armagh Grand Orange Lodge for their contribution to this article.