``Taig free zone''
The Church of Ireland, the Orange Order and sectarianism
by Laura Friel
Widespread criticism has followed the reluctance of the Church of
Ireland to distance itself from the Orange Order amidst the
political fallout after the collapse of the Drumcree stand off.
For four years the world watched as the Church of Ireland
colluded with the Orange Order in protests that turned into an
orgy of sectarian violence.
While the nightly scenes of rioting in Drumcree field were
reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, the day of judgement for the
Orange Order and the Church of Ireland was to be precipitated by
the brutal slaying of the Quinn children.
However, murder and mayhem have always been part of the Drumcree
scenario. The murder of a Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick
in 1995, did not result in any serious self recrimination by
either Orangemen or the Church of Ireland hierarchy. Billy
Wright, the head of the loyalist paramilitary group, the LVF,
responsible for the McGoldrick killing, had played a pivotal role
in the Drumcree stand off of that year. A series of meetings
between Billy Wright and David Trimble during the 1995 stand off
were held in church property and Wright was filmed directing
operations amongst the crowd in Drumcree field.
For four years the silence from the Church of Ireland had been
deafening but with each new atrocity their position was becoming
more untenable. Within the Church of Ireland, ministers and their
congregations in the 26 Counties watched with increasing horror
at the compliance of their church with the Orange Order's annual
antics north of the border.
Outside the church, media commentators and political
representatives of Northern nationalists were questioning the
persistent lack of moral leadership displayed by Church of
Ireland Primate Robin Eames.
In the end all it took was a simple pulpit acknowledgement of
shame by a young Orange Chaplain, William Bingham, who could no
longer sustain the lie''in the shadow of three coffins of little
boys''. At the beginning of the standoff the media had indulged in
folksy articles about the Church of Ireland Reverend of Drumcree,
portraying John Pickering as a simple country parson caught up in
events beyond his remit. A moment of clarity, and the whole
edifice of ritual hypocrisy, which the Church of Ireland had hid
behind for years, came tumbling down.
Exposed and running for cover, there was little else Robin Eames
could do beyond reiterating Bingham's call for the Orangemen at
Drumcree to ``go home''. But Eames continued to stall. Publicly
discredited and no longer able to sustain mass support, Orangemen
at Drumcree began to drift away leaving the RUC to deal with a
hard core minority. By the time the Church of Ireland decided to
evoke the laws of trespass to reclaim its Drumcree property and
grounds, it was effectively all over. Eames had waited for the
Orange horse to bolt before locking the stable door. It fooled no
``Like most church people in the South,'' wrote the Provost of
Tuam, the Very Reverend Robert McCarthy in a letter to the Church
of Ireland Gazette, ``I am ashamed to be a member of a church
which is so timid and craven as to have protested at the
unauthorised use of its property at Drumcree only after such use
had effectively ended''.
The Reverend David Oxley of Tullow, County Carlow went further.
The bishops and general synod ``must take steps to clearly
repudiate the Orange Order and what it stands for...we can either
act decisively or stand condemned as ineffectual babblers and
fellow-travellers with bigots.''
But Robin Eames was still clinging desperately to ineffectual
babble, questioning if the Orange Order is to be regarded as ``a
truly Christian movement'', one ``in which the love of God, love of
neighbour and obedience to Biblical principles are more important
than party political advancement?'' Eames continued, ``The Church
of Ireland is suffering pain...and the pain runs deep. How do we
balance the freedom of attendance by anyone at a church service
with influence over their behaviour once the service has ended?''
It is a dilemma which has apparently evaded resolution by Church
of Ireland clergy at Drumcree church for over 200 years. In 1795,
it is recorded, members of the congregation fired up with
``anti-papal zeal with which the service had inspired them'' on
leaving Drumcree church attacked the local Catholic community
leaving two dead. In the months that followed sectarian tension
in the area escalated into an anti-Catholic pogrom in which sixty
people were murdered. Known in loyalist mythology as ``the battle
of the Diamond'' the pogrom led directly into the establishment
of the Orange Order.
Last week graffiti appeared on a gable wall in a Carrickfergus
housing estate. ``Taig Free Zone'' runs the caption, ``If you
want it we got it''. During this year's Drumcree stand off, after
Ballymoney, the County Antrim town where the three Quinn children
were burnt to death and 35 Catholic families were forced to flee,
Carrickfergus was the next worst centre of sectarian
intimidation. Twenty two families from estates such as Glenfield,
Castlemara and Sunnylands have already moved out following
firebomb attacks on their homes. It is time for the Church of
Ireland to read the writing on the wall. The choice is simple.
Either the church takes decisive action to disentangle themselves
from the web of Orange bigotry or they remain the establishment
face of the kind of sectarianism which daubed its message of hate
on that Carrickfergus wall.