Founded on and fuelled by bigotry

By Jude Collins (for Daily Ireland)

There are at least three ways of looking at last week’s Twelfth celebrations.

The first is that espoused by DUP MLA Norah Beare. Norah says: “It’s great to see families coming together and spending time with each other in this cause.” She figures that with all the antisocial behaviour about these days, nothing could be better than the sight of young and old washing their faces and combing their hair and marching in a disciplined manner to enjoyable music.

Nora is a persuasive woman and her perspective on the Twelfth is one widely promoted. In this Mr Magoo version of the big day, decent Orangemen swell with pride as young William or Norman is inducted into the Order and another link in the father-to-son tradition is forged. Silver-haired gents reverently lift the bowler hat and white gloves that’ve been wrapped in tissue paper for 12 months and go out to meet old colleagues. Next day newspapers carry snaps of honest faces licking ice creams and red-faced men snoozing on warm hillsides. Could anything be more harmless? Aren’t those opposed to such a community festival hopelessly bigoted?

A second view, held by people like those living in Dunloy or along the Garvaghy Road, is that there’s no problem with Orangemen celebrating the Twelfth, but they shouldn’t attempt to do so by marching into areas where they are obviously not welcome. The thousands of non-contentious marches are a valid expression of Protestant and unionist culture and have every right to occur. The problem lies with a small number of disputed marches, and these could be resolved if marchers would sit down and negotiate with residents’ groups.

The third view is that the Orange Order is anti-Catholic to the bone and all Orange marches and demonstrations are a blot on the landscape, regardless of where they occur. Given the organisation’s nature, history and record up to contemporary times, the wonder is that anyone committed to tolerance and reconciliation would attempt to defend Orange marches, regardless of where they occur.

Such a view appears unthinkable for Orangemen, be they backwoodsmen or enlightened liberal. In his book The Orange Order - A Tradition Betrayed, the Rev Brian Kennaway argues that the honourable name of the Order has in recent times been dragged in the gutter by ruffians and no-goods, and true Orangemen should rally to restore its moral integrity. Like Norah Beare, Brian Kennaway is a persuasive advocate. When you remember the viciousness of disturbances in Belfast last year or recall the Drumcree dispute at its height, normal Twelfth celebrations can look good-natured and cheerful.

But an organisation that is truly good-natured doesn’t have anti-Catholic rules and a record which is consistently shameful.

Here’s a Protestant historian describing the actions of Orange militia in the weeks leading up to the 1798 rebellion.

“Houses were plundered and burnt, women outraged, and children brutally ill-treated and murdered. They were flogged, picketed and half-hung, to extort confessions as to concealed arms. They were hunted down and sabred. Villages and whole districts were devasted, and the inhabitants turned out of their homes into the ditch.”

Thirty-two years later, in 1836, the Edinburgh Review carried a report of its study of evidence regarding the Orange Order laid before the Parliamentary Select Committees the previous year. Not noted for its pro-Catholic sympathies, the magazine concluded. “There can be no doubt that Orangeism has been and continues to be hurtful to the very cause and principles it professes to support. By it annual processions and commemorations of epochs of party triumph, it has exasperated and transmitted ancient feuds, which has led to riots, with loss of property and life.”

And writing around the same time, here’s an Orangeman, Sir Jonah Barrington.

“Could his Majesty King William of Orange learn in the other world that he has been the cause of more broken heads and drunken men since his departure than all his predecessors, he must be the proudest ghost and most conceited skelton that ever entered the gardens of Elysium”.

What was that about a proud tradition?

And in 1858 Lord Palmerston (yes, that one) had this to say of the Orange Order.

“Is it an organisation which belongs to the age in which we live? Is it not rather one that is suited to the Middle Ages - to those periods of society when anarchy has prevailed. I can but repeat that nothing could be more desirable for the real interests of Ireland than the complete abandonment of the association. There is nothing they could do which would more materially contribute to the peace of Ireland and to the obliteration of ancient prejudices.”

You get the picture. Since its inception and up to today, the Orange Order has helped sour neighbour against neighbour. The good relations that exist between Catholics and Protestants in many areas suffer real damage each time the Twelfth rolls around.

In the face of the historical facts and present-day realities, the attempts of such as Brian Kennaway to present the Orange Order as an institution embodying traditional Protestant virtues, or of Norah Beare to project it as a kind of rosary for Protestant families, holding them together, are unconvincing to the point of absurdity.

Those who can, get as far away as possible from the Twelfth and the thousands of mini-Twelfths that precede and follow it.

I’m hoping to visit Boston in the coming weeks, so I’ve been reading a political history called The Boston Irish. Interesting stuff. Among other things it charts the rise of the American Protective Association (APA), an organisation established in Iowa in 1887. The association spread rapidly. Its members pledging never to vote for a Catholic, never to hire one and to oppose Catholic parochial schools at every point.

In 1895, the APA sought permission to march in East Boston’s Fourth of July parade. They were turned down when the authorities heard they planned to carry anti-Catholic symbols in the parade. The APA appealed to the governor and the decision was overturned. The march went off peacefully. Afterwards, when taunted by protestors, APA members drew guns and fired into the crowd, killing a Catholic man. They then held an “indignation meeting”, claiming the APA marchers had been attacked by “a murderous gang of thugs”. Two APA marchers were arrested on suspicion of murder but were both discharged.

Sound familiar? Sure why wouldn’t it. In Massachusetts at the time, the APA was made up in large measure of Orangemen from the north of Ireland.

In the early twentieth century, the APA had the good sense to die out.

Here we are in the twenty-first century and the Orange Order, founded on and fuelled by bigotry, marches on.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News