Currently here in Northern Ireland there is a move afoot to make the 12th of July more of a celebration, a family-friendly holiday and a more palatable occasion. In fact the week before the 12th July and the 12th itself are now pimped as “Orangefest”. I believe this is being done to bolster support for something that has little to do with the Northern Ireland we live in other than to keep that which divides our society open. If the aims of Orangefest were to make the 12th July become like Guy Fawkes Day where the Catholic/Protestant sectarian underpinnings are all but forgotten (and cared about even less) then perhaps I would be able to be more enthusiastic.
So why my abiding negativity for all things Orange? Many consider this odd as I am an atheist and by definition the doings of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are not high on my list of things I give a shit about. Why should I care if The Orange Order want to march to a field carrying 17th Century Swords whilst wearing bowler hats,white gloves and a sash to listen to some prayers and then go home?
Well I am in my 50’s now and I have lived here in Northern Ireland for most of that time and I have to say I really really really do not look forward to the annual crescendo of sectarian bollocks that is focused around the Orange, Purple and Black Loyal Orders. Do not get me wrong here the “other side” are far from faultless victims but this is not their day, they are not the ones asking me to accept “Orangefest” and all it’s trappings as a day that benefits the society we live in and is deserving of celebration.
So, I ask myself, is there some cintilla of worthiness that we could all realistically celebrate on the 12th of July?
The victory of a William III over his uncle James II. William was married to James’s daughter Mary, and Anne who came to the throne next was also James’s daughter. That’s a 3:1 throne score for James’s lot so it can’t be that then. Perhaps we being asked to celebrate what some would consider incest? No that would be not nice at all. So Nepotism – that MUST be it we are being asked to celebrate Nepotism! … Perhaps not … well then let’s see … William died of complications from injuries caused when his horse stumbled over a mole hill, so perhaps this is a celebration of that ancient profession of Mole Catcher? Sadly no there is nary a mention of moles at all in Orangism. In fact the phrase “Little gentleman in a black velvet jacket” was coined by the support of James.
So what can this really important thing worthy of centuries of celebration be?
No tell me it is not so !!… we are celebrating what church William belonged to.
OK now we have that straight, we are celebrating a King who happened to be a Protestant who was married to his cousin, deposed his Uncle (his wife’s father) and was succeeded by his wife’s sister the deposed uncle’s other daughter. I suppose given we are Irish that has to make some sort of sense but worthy of celebration? I think not it must be something else.
So now let us zip forward 100 years to the 1790’s. In county Armagh the church that William went to was still important enough for the inhabitants of that fine county to form secret societies so they could beat up the people who supported the church that James went to. The precursora to the Orange Order were the “The Orange Boys” and the “Peep-o-day-boys” and on the other side were “The Defenders” a Roman Catholic Society of a similar all be differently churched but equally horrible bent.
The church William went to was SO important that the Protestant clergy felt behoven to preach long sermons on that very subject and to this day still do! In July 1795 a Reverend Devine had held a sermon at Drumcree Church near Portadown to commemorate William III’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne . Since William went to a Protestant church this got a lot of mentions!. In a contemporary article about this sermon it was noted that ..
Reverend Devine so worked up the minds of his audience, that upon retiring from service, on the different roads leading to their respective homes, they gave full scope to the anti-papistical zeal, with which he had inspired them… falling upon every Catholic they met, beating and bruising them without provocation or distinction, breaking the doors and windows of their houses, and actually murdering two unoffending Catholics in a bog. This unprovoked atrocity of the Protestants revived and redoubled religious rancour. The flame spread and threatened a contest of extermination…
Ah yes the often praised milk of Christian kindness may well have been alive back then but Catholics were considered not to be Christian and declaimed as such from the pulpits then they were therefore excluded from milk and had to make do with simple hate flavoured vitriol, beatings and murder.
This fervour continued to rise and after a particularly bloody riot known as “The Battle of the Diamond” the Governor of Armagh, Lord Gosford said
“It is no secret, that a persecution, accompanied with all circumstances of ferocious cruelty which have in all ages distinguished that dreadful calamity, is now raging in this county. Neither age nor sex, nor even acknowledged innocence as to any guilt in the late disturbances, is sufficient to excite mercy, much less to afford protection. The only crime which the wretched objects of this ruthless persecution are charged with, is a crime, indeed, of easy proof—it is simply a profession of the Roman Catholic faith, or an intimate connection with a person professing this faith. A lawless banditti have constituted themselves judges of this new species of delinquency, and the sentence they denounce is equally concise and terrible! It is nothing less than a confiscation of all property, and an immediate banishment“
Indeed it was noted at the time that the modus operandi the peep-o-day-boys and other Protestant groups used to rid themselves of their catholic neighbours was to post a notice on the door of their houses that read
To hell or to Connaught with you, you bloody Papists! and if you are not gone by (mentioning the day) we will come and destroy yourselves and your properties. We all hate the Papists here.
it was also noted in the assizes records that they seldom failed to enact these notices with the bitter accuracy only a true sectarian bigot can manage.
Things did not improve, in 1796 Henry Gratten notes in the Irish Parliment ..
..that of these outrages he had received the most dreadful accounts. Their object was, the extermination of all the Catholics of that county … a persecution conceived in the bitterness of bigotry—carried on with the most ferocious barbarity by a banditti, who, being of the religion of the state, had committed, with greater audacity and confidence the most horrid murders, and had proceeded from robbery and massacre to extermination! They had repealed by their own authority all the laws lately passed in favour of the Catholics had established in the place of those laws the inquisition of a mob, resembling Lord George Gordon’s fanatics—equalling them in outrage, and surpassing them far in perseverance and success. These insurgents call themselves Orange Boys, or Protestant Boys, that is, a banditti of murderers, committing massacre in the name of God, and exercising despotic power in the name of liberty”
So it would seem that the glorious history out of which the Orange Order was born was “..committing massacre in the name of God, and exercising despotic power in the name of liberty” Nope sorry we can’t really celebrate that. It is a wee bit nasty and awful don’t you think?
The Loyal Orange Order itself was formed in 1795 by three main founders one of which was James Wilson the founder of “The Orange Boys” one of the main players in the previous years of violence. . The official Orange telling of the events that led to their formation can be found here and it it sort of skims over the details and when pushed a previous grand master did claim that the Orange Order back then had none of “those sort of people” in it. So what he is saying that the new Orange order managed to attract ONLY those people who where not murdering sectarian bigots who through Ghandi-like passive resistance fought off Catholic nere do wells by force of prayer alone? Oddly if that is case it was never mentioned in the records of the time and if true would perhaps have meant that yes this was something worthy of rememberance.
I have to add the other side was as bad however I am not being asked to celebrate their part only the Orange Order’s wonderful history and traditions.
Zip forward to the 1970’s, 11th night in a Belfast A&E, 100’s of patients most of them drunk abusing anyone they felt might be catholic and when they couldn’t find any using the shot gun approach of sing songs that ended “FUCK THE POPE” or “FENIAN BLOOD” very loudly. I was approached by one of these revellers and he took exception to my name badge because “McDonagh? McDonagh that is a fucking Fenian name you fucking Fenian faggot why do you not fuck off back to the fucking free state where you fucking belong to sick c**t” and then proceeded to stick a pair of scissors in my arm. I noted with no shock what so ever he had an orange sash sticking out of his coat pocket.
My past experiences are echoed across the province and over the north channel into Scotland and some of those experiences are a lot worse. When challenged the Orange Order always wriggles out of responsiblity by saying “we have no control over *the bands/the followers/the bonfire builders” Yet I posit that no amount of “Orangefesting” make-overs will assauge the fact you are one of the prime contributors of the devisive, sectarian bollocks that drives those that make the 12th July a deeply unpleasant experience for people like me and many others. You are ,even with your denials, part of the problem! You will find that non-Orange Protestants will not voice our complaints at the barbaric nonsense enacted each years lest one of those over whom you have no control but act on your behalf come around and kick our garden gate in (my neighbours house in 2011), put our windows in (the house opposite in 2010) or use my garden as a rubbish tip for empty beer cans and buckfast bottles not to mention using my drive as a public toilet (every year since 1986).
So you can take your Orangefest and stuff it! 🙁