Dublin Orange Parade & Plaque (Irish Times)

March will be a recognition of the validity of Orangemen’s culture, identity.

The Orange Order parade in Dublin next month is about restoring a lost tradition and showing respect for minorities, argues Brian Kennaway

As a student at Trinity in the late 1960’s I walked many of the streets in Dublin City Centre.  One of my greatest disappointments of those days was to discover that there was no visible expression of the long history and association of the Orange tradition in the Irish capital.  It was a particular disappointment to notice that no Plaque commemorated the place in Dawson Street, where the first meeting was held of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland on 9th April 1798.

There were many other edifices of commemoration to the heroes and events of the past, and rightly so.  But with the destruction of the equestrian statue of William III in 1928, in College Green, Dublin had been denuded of any tangible expression of the Orange tradition.

In those years, following closely on the 50th anniversary of the 1916 Rising and the destruction of Nelson’s Pillar in O’Connell Street, I had a dream.  I dreamt that one day society in the Republic would be sufficiently tolerant and inclusive, and would recognise that the Orange tradition also played a part in the culture and tradition of this Island.

The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland had its first meeting in premises, which are now situated at 59 Dawson Street Dublin, on the 9th April 1798.  This was the town house of James Verner M.P. (A Member of the Irish Parliament).  His son Thomas Verner, was the Grand Master of Counties of Tyrone, Londonderry & Fermanagh, and was elected as first Grand Master of Ireland at its first meeting.

Being aware of the significance of history involved, I gave expression to that dream and raised the matter with the fellow members of the Education Committee of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, in 1996.   Having been initiated by the Education Committee this request was endorsed by the Grand Lodge and transmitted to Dublin Corporation.

In the following years members of the Education Committee established relations with some politicians, like Senator Dr. Mary Henry in Dublin.  It was she who directed our attention to Cllr Mary Freehill, “who has a great interest in cross border co-operation”.  It proved to be correct.

A letter from the Principal Officer of Dublin Corporation, Kevin Dowling, in November 1997 indicated that the Orange Order should “ensure that 52 Dawson Street has not been renumbered in the intervening years”.  Accordingly we embarked on extensive research of the Irish Georgian Society Records, The Irish Architectural Archive and the Registrar of Deeds, all of whom were most helpful and encouraging.

Our research, which uncovered a copy of the Conveyance of Deeds of the premises on 16th December 1794 from John Stewart to James Verner, revealed the premises to be the present number 59, to the north of the “Drummond” building.  While this may have been a disappointment to John O’Sullivan the occupant of Number 52, it was a reward for painstaking research.  Research also revealed a copy of an article which we suspect was from the Irish Times c1950’s by Andrew Marsh.  This article titled ‘TIME WAS’ included a photograph of the premises then occupied by ‘The Stand Life Assurance Company”.  We are grateful for all the willing help and encouragement which we received from everyone whom we approached.

As things began slowly to take shape over the plaque, the members of Dublin and Wicklow LOL 1313 began investigating the possibility of a parade.  The last parade in Dublin, we are led to believe, was in 1937 though the evidence is illusive, as it is not referred to in the Irish Times.  This was probably on 12th July 1937 from Rutland Square to Amien Street Station to board the train to join the Twelfth celebrations in Belfast.  The plaque and the parade were happy coincidences.  The members of Dublin and Wicklow took up the issue of the plaque with some enthusiasm. It was only natural therefore to bring together the unveiling of a plaque and a long overdue parade of Orangemen.

The parade on 28th May should therefore not be seen as a northern ‘invasion’, as it is strictly speaking organised by the members of the Dublin and Wicklow LOL 1313.  They will be joined by their fellow citizens of the State, and their friends.  It will be for the Orangemen of the Republic a positive recognition of the validity of their culture and identity.

The Orange Historian R.M. Sibbett, writing in 1937, described the position of Orangemen at the time of partition:

“Their duty was to protect their own state, and to dwell in peace with those who happened to be in authority on the other side of the border was not inconsistent with, but part of that duty.  For this reason, the Orange Order stood for something constructive, not anything destructive, in both North and South, and the best testimony to that attitude on its part is the respect its members, in each of those territories, have exhibited for law and order.  The best of citizens, either in Ulster or in the Free State, they are among the most enterprising, industrious and peaceful.”

A public Orange Parade in Dawson Street will give recognition to the Orangemen of the State.  It will not only recognise that they have a valid culture and identity, but in the pluralist new Ireland of the twenty-first century, it will give them a sense of belonging.

The parade must not be regarded as a symbol, but as another link in the chain of recognising the religious and cultural diversity which exists within this Island.  It is an affirmation that difference does not necessarily mean division.  Residents of both parts of this Island, from both cultures and traditions, must accept responsibility for the lack of understanding which has been allowed to be cemented over the last century.  Perhaps we should all work out the implications of Our Lord’s comments in the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Luke 6:32,33:- “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? . . . And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? ”

Many individuals, in recent years, have played significant roles in bringing about this event, by taking courageous steps to understand others, as well as to be understood themselves.  Not least in this has been the role of the President, in inviting Orangemen to attend a reception, in Aras an Uachtaráin, on the 12th July.

Since news of this forthcoming event leaked, much unwarranted criticism has been heaped upon Dublin’s First Citizen.  It is providential that one of the last functions of her year in Office will be to unveil the plaque outside 59 Dawson Street, marking in some respects, the contribution of the Orange Order to the culture of this Island.  The honour goes to where the honour is due.  The interest which The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr Mary Freehill,  took in this project reflected her “great interest in cross border co-operation”.

For me, and many other Ulster Protestants and Orangemen, the Orange parade and the unveiling of the plaque will be a dream fulfilled.   But it will mean much more that.  It will ‘put to bed’ the ghost of Ireland past.  The Ireland of ultra conservatism.  The Ireland of Fethard-on-Sea.  The Ireland of censorship.  It will also be a clear indication that Ireland will have come of age and recognised the minority within her borders.

NOTE: The Plaque was unveiled on Sunday 28 May 2000 but the planned parade was ‘postponed’.

This article appeared in the Irish Times on 3rd April 2000