An Army with Banners: The Real Face of Orangeism

REVIEW – FORTNIGHT – NOVEMBER 2003

An Army with Banners: The Real Face of Orangeism

By 

William Brown

[Beyond the Pale Publications. 193 Pages £12.99]

Any book on the Orangeism written by someone who is not, and never was a member of the Orange Institution, is bound to contain a number of points, which do not accurately express the truth.  This publication contains more than most.

There were many errors of fact, which leapt at me from the pages.  In reference to the Belfast Agreement the writer says on Page 3: – “ . . . Orangeism’s continued opposition to it”.  If the reader is in any doubt as to what he means by “Orangeism”, that is revealed later.  On Page 181 he states: – “Over the years the Orange Order has officially opposed . . . This certainly applies to the Good Friday Agreement . . . “ The Orange Order, (The Loyal Orange Institution of Ireland), never officially opposed the Belfast Agreement, and rejected an opportunity to do so.  The leadership later opposed it and the same leadership speaks of “the Institutions’ opposition to the Agreement”.  The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland never officially came out against the Belfast Agreement.

The TWELFTH, the writer affirms, was an “afterthought”.  This is contradicted both by Kevin Haddick-Flynn and Sir George Quigley, in his “Review of the Parades Commission”.  There is evidence that the TWELFTH was celebrated every year by Irish Protestants since 1690.

The writer quotes Hereward Senior with confidence, that, “there were no dissenting clergymen or prominent Dissenters among the early patrons of Orangemen” (P.10) This is contradicted by, the Ulster born historian, Ian McBride, who points out that the Rev. Thomas McKay of Brigh, County Tyrone, was associated with Orangeism in the early years.

When dealing with the attitude of the Orange Order to the Roman Catholic Church the writer says “Orangeism’s attitude on these matters shows a lack of proportion. . .”(Page 133f) This reviewer would make the same allegation against the writer, particularly when he claims that “The Reformers could not have been Orangemen.”  This is followed by referring to Luther and Calvin as having “been baptised, found Christ, and been Clergy in the Roman Catholic Church.”   This is a most unreformed order of events.  Luther found Christ after he took Holy Orders.  Calvin, unlike Luther, never took Holy Orders.  Both did not recognize the validity of “Roman baptism”.  They did however recognize the validity of Christian baptism, received at the hand of a Roman Catholic priest.

William Brown states, “In the mid-1990’s Orange membership of the RUC stood at around 2,000”(Page 107).  No evidence is offered to support this figure.  The Patton Commission does not support such a figure.  This kind of exaggeration only fuels anti-police propaganda.

Other areas in this publication are lacking in the balance of context.  On no less that five different occasions the former Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, James Craig, is quoted as referring to a “Protestant parliament for a Protestant people”.  On each occasion this is without any reference to the context of it being a response, to an affirmation in Dail Eireann that it was a “Catholic Parliament for a Catholic People”.

While he is critical of Robert Saulters remarks about Tony Blair (before Saulters became Grand Master and before Blair became Prime Minister in 1996, not in 1997 as stated) for marrying a Roman Catholic, he fails to balance that criticism by commending Saulters for supporting the Catholics of Harryville.

Some of the criticism of Orangeism appears to be ‘over the top’.  The opposition of Orangeism to such ‘liberal’ reforms as Catholic Emancipation fails to take into account that these liberal reforms were, in context of the nineteenth century, and were hotly contested issues throughout the United Kingdom.  They were NOT exclusively an ‘Irish’ issue.

Neither does the writer acknowledge the genuine fears of the founding fathers of Unionism when he make reference to “Home rule is Rome rule”(Page 57) as . . . “a grossly sectarian and scare-mongering misrepresentation”.  Surely even those most critical of the unionist position would acknowledge that there was some truth in that statement, borne out as it was by such incidents as the boycott at Fethard on Sea.  

Some of the strongest criticism of “Orange-unionism”, in particular the Orange Institution, is reserved for its relationship with the Roman Catholic Church.  The writer therefore states:- “Thus to assert, as Orangeism categorically does, that Roman Catholics are unbelievers is preposterous”. (Page 135)  If the writer is referring to the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, let him be assured that at no time did the Grand Lodge ever assert, that the Roman Catholic Church was not a Christian Church.

Justifiable criticism is made of members of the Orange Order being, in the past, suspended or expelled for attending services in Roman Catholic Chapels.  The writer has to go back to 1934 (Page 133) and 1968 (Page 132) to find evidence to support his argument.  Earlier this year a number of members of the Orange Institution, from Lodges within Glenavy District, attended a Roman Catholic Sacramental Wedding Ceremony.  No one has objected.

When the author deals with the founding period of the Institution between 1795 and 1798 he refers to the formation of the Grand Lodge in 1798 as a ‘Reformed” Orange Order, because the Grand Lodge a mere three years after the foundation outlawed some of the more extravagant Degrees.  The end of the eighteenth century could hardly be described as an age of instant communication.  He would have been better to refer to a “uniformed” Institution.

If the author genuinely wants the present leadership of the Orange Institution to take heed of his injunction, “[take] positive steps to revise its ordinances, rules and attitudes. . . “, he should have written in a more conciliatory manner.  The tone reveals a lack of impartiality – but the writer makes no claims to be impartial.

On completing the reading of this book, the Puritan Minister’s criticism of the 1662 Prayer Book came to mind: – “defective in necessities, redundant in superfluities, dangerous in some things, disputable in many, disorderly in all”.

In spite of all the shortcomings of this publication it is non-the less still worth a read.  It does reveal the perception of others of the “Orange Family”

Rev. Brian Kennaway

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