Independent Loyal Orange Institution

Orangeism: a religious or political institution?

Is Orangeism religious or political or both? It’s a question with a long history. BRIAN KENNAWAY, former convenor of the Orange Order’s Education Committee, takes a look at how tension between the two dynamics led to the formation of the Independent Orange Order.

The relationship between religion and politics has been played out in various forms, during the 200 year history, of the Orange Institution.

One of the most important events in the history of Orangeism in Ireland was to take place shortly after the Orange Institution celebrated its centenary.

This was on 12th July 1902, at Castlereagh.  This was to lead to the foundation of the Independent Loyal Orange Institution on June 11, 1903.

Thomas H. Sloan, a Belfast Orangeman, had taken over the leadership of the Belfast Protestant Association, while its leaders, Arthur Trew and Richard Braithwaite, served prison sentences for attacking a Corpus Christi procession.  Sloan is described by historians, as a “semi-skilled shipyard worker with a talent for public speaking”.

The Rev. Dr. W.W. Porter, in a Paper delivered to the Loyal Orange Lodge of Research on 28th October 1995, comments:-

“That Sloan was indeed talented in this way must be granted.  He had also other talents and a gift for persistent heckling was among them, not greatly circumscribed by any strict regard for factual accuracy”

At the Castlereagh Demonstration Sloan led a group of hecklers against the Belfast County Grand Master, Colonel Edward Saunderson, M P for North Armagh.

The alleged “crime” of which Saunderson stood charged, in their eyes, was that voted for the exclusion of Convent Laundries from the “Factory And Workshops Amendment and Consultation Bill 1901”.  No evidence was ever presented to support the allegation.

A careful examination of the debate in the House of Commons on 13th August 1901 reveals Saunderson’s sentiments on the matter.  Speaking for the amendment tabled by Mr McCartney (Antrim South), it is recorded:-

“He ventured to say that the great majority of hon. Members, whether on this side or the opposite side, would agree with him that all institutions of this kind ought to be inspected.” [Official Reports 4th Series, Volume 99, Page 720]

The accusation launched against Saunderson was therefore entirely without foundation, but its falsehood served its own political purpose at the time.  However, even if Saunderson had voted, as accused, that in itself would have been a very weak reason to cause a split within the Orange Institution.

The denial of the right of an elected member of Parliament, in a representative democracy, to exercise his vote as he saw fit, was a denial of the “Civil and Religious Liberty” often affirmed by the Orange Institution.

But there was more to the split that a vote in the House of Commons.  Class consciousness played an important element in the attitudes of the time. Edward Saunderson was one of the last landed gentry.  With extensive estates in Cavan and Monaghan, the Saunderson’s could trace their lineage back to the influx of settlers following the defeat of the rebellion led by the Earl of Tyrone in 1603.  He was opposed by the Belfast Working Class Grouping:- Belfast Protestant Association, who in their inverted snobbery, despised such people.

This attitude, like the denial of civil liberty to Saunderson, was contrary to Orange Principle.  One of the noble claims of the Orange Order is that it embraces all social classes.

Thomas Sloan was subsequently charged under the law of the Institution and sentenced to two years suspension, to be remitted if he apologised in writing to the Grand Lodge of Belfast.

This was a mild censure given such behaviour.  However, Sloan refused to apologise in writing, and, when this appeal failed at the Grand Lodge meeting in Armagh in June 1903, Sloan and others formed the Independent Orange Order.

By a resolution of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland in 1903, all members of the Orange Order who had identified themselves in the past, or who should do so in the future, with the Independent Institution, were, by that fact in itself, expelled from the Loyal Orange Order.

Thomas H. Sloane and those who joined him were therefore expelled from the main body of Orangeism. The Independents are not recognised within world Orangeism.

The Independent Orange Institution of Ireland therefore had its foundational basis, not only on falsehood and social prejudice, but in the denial of liberty and inverted snobbery.

As befalls any organisation build upon sand, in spite of initial enthusiasm for independence – the Independent Demonstration in Ballymoney in 1904 is estimated to have attracted 10,000 – the membership currently stands at about 1,000.

There are two significant elements in the early history of the Independent Institution.

The first was the “Magheramorne Manifesto”, issued on 12th July 1905, at the demonstration in Magheramorne, County Antrim.

This Manifesto, which has never been withdrawn, referred to Unionism as a “discredited creed”.  It went on to affirm that the Independent Orange Order stood, “once more on the banks of the Boyne, not as victors in the fight nor to applaud the noble deeds of our ancestors. . . but to . . . hold out the right hand of fellowship to those who, while worshipping at other shrines, are yet our countrymen – bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh”.

This flirtation with Home Rule and the bitterness which the division caused had a lasting effect on the Protestant and Unionist cause.

In spite of their avowed hostility to politicians, the Order’s opposition to Unionist Association candidates led to the defeat of Mr William Moore in North Antrim and of Captain Smiley in West Belfast.

The second second significant element was Robert Lindsay Crawford, Grand Master, and the draughtsman of the Magheramourne Manifesto.

Although the Magheramorne Manifesto was signed by Lindsay Crawford as Grand Master, Thomas Sloan as Deputy Grand Chaplain, the Rev. David Dorrington Boyle as Grand Chaplain and James Mateer as Belfast Grand Master, Thomas Sloan attempted to distance himself from it, claiming that it was misunderstood.

Crawford on the other hand stuck to his principles.  The rank and file of the Order refused to go along with him, as they began to see that the contents of the Manifesto were indistinguishable from the Home Rule policy being advocated by nationalists.

In 1908 Lindsay Crawford was expelled from the Independent Orange Order. He went to New York where we became a trade representative of the Irish Free State.

That the Independent Orange Order has denied its raison d’être is obvious to all.

While they regarded political interference in the Old Order as detrimental to the principles of Orangeism, it the popular perception that the Independent Order are more the political of the two Orders.

This is borne out by the presence of Ian R.K. Paisley on their Demonstration platform, making political speeches, every Twelfth, and the nomination of their Imperial Grand Master George Dawson as a D.U.P. Candidate in 2003.

To separate from an organisation because of a political link and create a perceived political link with another is illogical.

This article appeared in the Belfast News Letter on 12th July 2003