The Contribution of the Orange Order to Irish Society

Published on the ‘Political MindFields’ Blog Site

untitledBy Rev Brian Kennaway



When my book was reviewed in History Ireland (May/June 2006) the reviewer, Kevin Haddick-Flynn commented:

tradition betrayed

He seeks to convince us that the Order’s true values, enshrined in its ordinances and constitution, are compatible with tolerance and equality, and that a reformed Order, true to its history, would be a force for good in Northern Ireland’s divided society.


Gerry Adams has often affirmed that Orangeism is part of part of our history and has a place in modern Ireland. In 2014 he said: “The Orange Order of Ireland is one of our national traditions. . . Orange is one of our country’s national colours.”


When the Orange Order was founded in 1795, there was undoubtedly a massive intake of members from the northern counties of Ireland, where Protestantism was at its strongest numerically. The most interesting feature however, often overlooked, was the creation of Lodges in Dublin, then the administrative capital of Ireland.


grand lodgeThe establishment of the first Orange Lodge in Dublin (LOL 176) on 4th June 1797, a mere two years after the foundation of the Institution, indicated its importance to the Protestant community, particularly those of the Anglo-Irish Establishment. The membership of LOL 176, which totalled over three hundred, included some of the most distinguished men in Ireland at that time.


The creation of a Grand Lodge the following year, in 1798 in Dublin, to cover the whole of the Island further cemented the importance of the Irish Capital in the development of the all Ireland Institution. As the Institution spread throughout Ireland, by 1835 there were only four counties which did not have an orange presence.


imagesJHI1O9B0It is popular to accuse the Orange Order of sectarianism, but this is to overlook the era over which it has existed. Dr Patrick Duigenan was elected as Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge in 1801 in spite of being married to a practising Roman Catholic. The early rule books of the Institution make no reference to Roman Catholics either individually or collectively.


Over the years of the existence of the Orange Institution many have accused politicians of using the Order for their own advantage. While this may be true in some instances, it is equally true that the Order has also used politicians. Many of those who were leaders in society were also leaders in the Orange Order.


valueWhen I joined the Institution in 1964 the Twelfth parade in Belfast was littered with politicians, businessmen and churchmen. Bishop R.C.H. Elliott, Bishop of Connor regularly paraded at the front of the procession and led proceedings on the platform.

In keeping with the core value of the Institution, although on a much reduced scale, individual members, particularly in rural Ulster, still play a significant role in civic society. This may not be as obvious as it was in the past because of the prejudice, often displayed today, against those who publicly affirm their allegiance to Orange values.


images76PYBJ5GIf we take the narrow view that Belfast reflects the values of Orangeism then that prejudice is justified. In spite of the prominence given in the media Belfast only represents 7% of the membership.


If the Institution wishes to survive into the twenty-first century it must address the blatant sectarianism displayed in Belfast, and distance itself from those paramilitary representatives whose organisations have in the past been responsible for the murder of Orangemen.