Twelfth of July Orange Order Marches/Demonstrations: A History of Violence.

The Orange Order is symbolic of an age of Orange rule that did not treat their fellow countrymen in a kind manner. Belfast, The City Hall and the annual parades (when Nationalists were brushed off their own streets by the Order controlled RUC to allow the parades to pass) are reminders of a time of the great and powerful “Orange North” when every seat in parliament including the Prime Minister of the north of Ireland was a member of the Order and no cog moved within the machine unless the Grand Masters said otherwise.

In those days it was Protestant/Catholic but now the population is so diverse and multicultural that these ideals are lost to all but the Order and as with all wielders of power they will not let go without a fight to the death.

They can no longer do as they please, where they please because this is not the past, it is the present. It is not culture (as they claim) they fear losing, rather that once the flag is down and the parades are re-routed permanently that is the end; the once great Orange state will be filed away to the annals of history, but as long as they can walk the highways, their sense of superiority and control (even if self-delusional) will stay in tact.

“The Orange State still lives… we still have power brothers!”

The 12th July Orange Order demonstrations take place at around 18 venues across the north of Ireland commemorating Prince William of Orange’s 1690 Battle of the Boyne victory over Catholic King James II. It is expected that over 500,000 Orangemen will parade at up to 18 venues across the north of Ireland with a major security operation in place across north Belfast.

The Orange Order is strongly linked to British colonialism especially in the north of Ireland and Scotland. Most Orange lodges hold parades from their Orange halls to a local church. The 12th July marches are seen by many as anti-Catholic, provocative and triumphalist.

The Orange Order demonstrations have always been controversial in the north of Ireland. Catholics complain that the protests are intimidating, triumphalist and anti-Catholic, where the Protestant Orangemen have always claimed their marches are moderate and have tried to rebrand the event over the past couple of years. Yet Catholics have to lock themselves in their homes or flee across the border in fear of their family’s safety.

It is expected that in Belfast up to 250,000 people will join parades and marches across the city for the annual Orange Order parade. The 12th July is a bank holiday in the north of Ireland and is the annual high point of the Loyal Order’s parading calendar.

Violence at Orange Order Marches:

1796 – The Orange Order hold its first ‘Twelfth of July’ demonstration, commemorating the Battle of Aughrim.

1813 – The first recorded “Twelfth of July” sectarian riots erupt in Belfast.

1849 – As many as 20 Catholics are killed by soldiers during an Orange Parade at Dolly’s Brae, near Castlewellan, Co Down.

1935 – Violence in Belfast lasting two months commences on this date; eleven people are killed. After an Orange Order parade decided to return to the city centre through a Catholic area instead of its usual route; the resulting violence left nine people dead. Over 2,000 Catholics were forced to leave their homes across Northern Ireland.

1995 – Violent protests spread across the north of Ireland when police block an Orange Order parade near Portadown, an Orange heartland. Police back down after four nights of Protestant riots across the north of Ireland and the parade passes through Portadown’s main Catholic district. This sparked off Catholic riots and IRA gun attacks.

1998 – The three Quinn brothers, Richard, 11, Mark, 10, and Jason 9, are burned to death by a Loyalist firebomb in Ballymoney, 40 miles northwest of Belfast. In the aftermath of the attack, the Drumcree protest was scaled down but was maintained unbroken until the following July.

2000 – Huge barriers separated nationalists and Orange Order protestors. Two people were murdered and more than 20 RUC officers were injured. A Loyalist suspected of being linked to Ulster Volunteer Force was shot dead at a 11th Night Bonfire in Larne, Co Antrim and a man was stabbed to death in Coleraine, Co Derry. Another man was stabbed and critically injured in east Belfast.

2005 – Police were attacked with blast and petrol bombs during rioting in the Ardoyne area of Belfast, following an Orange Order parade. Eighty police officers were injured and several people were arrested.

2009 – A Catholic priest was assaulted by a rioter during violence on the streets of north Belfast on Friday night. Holy Cross parish priest Fr Gary Donegan condemned those responsible for the disorder which flared during the Orange Order’s Tour of the North parade. The Fermanagh-born priest was assaulted by a young rioter as he tried to restore peace to the streets around Ardoyne.

2012 – North Belfast riots: there was rioting in the Ardoyne area of Belfast following the Orange Order’s Twelfth marches. Up to 20 PSNI officers were injured and a number of shots were fired by republicans.

2013 – 12-17 July: Rioting by loyalists occurred across Belfast and across the north of Ireland after an Orange Order parade was prevented by the PSNI from passing the nationalist Ardoyne shop-fronts in north Belfast during The Twelfth celebrations, in accordance with a Parades Commission ruling. During which loyalists attacked with petrol bombs, blast bombs and even reportedly ceremonial swords. There were also at times clashes between loyalist and nationalist crowds. 71 PSNI officers including 3 mutual aid officers from Britain were injured in the days of rioting, and during disorder on 12 July DUP MP Nigel Dodds was injured after he was knocked unconscious by a brick thrown by loyalists. 62 people involved in the rioting were arrested across the north of Ireland.

2014 – Twelfth of July Orange Order marches in north Belfast pass off peacefully.

2015 – Three lodges want to return along a stretch of the Crumlin Road that separates unionist and nationalist communities in north Belfast.

2016 – ‘It’s about the Battle not the Battle’ campaign: The Orange Order has urged those taking part in the Twelfth celebrations not to overindulge in alcohol with their new awareness campaign. The initiative, which is supported by the PSNI and public health bodies, will see thousands of leaflets sent out to Orange Orders members and bandsmen ahead of the big day, alongside a campaign on social media. Members of the group previously denied they were fighting a losing battle against the bottle in Belfast, where drunken scenes have become as much a part of the day as bands and lodges. The organization’s attempt to make the Twelfth more inclusive by branding it “Orangefest” was widely derided, with critics calling it “vodka and Orangefest”.

Let’s hope this year passes peacefully.


Posted by

Stair na hÉireann is steeped in Ireland's turbulent history, culture, ancient secrets and thousands of places that link us to our past and the present. With insight to folklore, literature, art, and music, you’ll experience an irresistible tour through the remarkable Emerald Isle.