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

The Orange community is the inheritor of a tradition and a set of religious and cultural sensibilities that purport to come from the period of Britain’s Glorious Revolution, the 1688-90 Williamite Revolution when the last Stuart, James II, was ousted and the Protestant Settlement secured.

As the defenders of the Crown and the faith, then, they are truly the original unionists. But their unionism, passed down to them in tradition and lore as it is, is the unionism of a very different time. To begin with, other than its name, Orangism has no connection to William III – that is “William of Orange” – and the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, whatsoever.

What is least known among its brethren is that their organisation is quintessentially Hanoverian in origin, dating to no earlier than about 1795. Proto-Orange gangs emerged within the context of rural agitation in the north of Ireland, such as the Peep o’ Day Boys and the Orange Boys. After the Battle of Diamond in Loughall, Co Armagh, the Orange Order was founded, which attempted to unite all brands of Protestantism by stressing the common interests of all Protestants.

By 1798 these groups had largely consolidated over Ireland and with some moneyed and aristocratic support, the first Grand Orange Lodge was convened on Dawson Street, Dublin – not Belfast, Armagh or Derry – on 9 April of that year. Just over a month later the agitation in Ireland reached its climax with the 1798 Rebellion, a largely Protestant led republican revolt against British rule in Ireland. In the aftermath of the crushing of the rebellion the Orange Order and Orange popular sentiment became the main force of unionism on the island of Ireland.

All of this makes the Orange Order unionist in a modern sense; defence of the Crown and the union of parliaments, which included Ireland as a consequence of the ’98 Rebellion in 1801. But, alas, this history is neither the tradition nor the lore of modern Orangism. As the name suggests, the Loyalist Orange Order puts more stock in the myths of its connection to King William III of Orange than it does in its more prosaic and rustic beginnings.

Orange mythology or lore – more imaginative folktale than history – rests on the idea of British divine election and exceptionalism, stemming from the Henrician, Elizabethan, Calvinist, and Jacobian Protestant reformations – plural.

With the development of the political ideologies of the modern nation state William III, who cements the Protestant succession in England, is seen as a saviour – a Protestant messiah who finally banishes the evils of Catholicism from Britain. Of course, as a nation-building myth of a colonial-settler Protestant community surrounded by ‘violent’ Irish Catholics, none of this is true. William of Orange’s first action as the invitee to the throne of England was to put paid to the supercilious belief that God has protected ‘this Sceptred Isle’ from invasion by a foreign army since the 1066 Norman Conquest. William arrived with a fleet twice the size of the Spanish Armada and invaded England with a joint Dutch and Danish army in what amounted to an English coup d’état.

Other than being all about England, the real context of this was the fear across the whole of Europe of French expansionism under Louis XIV. In this context it wasn’t even about Protestantism, but about absolutism and imperialism. So afraid was Pope Innocent XI of the French that he funded William’s Glorious Revolution.

More to the point, the England into which William and Mary – who, as the daughter of James II, was the actual invitee to the throne – arrived was not yet in union with either Scotland or Ireland and would not be for the rest of either of their lives. Thus the golden age of Orange loyalism is a loyalty only to the Crown – a unionism that cherishes in its most sacred lore the 1603 Union of the Crowns and not necessarily the later unions of the parliaments.

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 intact.

‘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.

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 the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) 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 Bottle’ campaign: The Orange Order urged those taking part in the Twelfth celebrations not to overindulge in alcohol with their new awareness campaign. The initiative, was supported by the PSNI and public health bodies, saw 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”.

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