Writing for TheJournal.ie last week, David McCann argued that Loyalists should work harder to appeal to all sections of the community in the North.
Responding to McCann’s piece, Ciarán Herlihy suggests that we should try to be more inclusive of a minority who otherwise exist on the fringes of society in the Republic.
EMERGING IN 1795 from a cauldron of sectarian and agrarian conflict, the Loyal Orange Institution has courted controversy and curiosity from its outset. Its pugnacious heritage and its self-perception as the custodian of Protestant and Unionist custom and culture, have caused the dominant tradition on this island to view it with suspicion and mistrust.
Nevertheless the last decade has seen an amelioration of cross community relations to a level unimaginable twenty years ago. The relative harmonious interaction between Protestant and Catholic, Nationalist and Unionist is testament to the assiduous endeavour of numerous individuals and organisations including the Orange Order. Despite this, the image of the Order implanted in the Irish public conscience remains negative and unfamiliar, notwithstanding the fact that as an All-Ireland organisation, some 44 of its halls are located in the Republic of Ireland.
Additionally, the 6000 members of the Order who parade annually in Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal are themselves illustrative of the Order’s presence in the Republic, particularly in the Border counties. The understated function of the Order in the scattered, rural Protestant communities of Monaghan, Cavan, Donegal and Leitrim appears analogous to that of the GAA in rural Ireland in providing a communal and cultural focal point. A number of recent initiatives, backed by the Irish government, have sought to engage this significant minority and further contribute to the harmonisation of cross community relations and perhaps now is the time to discard the ‘Bullies in Bowler Hats’ image so firmly embedded in the national psyche.
One such project is Cadolemo (the name derived from Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim and Monaghan) which is funded by the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, established to promote community development programmes in the 44 Orange Halls that exist in the Republic. These Orange Halls are shared by both sides of the community in the Border Counties, and are particularly utilised in rural areas in the absence of other community facilities.
The work of Cadelemo ties in with a further programme undertaken by the Order. Stepping Towards Reconciliation in Positive Engagement or the STRIPE project which is funded by the EU’s Peace III Programme. Part of the funding received is used in supporting development officers to facilitate the cross community use of Orange Halls in the border counties. A further aspect of STRIPE is the establishment of an annual leadership programme whereby 30 young people from the Protestant community are involved in capacity building and cross-community activities.
The bridging of the traditional divide between the Border communities has been palpable. Drew Nelson, the Grand Secretary of the Orange Order states that Border Protestants had previously existed in “communal uncertainty of their survival as a viable self-sustaining community”. However as a result of these initiatives and increased interaction between both communities these fears have subsided. “The big difference I see is the growing confidence within the Border Protestant Community who would have been fearful and uncertain as to their future. I can see that fear has collapsed,” he says.
Whatever its primary role, be it faith, fraternity or friction, the activity most frequently associated with the Order is the parade. There is an abundance of marches annually with 20 or so being held in the Republic, the most notable being in Rossnowlagh. Undoubtedly some of these demonstrations are unnecessarily provocative and intimidating and it would be hard to find a resident of the Garvaghy Road willing to concede that the ‘Queen’s Highway’ extends to the tricolour decked pathways of their Nationalist demesne. The words “Drumcree” and “Ardoyne” are now more political phraseology than they are addresses.
Colour and pageantry
Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of marches are peaceful, intra community cultural celebrations with colour and pageantry to rival our yearly commemoration of St Patrick. The marching season’s central role in the remembrance of the heritage of the Protestant community should ideally see a wider tolerance extended to the Orange walks in the Republic of Ireland. However, 1937 was the last year in which the Boyne Standard was ambled through the streets of Dublin.
According to the Dublin and Wicklow Lodge of the Orange Order, there are 14,000 Orangemen in the 26 counties so it would follow that Orange parades in the Republic are an opportunity to acknowledge the existence and cultural importance of this significant minority of Irish citizens. On the possibility of parades in Dublin, Nelson opined: “It would not be for Northern Orangemen, it would be for Irish citizens, our members in the Republic. The challenge for Irish society is to accept the orange in the Tricolour and part of this, I believe, would be allowing Irish citizens who are Protestant and Orangemen to hold a parade in their capital city.”
The challenge of course is to do more than accept the orange side of the tricolour but to engage, include and celebrate it. As we embark on a decade of centenary celebrations commemorating the pivotal moments in the State’s history, the inclusion of the Orange tradition should form part of our historical reflection. Triumphalist sectarian sentiment has little place in modern Ireland and the defining period of Ireland’s history should be remembered accordingly.
Drew Nelson, in addressing the Seanad last July, quite aptly quoted the Easter Proclamation’s resolve to “cherish all children of the nation equally”. What better way to celebrate the events of 1916 than to hold ourselves to those words?
Ciarán Herlihy is a solicitor and writer who interviewed Drew Nelson in July.