Authoritative account of orangeism

Ruan O'Donnell reviews William Brown, An Army With Banners: the real face of orangeism, Beyond the Pale Publications, £12.99 pbk

BELFAST’S BEYOND the Pale Publications is now vying with Edinburgh’s Mainstream Publishing for the position of the most prolific supporter of studies on the conflict in the north of Ireland.

This is to be welcomed given the large number of high quality original perspectives now coming on stream after decades of silences, censorship and sensational memoirs.

William Brown, the son of an ‘ultra-dissenter’ and a man who still discerns ‘some value in the Union’ is very much in the tradition of the Ulster United Irishmen, whom he describes as the "very antithesis of Orangeism". One suspects that very few orangemen will respond favourably to his devastating critique of their organization.

Essentially, Brown traces the emergence and development of orangeism and consistently compares the stated theory of that body and its off-shoots with actual practices. He finds fault at virtually every juncture in a manner that is all the more effective for its clarity, common sense and provision of evidence. Brown goes well beyond the traditional anti-Orange charges of conditional loyalism and active sectarianism.

The book is neither strictly chronological nor distinctly thematic but contains numerous observations and vignettes which make a convincing case in their totality. Brown pulls no punches and is unequivocal in querying vis a vis the Royal Arch Purple: "Was such a hierarchy of higher and lower secret Orders in any way compatible with the broadly egalitarian principles of evangelical religion? … the truth is that these practices and arrangements were flagrantly in breach of the very rules the Arch Purplemen had pledged to uphold (p. 151)."

Brown is both systematic and relentless is his straight forward tests of the ‘real face of orangesim’. To date there has been a telling lack of engagement with Brown’s stimulating thesis, in marked contrast to the considerable media attention paid to the two most recent Orange Order histories. Brown, however, is not going away. He holds the field and will not be easily dismissed.  

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2004-04-01 18:38:59.
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