Orangeism hits crisis as domination crumbles

Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Drumcree: The Orange Order's Last Stand by Chris Ryder and Vincent Kearney, Methuen, £12.99 pbk

I HAVE lamented from time to time that there is so very little written about the Orange Order, the most insidious sectarian organisation that these islands possesses.

The Order came into being and has existed based on, and extolling, a religious elitism and hatred. Founded by Anglican ascendancy 'nobility' and including in its ranks some royal dukes, the original movement lost ground with the high-Tory establishment after the Union of 1801, but especially when it became involved in a coup to place the Duke of Cumberland on the throne and oust Victoria.

The Order was reborn in 1834 when it opened its ranks to dissenting Protestants. Presbyterians could flood into its ranks and did so thanks to the Presbyterian minister Henry Cooke from Grillagh, Co. Derry.

As Wolfe Tone was to Irish republicanism, Cooke was to the birth of Presbyterian Orangeism. He was the Paisley of his day. The great democratic and republican tradition of Ulster Dissenters became subverted to high Toryism and a sectarian racism that Ireland still has to live with.

Unfortunately, we have seen very few works on Orangeism and its history and purpose. A year or two ago, two rather poor books appeared: Ruth Dudley-Edwards' appalling The Faithful Tribe > and Kevin Haddick-Flynn's Orangeism: the making of a tradition. More recently, Orange Parades by Dominic Bryan is an academic rather than a political study of the Orange Order.

Drumcree has made the Orange Order internationally known. The Orange Order's Last Stand, written by two of Ireland's foremost investigative journalists, at least presents a serious study to the story.

I found the more interesting material starting from chapter three. The early chapters on the history of the Order were somewhat selective and miss out how the Orange Order was really formed, who was in it and why.

The authors might have thought that the majority of Dissenters who now form the Order might find it unpalatable that Dissenters were excluded from the Order until 1834, that it was an Anglican movement run for the maintenance of the ascendancy and, above all, that it was totally against the Union of 1801.

In recent years they are on firmer ground and the book is well worth studying.

The only thing I found curious was the attempt to paint David Trimble in a good light. Remember 1995 with Trimble, with sash et al, leaping up and down on Drumcree churchyard wall haranguing the RUC and then dancing his jig of triumph when the Orange Order was allowed down Garvaghy Road? When he marched triumphantly hand in hand down Carleton Street with Ian Paisley?

The authors are at pains to say that Trimbleís 'jig' was a jig of relief and not of triumph. I've yet to work that one out. I suppose people can feel relieved that they have triumphed. I guess Hitler felt relief at his early victories but was the jig that he performed for the newsreel cameras outside the railway carriage in Compiegne in June 1940, a jig of relief or triumph?

December 2001/January 2002

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