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Left Archive: Orangeism, Myth and Reality, Peter Berresford Ellis, Connolly Association, 1995 January 19, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Connolly Association, Irish Left Online Document Archive.


To download the above please click on the following link. CA ORANGE
Please click here to go the Left Archive.

Many thanks to the person who forwarded this to the Archive.

This document adds to the materials the Archive has from the Connolly Association. This ten page document from 1995 reprints the text of a lecture delivered at the 7th Desmond Greave’s Summer School a the Irish labour History Museum, Beggars Bush Barracks, Dublin in that year.

The lecture gives an over-view of the history of the Orange Order from its foundation through to the present day. Berresford Ellis is quick to point out that:

when we talk about the Orange Order we are not speaking of a movement whose philosophies have been cast in stone from the moment of its creation. Its attitudes and intentions have changed over the years. Initially it was an exclusively Anglican organisation, firstly an an anti-unionist movement and only subsequently a pro-unionist force.

He also suggests that:

Today we are asked to believe that the Order has now changed into some folkloric institution, content to bang drums, wear sashes and uphold the traditional of a ‘Protestant Culture’ whatever one may mean by this. We are told by Orange Order grandees like Rev Martyn Smythe that, I quote, ‘It is not an anti-Catholic body – there is nothing provocative about it’.

And he concludes:

For this historian, there is a sadness that a people can be so utterly manipulated by a misunderstanding of history. Instead of being shown the reality of a common past, the Protestants of Ulster have been deliberately subverted into believing a mythological history. Their view of William of Orange and the Boyne Water is a dream of a world which never existed. The worst thing is that, lacking the knowledge of the realities of the common past shared with their fellow Irishmen and women, they are still disputing the realities of the present.


1. Joe - January 19, 2015

“when we talk about the Orange Order we are not speaking of a movement whose philosophies have been cast in stone.”
I think it’s important to keep that in mind. The little I know about the Orange Order was greatly added to by my reading “The Forgotten People of Ulster: Stories of Orangeism south of the Border”. This is a compilation of contemporary oral history interviews with members of the Orange Order in Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan and Cavan. It was only published last year but might be hard to get.
It’s complex – orangeism, the Order and all that. As are many things and manifestations.
One story that stood out for me in the book (it would, wouldn’t it!) was the Orange lady from Donegal who is a primary school teacher. As SF became more politically successful, she found she would meet SF members, county councillors and the like at various functions. She loved to embarrass some of them just a little bit by addressing them in her fluent Donegal Irish. Some of course could answer her equally fluently – but she enjoyed more the ones who’d squirm and apologise and ask would it be ok if they just talked the queen’s English. 🙂


Brian Hanley - January 19, 2015

Where did you get a copy of that book Joe?


Joe - January 20, 2015

I know the woman who did the interviews and compiled the book, Brian. I asked her for a copy. It was funded through one of the cross-border peace funds.
Are you looking for a copy?
She has more interviews which weren’t published but are lodged (sic) in a library or archive somewhere.
Again, if you are professionally interested, I should be able to get the details and send them on to you.


Brian Hanley - January 21, 2015

I’d like to have a read of it Joe. More importantly could you get your friend to deposit a copy with the National Library in Kildare Street? They are supposed to get all the material published in Ireland, but sometimes they miss out on things like this.


Joe - January 21, 2015

If I recall they may have been a bit wary of making it too available at the time it was published. My friend is overseas now but I’ll get in touch and hopefully get another copy or two off her. The point about the NLI is imortant too.
My own copy I gave to a friend in Cavan and apparently it is being passed from house to house and avidly read by his Protestant neighbours.


2. roddy - January 19, 2015

Ruth Dudley Edwards wrote a fawning book about the orange order which no doubt Joe would lap up.I have only O level Irish ,have forgotten most of it and would not squirm at all if a fluent speaker addressed me.I would simply say “nil Gaelige agam” and go on as normal.Like tens of thousands of those who vote SF and have no Irish I have nothing to be embarassed about.Fair play to those who use the language but if you can’t so what?Joe was a disciple of that prick De Rossa who changed his name to Frank Ross when pandering to extreme loyalists during his excursions North so I’ll take anything he says about either the language or orangeism with a pinch of salt.


Joe - January 20, 2015

Ah look, I’ve a sense of humour Roddy. It was just a story. I, of course, accept your right to be offended or annoyed by it.

I actually agree with you about Irish – good luck to those who speak it and good luck to those who don’t.

As for orangeism, coming from the six counties you most definitely know more about it than I do – I mean that seriously.


3. benmadigan - January 19, 2015

will read this pamphlet with interest
I have written many, many posts about the Loyal orders, exploring the meaning of their actions – not their words. There’s a big gap you know, that won’t go away, as actions speak louder than words!!

Anyway, although not specifically addressed to the OO I hope you will all enjoy


the ultimate self-help manual and checklist for West Brits and Unionists/Loyalists. Note the limited distribution!!


4. roddy - January 20, 2015

Fair enough Joe ,we’ll not start a ruction about it.As for orangeism,I would have some knowledge of it and not all negative.Although I live in an area that would vote overwhelmingly SF ,about 15% would be unionist and quite a few of these people would be orange order members.They would know my politics and yet in everyday life we would engage with each other like neighbours everywhere do.Also they would engage with SF elected reps on community issues without rancour.Only last year my local SF councillor lost his father and a prominent Orange lodge member phoned me to enquire if I would accompany him to the deceased’s wake.I had already been there and told him so but I “accidently” arranged to be there anyway at the time he was due to attend.I need not have bothered because when the man and his wife arrived they were given the warmest of welcomes by the councillor who went out of his way to greet them and take him round other members of his family.However there are other areas of the North like Portadown and parts of Belfast where orangeism is a very malign influence,often indistinguishable from the worst dregs of loyalist paramilitarism and ultra right unionism.Orangeism as a philosophy is not a very enlightened phenominum and the orange state was an abomination but I do not subscribe to the notion that “all orangemen are bastards”.I accept that many join the order simply for social reasons or as a family tradition.It is those who hold supremacist views (often those in leadership positions) who are the problem and who insist on coat trailing marches through areas where other people are insulted .


Joe - January 20, 2015

That’s the kind of stuff about good neighbours that lifts my heart, Roddy. Long may it continue.


5. rockroots - January 23, 2015

Fascinating piece, thank you for sharing it. Just to point out, though, page 9 is missing!


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