Who Are the Orange Order?

by Ross Davidson

29 October 2014

So the Union is safe and the independence question is laid to bed… or not, as the case may be.

But as a result of the Scottish independence referendum an old force has reared its head in a more blatant way than it has done for many years. By taking up its God-given mission to defend the union, the Orange Order – or the ‘Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland’ – has put itself back on the map.

What the fuck is an Orange Order anyway?

First, a bit of history…

Let’s go back to the early colonial efforts of the British Empire. British Protestants colonised Ulster in the 17th century under the reign of King James I in a period known as the ‘Plantation of Ulster’.

This was to be a ‘civilising’ enterprise to spread the word of God. ‘Which’ god, however, was a tricky question: Protestant or Catholic? The north of Ireland had British colonial settlers making Ulster their home and had the Protestant god of King James I as their saviour. A land with no people it definitely was not, and sectarian violence was there from the get-go.

Important side note.

It is very important to point out that this colonisation wasn’t just to spread the word of Protestantism. It wasn’t even high up on the actual reasons. Rather, this cloak of religious fervour was there to muddy the actual agenda of colonial enforcement over Ireland. Ireland’s history is sadly one where colonialism, occupation and genocide have been at the forefront for centuries.

The religious aspect of this colonialism saw only to pit one working class person against another: a tactic all to familiar with colonial oppressors. Arguably the ‘religious cloak’ tactic is one maintained by the Orange Order today.

The founding of the Lodge.

The Masonic-style Orange Order was founded in 1795 as the ‘Loyal Orange Institution’ by Protestants in Ulster. At a time when sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics was rife, the Order was ostensibly set up to defend Protestant supremacy and the Protestant British monarchy. It quickly set up lodges in other parts of Ireland, with the first official Orange Order meeting taking place in 1798 in Dublin.

The name comes from William of Orange, the king who arguably had one of the biggest parts to play in the foundations of modern day sectarianism due to having invaded England in 1688 to in order to overthrow James II, the last Catholic king of England, Scotland and Ireland.

To Scotland and beyond!

The Order came to Scotland (and the rest of Britain) when British soldiers who had been across the Irish Sea fighting to suppress a Republican uprising – quaintly termed the ‘Armagh Disturbances’ – returned in 1780s and 1790s. Upon coming home, these soldiers set up Orange lodges in many places, particularly up the east coast of mainland Britain.

The numbers in these lodges swelled dramatically in the following century as further migration from the north of Ireland took place, with Glasgow and the Central Belt attracting the largest numbers.

Of course, it wasn’t only Irish Protestants travelling in these mass migrations: famine was affecting all of Ireland, which meant thousands of Irish Catholics came over as well. The Orange Order had their first march in Scotland in 1821 and they have frequently been marked by violence ever since.

Up to date.

From thinking about this history, we can see the relationship between British colonial efforts in Ireland and the sectarian running-battles that followed the referendum result in Glasgow.

Just as British colonialism brought about ‘The Troubles’ in Ireland, it’s also this same historic force that has had backwards, regressive groups like the Orange Order showing up with thousands of people on the streets of Edinburgh still undertaking their sworn mission to uphold the union and the monarchy.

Members are still heard, even on national TV, saying they are protecting a ‘Protestant union’. So left to their own devices we can easily extrapolate what kind of Britain they want to see and which Britain they are protecting.

Loyal to what?

What are they really protecting though? They are protecting a union that has seen a 400% rise in food banks. They are protecting a union that wants to spend further tens of billions of pounds on a nuclear deterrent. They are protecting a political elite that cares little about them and a monarchy that is increasingly being seen across the world as antiquated and asinine.

The Scottish lodge alone boasts 50,000 members, and worldwide figures are reasonably expected to be over 100,000, with many active in Canada. As such, they are not a force to be ignored even if they go relatively unnoticed in the mainstream media these days – especially since there are well documented links between Orange Order members and far right groups such as Combat 18 and the National Front, the English and Scottish Defence Leagues, and the BNP.

What all these groups are defending is a colonial history that has sown misery on peoples across the world; a history that still rears its ugly head even when people are standing up for equality, justice and a desire to contribute to the world rather than control it.

One of the much exalted reasons for voting No and saving the union was our ‘shared history’. The Orange Order and what they stand for is a shared history that I want to see the back of.

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