Bowler Hats, Sashes and Banners: the Orange Order in Northern Ireland
The Orange Order describes itself as a Protestant fraternity with members throughout the world. While Grand Lodges are found in Scotland, England, the United States of America, West Africa, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the order has its roots in Northern Ireland, with around 70,000 members
The name ‘orange order’ is derived from William III, Prince of Orange who was originally from the Netherlands. In the seventeenth century battle for supremacy between Protestantism and Catholicism, William of Orange led the fight against Catholic King James.
William claimed the English throne with his final victory over James at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland in1690 sealing the religion's supremacy in the British Isles.
In 1795, a clash between Protestants and Catholics at the ‘Battle of the Diamond’ in Loughall in County Armagh led many of the Protestants to swear an oath to uphold the protestant faith and to be loyal to the King and his heirs, laying the foundations of the Orange Order
Since then, the Order's principles and aims have changed little. It regards itself as defending civil and religious liberties of Protestants and seeks to uphold the rule and ascendancy of a Protestant monarch in the United Kingdom. The only membership criteria to join the Orange Order is that those applying be Protestants
Today, the annual 12 July events across Northern Ireland, the most important date in the Orange calendar, commemorate that victory (regarded by the order as a victory for liberty) and the Protestant faith.
At the heart of Orangeism is the right to parade - and the argument about what those parades stand for. Major parades are also held in Derry on the 12th August and the Relief of Derry celebration takes place annually on the first Saturday in December. The Orangemen were distinctive bowler hats, sashes and carry banners identifying orange heroes or commemorative events.
Orangemen and women say that the parades are intrinsically linked to their culture and community a commemoration of those who gave their lives in war.
Opponents of the organisation say the parades stand for bigotry and sectarianism and symbolise a Northern Ireland organised to uphold the rights of only one part of the population.
The Orange Order has never been simply a religious organisation. Almost every minister in the Northern Ireland government from 1921 until the imposition of Direct Rule in 1972 was an Orangeman.
Today, there are fewer Orange ministers in the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly, but the Orangemen can be found complete with the bowler hats, sashes and banners at their annual commemorations