An analysis of the challenges facing loyal orders in a changing society features a range of opinions from interviews by Denzil McDaniel, who authored the book, ‘Our Shared Way of Life’, a Clones Family Resource Centre project.

The identity of the people interviewed was kept confidential to encourage them to speak more freely.

John, a Protestant born and reared south of the Border, says he believes that Southern society is still a “cold house” for his community, and he’s concerned that his culture continues to be eroded.

“We are hanging on by a thread,” he says.

Another Protestant from the South, Margaret, describes herself as “culturally Orange”, though not a member of the Order, and feels that the sense among her co-religionists is that they “keep the head down and mouth shut”.

There’s a lot of nuance in the position of Protestants along the Border. Their numbers dwindled in the South from the formation of the new Free State, and the recent Census in Northern Ireland showed large swathes of areas where they are also in a minority now. Though John points out that his “forefathers stayed [in the South] after Partition”.

There are small Protestant communities who remain faithful to their church and loyal orders which provide an important social cohesion for them as well.

As well as some of the bigger towns, they survive in small enclaves on either side of the Border in Magheraveely in Fermanagh, Drum and Killeevan in Monaghan, Markethill in Armagh, and pockets in Donegal where members of the Orange community still talk of the betrayal of being left on the “wrong side of the Border” by a previous generation of Ulster Unionists.

“We are demonised,” says John, who retains his links with Monaghan, “but we are a responsible part of the community”.

Impartial Reporter: Twelfth.

‘A discussion’

Margaret, from County Monaghan, recalls: “There’s one statutory body that will remain nameless within the county and there was a discussion going on whenever we had more foreign people coming into the country.

“We had Syrian refugees coming in, we had people from Africa, and we had all sorts.

“There’s been a lot of change in society particularly in Clones.”

“We’ll send the Syrians to Clones and we’ll send the Congolese to Carrickmacross, and then someone said, ‘Where will we send the Nigerians?’ There was a wee bit of a titter, ‘Well, we’ll send them to Drum because they’re black there already’. Great laughter! That wasn’t too many years ago.”

Sheila, from Fermanagh, says her band plays hymns which shouldn’t offend anybody, and Margaret, from Monaghan, says her enjoyment with bands is a social thing: “We’re musicians, it’s the social aspect and friendship.”

She feels that the bad behaviour of some in other areas means that everyone is “tarred with the same brush”.

Margaret, from Drum in County Monaghan, says: “The media pick up on bad behaviour, particularly in Belfast, with drunken behaviour, loutish and disrespectful.

“We can’t see any connection; we’d have nothing in common with people we see represented there.

“Not one thing – they wouldn’t understand our lives and we wouldn’t understand theirs.”

Her own background is a rural farming community and playing in a marching band, and Protestant community values there are very different than portrayed in the media.

“On my father’s side and my mother’s side, it’s been about bands and about music. We’re musicians, we’re not really interested in the Orange Order or the Royal Black Preceptory.

“The whole thing is the music, the performance and the social aspect and friendship that comes down through the years.

“It just feels wonderful to be part of it. What is hard is that we’re all tarred with the one brush.

“Here, we come from farming families, and we are respectful of others. We’re mannerly, we’re the same decent people whether we have uniforms on or not,” says Margaret.

The love of music is a part of this culture which is often underplayed or even unrecognised.

In fact, it’s estimated that some 60,000 people in the nine counties of Ulster participate in marching bands.

Tom, a northern Orangeman, points out: “Border Orangeism is completely different than urban Orangeism, even in Portadown but certainly in Belfast, completely different.

“Border Orangeism would still be very much family-orientated, still very much about the community, and compared to urban [Orangeism] would still be very churchgoing.”

Anne, also from Monaghan, says her husband is a member of the Orange Order and Royal Black Preceptory, and her children play in a band.

She adds: “I love the Twelfth of July. I love the parades and I love the picnics and all that.

“But you wouldn’t speak to your neighbours about that. You wouldn’t speak to the other community; you just keep it to yourself.

“It’s not a fear, it just something we’ve never done. I wouldn’t go into the supermarket wearing my band uniform or anything.

“I’d feel I’d have to change my clothes before I went in. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel that,” says Anne.

“We haven’t been shouting about who we are. We do things quietly, we go to parades, we go home,” says Anne, who reveals that some parades in the South don’t go down the street any more.

“They’d start at the car park and just walk down to the church. I don’t know whether they feel they could walk through the village or wouldn’t want the community seeing them on parade.

“There’s a few afraid to show your colours; fear that maybe they’d see you in a different light. People could be grand about it, or they could start, ‘There’s that one there away on the parade’,” says Anne.

Impartial Reporter: Twelfth.

Worries about the future

She also worries about the future of Orange activity, saying: “There’s not so many young people getting involved in bands and lodges. I think lodges are finding it hard and I think the lodges will find it harder a few years down the track. Even the bands.

“It worries me because we’ll lose that part of our culture.”

She says children who went to a Protestant school then mixed with other religions when they went to college.

“They make friends and then maybe they don’t want to rock the boat. They might divide the friendship if, ‘Well, dad wants me to join the lodge but I’m friends with Mickey, Joe and Paddy here. They mightn’t like it if I join the lodge’,” says Anne.

Many of the comments made by those linked to the loyal orders portray a frustration over changing circumstances in the 21st Century, whereby the Orange Order does not enjoy the dominant position it did in Northern Ireland at the time of Partition in 1921.

Partition created a new parliament at Stormont which lasted until 1972; during that time there were six Unionist Prime Ministers, from James Craig to Brian Faulkner, and all six were members of the Orange Order.

Senior members of the Order were prominent in many influential positions in all walks of society, from business to church life.

But as demographics changed, so too did the influence of the loyal orders, and membership numbers are well down.

It’s estimated that there are about 30,000 to 35,000 Orange Order members in a population of 1.9 million.

However, there are many more who, like Margaret, are culturally Orange, and the Twelfth of July is still a public holiday when huge crowds attend parades across the North to mark the 1690 victory by the Dutch Protestant King William over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne.

More than 2,000 parades take place every year across Northern Ireland, the majority of which pass off peacefully.

But as demographics and geography changed, a number became contentious in particular areas where there was a majority of Catholic or Nationalist residents.

The most notable and controversial was probably at Drumcree in Portadown in the 1990s, but the situation in general led to the formation of a Parades Commission, which rules if a parade can go ahead or if restrictions apply.

The Orange Order was formed in 1795 at Loughgall, County Armagh, based on the Biblical principles of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, and even today many of their banners include Biblical images.

However, in an increasingly secular modern day, outsiders are often unclear over whether the Order is religious, political or social.

Notwithstanding that, there are many in the Orange community who feel unfairly misunderstood and still point to the social and religious nature of their culture.

There’s a sense among the Orange community that their culture isn’t valued, and they are unfairly maligned.

Several factors come across; there was criticism of their unfair portrayal in a hostile media as well as a sense that some in the Nationalist/Republican community promote a narrative to put them down.

And furthermore, a lack of understanding and interest in maintaining this culture among fellow Protestants.

Impartial Reporter: Brethren with  Brookeborough LOL No. 3 in Ballinamallard.


North of the Border, Tom says he is still heavily involved in the loyal orders and feels: “As a result of Drumcree there was a lot of negativity around the Orange Order, and that has certainly done a lot of damage which some of the Orange Order never really have recovered from.

“We never managed to get a real positive message since Drumcree, and we have tried – but there’s a lot of work to be done.

“I think all Protestant groupings struggle to get a positive message across, and aren’t good basically at PR.

“We’re very good at keeping things to ourselves and not reaching out to open up.

“And certainly, in the past we all have been guilty of that, particularly during The Troubles the Orange [Order] got very insular and fearful of reaching out.

“We have tried to step outside the box, step outside the boundaries, but it is difficult to get people to engage.

“Part of the problem is a lot of, particularly younger, people now don’t have a true sense of what their cultural identity is, and don’t understand their history.

“Certainly, the education has a lot to be asked for – educating Protestants in school regarding their local Irish history, as opposed to English history.

“Very few schools would teach anything about the Orange Order,” says Tom.

Sheila recalls that she eventually stopped her family going to a parade in Newtownbutler after it became controversial, and she believed it was outsiders who made it contentious.

“We paraded through the town. We played hymns mostly. You certainly wouldn’t be playing something that maybe would offend,” she says.

“The Roman Catholic community never said anything. But then it seemed to be people that was from outside the community came in to whip things up, and you did feel afraid.

“I went to one, and there was a very angry crowd, and I thought ‘I’m not bringing my children back’ and I didn’t,” she says.


In addition, there is a distinction to be made between the Protestant community in general and those in the loyal orders in an increasingly secular age.

Numbers in the Orange Order are well down from previous generations.

And a number of Protestant interviewees expressed an ambivalence or, further, an antipathy towards the loyal orders.

Derek was brought up in Lisbellaw, a Protestant village in Fermanagh, and on one occasion brought his wife to experience a flute band on parade.

“I have to say it was intimidating; even for me it was intimidating,” he says. “It had really aggressive vibes, which is a pity because I know not all the bands are like that.

“This culture of triumphalism; you’d love to ask them what they are being victorious about?”

Sarah, also a Fermanagh Protestant, says that she grew up in a culture in a Loyalist village where “you put people in their place”.

People were “victorious in their Protestantism ... we are the Billy boys, surrender; that’s the culture I was brought up in.

“But I reject that. It’s only now when you reflect on it and how Loyalist it was, and how much hate there was there.

“I reject that; I reject you have to put other people down,” says Sarah.

Richard describes his childhood when “we were put into the Orange Lodge” after suggestions from people calling at the house to tell his mother that it was time they became members.

“We were wee Orangemen walking around the walls of Derry, we loved the paraphernalia and music, the soggy tomato sandwiches in a white paper bag.

Social awareness

“I learned the marches and the power of the drum,” he says, but with a growing social awareness he realised “this could not go on”.

While some Catholics, particularly in the North, are critical of the Orange Order which they see as sectarian, others adopt a more benign stance.

Monaghan woman Siobhan, who lives very close to Aughnacloy in the North, says: “Where we were brought up we never really saw a big difference in our Protestant neighbours.

“We had people beside us who my father played music with and who were Orangemen. But they were Irish musicians, so we would have had music with them from we were very young ... singing, fiddles, accordions, banjos on a weekly basis.”

As a child, she would have gone across to Aughnacloy to watch The Twelfth. But that changed during the “tough times” and she adds: “You wouldn’t think of going across to a Twelfth march now.”

It’s estimated that there are about 2,000 Orange Order members in the South. The three Ulster counties of Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal were left out of the new Northern Ireland through Partition, with the Orange communities in those counties accusing the Ulster Unionist leadership of “betrayal”.

At a Twelfth demonstration in Clones in 1920, the Order’s County Monaghan Grand Master, Michael Elliott Knight, expressed his “disgust” of Unionism’s “desertion” of Loyalists in those counties.

Interviewee John claims that 10 years after Partition, Twelfth demonstrations in places like Newtownforbes and Cootehill in the new Free State were stopped “by force”.

Despite the dwindling of numbers in the South, as John pointed out at the beginning of this chapter, his forefathers stayed after Partition and there is still an Orange tradition presence.

In Rossnowlagh, County Donegal, an Orange Twelfth parade is held every July. And in Fermanagh at the County Twelfth, Southern bands and lodges coming across for the day are given pride of place in the parade.

John, originally from Monaghan, says in the county over 10,000 of his forefathers signed the Ulster Covenant; “they had the oomph to do that, but now 100 years later there wouldn’t be 500 Orange Protestants left in Monaghan”.

“Like the churches I go to. There’s 15 to 20 people in them every Sunday. One was built for 800 and the other for 200.

“Fifty years ago even, they would have been fairly full, but 50 years later we’re hanging on by a thread,” says John.

However, he does say: “There no antagonism, it’s just the people have moved away between politics, social issues and economics.”

But he has criticism for President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins, alleging he has made the South “a cold house” for the Orange fraternity; unlike President Mary McAleese and her husband, Martin, who “reached out” to the Orange community in the South.

This year, Lisa, a Catholic from County Monaghan, says she has accepted an invitation to go to an Orange parade in Drum.

“I was invited, and I can’t wait to go,” she says. “I’m very excited to be invited and I’m curious.

“I watched the programme, ‘The real Derry girls’, where they invited each other to the St. Patrick’s parade and to see a band practising for The Twelfth and I just thought, ‘Is this the way forward?’

“So, I’m going to bring my family when I go.”


However, not everyone sees the loyal orders as benign and words such as “triumphalist” are used, and opinions are expressed by some Catholic interviewees that the Orange Order still exerts undue influence; even to the point of ensuring land owned by Protestants doesn’t end up in Catholic hands.

Anthony, a Fermanagh Catholic, was involved in objecting to parades in Roslea and Newtownbutler which he described as “flashpoints”.

“We went round the people of the village and country area with a petition asking for the Black parade on the first Saturday of August each year to cease coming up and down the town, which was seen as triumphalism and nothing more,” he says.

“It wasn’t culture as far as we could see. It was completely ignored by the government of the day under Direct Rule, “says Anthony, who helped form the Roslea anti-sectarian march branch.

“There was a need for change, but in our case change only came about through protest.”

He reveals that an intermediary was brought in to assist talks in the Roslea protest, but adds, “He arranged a meeting with the Black preceptory and they all turned their chairs and sat with their backs to him.”


Anthony believes that the Orange Order is “still pretty powerful” and they have been telling the Unionist people which way to go on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“They are a power within a power. I know a case of a neighbour of mine. He sold a farm of land, previously owned by the Orange lodge. But he sold it on the open market, and he was completely ostracised for years.”

“At one time if they had a problem, all they had to do was go to the lodge and the lodge would go right to the top. And they got what they wanted.

“They call themselves a cultural body, but they are still very powerful. They might be slightly in decline, they want to maybe modernise a bit, but they’re still very powerful. They call the shots at the end of the day,” Anthony believes.

Also North of the Border, Fermanagh woman Mary says loyal order parades prevent a real challenge.

She finds the parades “triumphalist and divisive; they definitely don’t feel inclusive to me”.

But she concedes: “If people want to perpetuate the tradition of marching and celebrating William of Orange, I suppose in a re-united, re-integrated Ireland there has to be a way to accommodate that. But possibly not on the same scale as it currently is.”

“I always felt these [Twelfth] parades weren’t one parade; it was a series of parades that went on for 6-8 weeks,” says Mary.

Other comments included:

“A lot of [Unionist leaders] have been involved in the Orange Order. But it’s a badge to wear when it suits, whenever I can get my photograph taken. I’m happy enough to stand with the collarette then, but other times I distance myself.”

Tom, Protestant, south Armagh.

“I suppose in Border areas there are quite a few Orange lodges who have their halls and meet. There is no difficulty with that from the wider community and Rossnowlagh happens in July every year. There would be respect for the Orange Order and its culture from Southern Ireland, I feel much more so than here.” Pamela, Protestant, County Fermanagh.

“My mother came from Roslea and we always had that affiliation. We always went to the Twelfth of July and the Twelfth of August. We went to Orange parades. While living in the Republic of Ireland we were a family who shared with Roman Catholics.” Cecil, Protestant, County Monaghan.

Part Two next week: How the Nationalist identity has gained ‘confidence’.

Anyone wishing to obtain a copy of the book can collect one at the following locations:

Impartial Reporter office, Enniskillen.

Fermanagh County Library, Enniskillen.

Fermanagh County Museum, Enniskillen.

Fermanagh Trust office (Fermanagh House).

Monaghan County Library, Clones.

Clones Family Resource Centre.