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The Orange Order: from1795

The Orange Order, which plays such a prominent and divisive role in Northern Ireland in the late 20th century, derives from the Orange Society founded in 1795 in Loughgall, Country Armagh. This a period of intense agitation among the Protestants of Ireland. For the first time in history a British prime minister, William Pitt, is making an effort to undo some of the existing discrimination against Irish Catholics.

Pitt passes in 1793 a Catholic Relief Act, giving Catholics the franchise on the same basis as Protestants and allowing them into government employment. In 1795 he takes steps to encourage the education of Catholic priests.


The Catholics themselves are in correspondingly buoyant mood, many of them encouraged by events across the water in revolutionary France. In 1795 Wolfe Tone transforms his Society of United Irishmen into a secret group aiming for a free Ireland. The Orange Society is the Protestant response - proclaiming in its name William III of Orange, the British king who defeated the Catholic James II at the battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Soon other Orange lodges are being founded in the Protestant regions of Ireland. By the summer of 1796 the movement is strong enough to hold its first march, in Belfast on July 12, commemorating the victory at the Boyne.


Orange marches are military in flavour, with banners, fifes and drums, and they often provoke clashes with Catholics - so much so that in 1836 the British government bans the Orange Order. But by 1849 marches are beginning again.

The passionate sense of sectarian solidarity, standing together to resist any erosion of the Protestant position, grows during the later 19th century as a result of Gladstone's efforts to pass a Home Rule bill. The Orange Order achieves its most effective political gesture in the mass signing of the Solemn League and Covenant, against Home Rule, in 1912. Since then the midsummer marching season, often taking the fifes and drums through Catholic areas, has been a frequent flashpoint for trouble in northern Ireland.


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