Nothing in Ireland lasts long except the miles, said the novelist George Moore. This fit of poetic license took no account of the Twelfth of July festivities in that seventeen per cent of the Emerald Isle still British and Protestant. As though the news had just hit the headlines, Dutch William’s victory over the Catholic James at the Boyne in 1690 was again celebrated last month with astonishing enthusiasm. All over the province and in British cities such as Liverpool and Glasgow, sash-wearing, drum-beating processions served as a forceful reminder to any uppity papists that the Protestant boys are in the ascendancy and mean to keep it that way.

Sponsoring the occasion was the Orange Order, founded in 1795 “to maintain the laws and peace of the country and the Protestant constitution.” The implementation of this policy is, however, both broad and baffling. One of the early Orange clubs, for example, had a toast to King Billy (a kindly sideglance was directed also at Oliver Cromwell) with impressive maledictions on him who would not drink to it: “May he have a dark night, a lee shore, a rank storm, and a leaky vessel to carry him over the river Styx!… May the devil jump down his throat with a red hot harrow, with every pin tear out a gut, and blow him with a clean carcase to hell! Amen.” That splendid opportunistic Amen, far from being a quaint relic of yesteryear, still sonorously echoes the pseudo-religious motif so often used to justify sinister activity in Ulster.

After the riots in 1857 a government commission of inquiry declared that the Orange system seemed to have “no other practical result than as a means of keeping up the Orange festivals … leading as they do to violence, outrage, religious animosities, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.