The Marching Orders

Northern Ireland's Marching Season is world famous as a cause of strife and violent and disruptive street demonstrations. Broadly speaking, the trouble is due to disagreements between those wishing to march in a particular area, and those who'd rather they didn't. The final say lies with the Parades Commission, an organisation who's role is to evaluate factors such as the desirability of upholding tradition and free use of public roads against the likelihood of such parades offending those along the routes. These disagreements are sometimes seized upon as an excuse for shows of strength by various terrorist groups, who presumably hope to influence the arguments by intimidation, or perhaps just to have fun at the expense of others. The results of this are described in Belfast in July. It is worth noting that there are around 300 parades every year, of which only 1 or 2 lead to any sort of unrest whatever. This year I attended a traditional (and non-contentious) Orange Order parade in Coleraine, County Londonderry, some elements of which are described in Coleraine in July.

The Orange Order

The Orange Order was founded in the 1790s as the Protestant Orange Society. Its aims include the maintenance of the reformed (i.e. protestant and Anglican) churches, civil and religious liberty, the continuing union of Northern Ireland and Great Britain (the UK), and the remembrance of the victory of King William III of Orange over King James II in the Williamite Wars (1690-1691). They had seats on the Ulster Unionist Council, the governing body of the Ulster Unionist Party, until March 2005.

They march at various small Church Parades during July, but their main marches occur throughout Northern Ireland on the 12th of July to mark a key battle in 1690. The 12th of July is a public holiday in Northern Ireland. In the Irish Republic, a few marches occur on the weekend before the 12th. The Orange Order has lodges in Ireland (esp. Ulster), Scotland, England, Canada and in various parts of Africa.

The Royal Black Perceptory

The RBP are the senior, or long-serving Orangemen. They hold separate, smaller parades on the 12th of August.

The Free Orange Order

A separate Order, now presided over by Ian Paisley. Very much smaller and somewhat more extreme in its views than the vanilla orange order, but with similar aims. They have no links to the Ulster Unionist Party, but Ian Paisley is the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (the DUP).

The Apprentice Boys of Derry

An order tracing its routes to the young apprentices who shut the gates of Londonderry (then officially called Derry, now unofficially it still is, see here) in 1689 to keep out King James and his troops. A siege lasted from March to the end of July in that year, when a relief ship broke through James's boom and brought food for the now-starving townspeople. The Apprentice Boys march to commemorate these events.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians

An organisation similar to the Orange Order but supporting the aims of Roman Catholicism and Irish Republicanism/Nationalism rather then Protestantism and Ulster Unionism/Loyalism. They are sometimes jokingly referred to as the "Green Orangemen".

It might be imagined that the AOH and the Orange Order don't get along especially well. Although nowadays, that might be true in some areas, in the recent past the two groups co-operated. Drums and other instruments were shared (being painted up for the relevant orders between parades) and AOH members would mind the livestock of rural Orangemen during their parades in return of reciprocal help during their St. Patrick's Day parades.

The Knights of Columnbanus

These are to the AOH what the RBP are to the Orange Order.

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