A Guest Post by Carrickally.

[In response to a suggestion in a previous post, Carrickally has kindly penned this very personal blog. I am conscious that it reveals a view of the Orange Order that may be somewhat at odds with my, and others, perceptions of the organisation so lets try to keep the comments up to their usual high standards. I hope it stimulates some thinking on all sides. nb: The pictures are my choices – BD]

I have written this in a personal capacity and from my own viewpoint.  It is not an academic article and as such does not refer to research papers or articles.

What use is a collarette today?  Orangeism in 2013.

First off, a little bit of personal background.  I’ve been walking the 14 miles from Ballymacarrett to the Field and back again every Twelfth since I was seven.  I carried the banner strings for the lodge my father, two brothers, uncle, grandfather and great uncle were members of.  I received the bright Orange and Blue as a fifteen year old, a year younger than usual.  I was Worshipful Master of the lodge by the time I was twenty-four, and have been Chaplain for approaching ten years now.

Family and tradition are therefore an important part of who I am, perhaps on a more subconscious level than I’d care to admit.  My hobbies bear little difference to the world of my grandfathers – band, lodge, football but my work is much different, no yard or printers for me.  Instead, thanks to the Education Act, my father was able to set up a little middle-class unit but one still grounded in the place whence we came.  Family and tradition have a lot to do with that; my activities in leisure are quintessentially working-class and I fit rather uncomfortably into the social environment in my places of work.Orange Order 1

My lodge is a mix of social types; middle-class, retired, working-class, unemployed, Glenmen and Bluemen.  Our bond is our Reformed faith.  Or is it?  We meet every month as friends, discussing matters that need to be discussed, such as how we raise money to pay for a band, feed them and ourselves, pay for a taxi to carry equipment, refreshments and the occasional member who can no longer make the total distance on foot.  We grumble at the levels above us taking money and try to set dues that are manageable to a small lodge of only 18 members – some of our neighbours are approaching 100 – and how to keep these at zero for the out of work and those in full-time education.  Our minute books stretch back to the reign of Queen Victoria and little has changed in our items of business.

Apart from the admin, our focus is undoubtedly cultural.  We want to be able to put on a show on the Twelfth, and to a lesser degree our District parade, the Somme Anniversary parade in East Belfast on 1st July.  This year past we were able to welcome Orangemen and bands from across Ireland to East Belfast for the Covenant Parade.  We are doing this for friends and family but also to show the wider community that we are vibrant.  We do this by ensuring our banner flies proudly, our band is of good quality and well turned out, and how we look.  Many wear lodge shirts, my Presbyterian thran-ness doesn’t agree!

Orange Order2 in general, we are happy to let Schomberg House (short-hand for the full time officers) set the current agenda, which is outreach and charity work.  However, we constantly make the point that there must also be a community involvement, especially in an area of high deprivation and low academic achievement like East Belfast.  We are now moving to a position where our Hall is used for learning activities.  This replicates what a lot of rural lodges already do, setting up literacy and numeracy classes in provincial towns.  We are doing nothing radical, just following a pattern that has existed outside Belfast for twenty years and has been active in republican areas for much longer.  Recently, light has been shone into the dark recesses of loyalism and one of the highlighted areas is a lack of education.  A group such as the Orange Order, which contains schoolteachers and tutors, should be helping adults re-connect with learning and should be showing an example to children.

In 2013, The Orange places more emphasis on the work it does away from the Twelfth.  Booklets for schools on history, for youth organisations and church groups are one aspect, as well as educating our own members about our history.  Many years ago, it was supposed to be derogatory when people said King Billy was gay.  Nowadays, that should be a golden opportunity to highlight a possibly gay icon, as most Dutch men seem to be.  However, these are not newsworthy events and receive the scantest of coverage in the local weekly papers.

One thing that we can’t shy away from is parades, and it is why I mention it last.  The Twelfth is the highpoint of our calendar.  It’s our public face and to us it’s a celebration.  In Belfast, we have made great strides with BCC and the PSNI to ensure that there are family friendly zones.  Now we need to take the next step and make these zones a comfortable place for Catholics to come to.  That’s more an issue for the crowd than the marchers but we have to set the example.  That includes bands and I believe that playing religious tunes passing places of worship in a respectful manner is much better than a militaristic single drumbeat (we do that at the Cenotaph) or a rendition of the Sash.

Familial; cultural; religious.  That describes the Orange Order to me in 2013. There are myriad other perceptions from within the Institution never mind the opinion of virtually every other citizen, either good or bad.  We are an organisation that most have something to say about so it is very clear that we are not irrelevant, despite the protestations over the last few years.  We haven’t gone away, we don’t wish to but instead we can reach in and reach out to make Northern Ireland a better place than it has been, something that we must shoulder the responsibility for as well.