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Parades and Marches - Background Information on the Main Parading Organisations



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The main parading organisations in Northern Ireland are as follows:

  • Ancient Order of Hibernians
  • Apprentice Boys of Derry
  • Independent Orange Order
  • Loyal Orange Institution (Orange Order)
  • Royal Black Institution


    The Ancient Order of Hibernians

    It is difficult to know exactly when the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) began, since the order itself claims to date back as far as 1641, but it only gained its present title officially in 1838. It grew out of the old Ribbon Society, which was prevalent in Ireland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These Ribbonmen, resentful of the way Catholic population was being discriminated against, were both anti-Landlord and anti-Protestant.

    The Ancient Order of Hibernians has frequently been referred to as a Catholic equivalent of the Orange Order, and indeed its original structure was not dissimilar to that of the Orange Order. It also organised public parades on special occasions, such as St. Patrick's Day and Lady's Day (15 August). These were accompanied by bands, banners and members wore green coloured sashes. But the aims of the Ancient Order of Hibernians were very different, since it was set up to defend the Catholic faith and promote Irish Nationalism.

    The Order peaked in terms of popularity and membership in the early part of this century. By 1905, it had 13,000 members, the vast majority of whom were from a working-class Catholic background, despite the fact that membership was condemned by the Catholic Church. The Order experienced some problems around the end of the 19th century when there were various splits within the organisation, and in 1905, the Board of Erin (the AOH governing body) held a convention in Dublin to reolve these problems. At the convention they agreed on a new Constitution for the order which gave it a new structure and which also provided for a President and vice-President. Joseph Devlin from Belfast was elected President of the Order in 1905 and he allied the organisation quite closely to the United Irish League and the Nationalist Party. Together, they were united in their campaign for Home Rule. The Ancient order of Hibernians continued to grow and became very powerful in the early part of the twentieth century, up to 1914, with membership and recruitment increasing rapidly.

    By 1917 however, the Organisation was beginning to experience serious problems. The Home Rule Act had been suspended, Sinn Fein (SF) was growing rapidly in popularity and support, the Nationalist Party was losing seats to Sinn Fein, and there were divisions within the Organisation itself. They began to take a more background role in political affairs. The Irish Republical Army (IRA) made various attacks on their meeting halls, and membership figures began to decline. In 1934, Joseph Devlin, who had been a strong and charismatic President died, and membership continued to decline, until by the mid-1970's, membership was reduced to approximately 4,000. The organisation still exists today, and still holds its annual parade on the 15 August, (although on occasions these have been suspended due to levels of sectarian violence), but it is now quite a low profile organisation.


    The Apprentice Boys of Derry

    [Photograph on the right is by Neil Jarman and shows Apprentice Boys regalia and Bannerette.]

    The organisation of Apprentice Boys was formed in the 1850's, to commemorate the Siege of Derry, and this they still do every August. It is the smallest of the three loyal orders, although it is the most important in Derry. It has a current membership of approximately 12,000 members.

    The organisation of Apprentice Boys is independent of the other loyal orders (although some of its members are also members of Orange Orders), and independent of political parties. Its organisational structure is also a little different from that of the Orange Orders. It is made up of eight Branch Clubs which are based in a memorial hall in Derry, six of which are named after leaders of the Siege. In addition to these, there are approximately 200 Branch Clubs throughout Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. Each of these is established through and affiliated to a Parent Club. The Branch Clubs are further connected by Amalgamated Committees, the committees which are responsible for organising their annual parades.

    The overall organisation and management of the Apprentice Boys organisation is controlled through a general Committee. Members are elected to this through the eight Branch Clubs. It comprises 44 members, 32 of which are elected by the eight Branch Clubs (four each), and the remaining number being representatives of the Branch Clubs acting as officers of the Amalgamated Committee. Membership based in Derry has ultimate control over any decisions that are to be made.



    The Independent Orange Order

    The Independent Orange Order was formally constituted in June 1903. The key figure in its development was Tom Sloan, a shipyard worker in Belfast, and master of an Orange Lodge. He stood as candidate in the 1902 by-election for south Belfast, against the official Unionists and Orange leaders. He was more Socialist in his outlook, and believed that the Unionists disregarded the interests of the Protestant working classes, and were too willing to give in to Catholic and nationalist pressure.

    Sloan was suspended for two years from the Orange Order, and three lodges which had supported him had their warrants withdrawn by the Imperial Grand Lodge. On June 11, a meeting was held in Belfast, organised by a committee drawn from the three lodges. It was addressed by Sloan himself, and others who had been expelled from the Orange Order, and was attended by a crowd of approximately 8,000 people. At this meeting, they called for the formation of an Independent Orange Institution, made arrangements for the 12th July celebrations, and agreed that they would not apologise to the Orange leaders. This was the beginning of the Independent Orange Order.

    The organisation began with quite a small number, but grew fairly quickly. Its first demonstration was held in Dundonald in 1903, and was attended by about 500 brethren. By 1904, this number had grown to about 2,000, and had 54 lodges. By 1905, there were 71 lodges in Ireland and, with the exception of one in Dublin, they were confined to East Ulster.

    The Independent Orange Order today has grown considerably, but is still relatively small compared to the Loyalist Orange Institution. It still holds its own 12th July celebrations, and these are frequently addressed by Reverend Ian Paisley.


    The Loyal Orange Institution (Orange Order)

    [Photograph on right is by Neil Jarman and shows Belfast County Officers leading a 'Twelfth' parade]

    The Loyal Orange Order was founded on the 21 September 1795, after the sectarian Battle of the Diamond in County Armagh. It began with a relatively small number of militant Protestants declaring their allegiance to the Crown and their Protestant religion, but grew rapidly in size. By 1796, the Belfast Newsletter estimated that it had 2,500 members and consequently it became necessary to organise it in some way. On 12 July 1796, the idea of a Grand Orange Lodge was proposed, to give the organisation a sense of coherence, uniformity and strength, and thus developed the structure and formation of the Orange Order as it is known today.

    The Orange Order has claimed to have a religious foundation, in so far as the members are called upon to fulfill the 'Qualifications of an Orangeman'. These are outlined by Jarman and Bryan (1996):

    These state that an Orangeman should have "sincere love and veneration for his Heavenly Father ... a humble and steadfast faith in Jesus Christ ... believing Him to be the only Mediator between God and Man". An Orangeman should "cultivate truth and justice, brotherly kindliness and charity, devotion and piety, concord and unity, and obedience to the laws; his deportment should be gentle and compassionate, kind and virtuous". He should "diligently study the Holy Scriptures ... love, uphold and defend the Protestant religion, ... (Jarman and Bryan,1996; p7)

    Needless to say, no Catholic has every been allowed to join the Orange Order. Indeed, every Orangeman was also obliged in the 'Qualifications' to oppose Catholicism and:

    "strenuously oppose the fatal errors and doctrines of the Church of Rome, and scrupulously avoid countenancing (by his presence or otherwise) any act of ceremony of Popish worship". An Orangeman should "by all lawful means, resist the ascendency of that Church ... ever abstaining from all uncharitable words, actions, or sentiments towards his Roman Catholic brethren". His actions should be guided "by wisdom and prudence, and marked by honesty, temperance and sobriety; the glory of God and the welfare of man, the honour of his Sovereign, and the good of his country, should be the motive of his actions'. (Jarman and Bryan, 1996; p7)

    However, for many in Northern Ireland, the Orange Order has been perceived as more of a political organisation than a religious one. From its inception, it played a prominent political role in the country. Staunchly dedicated to the assertion and preservation of Protestant supremacy, it was opposed to the Act of Union in 1800, Catholic emancipation, enacted in 1829, and most effectively, it was actively opposed to Home Rule from the mid 1880's. It was the introduction of the Home Rule Bill which actually gave the Orange Order a level of 'political respectability' in the late nineteenth century. (Andrew Boyd,1995) The fear of Home Rule leading to "Rome Rule", and the prospect of land reforms, encouraged large numbers of landowners, clergymen, and businessmen to join the Orange Order. Lord Randolf Churchill's visit to Belfast in February in 1886 to "play the Orange Card" led to serious sectarian conflict in Ireland, and left no doubt as to the Orange Order's political determination.

    The Orange Order has always maintained this close relationship with the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). During the time of the Northern Ireland Government, from 1921 to 1972, all of the six Prime Ministers were Orangemen, as were almost all of the Cabinet Ministers. Today, this relationship still exists, and the Orange Order has a substantial representation on the Ulster Unionist Council. David Trimble, the current leader of the UUP is a member of the Orange Order. It is the most important of the Orange Organisations, both in terms of this political influence, and in terms of numbers. It has a current membership of approximately 80,000 - 100,000 members.

    The structure of the Orange Order today is a hierarchical one, and has not in fact changed at all since its original foundation in 1795. On the ground level, there are 1,400 Private Lodges, each of which send six representatives to the level above - the District Lodge. There are 126 of these Lodges, which in turn send between seven and 13 representatives to their respective County Lodge. All together, there are 12 County Lodges, and above this level, at the summit, is the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. This is made up of 250 members, the majority of which are representatives from County Lodges, and some other elected officers. Although this body only meets formally twice a year, it works throughout the year through various committees, and it retains ultimate power to make decisions regarding the direction of the Orange Order.

    Every individual Lodge elects a number of Officers annually, the most important of them being the following; the Master, Deputy Master, Secretary, Treasurer and Chaplain. This group of people takes responsiblity for the organisation of parades, public events and finances etc.


    The Royal Black Institution

    The full title of the Royal Black Institution is, 'Imperial Grand Black Chapter of the British Commonwealth'. The Royal Black Institution is so close to the Orange Order that it is debatable as to whether or not it can be regarded as a separate institution at all. Its ancestry can be traced back almost as far as the Loyal Orange Institution, and it began more or less as an off-shoot from it. However, it was officially constituted as an organisation in its own right in the 1850's. Its structure is also very similar to that of the Orange Order, although instead of Lodges, members group together in Preceptories. An individual must be a member of an Orange Order before he can be admitted to the Royal Black Institution, and many are members of both.

    The Royal Black Institution holds its main parades on the 13 July and the last Saturday in August, and they are generally attended by approximately 30,000 members. Unlike the parades organised by the Orange Order, there are fewer political speeches made at these parades, and the main distinction between it and the Orange Order probably lies in the fact that the Royal Black Institution is a more religious and less obviously political organisation. It also tends to be a more rurally based organisation, holding parades in all six counties, but not one in Belfast itself. The Belfast parades are alternated between County Down and County Antrim. Jarman and Bryan (1996) distinguish between the Royal Black Institution and the other organisations in the following way: "The Black Institution is best understood as reflecting the more middle class, rural, respectable, even elite elements of Orangeism".


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