The Orange Institution, commonly referred to as the Orange Order is an international fraternal religious society founded in Northern Ireland in 1796. It is specifically Christian and therein specifically trinitarian Protestant. The vast majority of its members in Northern Ireland are likely to be Unionist and the organisation itself is dedicated to religious liberty, the growth or Protestantism and the maintenance of the Union of the United Kingdom.
William of Orange and James
The Order was founded in memory of the British King, William III, who had been Prince of Orange in Holland. When the Parliament in Westminster became increasingly dissatisfied with the rule of James II, a group of Whig MPs encouraged William, had been leading the European war against Louis XIV of France and was the grandson of Charles I of England, to bid for the throne. James fled to France in 1688, and the throne having been deemed vacated, William acceded the following year, ruling jointly with Mary II, his wife and James's daughter. Because of the peaceful change of power coupled with a Bill of Rights, it was termed the Glorious Revolution in England.
The change of sovereign was not so bloodless in Ireland. James returned from France with French troops and support from the Roman Catholic French King Louis XIV to make a claim for the throne, with the Irish Catholic peasantry an able breeding ground for new soldiers as part of his military campaign. He regrouped his Jacobite forces in Ireland and summoned a parliament in Dublin. He had widespread support from the Roman Catholic population of Ireland, as he was a Roman Catholic himself, despite the fact that the Roman Catholic Pope at the time supported William III. An area of the country where James notably failed to win support was the city of Derry, where his army laid siege to the city for 105 days. William arrived in Carricfergus in 1690, defeating James at the Battle of the Boyne, near Dublin. James fled back to France, but his forces fought on, now in an attempt to secure religious liberty. The Jacobites suffered defeat at the Battle of Aughrim, fought 12 July 1691, a date remembered as Orangemen's Day. They eventually surrendered at Limerick in September, where both sides signed the Treaty of Limerick, which offered reasonable terms to the defeated Jacobites. The Treaty was not, however, approved by the Irish Parliament, which used the continuing threat of Jacobitism to justify the introduction of penal laws and other repressive measures on ordinary Roman Catholics and other dissenters. This era has been dubbed the 'penal years' and is a particular source of rhetoric for many Irish Catholics who dub this period, as well as the Irish Famine as a testament to the negative impact British rule had left on the island.
Foundation of the Order
In 1795, a clash between Protestants and Catholics at the "Battle of the Diamond" led to some of those involved to swear a new oath to uphold the Protestant faith and be loyal to the King and his heirs, giving birth to the Orange Order. Since then, the Order's principles and aims, and those of similar organisations it is related to, have changed little.
Civil and religious liberty
It regards itself as defending civil and religious liberties of Protestants and seeks to uphold the rule and ascendancy of a Protestant monarch in the United Kingdom.
The order is organised into "lodges". Lodges are created where and when members wish to set them up - Sir James Craig, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, established a lodge at the House of Commons.
Orangeism is also active in former British colonies - principally Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the two west African countries of Togo and Ghana. There is also a Grand Lodge in the United States.
Today, the annual 12 July events across Northern Ireland, the most important date in the Orange calendar, commemorates the victory at the Battle of the Boyne. The date of the Battle of the Boyne was originally the 1st of July. However, the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752 meant that the celebration has always fallen on the 12th of July. On the night prior to the 12th, known as the Eleventh Night or Bonfire Night, also commemorates William's landing in Carrickfergus (on the 14th of June in the old Julian calendar). Bonfires are traditionally lit because the Irish lit bonfires along the coast of Carrickfergus Lough (now called Belfast Lough) to help William and his forces navigate during his night time arrival.
Opponents of the organisation say the parades stand for bigotry and sectarianism and symbolise a Northern Ireland organised to uphold the rights of only one part of the population. The Order has also received criticism from insisting on parading traditional routes through Nationalist or Republican areas, whose communities often clash with the paraders. In recent years however the annual parades have been more regulated, and the issue of walking through these areas has become more sensitive.
Religious and political
The Orange Order has never been simply a religious organisation. When the Home Rule movement emerged in the nineteenth century, the Orange Order steadily moved towards the unionist position. The organisation opposed Home Rule and partition but concluded that the newly created Northern Ireland would be the defender of its cultural, civil and religious rights. The Independent Orange Order was formed in the 1900's by members of the Order who disagreed with the political involvement of the Order with the newly formed Ulster Unionist Council.
The first unionist Members of Parliament were drawn from the ranks of the loyal orders. Almost every minister in the Northern Ireland government from 1921 until the imposition of Direct Rule in 1973 was an Orangeman.
Ian Paisley was once a member, however has not been since the late 1960's. The sash he can be seen wearing at events (usually Independent Orange Order demonstrations) is that of the Apprentice Boys of Derry.
As the violence of the Troubles deepened, the Orange Order supported the security forces against republicanism and its members opposed any political agreement seen as ceding ground to republicans or giving Dublin a say in Northern Irish affairs.
The Orange Institution is organised on an island-wide basis in Ireland, being called The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. There are several thousand members across Ireland and it had a peak membership during the 1960s. Scotland and England have their Grand Lodges as well, but the Institution's presence in Wales is relatively low. It is also organised in various other regions, including North America, Africa, New Zealand and Australia.
The Order also provided a community and social structure. Orange halls host many things including Gospel missions, youth groups, musical bands, credit unions and political parties. Charitable work is also part of he order with recent donations to Cancer Research UK, The Londonderry Hospice and the Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke Association (the latter donation by the Royal Black Institution). The Orange Order also has several home grown charities such as the Lord Enniskillen Memorial Orange Orphan Society (Ireland), Orange Foundation (USA), Loyal Orange Orphan Society Of England (England), Scottish Orange Home Fund (Scotland), McCrea Memorial Trust (Youth/Juniors), Adelaide Hospital Society (Republic of Ireland), The Orange Benevolent Society (Canada) amongst others.