Orange Order Marches

The Orange Order is a Protestant group that seeks to maintain the political union between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom and thus protect British control of the country. Each year, on July 12th, the Orange Order facilitates a march along Garvaghy Road, which runs through a predominately Catholic area. This event is organized to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne.

The Battle of the Boyne began in 1690 and resulted in the Scottish Protestant King William of Orange defeating the Catholic King James II of Ireland and securing his position as king of Great Britain. This event has become a key element of the Orange Order identity as it exemplifies Protestants triumphing over Catholics and is glorified through the Marching Season which lasts from Easter to September. The Catholic people living on Garvaghy Road are constantly in opposition to these marches. They believe that by marching on this particular route the order is being offensive and provocative infringing on the civil rights and the local community2



The Orange Order was originally founded in Armagh in 1795 after a confrontation now known as The Battle of the Diamond. During the battle thirty Catholics were killed and in the years following many of the anti-catholic penal laws had been removed with some of the civil rights restored. The Protestants were felt to be a threat to their political and economic dominance. These fears continued and after 1791 a new nationalist group was formed known as the United Irishman. The overriding goal for the United Irishman was independence for Ireland which required the complete severing of all the political connection binding the island to Britain. During the 1798 United Irishmen Uprising, the British government used members of the Orange Order as a counter-revolutionary force. They viewed the Orange Order as a valuable organization for defending their interest especially against the republican challenge. The Orange Order viewed themselves as defenders of Protestantism and crucial for the survival of Britain’s political interest in Ireland. The United Irishmen failed in the ending months of 1798 causing the British government to create the United Kingdom. Ireland lost its own parliament and was represented by the Westminster parliament in London. During this time only Protestants could be members of the parliament. No Catholics were allowed4

The Orange Order marched at Drumcree Church outside Portadown. It had become a place for protest and violence during the summer marching season. It was symbolic status for the loyalists and nationalists to represent the core of the conflict between the communities. They insisted that it was their right to walk down the road but the catholic residents also argued that it was there right not to be subjected to what they saw as a triumphalism display of sectarianism. The first problem with the March in modern times happened in 1995 when the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) banned the marches. The Orangemen refused to leave. The Loyalists assembled numerous roadblocks until a compromise was reached. The march could still happen however the protesters had to continue silently. Loyalists all over Ireland rallied on top of a hill, but there were more road blocks, many vehicle hijackings and many petrol-bombings of Catholic households. The RUC had used plastic bullets against the rioting during the marches and the British government had sent one thousand troops. During this ninety civilians were killed and fifty RUC members were injured in four days of the violence. As the violence kept occurring the RUC changed their minds on the banning of the march. They feared that if they didn’t the violence would keep on going. They had to let the March go on the way the protesters wanted it to go. Tiring of the silent march, they began seeking new means of vociferous expressing their beliefs. As soon as the marches passed people began throwing petrol bombs and stones at the RUC. Nationalist riots were breaking out because of the marching parades. In 1997 the new Labor Northern Ireland Secretary allowed the marches to go on, but this could only happen by trapping the residents into their homes. The new government had been establishing an independent commission to rule on the validity of each march. They had realized that the banning of the march in 1998 lead to the worst violence yet.5


Every year on July 12 residences along Garvaghy Road leave their houses in order to avoid the pending pandemonium. However, not everyone is able to flee and thus some must stay and endure. During this time more people are likely to be killed in the grand tradition of the Orange Order marching through Northern Ireland and with more rioting and violence occurring.9].

According to Rachel Macnair, in the Psychology of Peace, Psychological Causes of Nonviolence include Resisting Destructive Obedience is a strong force in non violent campaigns. Resisting destructive obedience is most likely present when the authority is not present. British rule came from a long ways a way allowing for a stronger rebellion. An example of this is the United States rebellion from King George III rule from across the ocean. The Americans resisted policies that were good for England to the detriment of the Americas by nonviolently refusing to comply. This is similar to the origins of the rebellion of Northern Ireland from British rule10

Another psychological cause is The Appeal of Nonviolent Campaigns. The Orange Order Marches started as a nonviolent campaign that developed cohesion and unity among the Protestants.

“Any kind of nonviolent campaign give’s pride in one’s self by belonging to a greater group and helping achieve its ends. It gives a sense of aliveness as part of the vast undertaking” ( pg 61).

This pride in each side led to the emotions that cause a deep divide between the Protestants and the Catholics11

The author warns that with any nonviolent campaign there is a fear of it Getting out of Hand They do not always run according to plan. By raising the emotions and the spirit of resistance and breaking down apathy violent outbursts occur. For example in America in the civil rights movement there were riots do in part to this reason. In Northern Ireland the immense feeling of injustice felt by the Catholics or betrayal and treason felt by the Protestants led to emotional outbursts which preceded the violence that occurred. Some of the violence that went on was petrol (gasoline) bombing, and similar civil disobediance.12

During our tour on the Shankill road in Belfast, Ireland, Irish humor was exhibited by our tour guide. What he was talking about was serious and disturbing so he constantly had to lighten the mood to be able to share his story. When I was on the Falls Road, the other side of the “troubles”, our tour guide was showing us the street where the Orange Order marches take place. I asked a follow up question and during his answer he had to make several jokes because the subject matter was so serious. It caused such a strong emotional response that this was our tour guide’s defense mechanism.

The Orange Order Marches occur every year during marching season to make sure that discussion continues on the issues that are important to the Protestant community. It always produces controversy and discussion even if it is negative. By continuing this discussion yearly this is their way of getting the word out to as many people as possible and insuring that the subject doesn’t fade into the background of history. Talking to some of the locals in Belfast confirmed that this was their general view of why the marches continue to this day.

The mural below was painted in remembrance of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 where King William of Orange defeated King James II. It is showing where he is crossing the river. This mural was unveiled during an Orange Order March and added to the tension.

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