Formed in 1795, the Orange Order had grown into a formidable popular organisation in its first forty years of existence. However, against a background of major social, political and economic change, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland made the forced decision to disband the Order in 1836 in the face of mounting government pressure.
In spite of this, this extremely widespread Protestant association could not simply disappear and continued to thrive at local level. By 1845 it had been officially revived amidst fears of renewed Catholic agitation. Within the next four years the Order eventually returned to its previous popular standing. This journey was far from straightforward and many obstacles needed negotiation. Economic hardship, internal dispute, the widening of relations between the social classes, and the issue of tenant right threatened to derail the revival. To compound the difficulties, the devastation of Famine struck at the very heart of the lower classes that made up the Order’s core membership. Yet, although many Protestants fell victim to disease and starvation, parades, processions and celebrations did continue. Remarkably, despite the Famine, the Order’s core membership clung to these traditions.
Protestant resolve was galvanised by the failed Young Ireland Rebellion of 1848. Offers of Orange assistance in the face of rebellion were not acted upon by the central authorities, but for a brief period the Order could claim the moral high ground and government acceptance that the defeat of the rebels brought about. However, the notorious and fatal clash with Catholics at Dolly’s Brae in 1849 invoked the ire of the government and brought the ascent of the Orange Order to a sudden and shuddering halt.
This book will explore these factors and trace the uneven and difficult path undertaken by Orangemen through this pivotal time in Irish history.
Dr Daragh Curran is an independent historian whose research interests include associational culture, Ulster politics, and the social history of Northern Ireland.