The Orange Order, an exclusively Protestant fraternal institution, is famous for its commitment to the defense of Protestant civil and religious liberties.
This summer some members of the Order made the headlines for attacking members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland with ceremonial swords. But not all members of the Order are taken up with the struggles of unionism.
Although the majority of the members of the Orange Order are Ulster Protestants, the institution has members in the Republic of Ireland, where protecting the union with Britain is a less crucial impetus for membership.
County Donegal Orangeman Norman Henry says his own involvement with the order comes from his commitment to the Protestant faith as well as upholding what he regards as an important family tradition.
The key event for the much smaller community of Orangemen in Donegal is the annual parade in the seaside town of Rossnowlagh which is held on the Saturday before the Twelfth.
An Irish-speaker, Norman sees no contradiction between his Orangeism and his Irishness and says southern Protestants are often culturally overlooked in the Republic, where he says the Catholic faith shapes much public policy and political life.
But Henry reminded the Newsletter that the Irish tricolour traditionally represents ‘peace between orange and green.’
Henry, 42, lives in Bruckless, County Donegal and is a farmer and stay-at-home dad. He is a member of Ballintra Loyal Orange Lodge 806.
‘I joined the Orange Order when I was 20 and I joined in no small part because my father and grandfather were members before me. It was very much a family tradition.
‘Before that I played accordion in a band affiliated with the lodge. I was middling good at it. I was OK at playing the Sash on the Twelfth, but that was about it. Our lodge in Donegal has about 20 members.
‘The main marching event for southern members of the Orange Order is our Rossnowlagh parades which take place on the Saturday before the Twelfth each year. This year we had about 30 bands taking part and it was a great success.
‘The Grand Master has said that Rossnowlagh is the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the marching season because it is always a peaceful and successful day for us without any of the friction or controversies that you get in Belfast. Catholics, for example, definitely come along to watch and enjoy the parade at Rossnowlagh.
‘We also always come up to Northern Ireland to celebrate the Twelfth and that is always a big event for us too. We also have Battle of the Somme commemorations every year. Women have their own lodges which they can join here.
‘When we march we feel that what we’re saying is ‘we’re here, we’re a part of the community too and we are proud of what we stand for’. I think as well it’s about showing that there is more than one kind of Irishness because everyone just assumes that if you’re Irish then you must be Catholic too. We are proud of being Irish, Protestant and members of the Orange Order. Since Partition and even before it, Protestantism has been a part of Irish culture too and it’s a part, we feel, that is often overlooked or forgotten about.
‘Here our priorities as Orangemen wouldn’t really be to do with being unionist as it is up north. For us it’s a religious and cultural thing to do with being Protestant and feeling that it’s important to be an upstanding member of the community, honouring your civic and Christian responsibilities. Being a good citizen and a good neighbour is important.
‘Here in the Republic I’d say that we have very good relationships with our neighbours and while Catholics can’t join the order there is certainly no animosity between us and members of the Catholic faith - which is obviously the dominant faith on this side of the border.
‘It’s important that Orangemen should respect the views of those from different backgrounds and different faiths. I would say that while we don’t agree with the teachings of the Catholic church it should never come down to being critical or derogatory towards members of that church.
‘For the most part the order in the Republic doesn’t have any of the problems it has in the Northern Ireland in terms of parading or of becoming embroiled in sectarian arguments with the Catholic/nationalist side of the community.
‘I also speak Irish because I attended a national school growing up, and learning Irish is part of receiving an education here. In the Republic you also need to be able to speak Irish in order to do certain jobs so it’s an important skill to have and I’m proud to speak a second language.
'I have lots of Catholic friends and when I tell them I’m in the Orange Order they never react in a negative fashion. They are happy for me to hold the opinions that I hold in respectful opposition to them.
'According to our constitution the Irish tricolour is green, white and orange and the day the Orange Order and Protestantism is treated with more respect is the day we will fly an Irish tricolour above our lodges. Perhaps it’s time that we reclaim the Irish tricolour and acknowledge that Orangeism is represented here too?’ Henry said.