Twelfth of July

A Letter from Ireland

a Chara,

In the North of Ireland, July 12th and 13th are public holidays to facilitate Orange Order marches.

An Irish Government TD suggested that this should be extended to the rest of Ireland. I doubt that he knows his history or lived through a marching season.

The Orange Order was established in 1795 following an attack that left up to 30 Catholics killed and further disturbances that forced 7000 from their homes.

The bowler-hatted, orange collarette-wearing marchers have become the stereotype of Ulster unionists and protestants. An unfair and incorrect assumption.

At its most benign it is a religious separatist organization. You cannot be a member if you are a catholic or married to a catholic. Members can be disciplined for attending the wedding or funeral of catholic friends.

It was a political organization established to oppose catholic emancipation, support the King and defend the union with Britain.

Around the same time, the United Irishmen were established in Belfast by Presbyterian merchants. Headed by Wolftone, the United Irishmen sought to break the union with Britain, end discrimination and unite Catholics, Protestants, and Dissenters under the common banner of Irish men and women.n

The Orange Order opposed the United Irishmen and took part in quelling their rebellion. It continues with its political actions. It campaigned against the Good Friday Agreement and opposes Irish Unity.

As a kid growing up in Andytown in West Belfast I remember boredom, those that could afford would leave on holiday, the rest of us have a couple of days with nothing to do, and everywhere was closed. Elsewhere Catholic communities would be held captive in their own homes. n

Since its foundation, Orange Order marches have led to violent conflict.

Later I would join campaigns supporting residents who opposed Orange Order marches through their neighborhoods. The Order at the time refused to meet or negotiate with residents but simply demanded that the police and army would clear the way against the will of residents. n

Many from the US and Canada came to observe the human rights breaches.

This year has been mainly quiet so far but the sectarianism associated with the event continues. Bonfires set light to Irish flags and effigies of Sinn Féin leaders. Bands play sectarian songs including “being up to your knees in Fenian (catholic) blood”.

While it has the potential to create sectarian violence the Order is not the force that it once was. n

It is always worth remembering that while all members of the Orange Institutions are Protestant and Unionist, not all Protestants support the Orange Order.

The Orange Order does not represent the experience, identities, or aspirations of those from a British identity that share our Island. The United Ireland we seek to build is a home for all who share our island. The marching issue is no longer the flashpoint it once was. Accommodations have been arrived at and long may that continue.

Have a great weekend.

Is mise,


Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.nn