So, the marching season may be the hardest thing to explain quickly about Northern Ireland. From sometime after Easter to the middle of September, many of the news stories in the country are dominated by reports of parades and disputes over routes. To many insiders in the culture and virtually all outsiders, this seems slightly ridiculous.
In order to understand parades, you have to understand the Orange Order and the Battle of the Boyne. As we do for all things, let us turn to Wikipedia.
The Battle of the Boyne was fought in 1690 between two rival claimants of the English, Scottish and Irish thrones – the Catholic King James and the Protestant King William (who had deposed James in 1688) – across the River Boyne near Drogheda on the east coast of the Kingdom of Ireland. The battle, won by William, was a turning point in James’ unsuccessful attempt to regain the crown and ultimately helped ensure the continuation of Protestant supremacy in Ireland.
So, in honor of the victory of William of Orange, the Orange Order was born. They describe themselves thusly:
In 1795, following the culmination of attacks on Protestants in County Armagh at the Battle of the Diamond, in which Protestants routed those who had attacked them and attempted to burn properties, it was decided to form an organisation which would protect Protestants. This body, drawing on existing Orange Clubs in the neighbourhood, was named the Loyal Orange Institution.
In modern times the Loyal Orange Institution continues to function, with thousands of members in Ireland many others across the world. Today defending Protestantism is not so literal as it was in 1795, but it requires us to take a stand for truth in an age of secularism and in order to defend our culture and traditions.
They way they “defend” their culture is to march through traditionally Loyalist neighborhoods, playing drums and such. In most places in the country it’s not really a situation and the parades are welcomed through the traditional neighborhoods. However, in several places – Portadown, Belfast, Lurgan and Ballyclare to name a few – the neighborhoods have changed and the routes now go through largely Republican neighborhoods. The residents of those neighborhoods often voice concerns over being invaded, in a matter of words. This clashing of traditional identity versus current identity is where the problem lies.
Since the Battle of the Boyne took place on July 12, that is the largest celebration of Orange Order parades happens each year on that day. The night before – known as Eleventh Night – is celebrated by gigantic bonfires and the burning of the Irish flag.
So there you have it. A brief background on the Orange Order and their favorite marching attire, black bowler hats with bright orange sashes. Next time we’ll begin talking about how the Troubles are both totally a religious conflict and totally not a religious conflict all at the same time.