Masonic symbols, battle axes and cultic Christian tapestries, oh my! The people who resided in this place claimed it to be the kingdom of heaven. I, however, thought it to be a colony of hell.
I found myself in a very unfamiliar and uncomfortable environment that Thursday. This past winter, I traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland for a second time. I was able to do some of the same activities that I did when I went last year. I was also able to have new experiences that were exciting and eye-opening. Among these new experiences, there was one that significantly influenced my mental and emotional capacities. This experience was traveling to the L.O.L. No, L.O.L is not laugh out loud. In this context, L.O.L means the Loyal Orange Lodge. That Thursday of the week of our time in Belfast, we had the opportunity to enter into the den of the Orange Order.
To be able to better understand who the Orange Order is, one has to understand the historical conflict that has occurred in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. For hundreds of years, there has been an ethno-religious political conflict between Irish Catholic Nationalists and British Protestant Loyalists. In 1921, the Republic of Ireland gained their independence from the British Empire. But the northeast corner of the island was preserved to the hands of the United Kingdom and made its own country, which became Northern Ireland. As a result, there was major tension in Northern Ireland because the Irish wanted Northern Ireland to become part of the Republic, while the British in Northern Ireland wanted the country to remain part of the British Empire. This political and social debate culminated in 1969 in a thirty year civil war, which are known as “The Troubles.” The period of the Troubles was an incredibly violent and many individuals from both sides lost their lives. The majority of the militarized aggression concluded in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement. Polarity still dwells within the land today, although the majority of the conflict manifests in social and political spheres.
The Orange Order is a social/political/religious organization that seeks to advocate and promote the cause of the British Loyalists in Northern Ireland. They will campaign for politicians running for office and will organize protests throughout the city streets. The Orange Order devotes their fealty to the historical idea of King William II of Orange. William of Orange was a Protestant prince from the Netherlands who was invited by the British Parliament to take rule of their country. They invited him because they were fed up with their Catholic king, James II. Thus, King William and his army came and took over England and defeated King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland. The Orange Order celebrates these triumphant acts of William. They also believe in the Loyalist and Protestant ideologies that he helped construct within the British Empire. Their most celebrated holiday is the 12th of July which is the date when William defeated King James at the Battle of the Boyne.
One of the biggest problems of division that Northern Ireland still faces today is the segregation of neighborhoods. British Protestant and Irish Catholic neighborhoods are divided by invisible demarcations all across the city. For the purpose of simplicity, I will refer to the two sides as Catholic and Protestant (although I do not want confusion to stir and think that this conflict is particularly a religious one). Understanding this fact is important because it helps explain one of the most idiotic actions that is currently being performed by the Orange Order. In North Belfast, there is a Catholic neighborhood that is named Ardoyne. Ardoyne used to be a Protestant neighborhood, although it eventually evolved into a Catholic one. The Orange Order has traditionally marched through a specific street within Ardoyne, named Twaddell Avenue. But because the neighborhood has become Catholic and also because of new protesting restrictions enacted by the Belfast City Council, the Orange Order has been restricted from marching down Twaddell Ave. The Orange Order is persistent and prideful though and as a result, they have been attempting to march down Twaddell Ave for the past three years at twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. If one were to drive up to Twaddell Ave at night, they would see many Union Jack flags waving loud and proud to declare the might of the British Loyalists and the Orange Order. This Orange Order camp is accompanied by eight police trucks that guards the entrance to Twaddell. It costs £25,000 a night to police the road. This money could be used to benefit Northern Ireland’s economy (which is in an incredibly poor state at the moment) or other social programs instead of being used to fight back against some pesky white men trying to march forward with their orange sashes.
To read Pt. 2: Inside the Orange Order Pt. 2