To read Pt. 1: Inside the Orange Order Pt. 2
My team and I had the privilege to observe the Orange Order up close. All around the city of Belfast, there are monstrous palaces that host the Orange Men to meet together and strategize. We were able to gain access into one of these fortresses. I want to premise my description of our journey by saying that I am grateful for the opportunity to explore the building. Most Protestant Loyalists aren’t even given the opportunity to see the inside of this citadel.
The inside of the place was cold. The building was cold because they had not chosen to heat the building that day. The chilly temperature enhanced the eerie, dead feeling that the building carried. In addition to being cold, the inner chambers felt hallow. When I use “hollowness,” I am not describing an emptiness of space. Instead, this hollowness was a lack of life. The way I felt was that the space we were existing in was shortening our breath and leaching away our life. I do not want to make an overgeneralized statement, for I do believe that those who are in the Orange Order do find life inside those walls. The lodge is not completely void of energizing entities. In fact, I did feel an energizing spirit moving through me as I myself moved through the lodge. That kind of energy that I felt, however, was one of apprehension, anxiety and intrigue.
Most rooms were organized in the same manner. There were many seats that were set up for their meetings. There was one large chair that was at the head of the setup and a smaller chair at the other end. In between these two commanding chairs, other seats lined both sides. The setup was structured in a way in which the Orange servants only have to move their head at a 45 degree angle to receive orders from their masters. This room setup is a visible portrayal of the power dynamic that so densely sits within the culture of the Orange Order. Each room possesses intricately woven tapestries that depict images of either King William of Orange on his horse or other images of forefathers of Judaism and Christianity. The Orange Order takes their conservative evangelical identity very seriously and many of the decorations in the lodge demonstrate this. Moreover, as we moved throughout the rooms, our peripheral vision was assaulted by photos of old white men wearing fancy suits and orange sashes.
In my opinion, the Orange Order is an oppressive, racist and misogynistic organization. They are anti-Catholic, anti-Irish, and intolerant of other religions. The manner in which our tour guide talked about the rightness of Protestantism and the wrongness of Catholicism made our Catholic teammate feel personally threatened. They also do not allow women to participate in their activities. They do have a separate branch of the Orange Order for women although that branch is kept far away from the core body of the primary Orange Order. Many members of the Orange Order condemn the actions of Loyalist paramilitary groups, although that doesn’t mean that they are innocent of enacting nonviolence. Violence doesn’t have to be militarized acts and many times, violence manifests itself in the forms of words. How is the Orange Order treating the privacy and personal space of the Catholics up at Twaddell? Could it be possible that their intrusion on that land is a form of violence against the Catholics? The excessive number of battle axes and swords that are assorted throughout the lodge informs me that violence is something that is still glorified by the Orange Men. What’s even crazier to think about is the amount of influence and power they have over Northern Irish society. Our tour guide informed us that 2/3rds of the members of the DUP (Primary Loyalist Protestant party) in political office in Northern Ireland are members of the Orange Order. What this means is that there are a lot of people in power in Northern Ireland who strictly adhere to the prejudiced ideology that is held by the Orange Order.
The main argument that the Orange Order espouses is that they do what they do for “religious liberties.” They strongly hold to their evangelical conservative Christian background and find that the best way to promote the “good news” is to perform brash demonstrations. I don’t necessarily disagree with this tactic because demonstrating can be an effective way to promote one’s beliefs. What I disagree with is that they are utilizing these methods to promote hateful and violent messages. Also, I would like to argue that their efforts to stand for “religious liberties” are not actually efforts for “religious liberties.” Their overwhelming physical presence in demonstrations and their aggressiveness in the political spheres is not because they are seeking ways to celebrate their religion. Their efforts are more about feeding their desire to acquire power. Furthermore, the power they seek to hold is WASP power. The Orange Order is mainly composed of White Anglo Saxon Protestants. They are so enthusiastic about gaining political influence because political power enables them to establish WASP privilege in Northern Irish society. Hey, but what part of the world is not operated by WASP ideology?
Obviously, I am extremely quick to judge the Orange Order. In some regards, it makes sense. The words that were coming out of the mouth of our tour guide made me feel very uncomfortable. Moreover, it made me feel extremely sorry for anybody in Northern Ireland who have been under the boot of Orange oppression. Maybe my statements carry no weight. I am not a citizen of Northern Ireland and have no say in what is best for the country. Do I desire for the Orange Order to be eradicated to make the country a more pleasant place to live? Ideally, yes. But, who I am to say what I am saying? I also need to remind myself that I could very well have been in the Orange Order. If I grew up in a British Loyalist neighborhood, under a roof in which my father was a member of the Orange Order, I would most likely have been influenced to become involved with the Orange Men. We are products of our material environment.
I want to conclude by thanking our tour guide. It may be obvious that I do not appreciate the work that the Orange Order is doing in Northern Ireland. But, I want to give a shout out to my team’s tour guide for taking time out of his schedule, for dealing with the difficult questions our group dealt to him and for expressing kindness to the members of the group. I also want to state that the statements that I have made in this writing do not necessary reflect the opinions of the organizations that we worked with in Northern Ireland.