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The Orange Institution: The Early Years

Early Years.jpg

The Loyal Orange Institution was founded after the Battle of the Diamond on September 21, 1795. The "skirmish" was between the Roman Catholic Defenders and the Protestants of the area. When it ended the Protestants formed a circle, joined hands and declared their brotherhood in loyalty to the Crown, the country and the Reformed religion.

The first shots at the Diamond were fired by the Defenders on Monday September 21, 1795. The "armies" faced each other across the valley, the Protestants on Cranagill Hill and the Roman Catholics on Faughart Hill. The Protestants routed their enemies without suffering any casualties. The Defenders who were killed have been estimated at figures between 16 and 50. An eye witness put the number at 30. It had been the intention of the Roman Catholics to drive the Protestants out of the country.

The authorities kept a low profile, apparently satisfied to leave the combatants to it. The local commander, Captain John Gifford, of the Royal Dublin Militia, stationed at Portadown was to be accorded a pivotal place in the founding of the Institution.

Gifford was present in Sloan's Inn at Loughgall when the Orange Order was founded.

Present at the first meetings of the Orangemen were James Wilson, of the Dyan; Thomas Sinclair, of Derryscallop; and James Sloan, the Loughgall inn-keeper at whose house they were held. Sloan was evidently regarded as the first leader.

At the beginning the membership was of the labouring and artisan classes. Only a few of the gentry joined among them Viscount Northland, of Dungannon. The small number of professional men were represented by Joseph Atkinson; the Rev. George Maunsell, Curate of Drumcree in 1781-1804, the Rev. George Marshall, Rector of Dromore, Co. Tyrone; Captain Clarke, Summer Island; Mr. Brownlow, Lurgan, and Major Waring, of Waringstown. The Verners, of Church Hill, also became members.

The Institution grew so rapidly that district and county lodges were formed.

The several counties had their own rules and soon the need was recognised that there should be uniformity of practice and with this in mind a delegates' meeting was held on July 12, 1796 at Portadown when the idea of a Grand Lodge was also mooted.

Wolsey Atkinson, of Portadown, was appointed secretary and requested to issue printed lodge warrants. These had been issued previously by James Sloan on poor quality paper and hand-written.

The first Orange parades were held on July 12, 1796 at Portadown, Lurgan and Waringstown. By 1798 large parades were held at Belfast, Lisburn and Lurgan where the General Officer Commanding in Ulster, Lieutenant-General Lake, inspected the parade.

In the Rebellion of 1798, the Orangemen were on the side of the Crown and had much to do with the defeat of the United Irishmen. After the quashing of the Rebellion the English Government with William Pitt the Younger, as Prime Minister, decided to unite the London and Dublin governments. The decision was deeply resented by most Orangemen, though the Grand Master, Thomas Verner, was in favour of the plan.

Grand Lodge issued statements in December, 1798 and January, 1799 advising Orangemen "strictly to abstain from expressing any opinion pro or con upon the question of a legislative union between this country and Great Britain, because such expressions of opinion, and such discussion in lodges would only lead to disunion."

The Act of Union was passed on August 1, 1800 and became law on January 1, 1801. With the Union a reality there were no more loyal supporters of it than the Orangemen.

The campaign of Daniel O'Connell for Roman Catholic emancipation was to be made a divisive factor in British politics for the next 20 years. In 1823 O'Connell formed a poltical/religious organisation "The Catholic Association".

The Grand Master, the Right Hon. George Ogle (1801-1818), - Thomas Verner had resigned in 1801 - and other Orange M.P.s had the constant task of defending the Institution against the attacks at Westminster by parliamentarians who favoured O'Connell and his cause.

They had the sympathy of Robert Peel and those members of the Government who recognised the need for an organised body of loyalists in Ireland which would provide recruits for the yeomanry which had the task of keeping the peace in the country, and discouraging rebellion and internecine strife.

With the rebellion at an end the lodges were to be less fighting societies, and more political and fraternal clubs. They needed some sort of 'ideas' to hold them together, and Duigenen and Musgrave were men of ideas.

Patrick Duigenen was Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Ireland and Sir Richard Musgrave, the historian of the "98", was Grand Treasurer. These two men were to prove able apologists for the Order, and to them must be credited consequential developments in Orange Institution thinking and practice.

In March, 1823, the Co. Armagh Grand Lodge issued this statement: "We feel not less surprised than grieved that Orange associations should be accused of illegal interference in the state, or branded as an intolerant and persecuting faction.......Where in this land have the laws been so well enforced and so cheerfully obeyed as in those districts where the Orange association has more power and influence?......and we call on them to show in all the outrages and rebellious insults which have disgraced the very name of Ireland, where had the true Orangeman been found who were not ranged on the side of these laws?"

When Sir Robert Peel became Chief Secretary for Ireland the Orangemen had someone who was anxious to be fair to them. The O'Connellites recognising this as partiality to the Protestants called him "Orange Peel." The Orangemen needed his protection, for in the two years of his secretaryship the attacks on the Orange movement were many and furious.

From 1815, the Institution had been seriously affected, by internal disputes. Many of them were about lodge ritual and the attempts to form higher orders. It was to stay in the doldrums until an Orange Order revival was brought about by the agragrian troubles of the 1820s; the resurgence of the O'Connell movement and a new vice-regal administration with questionable aims in so far as Orangeism was concerned.

In January 1820 the Orange central leadership was strengthened by having the Grand Lodge meet twice a year in February and August, and a committee was appointed to take care of the affairs of the Institution between meetings.

The Unlawful Oath Act of July 1823, though it was aimed at the Ribbonmen, affected Orangemen, too.

By March, 1824 in an attempt to meet the requirements of the Act the Grand Lodge commissioned the production of a new constitution and rules which would be legally acceptable to Parliament in every particular.

Later it prohibited demonstrations on the 12th July and in so doing seriously endangered its authority over the Private Lodges.

In spite of the risk James Verner appealed to all Orangemen "To act in the most strict conformity with an order which tends so strongly to shew how much the members of the Orange Association are willing to sacrifice to the feelings and even prejudices of their fellow subjects and how desirous they are that no excuses should be left for ascribing any of the disorders that afflict Ireland to their conduct of example".

Historians say that while "Complete conformity to these instructions was not obtained ....... on the whole they were obeyed".

In 1824 the Government was faced with O'Connell's Catholic Association and its threat to take over the country.

To meet the challenge the Government passed the Unlawful Societies Act in 1825 outlawing certain named organisations. The Roman Catholic lobby at Westminster insisted that the Orange Institution must be included in that proscription and it dissolved itself on March 18, 1825.

The final meeting of Grand Lodge was held in Dublin with Colonel Pratt in the chair. A statement drawn up and addressed to all lodges said: "At no period was the Institution in a more flourishing condition, or more highly respectable in the number added to its ranks. Notwithstanding which, the Parliament of the United Kingdom have considered it necessary that all political societies should be dissolved. Of course, our society is included. It therefore becomes our duty to inform you that any lodge meetings after this date commits a breach of the law."

While that was the attitude of the leaders their exhortation fell on deaf ears. The lodges continued regardless.

On the reorganisation of the Institution, within the law, His Royal Highness Ernest Augustus, fifth son of George III, became Grand Master of England in 1827.

The Institution had been revived when the Act of 1825 lapsed. At a Dublin meeting on September 15, 1828 Cumberland was elected Grand Master of Ireland (when he resigned the office and membership of the Order its connection with royalty ceased).

The O'Connell campaign against the Union caused Protestants to fear for the future of their country. They turned in large numbers to the Institution for leadership and protection in their determination to maintain the Union.

When the question of the right of Orangemen to march in procession was asked many felt that the leaders were far removed from the rank and file in their thinking. It was contended that the leaders were only concerned with the Constitution, Repeal and the situation of the Established Church. The determination of the Orangemen to have their processions and demonstrations took no thought of the effects of these on Westminster and their enemies there and elsewhere. The issue was again debated in Westminster in 1836 and the Whig Government, dependent on the support of O'Connell and the Radicals, decided to move against the Institution.

The judgement was delivered by King William IV, on February 25, 1836 when he said he would be "pleased to take such measures as may be seen to be advisable for the effectual discouragement of Orange lodges and generally of all political societies, excluding persons of a different religious faith, using secret signs and symbols, and acting by means of associated branches."

On February 26, the Home Secretary received an assurance from Cumberland that he would "take immediate steps to dissolve the Loyal Orange Institution in Great Britain." The promise was kept and officially the Institution was dissolved again in England and Ireland.

The Northern Irish refused even to think of dissolution. Grand Lodge might agree to it, but it had no power to dissolve the Order. Many lodges acted as they had done after 1825. They just carried on as before.

The Armagh County Grand Lodge resolved on June 13, 1836: "That the business of the Institution in this country be entrusted, as in the early days, to Grand Lodge of the same until the Grand Lodge of Ireland resumes its function."

The Grand Lodge was reconstructed on November 15, 1837 in Dublin with Lord Roden as Grand Master. In the struggle for the Union a Grand Lodge of Ulster was formed in February 12, 1844, with the aim of giving "mutual support and defence in these perilous times."

In 1845, the Party Processions' Act having expired, the Orangemen were openly demonstrating in many places. The Grand Lodge was reconstructed again on August 3, this time at the Town Hall, Enniskillen, and the Earl of Enniskillen was elected Grand Master.

The Roman Catholic Ribbonmen were most active in the spring of 1848. They killed a few people and attacked the Orange procession at Dolly's Brae. The aftermath of that affair was the dismissal of Lord Roden and William Beers, the Co. Down Grand Master and his brother Francis from the Commission of the Peace.

Following the fracas at Dolly's Brae the 1850 Party Procession Act was introduced - it was aimed at preventing Orange and Green organisations from marching on their special days - William Johnston of Ballykilbeg organised a demonstration against it on July 12, 1867.

He led Orangemen in procession from Newtownards to Bangor. Altogether 100 lodges walked in the parade with 40,000 people as participants and spectators. While Johnston and a hundred others were named for prosecution only he and a few others were charged and he only went to prison.

The others had pleaded guilty and were fined. Johnston refused bail set at £500 for himself and two other sureties of £500 each.

Johnston served a few days short of two months being released on April 27, 1868. Ten thousand people were at the prison gate that day to greet him and there were bands and party tunes. Bonfires were lit on many of the hills in Ulster that night. What William Johnston had done on the Twelfth 1867 was distasteful to Grand Lodge but he was unconcerned for he had the evidence that the membership were behind him. When the Act was repealed Orange processions were resumed everywhere in the country.

The first international Orange Conference was held in the Belfast Orange Hall on July 18, 1866, "in response to the suggestion from Canada where Orangeism was now very strong, and where they say Bro. Sir John Macdonald got the notion of the Confederation of Canada from the organisation of the Grand Lodge of British America, the Orangemen of the world came together then to provide a means of consultation in the new Imperial Grand Orange Council."

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