London, Ireland – 200 Years of Marching

Unless you belong to one of the many Loyal Orange Lodges, last Saturday’s celebration of 200 years of marches by Irish protestants will probably have passed unnoticed, unless it literally passed you by (that literally really means literally, rather than its now more standard usage to mean metaphorically!) If you weren’t on the right street at the right time it will metaphorically have passed you by as it literally didn’t!

Orange March 1

So what are such marches about? Obviously about proclaiming identity. About celebrating protestant ascendancy. Community solidarity. Marking out your territory. And if it intimidates some of the Papes, that’s certainly no bad thing. Why else drumming as a martial art and all those piercing flutes?

Actually, I’m a Prod too. If extremely lapsed*. The thunderings of Paisley resonated (even on occasion literally) in the local chapel where most of my wider family worshipped if my immediate branch favoured the more intellectual Congregationalists. More middle-class, they had a better quality of church teas too.

Twenty five years ago I went to visit one of my aging aunts, then in sheltered accommodation. My eye fell on a headline on a newsletter on the sideboard, ‘Mixed Marriages’. It wasn’t as I first thought, some racist literature that had been pushed through her letterbox by the National Front, but from a supposedly Bible-based organization defending the Protestant faithful against the devious wiles of the Catholic opposite sex and their sin-dripping priests.

Even King James never authorized that, such religious venom isn’t in any bible I know. The snake in Genesis didn’t even bite, and the apple into which Eve sank her teeth and persuaded Adam to follow suit is notoriously indiscriminatory (or there would be little provocation for the article.)

Maybe now the Orange Lodge is just a social club bringing together like-minded men (and women in the women’s lodges) of the true protestant faith. Perhaps, given the Thatcher-accelerated end of manufacture there aren’t now the jobs for which membership used to be a sine qua non.

Park Lane in London is a long way from Portadown in 1807, where members of Loyal Orange Lodge No.1 took to the streets on 1 March that year. For anyone who either isn’t English or studied history after the Tories brought in the National Curriculum, King William III, then just Prince of Orange to us, successfully invaded england in 1688, and the first Orange association was formed a few days after he landed when he reached Exeter. As to exactly what our ‘Glorious Revolution’ acheived, and in particular the ‘Bill of Rights’ which followed, it’s still a matter of discussion. (10 marks) (Ans: Stuffing the Catholics (5 marks), Limited toleration of non-conformists (2 marks), Ridiculous Authority for Church of England (3 marks.))

Everyone I saw seemed to be having a good time, and although many of the tourists who stood to watch were likely to have been Catholics I can’t say any looked upset. And even if the drums might have beat louder as the passed Westminster Cathedral, I suspect Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor would have smiled his little apologetic smile at this demonstration of Christian witness.

More pictures from the Orange March on My London Diary

Peter Marshall

*Jesus I can believe, but not the Church.

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