Orange Order

A Protestant fraternal organization famous for its colorful marches and strong commitment to the British Crown and Protestant faith.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Protestantism
Founded: 1795
Location: Primarily Northern Ireland, also present in other parts of the United Kingdom and former British colonies
Other Names: Loyal Orange Institution, Orange Institution

The Orange Order, also known as the Loyal Orange Association, Orange Society, or by its members as Orangemen, is an Irish Protestant and political society. Named after the Protestant William of Orange (King William III of Great Britain), who defeated the Roman Catholic King James II, the society was established in 1795 with the goal of maintaining the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland amidst rising demands for Catholic Emancipation. The organization was born out of a period marked by intense sectarian conflict, particularly in County Armagh, where Protestant groups clashed violently with Catholic neighbors. The Battle of the Diamond, a significant confrontation in 1795, led directly to the formation of the Orange Society as a secret society, which then quickly spread across Ireland and eventually overseas​​.

The Orange Order’s foundational principles revolve around loyalty to the British monarchy, the Protestant faith, and conservative values, including adherence to the laws and traditions of Great Britain. The organization emerged as a reaction to the rivalry between Catholic-Irish and Protestant-British ethnic groups in Ulster, and it has historically played a significant role in political and religious affairs both in Ireland and among the Irish diaspora. The Order’s activities and membership are not restricted to Northern Ireland; it has lodges across Great Britain, the Commonwealth, and other parts of the world, reflecting the global spread of the Irish Protestant community​​.

In Canada, the Orange Order established a strong political and religious fraternal society presence since the early 19th century. Canadian Orangemen have been staunch defenders of Protestantism and the British connection, often involved in political activities and known for their influence in municipal politics. The Order provided mutual aid to its members, including financial support during illness or unemployment and covering funeral costs for deceased members. Membership was open to Protestant males from various ethnic backgrounds, including Irish, English, Scottish, German, and First Nations, as well as United Empire Loyalists. At its peak in 1920, the Canadian branch had about 100,000 members. The Order’s activities in Canada also included public parades and ceremonies, reinforcing community bonds among members through shared rituals and the wearing of the famous Orange sashes​​.

Despite its charitable work and community support, the Orange Order has been a source of controversy and tension due to its historical anti-Catholic stance and involvement in sectarian violence. The organization has been criticized for perpetuating division between Protestant and Catholic communities, particularly through its parades and public demonstrations, which have sometimes led to conflict. In Canada, the Order’s reputation for sectarianism was well-established by the 19th century, with frequent riots between Orange and Catholic groups. Political influence was a significant aspect of the Order’s activity in Canada, with numerous members holding political office, including four Prime Ministers and numerous mayors, particularly in Toronto, which was sometimes referred to as the “Belfast of Canada” due to its sectarian nature and the Orange Order’s influence in municipal governance​​.

The Orange Order remains an active society today, though its influence and membership have declined from their peak in previous centuries. It continues to organize parades and events, particularly on July 12th to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne, symbolizing its enduring legacy and the continued importance of its historical and cultural traditions within certain communities.

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