Orangeism: the Making of a Tradition, Kevin Haddick-Flynn. (Wolfhound Press, £30) ISBN 0863276598. The Faithful Tribe: An Intimate Portrait of the Loyal Institutions, Ruth Dudley Edwards. (Harper Collins, £17.99) ISBN 0002558637

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Book Reviews, Issue 1 (Spring 2000), Northern Ireland 1920 - present, Reviews, Volume 8

Up until this year there had been a dearth of work on the Orange Order. This was bound to change as once again issues over the right to parade have gripped the north of Ireland. Both Orangeism: The Making of a Tradition by Kevin Haddick-Flynn and The Faithful Tribe: An Intimate Portrait of the Loyal Institutions by Ruth Dudley Edwards are interesting texts that provide a partial insight into Orangeism. But they share the same flaw. They are both history from above, and concentrate on the Orange Institution, and therefore miss the complexities of popular Orangeism reflected in the annual parades. Dudley Edwards explicitly and Haddick-Flynn by writing history in a particular form, have both provided sympathetic, ‘respectable’, portraits of the Orange Order.
Haddick-Flynn recognises the sense in which ‘tradition’ is invented and re-invented, and indeed he quotes Hobsbawm (p.14), yet the content of the book shows little understanding of how ‘tradition’ is made. The book concentrates on the battles and the senior personalities with chapters and maps on the Williamite campaign, the Battle of the Diamond and Dolly’s Brae and potted biographies of various kings and key figures in early nineteenth-century Orangeism. Haddick-Flynn is strongest when reproducing histories from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, particularly on Williamite groups in the eighteenth century, but is weaker on the nineteenth century and his exploration of Orangeism in the twentieth century is almost non-existent. There is plenty of interesting material that has never been brought together in one publication and the book can work as a resource. However, at times the book over-indulges. I fail to see what relevance the capture and death of Wolfe Tone has to the development of Orangeism. What is missing in most of the book is an attempt to understand Orangeism as a social movement.
Ruth Dudley-Edwards’ book is somewhat different since it is not first-and-foremost a history book. Rather it explores Orange history as part of an examination of contemporary Orangeism in her belief that it has been badly misunderstood. The seven chapters of history are drawn from lodge books and Orange sourced material and reflect the simplistic idea that Protestant and Catholic tribes have always existed. At nearly all points she takes the classic Orange view of events that distances Orangeism from all the repercussions of their parades which she explains simply by the ‘violent context’ in which they exist (p.129). At least Haddick-Flynn provides us with some sense of the fundamental contradictions between ‘respectable’ Orangeism as reproduced by its early supporters and the actual practice of Orangeism on the ground. You will search in vain in Dudley Edwards’ book to find discussions of the complex nature of developing Protestant ethnicity in the nineteenth century because for her it was just a simple continuation of the ‘war of religions’ of the previous centuries. The role of social class, that has been well observed by such as Peter Gibbon and Henry Patterson, is almost completely missing from both books although Haddick-Flynn does provide us with some feel for the role of Evangelical Protestantism in Belfast.
Dudley Edwards re-tells the tale of William Johnston and his right to march campaign in the 1860s but then fails to explain his demise within the Orange Order. Haddick-Flynn gives a better account of the deeds of Johnston, who is undoubtedly an important figure, but also fails to discuss Johnston’s belief that everyone, including the Fenians, had the right to march, a belief not shared by most of the Orangemen around him. In The Faithful Tribe there is little or no discussion of the political divisions with which the Order has been riven for much of its two hundred years.
Both books share one extraordinary failing. They almost completely ignore the history of the Orange Order from 1920 to 1972. Both books are over 400 pages long; Haddick-Flynn devotes only ten pages to that period and Dudley Edwards twenty pages, of which a good proportion discusses the position of Protestants in the south. They both seem to be under the strange impression that the nature of Orangeism is best understood by exploring its origins in the eighteenth century rather than examining its powerful role in twentieth-century political life. Indeed fully one quarter of Haddick-Flynn’s book explores events prior to the founding of the Orange Order. The idea that you can understand Orangeism or the Orange tradition by tracing a linear evolutionary history from William the Silent (1533-1584) is questionable. In this sense both books replicate the histories written by members of the Orange Order themselves. The absence of the Stormont era as a context for present perceptions of Orangeism is particularly inexcusable in The Faithful Tribe since Dudley Edwards goes on to explain why Catholics might oppose Orange parades (Chapter 12).
Given the different aims of the two books it is not surprising that The Faithful Tribe is the more interesting text in terms of the contemporary Orange tradition. The events at Drumcree over the last few years seem to be what drives Ruth Dudley Edwards to examine Orangeism. Her conclusions are sympathetic to those in the Orange Order that see the institution as broadly religious and cultural with its politics dictated by the republican threat, particularly in the form of the residents groups. She is critical of Paisley’s influence in Orangeism, The Spirit of Drumcree Group and the ‘blood and thunder’ bands. Haddick-Flynn is less in touch with contemporary Orange politics and, quite in contrast to Dudley Edwards’ description of the parades, bizarrely suggest that ‘Nowadays the bands have abandoned the old sectarian tunes and harmless numbers like The Fields of Athenry and You are my Sunshine have entered the repertoire’ (p.387). In his review of the present events in Portadown he neglects to mention altogether the major disturbances in the town in 1985 and 1986.
Orangeism is vitally important because of its central position in Protestant ethnic identification in the north of Ireland. Its role articulating a relationship between local rural and urban communities and political power, in shaping the social landscape of Northern Ireland and in providing a political focus for diverse class and denominational interests needs careful examination. Both these books proved a window to explore Orangeism but do not in themselves deepen our understanding. Haddick-Flynn re-states a view of historical origins as if it was the Old Testament. Ruth Dudley Edwards, perhaps writing the New Testament, reflects the sincerely held views of many at present in the Orange Institution. Neither explain the fluctuating fortunes of a social movement.

Dominic Bryan


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