from MARTIN MACMILLAN in Belfast
NORTHERN IRELAND is now in the middle of what is called "the marching season", though the marches are exclusively those of the "Loyalist" organisations, the Orange Order, the Apprentice Boys of Derry and the Royal Black Institution.
Altogether, according to an answer once given by a Northern Ireland Minister of Home Affairs, these organisations engage in more than 1,000 separate marches and demonstrations throughout Northern Ireland in a year.
The marching season begins with the annual parades of the Junior Orange Order on Easter Tuesday. These are held at various places in Northern Ireland, and are followed almost every weekend by Orange church parades to mark the opening of new Orange halls. to unfurl new Orange banners or merely to transfer the lodge's banner from the home of the past-master to the home of whoever has been elected "Worshipful Master" for the incoming year.
Almost any event or past event can be made the occasion for an Orange parade. The Orangemen commemorate the Battle of the Somme on July 1. Recently they tried to establish the landing of William of Orange at Carrickfergus on June 14 1690 as another annual parade day, but that scheme seems to have failed.
A fairly common form of Orange demonstration is the drum-head service, really an open-air religious meeting addressed on a Sunday afternoon by an invited clergyman. Rev Ian Paisley and Rev Martin Smyth, the Grand Master of the Orange Order, are frequent speakers.
The Orange Order's main demonstrations are held on July 12 when an estimated more than 100,000 Orangemen march in Northern Ireland to various "fields". They are celebrating the victory of William of Orange over the armies of James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
A small Orange demonstration is usually held at Rossnowlagh which is across the border in County Donegal. Some Orange lodges cross the border, especially from the counties of Monaghan and Cavan, to join the main demonstrations in Northern Ireland.
Orangemen who live in the Irish Republic. unlike those in Northern Ireland, do not seem to find much fault with the Government in Dublin. Indeed, some of the Orange lodges in Cavan rebuked the present Lord Brookeborough for saying that Protestants were persecuted in Southern Ireland.
Demonstrations are also held on July 12 in Glasgow, Liverpool and Toronto. A few years ago demonstrations were being held in Birmingham.
The Orange Order claims to be a world-wide organisation with lodges in Canada, New Zealand, Britain and even in Ghana. More than 90 per cent of all Orangemen live however in Northern Ireland.
The Order was founded in 1795, mainly to counteract the influence of the Society of United Irishmen. From the beginning its principles have been militant Protestantism, loyalty to the Crown so long as the Monarch remains a Protestant, upholding the British Empire and maintaining the union between Britain and Ireland.'
Since the 1880s the Orange Order and the Ulster Unionist Party have been so interlinked as to be almost one organisation. During the days of the Stormont Government, almost all Unionist politicians and Cabinet Ministers were Orangemen.
Craigavon, the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, regarded his membership of the Orange Order as more important than his position as a Member of Parliament or a Cabinet Minister.
The July 12 demonstrations are the culmination of the marching season. Afterwards there is a lull until the Apprentice Boys commemorate the Siege of Derry in 1689. Derry had been besieged and its inhabitants, Catholics•and Protestants alike, reduced to a
state of extreme distress by the armies of James But they held out until a relief force arrived by sea and broke the booms that James had placed across the River Foyle.
The Apprentice Boys take their title from the original apprentice boys who shut the city gates when James's generals arrived to take possession. Their commemoration takes the form of an annual parade around the walls of the old city.
In recent years, this route has been barred to them, because the walls of Derry overlook the Catholic Bogside, a fact that has been the cause of much violence since 1969.
The marching season ends with the demonstrations of the Royal Black Institution (the Blackmen) on the 'fast Saturday in August. though nobody, not even the Blackmen themselves, seems to know what the last Saturday in August is supposed to commemorate.
It is fairly certain that this particular organisation has no right to use the word "Royal" in its title. The right for any organisation to describe itself as "Royal" is a privilege granted by the Crown.
Historians have failed to find any evidence of the Blackmen being given this right. The Orangemen, with a little more modesty, are content to be called the Loyal Orange Institution.
The Blackmen are Orangemen but a branch which regard itself as exclusive and elite. They originated, according to the official historians of Orangeism, as Orange lodges in the early years of the 19th century. but through time established themselves as a separate institution.
Blackmen are in a sense promoted Orangemen and probably think that they carry themselves with greater dignity than their common Orange brethren.
Finally there is the Independent Orange Order which broke away from the original Orange Order in 1901 for reasons that would be today described as "Paisleyite".
The founders of the Order were Protestant militants who felt that the Official Unionist MPs, especially the Unionist leader Colonel Saunderson, were too liberal in their attitude to the Catholics.
The Independent Orangemen, whose main membership seems to be in Belfast and County Antrim, hold separate demonstrations on July 12 and among their most prominent speakers is Rev Ian Paisley.