One of the most significant events in the Orange Order calendar took place on Saturday.
Crowds flocked across the border to the annual Orange demonstration in Rossnowlagh in Co Donegal.
This is a march that has grown in popularity in recent years, despite the fact that there is now a small Protestant population in the three Ulster counties that form part of the Republic.
There are various possible reasons for the increased interest in Rossnowlagh. An obvious explanation is the route that winds its way to the roaring Atlantic waves. The walk from St John’s Church of Ireland to the Field, set amid beach dunes, is such that the Order’s Grand Master Edward Stevenson describes it as “the most serene and scenic annual Orange demonstration”.
Another obvious reason for the rise of Rossnowlagh is the greater political stability, despite the best efforts of dissidents. There was a time, during the Troubles, when crossing the border was dangerous for many Orangemen.
There is also, perhaps, a yearning among unionists to be able to express their culture in parts of the island that were once united with the six counties under the British crown.
There is, further, a shift in attitudes towards Orange culture among many nationalists in the Republic. While the Institution is not exactly held in widespread affection south of the border, there seems to be more of an attempt to understand an alien culture (in much the same way that unionists such as Peter Robinson have made an effort to understand the GAA).
Rossnowlagh shows Orangeism at its best: a celebration rooted in a historical event that shaped the world and a family day out that isn’t marred by problems such as excess alcohol intake. The local population seems to embrace it, or not strongly object.
The lesson of Rossnowlagh may one day cross the border to Northern Ireland. If that happens, those who fanatically oppose occasional loyal order marches will come to be seen as the sectarian and intransigent people they are, and not the downtrodden innocents that they depict themselves to be.