Orangeism enters new era of outreach and understanding

The Orange Order's chief executive Iain Carlisle at  Schomberg House in east Belfast. 
Picture: Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker
The Orange Order's chief executive Iain Carlisle at Schomberg House in east Belfast. Picture: Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker

Six months into his role as the Orange Order’s chief executive, Iain Carlisle has spoken of his desire to forge a greater understanding of the Institution and to keep it relevant in an ever-changing world.

The 43-year-old Co Down native has Orangeism in his DNA but brings a lot of fresh thinking to one of the Order’s most challenging roles.

A Queen’s University history graduate, the former operations manager with the Ulster-Scots Community Network lists military history, classical music and Orange Order activities in Annalong as his main interests outside of the work environment, in his first media interview.

Having spent almost three decades a member of the Institution, there were few surprises for Iain in his new position, although the magnitude of the task did take some getting used to.

“It’s the sheer breadth of the job and the scale of the organisation,” the father-of-two said.

“Just how varied the job is, and it’s not without considerable challenges, but it’s good to get out and meet members across Northern Ireland. This is a busy membership organisation. I have been a member for 27 years, and very active locally, so I know how the organisation works, but whenever it’s all channelled through your own desk it’s a substantial workload.”

One of the first things Iain discovered is that no two days are the same.

“There isn’t really a typical day. You are reactionary quite a bit and dealing with stuff that’s coming in from the membership. We have almost 1,200 lodges and 700 halls so to provide an efficient and effective service to our membership there are lots of various issues that come up,”

On a personal level, the Twelfth is all about family and friends for the Carlisles.

“It’s walking small country roads in the morning with your band. It’s tea and sandwiches in the field. It’s just a nice bit of down time away from the hustle and bustle of life,” Iain said.

“When I get up in the morning on the Twelfth of July, to express my culture and tradition, in the back of my mind is not on ‘how will I offend anyone, or how will I insult my Catholic neighbours?’ It’s just about a tradition going right back to my great-grandparents. It’s in my DNA.”

Iain describes his home demonstration field at Hillmount Park in Annalong as “potentially the most picturesque setting for Twelfth venue this year – with Slieve Binnian and the Mourne Mountains behind and the sea just in front.”

Commenting on why the Orange Order has survived for more than two centuries, Iain said the Institution is the cord that binds many diverse groups of unionists together.

“There are not many local or British institutions that have as long and active history that we have. I think we have core values which include being a Bible based society, we are strongly unionist in our outlook, but the key facets of the organisation are that we are a fraternal, benevolent organisation, with charitable work on behalf of our members, and for the wider community.

“In large swathes of both rural and urban Northern Ireland, the Orange Institution is the cord that binds, sometimes diverse, Protestant communities together in terms of their denominational differences, their party political differences. There are even class differences there but Orangeism is a great leveller.”