Roots of Orangeism across the south and east Antrim area

Boyne Square Orangemen and their arch in a bygone era
Boyne Square Orangemen and their arch in a bygone era

The Orange Order was formed in September 1795 following the Battle of the Diamond in County Armagh and appears to have first arrived in County Antrim in the area around Lisburn and Blaris.

It was probably not until the 1820s that Orange Societies or lodges first appeared in the local area.

Glenoe Orangemen, from a very old photograph

Glenoe Orangemen, from a very old photograph

The earliest may have been at Ballyboley in County Antrim, where there is evidence of an Orange Association operating in 1817.

Records are scant, but history documents that the first Worshipful Master of the lodge was named Robinson and the lodge apparently met in a barn at Lower Ballyboley Road. In 1819 it is recorded that there were 100 members of the lodge.

By the early 1820s an Orange Hall had been built, again making it one of the earliest in the area.

The higher warrant number of the lodge is, however, intriguing, as there are other lodges with lower numbers in the area which were formed later.

An old photograph of Fourtowns Orange Lodge

An old photograph of Fourtowns Orange Lodge

The earliest lodges also include Raloo True Blues LOL 55 (formed sometime prior to 1829), Larne Royal Blue LOL 70 (September 1828), and Magheramorne LOL 291, whose warrant originated near Magherafelt in County Londonderry in 1798 and came to the local area in October 1829.

Lodges often met in barns or homes but halls became more prevalent, sometimes referred to as ‘Protestant Halls’, as is still the case at Mounthill, the hall of LOL 55.

And in the era before the railway, the Twelfths were more local, with lodges often walking to the demonstration.

By the 1870s, however, the transport system enabled larger gatherings, as in fact occurred at Massereene, Antrim, when an extensive report in the Belfast News Letter on July 13 details a number of Larne lodges which had been present.

These included Ballyboley, Cairncastle, Straid, Islandmagee, Glenoe, Ballynure, Magheramorne, Fourtowns and Larne lodges.

On several occasions in the 19th century processions were banned, and those were periods when members often met in their halls in the evening for a dinner or social function to mark the Twelfth.

One of those who took a major stand against the ban on party processions was William Johnston of Ballykilbeg, who led an illegal procession of 30,000 Orangemen from Newtownards to Bangor in 1867 and was imprisoned as a result for a time. He was later elected MP for South Belfast.

When Straid Orange Hall was opened in June 1873, Johnston was the guest speaker and his presence would have given an added profile to the occasion.

The Belfast News Letter reported that it was William Johnston’s first visit to County Antrim and the MP was full of praise for the Institution in the area in his speech.

The report detailed that the hall had cost £400 to erect, the majority of which had already been raised to pay for it. The upper storey of the building was also rented out for accommodation to two families, showing that the Straid Orangemen appeared to have a flair for business.

Halls were just one of the trappings of Orangeism, the presence of lodges in areas was also usually accompanied by Orange arches in the run up to the Twelfth, along with a series of social activities in the halls including dances, lectures and other events throughout the year.

The youngest lodges in Larne District, meanwhile, are Boyne Defenders LOL 1297, which was established in 1901, and McCalmont’s True Blues LOL from Ballycarry, founded in 1905, while two lodges ceased to function over the years in the district, one at the Commons above Carrickfergus and the other at Bellahill, south of Ballycarry.