Worlds apart, but joined together by bonds of Orange brotherhood

Ian Kells found home comfort in the Orange Lodge in Australia at the age of 20 after emigrating from Fermanagh
Ian Kells found home comfort in the Orange Lodge in Australia at the age of 20 after emigrating from Fermanagh

When Ulsterman Ian Kells emigrated to Australia in 1968 he was so homesick he joined the Orange Order to rekindle memories of the Province. Later he became grand master of Australia.

Meanwhile, Canadian Michael Thomas’ ancestry led him to join the Orange Order in Toronto, though he is a regular visitor to these shores to take in the Twelfth celebrations.

Michael Thomas from Toronto has followed in the footsteps of his great grandfather who was an Orangeman in NI

Michael Thomas from Toronto has followed in the footsteps of his great grandfather who was an Orangeman in NI

Having grown up in Fermanagh Mr Kells explained what led him to join the Orange Order, not in his homeland, but in Australia.

He said: “After arriving in Sydney aged 20 I was dreadfully homesick. In desperation in trying to find something that would ease this longing I discovered a contact for the Orange Order in the Sydney phone book and as they say the rest is history.

“Growing up on the family farm it was steeped in the Orange tradition – portrait of King William on the wall, my father and elder brothers heading off to their lodge meetings. The history, the pageantry, that feeling of belonging to something ancient and special. It is not a cliché to say that when you join the Orange Order you join a worldwide Orange family.”

He added: “The Orange Order was well established in Australia, in fact going back in an unbroken line to 1845. It has a presence in all mainland states of Australia and is unique in that each State Grand Lodge is autonomous but operates under the umbrella of the Grand Orange Lodge of Australia (GOLA). There are members in all the states except Tasmania.

“The great majority of members are native-born Australians and the Order has a distinctly Australian flavour. Of course there are ex-pats, myself included.”

Mr Kells has held a number of positions within the Orange Order in Australia including grand master of Australia. He is currently grand secretary of GOLA as well as grand secretary of the Loyal Orange Institution of New South Wales (LOINSW).

Outlining the main difference between the Orange Order in Northern Ireland and Australia, Mr Kells said: “There is a unique factor here in Australia – the lodges are mixed, right from the Primary Lodges to the Grand Orange Lodge of Australia men and women sit together in lodge. The only other country that has this arrangement is New Zealand.

“Basically this occurred after WWI when the men’s lodges were decimated by losses on the battlefront and as means of survival the men’s and women’s lodges combined. They remain so to this day and it works remarkably well.”

Mr Kells, who is married with two children, said he is looking forward to watching this year’s Twelfth which will be streamed online by the BBC.

“I still visit home occasionally, usually around the Twelfth so I can participate,” he said.

“The present Fermanagh County Grand Master, Stuart Brooker, is a very close friend. He was also raised not far from me at Devenish.

“Our house at Lake Macquarie (two hours north of Sydney) is call Lough Erne – not difficult to figure that one out.”

Michael Thomas from Toronto is a regular visitor to Northern Ireland where he shares a strong bond with his brothers in the Orange Order.

“My great grandparents were from Northern Ireland,” he said.

“I actually knew my great grandmother from Maghera. Her husband from Carrowdore was in the Orange in Northern Ireland and then when he moved over to Canada rejoined.

“My other great grandfather was from Clougher.”

His Orangeman grandfather’s name was David McCullough and he was followed into the Orange Order in Toronto by his son Bruce Thomas and grandson John Thomas – Mark’s father.

Mr Thomas said: “I’d been in the band which is attached to our lodge in Toronto, as was my father. Through that and always going down to the Twelfth it had me interested. When I turned 16, after an Orange parade I went to the hall and filled out an application to join.”

The 26-year-old continued: “Toronto Lodge would be mid-sized, say maybe about 150.

“In Toronto we have the longest running continuous parade in North America. This year we’ll be marching for the 197th annual time.”

The Canadian lodge hold both Eleventh night celebrations and a Twelfth parade though it rarely falls on the actual dates as the events are held on weekends.

Mr Thomas said: “I’d say there would maybe be altogether 500 on the parade and watching, so it’s a smallish turnout but you have members come in from outlying areas with their families. It makes for a great day.

“For the most part it’s fairly similar to the parades over here as it has the same basic element, the same feeling, the same atmosphere, same enjoyment. Sizing may be different and the distances are a lot shorter than parades here.”

Asked what the Twelfth means to him, Mr Thomas said: “The highlight would have to be the enjoyment and fellowship with other Orangemen. Orangeism really is a family bond. You’re meeting people as brothers rather than strangers.

“I love coming to Northern Ireland. I always parade when I’m over here. The last couple of times I’ve paraded in Belfast, but normally I’m with my affiliate lodge – Banner of the Cross LOL 1310 in Saintfield.”