Irish-speaking Norman proud to be an Orangeman

Norman Henry
Norman Henry
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Although the majority of the members of the Orange Order are Ulster Protestants, the institution has members in the Republic of Ireland, in Scotland and throughout the Commonwealth and the United States, and even in places as far-flung as Togo, Africa. The beliefs and political motivations held in esteem by the institution can vary from region to region, - in Togo, for example, some brethren also profess the Catholic faith - something which is anathema to their Northern Irish counterparts. Overwhelmingly, what unites Orange lodges is a commitment to the defence of Protestant civil and religious liberties.

Here in Northern Ireland the Orange Order is of course strongly linked to unionism, but in places like the Republic of Ireland an urge to protect Ireland’s union with Britain and its dominion over the six counties is a less crucial impetus for membership. Orangeman Norman Henry describes his involvement with the order as being about his commitment to the Protestant faith as well as upholding what he regards as an important family tradition.

The key event for Orangemen on the other side of the border, as Norman highlights, is the annual parade at Rossnowlagh, Donegal, which is held on the Saturday before the Twelfth.

An Irish-speaker, Norman sees no contradiction between his Orangeism and his Irishness and feels southern Protestants are often culturally overlooked in the Republic, where the Catholic faith - the dominant religious persuasion - shapes many matters in public and political life.

Henry finishes by explaining that the Irish tricolour traditionally represents “peace between orange and green” - a unity between different traditions that remains a beautiful and elusive ideal to be pursued on both sides of the border.

In Norman’s view being an Orangeman is also about trying to be “a good neighbour and a good citizen” and he stresses that while the order is peacefully opposed to the teachings of the Catholic Church, it is very important that brethren continue to be respectful towards members of this faith and indeed towards all those professing different beliefs and hailing from different cultures than their own.

Norman Henry, 42, lives in Bruckless, Co Donegal and is a farmer and stay-at-home dad. He is a member of Ballintra Loyal Orange Lodge 806.

Norman said:

I joined the Orange Order when I was 20 and I joined in no small part because my father and grandfather were members before me. It was very much a family tradition.

Before that I played accordion in a band affiliated with the lodge. I was middling good at it. I was OK at playing the Sash on the Twelfth, but that was about it.

Our lodge in Donegal has about 20 members.

The main marching event for southern members of the Orange Order is our Rossnowlagh parades which take place on the Saturday before the Twelfth each year. This year we had about 30 bands taking part and it was a great success.

The Grand Master has said that Rossnowlagh is the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the marching season because it is always a peaceful and successful day for us without any of the friction or controversies that you get in Belfast. Catholics, for example, definitely come along to watch and enjoy the parade at Rossnowlagh.

We also always come up to Northern Ireland to celebrate the Twelfth and that is always a big event for us too. We also have Battle of the Somme commemorations every year.

Women have their own lodges which they can join here.

When we march we feel that what we’re saying is ‘we’re here, we’re a part of the community too and we are proud of what we stand for’. I think as well it’s about showing that there is more than one kind of Irishness because everyone just assumes that if you’re Irish then you must be Catholic too. We are proud of being Irish, Protestant and members of the Orange Order. Since Partition and even before it, Protestantism has been a part of Irish culture too and it’s a part, we feel, that is often overlooked or forgotten about.

Sometimes our section of the community feels that while other cultural and ethnic minorities are respected and encouraged to celebrate their culture, Orangeism isn’t met with the same welcoming attitude and yet we’ve been here in Ireland for a very long time. I think antipathy towards the order is to do with people having misconceptions about Orangeism.

Here our priorities as Orangemen wouldn’t really be to do with being unionist as it is up north. For us it’s a religious and cultural thing to do with being Protestant and feeling that it’s important to be an upstanding member of the community, honouring your civic and Christian responsibilities. Being a good citizen and a good neighbour is important. We fundraise for charities every year and past recipients of our efforts include Alzheimer’s Research and the Donegal Hospice.

I’m a Methodist and my faith is allied to my membership of the order. My faith is important to me and I try to live it out daily rather than just leaving it for Sundays.

Here in the south I’d say that we have very good relationships with our neighbours and while Catholics can’t join the order there is certainly no animosity between us and members of the Catholic faith - which is obviously the dominant faith on this side of the border.

It’s important that Orangemen should respect the views of those from different backgrounds and different faiths.

I would say that while we don’t agree with the teachings of the Catholic church it should never come down to being critical or derogatory towards members of that church.

For the most part the order down south doesn’t have any of the problems it has in the north in terms of parading or of becoming embroiled in sectarian arguments with the Catholic/nationalist side of the community.

However there have been incidents of discrimination against Orangemen. One of our lodges was recently daubed with offensive graffiti saying ‘Brits out’ and I think that stems from people not understanding what the order stands for and represents.

Orangemen down here consider themselves to be Irish; we are Irish citizens too.

I also speak Irish because I attended a national school growing up, and learning Irish is part of receiving an education here. In the Republic you also need to be able to speak Irish in order to do certain jobs so it’s an important skill to have and I’m proud to speak a second language.

I have lots of Catholic friends and when I tell them I’m in the Orange Order they never react in a negative fashion. They are happy for me to hold the opinions that I hold in respectful opposition to them.

I wouldn’t like to comment on the problems that the Orange Order has had with its parades in north Belfast because I think you need to be living locally in order to really understand the problems and arguments from each side.

We had some American tourists over recently and they were asking why there was no Irish tricolour being flown over an Orange hall. Usually we would fly a Union flag inside the Orange hall.

We feel that people incorrectly describe the Tricolour as being green, white and gold when it’s green, white and orange and traditionally it’s supposed to represent peace between the green and the orange, or between Irish Catholic and Protestant traditions.

According to our constitution the Irish tricolour is green, white and orange and the day the Orange Order and Protestantism is treated with more respect is the day we will fly an Irish tricolour above our lodges.

Perhaps it’s time that we reclaim the Irish tricolour and acknowledge that Orangeism is represented here too?