Ahead of delivering a public lecture next week, local historian Quincey Dougan examines the little-known, and perhaps forgotten, Orange heritage of Co Limerick
In 1875 Number 97 George Street in Limerick, now better known as O’Connell Street, was purchased by the Limerick Protestant Young Men’s Association.
The association soon added a lecture hall and gym to the building, which also accommodated a library, reading room and billiards room.
At different times, the premises performed the role of the HQ for Limerick Masonic Lodges, but perhaps of more interest is its use for another lesser known body. Number 97 George Street was the last meeting place of the Co Limerick Grand Orange Lodge.
The willingness of many Limerick Protestants to embrace Orangeism is not surprising given the town’s place in the Glorious Revolution, namely the Siege of Limerick in 1690 and the Treaty of Limerick in 1691, but that history is now effectively forgotten as its Protestant population has dwindled.
Via visiting military units the first lodge was in place by May 1798; and by 1824 it was large enough to form a county organising structure, with the Northumberland Rooms its regular meeting place under County Grand Master Ralph Hill. That same year it is recorded that one lodge in the city enrolled 175 new members!
By 1836 there were eight working lodges, whilst by 1869 it had risen to 15. These included lodges in Adare, Rathkeale, Ennis County Clare and Tralee, Co Kerry. By this point there was no working county structure, instead Limerick Orangemen being tied to Co Cork. In 1871, it became the ‘Limerick District’ of County Cork Grand Orange Lodge, and in 1874 once again became a county lodge in its own right under the leadership of Charles Monck Wilson.
There are no recorded Orange parades in Limerick over and above Orange expressions by the Yeomanry, however regular celebrations of Orange dates such as the Twelfth were common. In 1839 a local paper gloated that the year was the first in memory that the ‘Limerick Orange Bells’ of the cathedral did not ring out on the Twelfth of July, however, individual lodges continued to meet privately to celebrate the date for many decades to follow.
At its peak, there numbered over 800 Limerick Orangemen, with a strong organisation existing well into the 1880s. Decline came as local Protestants became fearful of being identified with the Orange Institution, and the county structure ceased to exist in 1899. One working lodge, LOL 1080 ‘Schomberg’, however, continued to meet and work in the 20th century. By the onset of the Irish Civil War there are no traces of any active Orangeism in the county.
• The Limerick lecture – the latest in a series of presentations looking at forgotten Orange heritage across the Republic – will take place at the Museum of Orange Heritage in Loughgall on Tuesday, commencing at 8pm. Admission is free.
If you have any insights, knowledge of or regalia relating to the Orange Institution in Munster, or would like to learn more about the event, you can contact Quincey at firstname.lastname@example.org or via 07835 624221.