Land sales, Protestants and the Orange Order


As a youngster, I remember watching open-mouthed in Omagh County Cinema as Rock Hudson, starring in This Earth Is Mine, filled his fist with a chunk of farming landa nd held it up against the sky. “The good earth” he intoned, as only Rock could intone. Wow, I thought. The good earth.

At the time I was more interested in land which appeared on the silver screen, less interested in the land on which I lived. We grew up on a farm which my father had bought back in the 1930s. It had belonged to three Protestant sisters and, at least according to the accepted folk-lore in our family, when my father went to buy it, he had to have a Protestant make the bid. Had he done it himself, the sale would have been refused.

I’m not sure how true all of that story is but it has a stronger ring of credibility for me since a recent BBC Spotlight programme. It looked at what’s now known as ‘colour-coding’.  There is a strong reluctance on the part of Protestant farmers to sell land to Catholics and, presumably, vice versa. The case used by Spotlight was of a man who wanted to buy some land. Being a local, he knew about ‘colour-coding’, and told the agent that he was a Catholic and was concerned about this barring him from making a deal, since the previous owner had been a Protestant. No no no, the agent told him, that’s not the case at all at all here. Oh good, said the man, taking out his cheque book, I’ll pay the required price then.  At which point the agent stuttered and stumbled and said he’d have to get back to the owner. A short time later the land was taken off the market.

The Spotlight programme looked at claims that the Orange Order had funds which it used to support the ‘colour-code’ practice. Grand Master Drew Nelson made no bones about the Order having a fund to help ‘Protestants in distress’, and more or less justified the practice, especially in border areas, on the grounds that republicans did a lot of fuel smuggling.

Land is an emotive subject in Ireland, as is the manner of Grand Master Nelson’s way of responding to the questions put to him. As I say, I don’t know how much of this colour-coding practice obtains among Catholics when selling, but clearly when buying land belonging to a Protestant, the BBC has fairly conclusively established that every effort is made, in some cases supported by the Orange Order with a special fund, to keep Catholics from buying what is seen as ‘Protestant land’.  There are, of course, historical reasons for this practice, which has been going on here for some eighty years at least. But if it’s illegal for B and B owners to turn away a couple because they’re gay, surely it’s illegal to turn away a potential buyer because he’s Catholic?  I’d love to know what Peter Robinson’s views are on this. And, of course, those of Ian Paisley Jr.

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21 Responses to Land sales, Protestants and the Orange Order

  1. neill February 19, 2015 at 9:22 am #

    Its fair to say this happens on the Catholic side as well it is just part and parcel of what happens here its not right but you have to accept the reality of the situation

    • Jude Collins February 19, 2015 at 9:44 am #

      I don’t know if it’s equally the case on both sides, neill – but as always I’m open to correction. But whether it does or not, it stinks. Put ‘black buyer’ in place of ‘Catholic buyer’ (or ‘Protestant buyer’) and you see how much it stinks. After nearly 100 years at least, it needs changing.

      • neill February 19, 2015 at 10:24 am #

        No doubt about that but you can understand why it goes on and especially after whats happened over the 40 years sadly

        • Antonio February 19, 2015 at 11:46 am #


          This has been going on for much much longer than 40 years

  2. Mary Jo February 19, 2015 at 9:43 am #

    I think your family folklore is accurate. I remember, in the late 50s, when Stormont nationalisation of transport turned my father into a man of substance, he was regularly invited by Protestants selling land to come and stand about at the auction. The sellers believed that his presence at the auction would be enough to hike up the bidding.

  3. Patrick J Dorian February 19, 2015 at 10:20 am #

    I remember the late David Dunseith covering this same story about 20 years ago on “Talkback”. I was wondering is this another example of “Cultural Sectarianism” .

  4. neill February 19, 2015 at 11:08 am #

    In fairness this has been going on for many generation sadly it seems to have sunk into our psyche

  5. Iolar February 19, 2015 at 12:21 pm #

    The lonesome boatman

    The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie,
    deliberate, contrived and dishonest,
    but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.

    – John F. Kennedy (35th President of the United States)

    A sham fight about a conscience clause is another convenient way to distract attention away from colour codes. It also prevents debate about the reality of life in the north of Ireland after the next election. What will it be like if the imperial masters remain in power? More cuts in health and social services, economic inactivity, rate increases, water meters, food banks, no free travel for older citizens, disputes about land that will still be here in 2090 and untrained vigilantes patrolling the streets? The abuse of petitions of concern stifled debate on all of these issues. Does it really make electoral sense to fight over flags, parades, territory and conscience clauses? Who benefits?

    The phrase, “one side is as bad as the other” is used in the media ad nauseam. We regularly hear lectures about “the two tribes” in the north of Ireland. This ongoing colonisation of the mind steers discussion away from the dysfunctional nature of politics on these islands in favour of trivial soundbytes.

    It is said that King William’s boatman had the temerity to pose a question to the King as he surveyed the banks of the Boyne prior to the battle. He asked the King his opinion about the outcome of the battle. The King advised him to continue rowing and not to worry as he would remain a boatman after the battle.

  6. paddykool February 19, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

    I suppose we’ve all got these kinds of stories or whispered references. This is the sort of background hum of life here in Norneverland ,where everything is not quite as it seems on the surface.The unspoken truths that have always twisted our hidden history just out of shape . It’s why too there is clamour for special “conscience clauses” and the like .It’s an admission that although everything appears …sort of “normal” on the surface here , that beneath the surface there is a little crooked world of law-breaking and a form of paranoid immorality which wants to twist what’s “normal” everywhere else…slightly out of kilter.
    I’ve no doubt that the practice happens on both sides, because no-matter how much there is a Christian professing of “love thy neighbour as thyself” , when it comes to money and land , all that old guff is placed at the back of the top shelf.The religion and morality is closed in a sealed box and forgotten . Land and money ..It’s the thing that divides families when the Will is read out, so it’s going to divide communities beyond that. I would say that common folklore would have it that there is more land in unionist hands in Norneverland but I really don’t know or have the figures .It just seems to make the most sense, really. …so they would have more to lose and would do anything to avoid that loss.It may even be discussed in nationalist backrooms or unionist Orange Halls …I really don’t know ..
    I watched the “Spotlight” programme too and it was no real revelation to me . I took it for granted, I suppose. That in itself says a lot about this place and its hypocrisy…
    “Grand Master Drew Nelson made no bones about the Order having a fund to help ‘Protestants in distress’, and more or less justified the practice, especially in border areas, on the grounds that republicans did a lot of fuel smuggling.”
    …Now i’m not sure what to make of that statement. What does it mean exactly? Is he saying that a good God-fearing protestant is shoring up the border by holding his finger in that “smuggling dam” but keeping the land “pure”..and that a good protestant would not do any of that illegal business? .There’s plenty of evidence that good protestants and unionists are equally capable of ilegal activity as their nationalist or republican counterparts, surely.If there’s easy money to be made , denomination goes out through the window.
    …but … “His Bobness” would have it..the bottom line is…..”When you ain’t got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose”.

  7. Jason February 19, 2015 at 1:45 pm #

    A well known and long established practice in my area.
    Wherever a Catholic looked to be in line to purchase Protestant owned land the OO would step in and purchase.

    Ironically I believe this has been a major factor in the massive decline in power of the OO – in my area at least.
    Once a middle class of Catholics emerged in the mid to late 80s there was enough bidding power to drive the prices up to ridiculous levels. In many cases the OO ended up purchasing property at many multiples of its value.
    Over the longer term this has undoubtedly damaged both their finances and credibility (although its arguable if there was anything left to damage in the case of the latter).

    Also mentioned is the scenario of the local Protestant acting as a proxy for the land purchase for a Catholic. There were most certainly cases of this – going back a long time – which underlines the fact that there have always been decent people on both sides willing to do the right thing.

    • paddykool February 19, 2015 at 3:20 pm #

      I’d agree with most of that Jason…that idea of a proxy buying for someone else …to buy in under the radar , if you like. I know of at least one instance of that. As you say, there are always those who do not toe the party line….honest folks, then!

  8. Perkin Warbeck February 19, 2015 at 3:41 pm #

    Funny thing, Esteemed Blogmeister, that you should choose the movie you did to illustrate today’s topic, as today is the first day of the Chinese New Year.

    Being that the novel upon which the movie ‘This Earth is Mine’ was written by an American lady novelist by the name of Alice Tisdale Hobart who lived in the city of Nanging for a while back in the late Twenties.

    As did another more famous American lady novelist, the Nobel Prize winning Pearl S. Buck, who actually wrote her bestseller ‘The Good Earth’ while based in Nanging during the early Thirties. Indeed, there is a school of thought in the groves of academe that one book might well have been influenced by the other.

    Perkie’s outer globetrotter chanced upon this theory when visiting the same city of Nanging some years ago by train. Funny folk the Chinese. One could only purchase a one way train ticket; no returns. To get back to where one had come from, in this instance, Shanghai, one had to buy a, erm, return single ticket.

    That was the Year of the Rat, or maybe it was even The Year of the Mouse as most shops in Shanghai were decorated with images of Walt Disney’s most emblematic creation: Mickey Mouse. Mind you, old Walt had originally chosen the name ‘Mortimer’ till Mrs.Disney persuaded him to change it to the name the mischievous wee rodent is known by all till this very day. It is understood that Mrs. Disney was rather partial to Mickey.

    The reason for the confusion in the mind of the foreigner is because the Chinese have the same word for both ‘rat’ and ‘mouse’. A not dissimilar situation pertains in the leprechaun as ‘Francach’ with a capital F means ‘French’ while ‘francach’ with a smaller f stands for ‘rat’.

    If the local Alickadoos weren’t so fanatical about their insistence on a monoglot provincialism and on standing shoulder to shoulder with the Q.’s English they could well have made some use of that gift-wrapped Gaeliciscm last Saturday. Instead, in their cult of the cultural cringe, they opted to disdain it. Their choice, their loss..

    Similarly, with regard to this New Year it is either The Year of the Sheep or the Goat, whichever one you’re having yourself, guv. the Chinese have the same word for both. It would seem this confusion does not pertain in many parts of Norneverland, Esteemed Blogmeister, where land is concerned.

    Though one suspects that in such areas as the Gold Coast up in Down, the difference is rather blurred; silence being consider g. where the cosh that is dosh has levelled out any lingering hereditary dissimilarities.

    As one says, none so strange as the Chinese folk. One of the first signs to apprehend the stranger’s eye in Chinese cities is KTV. At first one is inclined to marvel at the umpteenage of the local TV outlets till one gets to comprehend that it actually signifies the Karaoke clubs. For which the sons and daughters of Confucius have a pash, rather.

    Karaoke, being a Japanese word, is barely tolerated with an initial in China. It was to explore further this Japanimosity that prompted Perkie’s inner prying spy to take that trip to Nanging. To visit,specifically,the local Massacre Museum.

    This is built on the site of the Killing Field where the Imperial Japanese army massacred 300,000 of the locals in 1937, the same year as Dev’s Constitution was being drawn up and some years after Pearl S. Buck had decamped. The Museum is designed in such a way as might have been influenced by the Stations of the Cross, if not Crossmaglen.

    There was a significant progression in the language used in the information boards. Starting with Station Number 1, which mentions in tones subdued the arrival of the Japanese ‘invader’ it gradually goes up a gear, from ‘aggressor’ to ‘cruel’, passing open coffins with skeletal remains along the via dolorosa, to ‘barbarous’ to ‘vicious, taking in blown up photographs of Japanese ‘primitives’ using live locals for bayonet practice, to eventually crescendoing at ‘Japanese animals !’.

    Just as the Chinese words for animals like ‘rat’ and ‘sheep’ can cover a multitude so also can the Chinese word for ‘Japanese’.

    The Massacre Museum did not remind one of the British Donkey Derby 14-18 Memorial in Islandbridge, Dublin 8.One does not recall any recordings of the Chinese President kow-towing or bow-wowing at the utterance of a cupla focal in Chinese by the visiting Japanese Empress. .

    Pearl S. Buck, all other things considered, was s a not entirely inappropriate name for a writer destined to win the Nobel Prize for Transcription. So also, with Buck Mulligan which is mentioned in very first line of the most celebrated of all Irish books of propaganda, Ulysses.

    The scene is set in the Martello Tower in Sandycove on the Gold Coast of Dublin. This is still, as it then was, the epicentre of excellence for all those who aspire to be shoneen-bleating Sheep rather than Gaelic-bleating Goats. No surprise to discover there is both a Goatstown and a Gleanageary (Gleann na gCaorach/Vale of the Sheep) in the vicinity.

    The catch nowadays is that in their common contemporary dialect, Dort-speak, the same word suffices for both goat and sheep: West Brit.

    Back in 1908, when William Bulfin (a goat in sheep’s clothing) wrote his celebrated ‘Rambles in Erin’, after spending a spell in Argentina, he visited the same Martello Tower where J. Joyce and some acquaintances therein did dwell. And wrote of that that visit in his travelogue:

    ‘We looked out across at Ben Eadair of the heroic legends, now called Howth, and wondered how many of the ‘Sunningville Lodges’ and ‘Elmgrove Villas’ and other respectable houses along the hillside knew anything of Finn and Oisin and Oscar’.

    Bulfin’s description of this visit so put J. Joyce’s joist out of joint, coming as it did from an uppity member of the Untermencsh, of Paddy Stink and Mickey Mudd, that it propelled him into getting down the First Chapter of Ulysses down on borrowed paper.

    He’s get a real land if he returned to the Free Southern Stateen today to find ….’This Earth is Mine’.

    A rich and and rare and above all, self-satisfied land.

    Confucius say: James Lice give me heartburn in the arse.

  9. michael c February 19, 2015 at 6:37 pm #

    A man I know as a very staunch unionist lives about a mile from my home.Although he lives up a lane and virtually all his neighbours are “Micks”, he goes out of his way every July to affix a “butchers apron” to his chimney so that it can be seen by all and sundry.He works in a “mixed” workforce and again is unafraid to voice very strong opinions to his work colleagues about “law and order” and his disdain for the free state.Imagine my surprise one Sunday evening when I stopped at a filling station on the Donegal border only to find Mr “law and order ” filling up to a dozen jerry cans with diesel.He even had the back seat of his Cavalier folded down to increase the payload.Now I myself would never have contemplated such illegality but someone who knows about such things once told me that anything above 2 gallons would be regarded as smuggling.I went out of my way to greet him and he replied with a very red face before completing his purchases. He was 30 times in excess of legality but no doubt would be spouting to all who would listen about those “rascals round the border cleanin up at the smugglin”!

    • neill February 19, 2015 at 7:22 pm #

      mmmm that sounds as though you just made that story up michael!

      • giordanobruno February 20, 2015 at 8:17 am #

        I knew a protestant farmer once.
        Outwardly he was hardworking and honest.
        He cared for his family and was civil to his neighbours and anyone else he met.
        In fact he seemed very much like a normal human being, just like me.
        Never could figure him out, the sneaky bastard.

        • neill February 20, 2015 at 10:45 am #

          That made me smile Giordanobruno!

  10. ben madigan February 19, 2015 at 7:50 pm #

    my thoughts on this issue

  11. michael c February 19, 2015 at 11:43 pm #

    Neill,why would I make it up? Are you telling me that Unionists did’nt take advantage of the descrepency in fuel prices ? If you think they did’nt all I can say is that you must have lead a very sheltered life (probably in Bangor or somewhere of that ilk!)

    • neill February 20, 2015 at 10:48 am #

      You started off your story with “butcher apron” proceeded to mention “cavalier” which nobody has driven in years and finished with getting cheaper fuel who wouldn’t get cheaper fuel don’t you fill up just before you cross the border?

  12. Francis February 20, 2015 at 12:06 am #

    The Grand Old Orange Order and they’re colour codes. Ecumenical in spirit and Righteous to a man in pursuit of equity and the virtues of Christian fellowship. How can anyone ever question their integrity…? This is probably been one of their outreach project from the time of Davit and the Land League when the harvest agent Boycott was overseeing wilted as columns of the Brethren marched from Ulster but the bank was broke. The longevity of such approaches has stood the test of time. The Order are certainly showing signs of wilting from their heady days of supremacy…candour from Drew Nelson on his and the Loyal Orders naked sectarianism cannot but hasten the long overdue demise of this bitter anachronism. ‘Green shoots’ economists use to predict new potential upturns. Wilted grain perhaps better befits the state of the current Orders harvest and liberally do they continue to sow the mustard seeds of their own demise, praise be.

  13. Pointis February 20, 2015 at 1:18 pm #

    We should never accept this nasty, hateful, sectarian behaviour as normal or breeze over it just because our grandfather knew of its existence it should be confronted for what it is – a grouping of small minded, ignorant, wannabe pointy- heads.

    The English have the right idea, if this organisation existed in England to counted the interests of black people and prevent them buying land because of the encroachment of black families into areas which had previously been exclusively white they would be attacked and lambasted by every civil liberties group in the country yet we sit back and tacitly accept it as a fate accompli!

    Shame on us!