Grand Secretary Mervyn and the importance of the Orange Order


I was listening to the  Grand Secretary of the Orange Order, Rev Mervyn Gibson, on Talkback today, and found myself wondering why a senior member of an anti-Catholic organisation should be given an extended on-air platform. Not that William Crawley didn’t pull him up on some of his more dopy comments, but that the Orange Order continues to be respected as a major political player.

It doesn’t reflect well on Unionism that this former RUC Special Branch man should receive such respectful attention; in at least three ways, the Orange Order is a grubby, sectarian institution.

Its origins are shameful. It was born in Armagh in 1795 as part of an armed terror campaign to deny Catholics civil rights. Fearful of the coming together of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, in the United Irishmen, the Order was devised to drive a wedge between Protestant and Catholic. In that same year of 1795,  7,000 Catholics were driven out of Armagh by the Order.

At its inception (when thirty Catholics were killed) and since, it has given working-class Protestants a day of leisure, where they can rub elbows with ‘quality’ Protestants and at the same time look down on Catholics.

Its history down the decades has shown a consistent pattern of anti-Catholicism, often accompanied by violence. In 1797 fourteen Catholics were killed at a parade in Stewartstown.  Here’s the Armagh Magistrate William Hancock’s judgement of the Order in the nineteenth century :

“For some time past the peaceable inhabitants of the parish of Drumcree have been insulted and outraged by large bodies of Orangemen parading the highways, playing party tunes, firing shots, and using the most opprobrious epithets they could invent … a body of Orangemen marched through the town and proceeded to Drumcree church, passing by the Catholic chapel though it was a considerable distance out of their way.”

Ah, Drumcree. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Orange Order rules mean no Catholic can become a member (yes, Virginia, I know, I know). No member can have a Catholic spouse, attend a Catholic church. For most of one hundred years, the prime minister of NEI was an Orangeman. One such, Craigavon, boasted that he was “an Orangeman first, and a politician and a member of parliament afterwards. “  And even that nice Orangeman Captain Terence O’Neill advertised for “a Protestant girl” to clean his house.

In its origin, in its rules, in its history, the Order is unapologetically No-Pope-Here. I bet the Ku Klux Khlan are seething that they don’t get comparable air-time.

3 Responses to Grand Secretary Mervyn and the importance of the Orange Order

  1. Another Jude April 10, 2024 at 10:25 pm #

    The order’s obsession with all things Catholic borders on the criminally insane. Muslims and indeed Jews only think they get it bad in the UK, over here a tiny little economically untenable statelet was set up on the premise of being mostly non Catholic. The government, the judiciary, the police, all were anti Irish, anti Nationalist, anti Catholic. Mervyn Gibson is entitled to his views but he is not entitled to privilege. Not any more. He is just the same as everybody else. Which sort of goes against the orange grain.

  2. Nosuchanaplace April 11, 2024 at 8:21 am #

    Ah for the heady days of Drumcree. When the province came to a standstill. When bread was rationed so the men in the front line would not go short. How things change in thirty years. How they will change in the next thirty.

  3. hannah graham April 11, 2024 at 8:35 am #

    Time to rethink the role of the Orange Order given its history. It is an outdated organisation no longer fit for the 21st century.