Ireland - Enniskillen - The Orange Order
Jul 11, 2004
|July 12th was my birthday. I wasn't sure why, but it was also a public holiday in Northern Ireland. I thought they were just planning a big birthday celebration for me (thank you Ireland!) but eventually I found out the truth ... July 12th was the day the Battle of the Boyne was won in 1690, and the Orange Order still celebrates the victory to this day.
The Battle of the what? and the Orange who?
Okay, so how many of you know what they are? Well, I don't see too many hands up in the air, so it appears I'm not the only less-than-brilliant one in the crowd for a change.
It probably won't surprise you that it relates to religion and politics...
In 1685, James II (a Scot and Catholic) became king, but was forced to flee the country as his outspoken Catholic ways greatly upset his Protestant subjects. The throne was handed over to William of Orange (a Dutchman and Protestant). In 1689, James returned to Ireland hoping to reclaim his throne. His army marched north, William's army marched south, and they met in the middle at an area called the Boyne Valley. On 12th July 1690 the "Battle of the Boyne" was fought, and William of Orange's Protestant army kicked butt and defeated James' Catholic forces.
Founded in 1795, the Orange Order is the largest Protestant organization in Northern Ireland. The name commemorates William of Orange's victory in 1690. Orange Order marches take place throughout the country on 12th July each year in celebration of this victory.
I had travelled southeast from Donegal Town to Enniskillen in County Fermanagh.
Enniskillen is a nice little place, actually an island that connects Upper Lough Erne and Lower Lough Erne (by the way, a "lough" is a lake, and is pronounced "lock"). They say there are 365 different islands in these lakes; as a result the area is very popular for fishing and watersports. It's also the home of some of Ireland's great writers and poets, Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett having both lived here.
But, sadly, Enniskillen is more familiar as it's the place where an IRA bomb killed 11 people during a war memorial ceremony on Remembrance Day in 1987. The hostel where I stayed at was in fact built exactly on the old bomb site.
Things were pretty quiet around Enniskillen over 12th July holiday weekend, the sidewalks were pretty much rolled up and I was forced to relax for a few days. Most tour companies, ferries and attractions were closed or on very limited operations.
Despite ominous stormclouds and rainshowers, I visited Devenish Island, the largest of several "holy" islands in Lower Lough Erne where remains of a 6th century Augustinian monastery exist, along with a 12th century round tower, and 15th century church, abbey and celtic high cross. But holiday shut downs prevented me from visiting White Island where a row of Celtic stone figures from the 6th century are found (sort of like mini Easter island statues).
I met a couple of fellas from Belfast at the Enniskillen hostel. They were planning to attend the march in Lisbellaw, a small village just outside of Enniskillen, and since they had a car I begged a lift. After all, it was my birthday, I needed to see what this national event was all about.
The march was larger than we expected, with about 25-30 groups (or "lodges" as they're called) represented. Each lodge was led by 4-6 lodge members carrying their lodge banner. Marchers wore business suits, black bowler hats, white gloves and orange collarettes. Some also wore orange cuff pieces. A marching band associated with each lodge followed the banner carriers -- I saw a mixture of brass, bagpipe, flute and even accordian marching bands. Behind the band walked 2 smart rows of lodge members, varying in length, also in bowler hats and orange collarettes. This same formation was repeated for each lodge.
After walking through town, the marchers then gathered in a nearby field where political speeches took place. We decided to skip this part, feeling we'd already had enough excitement for one day.
Here in County Fermanagh the march had almost a festive parade atmosphere. But Roger and Thomas, my Belfast buddies, said that things would likely be quite different in Belfast. Locals often leave Belfast during the marches, either to avoid the extra traffic and volume of people that the marches bring into Belfast, or simply because the local Catholics still don't like to see Protestants marching through town. Tensions run high and fights often break out.
I was very happy to be in Northern Ireland to witness an Orange Order march. And hey, how many of you can say you had marching bands and a national holiday on your birthday?!