It must rank as one of the most bizarre spectacles in the Republic of Ireland … mainly because you do not really expect it. The annual Orange Order parade in the town of Rossnowlagh, a seaside “resort” in County Donegal, also known as the “Back of Beyond”.
On the Saturday just before July 12th, hundreds of Loyalists and Unionists congregate here, to highlight their (at times legitimate, at times slightly outdated) concerns, hopes, and traditions. It is a sight you normally associate with the more staunchly Protestant areas in Northern Ireland. Banners, marching bands, sashes, bowler hats. And always the slight whiff of a not-really-inclusive event, though leading lights of the movement may pose with placards against racism and, much more important, sectarianism.
As if the Orange Order per se is not a sectarian organisation …
Or is it? On the website of the Orange Order (yes, they have arrived in the 21st century) you can read about “a Protestant fraternity”. Which sounds innocent. But already is exclusive in two ways – it is Protestant, and they are “fratres“, brothers, a boys’ club. And it highlights the tradition, still upheld, of being victims … founded “1795, following the culmination of attacks on Protestants in County Armagh at the Battle of the Diamond”. It is about defence. Of a way of life. Nothing more. Or is it?
The step into modern times is a bit awkward, as the Orange Order still declares its roots in self-defence. And religion.
In modern times the Loyal Orange Institution continues to function, with thousands of members in Ireland many others across the world. Today defending Protestantism is not so literal as it was in 1795, but it requires us to take a stand for truth in an age of secularism and in order to defend our culture and traditions.
“Truth” … always a dangerous word in a religious context. While the Orangemen might see “truth” in one system of belief, the jihadists in the Middle East see the same in another. Which “truth” is more valid? The jury is still out on that, I guess.
Another snippet of information is is less hard-line, more open to others:
Members of the Orange Institution are pledged to uphold the Protestant faith and liberty under the law. They are neither bigots nor extremists. Standing for tolerance and compassion towards all they also stand for the underlying principle of the Christian faith and the dignity and rights of the individual.
“Under the law”, “tolerance”, “the dignity and rights of the individual”. Hey, I can relate to that. But then some marching band goes and plays “Kick the Pope”. D’oh!
Anyway, if you want to see the Orange Order parading in a safe (and even idyllic) environment, Rossnowlagh is the place to go. It is not dangerous. The atmosphere is generally relaxed. And they’ll not require a blood oath of you. So, yeah, go along. There are even ice cream vans … I guess it could be called a “family event”.
For those who want to go – the parade is on the last Saturday before July 12th, official start is around midday, but marchers and supporters will start arriving early in the morning. Parking can be a problem if you arrive late (there can even be traffic jams, this corner of Donegal is not the most accessible) … in general follow the signs.
The parade will usually wind its way through fields from the Protestant church (near Rossnowlagh Crossroads) down to the beach, where it ends with a religious service. Depending on the number of participants, the whole parade will take about an hour to pass by.