[Sinn Fein]

8 July 1996


Briefly, the Marching Season is a triumphant sectarian occasion, a declaration of faith in the Protestant succession to the British throne. This was decreed following the ouster in 1689 of King James II of the house of Stuart (because he was Catholic), also known as the Whig Revolution. At this time Parliament rather than the Monarch, achieved precedence in power. More correctly, both Parliament and the Monarch ruled and reigned in tandem.

Politically, this took Britain, though not Ireland, along a road which led to an evolved democracy. In Ireland, it saw the triumph of William of Orange, a Dutch prince married to King James II's daughter Mary. The British Parliament, then controlled by the Whig great landowners, drove the Catholic James II from the throne and installed William and Mary in his place also in 1689. The Protestant Succession Act then declared that only a Protestant could reign.

The Irish, apart from the settlers in Ulster, supported James, who as a Catholic granted them freedom of religion and restored the Irish Parliament. His main backing was supplied by the Irish army and a French expeditionary force. The Protestant settlers of Ulster supported William - hence, the title ``Orangemen'' - although the society as such was not founded until 1775, following the so-called Battle of the Diamond, north of Armagh City, between Protestant and Catholic tenants. Although the Orange Society, now the Orange Order, opposed the act of the Union between Ireland and England in 1800, it has traditionally favored laws against Catholics and Irish nationalists. It supports the union with Britain - hence the term ``unionist.''

The Battle of the Boyne in 1690 resulted in King William of Orange's victory over James II. The Irish Army fought valiantly for James because it believed this would give Ireland - then an independent kingdom - autonomy from England, which was the stronger power.

James II, however, returned to France, after the Boyne, while the Irish fought on until 1691 when their general Patrick Sarsfield signed a treaty with King William's Dutch general Ginvel, permitting freedom of religion, provided the Irish army went into exile in France. (This is the origin of ``the Wild Geese''). The Treaty of Limerick was observed for only as long as the Irish Army remained in Ireland.

The Penal Laws against Irish Catholics were then introduced and continued in one form or another until 1829 when Catholic Emancipation was granted by the British Parliament to prevent - as then Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington put it - civil war.

Under this infamous code the law did not recognize ``the existence'' in law of an Irish Roman Catholic, according to two Chief Justices of Ireland in the 1740s. The most zealous backers of the penal code were the members of the Orange Order.

The Orange Order is all-powerful in the Six Counties with strong backing in the British corridors of power. It has opposed, up to the present, full civil rights for Catholics. Many judges, members of Parliament, civil servants and police are members of the Orange Order. David Trimble, leader of the Unionist Party, is a member. The grand master of the order is a leading Unionist.


The northern Six Counties's Marching season begins at Easter and continues to the end of August. There are between 2500 and 3000 processions and parades altogether in every city, town and village in the North. Outsiders can find the whole thing puzzling and its banners bewildering.

The Orange Marches are designed to demonstrate the power of the order in the life of Ulster. The symbols of power are the beating of big drums and the shouting of sectarian slogans, such as ``Croppies (rebels), lie down'' and ``Taigs (Catholics) out.'' The marchers go through Catholic areas and often provoke riots. It was the result of these demonstrations of bigotry that led to the Northern crisis 30 years ago when the Royal Ulster Constabulary (police) permitted Orange attacks on Catholic neighborhoods in Derry (referred to as Londonderry by Orangemen), Belfast, and most towns in the North.

Irish Republicans believe that the British Tory party, which has been in government for most of these years, uses the Orange order to maintain its rule in the Six Counties. Sinn Fein, as a non-sectarian political party, deplores the triumphalistic slogans that are part of the Orange parades. But Sinn Fein also believes in the Orange right to march - even against a secular, independent Ireland, which is the goal of Sinn Fein. However, Sinn Fein utterly opposes the routing of Orange marches through areas where these parades are unwelcome. The tense stand-offs and provocations which result deliberately wreak havoc, anger and sectarian bitterness throughout the summer.

Sinn Fein Press Office, 44 Parnell Square, Dublin 1
Tel: +353-1-8726100 and +353-1-8726839   ·   Fax +353-1-8733074
E-mail: sinnfein@irlnet.com   ·   Website: http://www.sinnfein.org

Released in the US by:

Friends of Sinn Fein, 510 C Street, NE, Washington DC 20002
Tel: +1-202-547-8883   ·   Fax +1-202-547-7889
E-mail: eirefree@aol.com   ·   Website: http://www.sinnfein.org

Sinn Fein   ·   Sinn Fein Documents
Web publication by rm@serve.com
Web archival by iig@www.utexas.edu