Sun, sea and ice cream as Orange Order on the march in Donegal
50 lodges enjoy peaceful day out in Rossnowlagh
It was a case of sun, sand, sea and sashes in Rossnowlagh on Saturday as thousands of Orangemen and women descended on the quiet seaside village to take part in a traditional Donegal Twelfth parade.
It was a case of sun, sand, sea and sashes in Rossnowlagh on Saturday as thousands of Orangemen and women descended on the quiet seaside village to take part in a traditional ‘Donegal Twelfth’ parade.
The rolling hills of Donegal provided the most scenic of backdrops as members representing some 50 lodges from across Ireland made their way down the narrow country road from St John’s Parish Church to the demonstration field on the edge of the Atlantic.
A handful of Garda officers in shirt sleeves kept a discreet and distant presence at the parade, directing traffic to the car parks and chatting with spectators. A relaxed DUP leader Arlene Foster perched up on a railing with friends to watch the parade pass by.
Supporters reclining on camp chairs six rows deep clapped politely as the brethren marched two miles down the hill, past unconcerned cows and reams of holiday homes into the village through the gathered stalls selling Union flags and novelty drums.
They filed past what looked like every ice cream van in the land towards the field. There, paraders came to a standstill as they were met with a metal barrier, not of the police variety, but an agriculture gate that someone had simply forgotten to unlatch.
In the field, a sermon and speeches celebrating King Billy’s victory at the Boyne was delivered to a natural backing track of rolling breakers on the shore just over the sand dunes.
After the sermon, delivered by Robert Campbell, County Antrim Deputy Grand Chaplin, the main speaker, Assistant Grand Master Stuart Brooker told the gathered brethren that if the Orange Order is to maintain its rightful place in society, it has to be promoted as good, positive, relevant and worthwhile to the wider community.
With the speeches made, many of the brethren cooled off in the sea. Small neat piles of bowler hats, suit jackets, socks and shoes lined the shore as they rolled up their trouser legs and took a dip in the ocean.
Many others nestled into the soft sand dune heath with cups of tea to soak up the atmosphere, take in the fresh Donegal sea air or have a snooze before the return march.
In the blistering sun, northern Orangemen and women conversed with their southern counterparts in the winding queues for the ice cream vans and the Portaloos respectively. For many present, the border was no barrier in the Orange family.
Joe Morton (70) from the Leitrim Orange Order said southern Orangemen were hard working family men who saw the order as an extension of their faith.
"Leitrim Orangemen are generally small farmers," he said. "They are industrious, they work away, they get on with their neighbours, they come out to the Twelfth in Enniskillen and other places. They enjoy it. It is an extension of their reformed religion.
"But you have got to feel like a minority in the south, especially when you are demonised by the media. After Drumcree, it gave a lot of people ammunition to attack the Orange Order.
"But the men in Leitrim, they have never been to Drumcree. They are just normal small farmers, normal family men, they go about their about their business and they wouldn’t want to annoy anybody."
"They are in the Orange Order because members of their family have been or because they want to be just in it, a religious grouping."
Ivan Walker (84) from the Killaghtee Temperance lodge says his entire family have been involved in the Orange Order for generations and that he has passed the tradition down to his own children. He says his Orange Hall has been standing since 1869 and is a hub of the community.
"My father, my brothers and my entire family are all in the Orange Order," he said. "We would be a minority, but we do not get any hassle. We kind of keep quiet down here. I would never have been at the Twelfth in Belfast, although I would have went to the one in Fermanagh.
"I am happy to be an Orangeman in the south. It’s an extension of my religion. I am in the Orange Order because it is a family tradition and I felt that I wanted to join it myself. I believe in the values and what it stands for. It feels like a family, like a community."
David Ramsey, a member of the Burt Faith Defenders in Donegal and a DUP councillor on Derry City and Strabane District Council, said that he loved the Donegal Twelfth "because of the relaxed atmosphere".
"I don’t think that there is much difference from being an Orangeman in the south and one in the north," he said. "But it’s more relaxed here. This is a really nice day out. We march down here, we go for a walk on the beach and we go for a meal in the hotel and then march back. Donegal is definitely different."
David Canning, from the same lodge, said that it’s important to celebrate Orangeism in Donegal to bolster a strong tradition that was being eroded.
"It is important to me that the Orange culture is celebrated here, because back 100 years ago the Orange Order was exceptionally prevalent here. There were lodges all over the county. The lodge in Bridgend was burned down in 1972 and moved into the Apprentice Boys Hall where we are now.
"There are not as many lodges in the south as there once was, but Donegal is getting much stronger here with a lot more young men joining. The Orange Order in Donegal is going from strength to strength."
Chris Pierce, originally from Georgia in the US, is a Church of Ireland clergyman based near Dunfanaghy and a member of the Raphoe Orange Lodge in Donegal. He says the order "feels like family".
"I joined the Orange Order when I came here to Donegal with my family," he said. "I find it fine. I got a very warm welcome. It feels like a family, that is the remarkable thing about it.
"It’s a men’s organisation that gather together, who are looking to hold on to parts of the past, from the standpoint of expressing their faith in a, here at least, very non-sectarian way. I don’t abide that sort of thing.
"As a matter of fact, I explained when people were talking to me about becoming a member that they needed to know that if I get a whiff of sectarianism I will not have anything to do with it.
"It’s been an enjoyable time, it is an extension of my faith. I have really embraced this culture. Christian culture is Christian culture."
But Stewart McClean who is a fifth generation Orangeman from the Newtowncunningham Orange Lodge in Donegal said that, at times, he has felt like an outsider in his own country.
"I feel that as an Orangeman in the south, you are merely tolerated, not fully accepted into society," he said.
"We are in the Orange family, but in the wider community we are not accepted.
"For example last week we laid a foundation stone for a new Orange Hall in Newtowncunningham after the previous one was burnt to the ground in an arson attack three years ago.
"Some of the comments on social media were very abusive and are now subject to a Garda investigation.
"As an Orangeman in Donegal I feel that the wider community does not fully embrace my culture.
"It seems to be still on the outside, even though the Proclamation of the Irish Republic says that all children of the state are equal. Still that has not come to be."
Andrew Deane (52), District Master Donegal District No 2, said he felt that southern Orangemen are a "different breed" to the brethren in the north.
"It means a lot to me to be an Orangeman," he said. "It’s just generation after generation of who we are in our family. It’s our tradition and our culture. It’s in our DNA at this stage and we are very proud of it.
"I think it’s a totally different thing from being an Orangeman in the north. Down here we are in the minority. We are undervalued as a tradition.
"I think the situation with Drumcree was very badly handled and the whole Orange Order suffered as a result. That representation of Orangemen and fighting and police is not what we are about.
"All the southern Orangemen are a totally different breed. I suppose the northern Orangemen are used to getting their own way up there and things have changed and the population has changed, they didn’t really change with it and they are having to meet with residents and talk. We never cause any offence to anyone here. This is our day."
Many of the Donegal brethren will join their northern counterparts to mark the 327th anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne on Wednesday in parades taking place across Northern Ireland.