Saturday 7 December 2019

The forgotten Orange Lodges of Cork recalled in history

Concubhar Ó Liathain

The history of the Orange Order in County Cork - or the Derry of the South - is recounted in a booklet as Gaeilge which was launched during the Irish language Oireachtas festival in Dublin recently.

According to the book, written by Orange Order historian and Queens University academic Quencey Dougan, there were Orange lodges throughout the 'Rebel County' up to the War of Independence in 1921.

While the town of Bandon was the stronghold for the Orange Order in Cork, the organisation, which is exclusively for members of Protestant faiths, was also active in Mallow, Fermoy, Charleville, Millstreet, Mitchelstown, Macroom, Bantry, Clonakilty, Cobh, Carrigaline. Youghal and Ballincollig as well as Cork City.

According to Quencey, there isn't a lot of detailed knowledge about the Cork lodges other than to say they were active and they have the names of the district masters in the various lodges.

"In Mallow the mainstay of Orangeism in the early 19th century was Colonel John Longfield of Longueville," he said.

"The Mallow Orange Lodge survived into the 1870's."

In North Cork the most prolific lodge in terms of activity and survival was LOL 1677 in Fermoy. Records indicate it was active until the 1880's. The Sherriff family was very active, with William Sherriff - owner of the Royal Hotel- a long time leader.

Mitchelstown and Millstreet Lodges had already folded by the 1850's.

"There are indeed currently no Orange Lodges in Cork, but several Cork men are still members of the institution, and work with either the Dublin Orange Lodge or Lodges in Northern Ireland."

Obviously the Orange Order's role in Irish history, north and south, has been controversial with several flashpoints since it's establishment in Portadown in the latter part of the 18th century. The organisation was banned for a period in the 19th century but has played a significant role at key moments in Irish history.

While the Orange Order has dwindled to just a handful of lodges in Dublin, Wicklow and the border counties, the Order has hundreds of lodges in Northern Ireland where there is a parades season every Summer. In the 1990s flashpoints such as a standoff at Drumcree near Portadown led to often violent protests throughout the six counties.

More recently the Orange Order has expressed strong opinions supporting Brexit and opposing an Irish Language Act, widely perceived as the issue which could unlock the ongoing stalemate leading to a restoration of the Stormont power sharing Assembly.

Back to Cork, however, and while Quencey believes the Orange Order's role in the county's history can be viewed more objectively now and with less historical rancour involved, that doesn't mean the Orange Order will re-establish anytime soon in the county.

In his view, such is the antipathy towards the organisation, it wouldn't be safe for people who would like to support or join it to do so openly.

"In my work on Orangeism in the Republic of Ireland, and in my several visits to Cork, I have encountered many Cork men who expressed they would love to be in a Lodge but feel they would lose friends, it would have an impact on their work, would affect their families negatively and even could impact on safety," he said.

The decline of Cork Orangeism began in the Land War period, he explained.

"Even though Cork had a large protestant population, outside a few centres it was very dispersed making it difficult for those with a disposition towards Orangeism to meet during a period when the majority of the County was antagonistic to the perceived politics of all 'Orangemen'.

With a continual series of political battle-zones of the following decades this scenario never lifted, all the time those willing to put their heads above the parapet becoming smaller in number.

"The onset of the Anglo-Irish War put the final nail in the coffin, with it now believed, with some justification, that being 'orange' could cost you your life.

"The last ever County Grand Master of Cork's home was attacked in Cork City in the early 1920's on the 12th of July.

"His wife died in the attack."

Quency feels that the 'stereotypes and perceptions are now so deeply entrenched that there are very few people willing to openly profess sympathy with Orangeism in most Southern Counties'. "Cork is no exception," said Quencey.

"There are many who do feel affinity whether religiously, culturally or because of family history, but they are genuinely scared to become openly involved," he added, saying that this was something all of of us should reflect on in the modern era.

"There should be no caveats on equality and respect.

"There is nothing intrinsically offensive in Orangeism.

"It is most certainly more benign and benevolent than the hard fringes of Irish Republicanism." Quencey disclosed that his work in the Republic of Ireland and in Cork, he has "encountered many Cork men who expressed they would love to be in a Lodge but feel they would lose friends'.

"It would have an impact on their work, would affect their families negatively and even could impact on safety," he claimed.

The book was translated into Irish by a prominent Irish language academic and supporter of the DUP and unionism, Dr. Ciarán Ó Coigligh.

During the launch at the City West Hotel at the Oireachtas Festival, there were walkouts by Conradh na Gaeilge members who objected to an English language event at the festival. The rules of the festival prohibit any English being spoken at scheduled events. Protesters raised the opposition of the Orange Order to an Irish Language Act in the North.