Academic journal article Eire-Ireland: a Journal of Irish Studies

Orangeism in Scotland: Unionism, Politics, Identity, and Football

Academic journal article Eire-Ireland: a Journal of Irish Studies

Orangeism in Scotland: Unionism, Politics, Identity, and Football

Article excerpt

For almost two hundred years the Orange Institution has been a feature of the religious, social, and cultural life of West Central Scotland. Although a matter of some contention, the Order has developed a powerful political meaning in Scotland, affecting the political allegiances and identities of a wide variety of constituencies. Despite an Irish birth, the Orange Institution has at its core a uniquely Ulster-Scottish perception of both its own constitution and its function to British identity.


The data much of this study is based upon derives from an attitudinal survey designed to elicit the background and attitudes of a sample of members of the Loyal Orange Institution of Scotland. Over the course of 1990, I surveyed one hundred and eleven members from the four defined Orange counties of Scotland: Ayrshire, Glasgow, Central Scotland, and the East of Scotland. The survey and subsequent interviews took place at Orange meetings and social clubs. For comparative purposes, I surveyed members of the Church of Scotland and other prominent and relevant Scottish groups such as Catholic Church attenders and football fans.

The initial sections of this paper briefly look at the historical evolution, social structures and demographic characteristics of Scottish Orangeism. Because anti-Catholicism is so central to Orange ideology and practice in Scotland, I will proceed to examine Orange perceptions of Catholicism and the way these notions shape political attitudes. To extend the exploration of unionist culture in Scotland beyond the realm of formal and informal politics, the data also references the attitudes and identities of the supporters of the Glasgow Rangers Football Club. The essay concludes with a discussion of the political, cultural, and social parameters of Orange identity and its place in modern Scotland.


Originating in the north of Ireland in the 1790s as a response to the rise of Catholic popular politics, the Orange Order was a pan-Protestant institution designed to protect Protestant privilege in Ireland and Britain. It was first brought to Scotland by soldiers returning to south Ayrshire from their duties in Ireland. The Order spread quickly; by 1807 there were Orange lodges in Maybole, Tarbolton, Wigtown, Girvan, Stranraer and Argyle, and by 1813 one in Glasgow. In 1821 the first ceremonial parade took place in Glasgow. The following year police and military had to intervene as Irish Catholics confronted the marchers; 1824 witnessed the first Twelfth of July demonstration to take place in Lanarkshire in the town of Airdrie. Due to the violence that Orange marches produced, it was not until the 1840s that such parades were allowed to return.

Scotland had its own long and potent tradition of anti-Catholicism. Its "equivalent" of the early institution in Ireland was the Protestant Association, an "ill-defined amalgam of extra-religious and extra parliamentary forces," whose sole intention was to block any movement toward Catholic relief. (1) The power and significance of the anti-Catholic tradition in Scotland can be seen by looking at the demographic make-up of late eighteenth-century Glasgow. As two separate studies have noted, in the 1790s there were actually more anti-Catholic societies in Glasgow than Catholics! (2)

Despite these common religious and cultural ties, the Orange Order struggled to attach itself to the potent forces of Scottish anti-Catholicism. Unlike its Irish counterpart, Scottish Orangeism never became the primary mechanism for respectable Protestant politics, a fact that helps to explain the Order's relative weakness in modern Scotland. As Elaine McFarland explains:

   By the early 1860s Orangeism in Scotland had gained a high public
   profile, but largely in terms of a "party" or fighting society and
   certainly not as a credible organisational mechanism for propagating
   militant Protestantism. … 
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