The Orange Order: A Contemporary Northern Irish History

By Eric P. Kaufmann | Go to book overview

6

The Battle of Drumcree

In 1995, the Orange Order entered an increasingly turbulent phase of its existence, fraught with danger for the organization. On the face of it, this is a puzzling development. Republican guns had largely fallen silent with the IRA ceasefire negotiated through back-channel diplomacy between Dublin, London, the SDLP, and Sinn Fein. This process may have alienated Unionists from the British, but it should not have threatened the Order. The problem was that the decline of IRA and Protestant paramilitary violence was accompanied by new 'proxy wars' based on local-level conflict. This built upon the familiar Troubles story of 'ethnic cleansing' in urban residential areas or rural tracts, involving Republican or Loyalist intimidation of the local minority, beginning with threats or abuse and escalating through beatings and firebombing of homes to plain murder.

Increasingly, however, conflicts over marching were gaining in prominence. This was partly due to a strategic move on the part of Sinn Fein/IRA to transfer the theatre of conflict with Unionists to the local level. This was to be achieved by mobilizing the residents of Catholic areas into 'residents' groups' to resist Orange marches.1 Having said this, one must bear in mind the fact that Orange marches had never been popular with Catholics. Though Catholics often watched Orange marches in certain areas during the preTroubles period, the history of the province had been marred for over a century by conflicts between marchers (Orange or Republican) and aggrieved residents.2 As Kennaway notes:

Most thinking people within and without the Institution knew very well that to say that
we would 'walk out [sic] traditional routes' was simply nonsense. With demographic
changes over the years many routes had been either changed or abandoned. The Orange
Order in County Londonderry had not walked in Dungiven since the 1960's …Belfast
Orangemen had not walked past Holy Cross Roman Catholic Chapel, in Ardoyne,
since the early 1970's…Sandy Row…had not walked down their 'traditional' route
of the Grosvenor Road since the early 1970's, when the police told them that they
could no longer guarantee their protection. Parades in Coalisland had been long since
abandoned. Apart from the megalomania of some Portadown Orange leaders, what was
so special about the Garvaghy Road?3

-149-

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