The Many Shades of Orange

By Armstrong, C. D. C. | The Spectator, June 19, 1999 | Go to article overview

The Many Shades of Orange


Armstrong, C. D. C., The Spectator


THE FAITHFUL TRIBE

by Ruth Dudley Edwards

HarperCollins, 17.99, pp. 448

Ruth Dudley Edwards is a writer of notable range and versatility. The author of a history of the Economist and biographies of Victor Gollancz, James Connolly and Patrick Pearse (the last an especially controversial work), she has also written a number of highly entertaining detective novels. In The Faithful Tribe she has produced perhaps her most unusual and interesting work to date, a study of the Orange Order and the two other `loyal institutions', the Apprentice Boys and the Royal Black Institution. What makes this book unusual is its author's background: Dudley Edwards is now an atheist, but was raised as a Catholic in a well-known Dublin academic family. Some readers may be surprised, therefore, to learn that her book is in general sympathetic rather than hostile.

Ruth Dudley Edwards once shared the opinion of the loyal institutions that is commonly held outside Protestant Ulster; she writes that to her they once `represented thuggish, stupid, sectarian bigotry'. But a closer acquaintance gained over the past decade or so has led her to think and write of Orangeism with greater sympathy and understanding. The book's subtitle, `An Intimate Portrait of the Loyal Institutions', is entirely appropriate. Dudley Edwards has enjoyed the hospitality of Orangemen and has attended Orange marches. In the process she has become a more enthusiastic and able advocate for the loyal institutions than most of their members, and she has come under fire from both sides. Tim Pat Coogan, the journalist and Republican sympathiser, called her `Orange Nell' (presumably confusing `Orange Lil' with 'Eskimo Nell'). Joel Patton, the sometime leader of the extremist Spirit of Drumcree group, improbably denounced her as an agent of MI6 and the Irish government.

The Faithful Tribe is a strange (and not entirely successful) mixture: it comprises the `intimate portrait' of the subtitle; an account of Orange customs; a potted history of the Reformation; an account of the Orange Order's history which draws in part on still unpublished research; a detailed study of the first century of a Lisburn Orange Lodge; and a very valuable chronicle of the Drumcree crises of the last four years. The book's first part is deeply affectionate. Dudley Edwards writes, `If you've never heard the Eton Boating Song played by fife and drum, you haven't lived.' (Some readers may feel grateful that they have never lived.) However, her affection is reserved for the responsible members of the loyal institutions. One of the book's heroes is the Reverend William Bingham, a leading moderate Orangeman. For the extremists and rabble-rousers her contempt is undisguised. …

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