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Sunday, August 20, 2017
Date Posted:

Days of Deliverance Part 14: The Providential rise of the Orange Order: The basis of Rome’s Slander exposed

Dr Clive Gillis

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chr. 7:14

THE ORANGE ORDER was so effective, both as a bulwark against the encroachments of Romanism and in ensuring the defeat of the Republicans in the 1798 Irish Rebellion, that Rome was eventually forced to break cover and condemn the organisation formally. 

The Catholic Truth Society (CTS) often ignores Protestant activities until it is absolutely certain that they are a significant threat, lest it draw attention to them.  At the end of the nineteenth century it dealt with most matters in small, dark, navy blue booklets containing perhaps ten articles in the compass of a hundred pages or so.  When Fr H W Cleary’s vitriolic condemnation, The Orange Order, appeared for the British public in 1899, the author craftily called himself the Reverend H W Cleary.  Obviously Rome was rattled.  This publication was a much larger, ‘small folio’ sized volume, 456 pages long and with a lurid Orange cover to attract the widest attention.  It carried the standard, plain, London-issue, CTS title page to give it an air of academic respectability.

The British Empire

This was an English edition of a work that had gone through ten editions in as many years in Australia, where the Orange movement had been very successful in opposing Romanism.  With each edition Fr Clearly sharpened the impact of his pen.  For instance in his preface to the fourth edition, newly enlarged by 40 pages, he speaks of “the notoriously crooked way of Orange witnesses … the founts of Justice are habitually poisoned by Orange magistrates and jurymen … The ways of justice in the Orange portions of Ulster, have for over a century been a scandal to the country and the despair of honest administrations.”  Just how an Australian priest could claim expertise in Irish affairs, from the other side of the world, is amazing.  In his preface Fr Cleary thanked the Catholic and non-Catholic press of several of the Colonies for their reviews.  The non-Catholic press were no doubt confused by his failing to state that he was a priest.  Clearly he had succeeded in disseminating his diatribe widely in the Empire.  Now it was time to assail England.

Its origins slandered

Fr Cleary devotes a great deal of space to the origins of the Orange movement which came into being as a recognisable body in 1795.  James Wilson, an independent scholar, wrote in 1998, “When Fr Cleary’s The Orange Order was published in 1899, its primary purpose was to expose the Order’s sectarian record in Australia and New Zealand, but coupled with this was a scathing accusation that, back in Ireland, the gentlemen and respectable middle-class Unionists of the day were in open association with an organisation founded by an unreformed gang of Armagh cut-throats.”

The waters were further muddied by one of the movement’s own early historians, Ogle Robert Gowan, who published his Annals in 1825.  Gowan’s account gave the false impression of upper class origins.  By 1825 Gowan was entering Canadian politics and wished to make use of his position as the first Grand Master of North American to further his prospects amongst Ontario Protestants.

In order to refute Fr Cleary’s charge that the Orange order was founded upon “delinquency” and “lawless and most disgraceful conduct” and “acts of the greatest outrage and barbarity” we must turn to the findings of an author called Wright.  Wright does not make allowance for Gowan’s memory perhaps being faulty, but instead accuses Gowan of saying what those around him “wanted to hear”. 

So, asks Wright, “What damage did the acceptance of Gowan’s falsification do to our understanding? … Gowan can be credited with … the incorporation of the major gentry families into the thick of the early action … (This proved) useful … for Ulster Unionists during the Home Rule Crisis when both middle and upper classes flocked into the Orange fold”.  But more damaging was “Gowan’s model of an Orange Society which originated with the peasantry but quickly passed to gentry control”.  Unfortunately this “model” laid the origins of the Orange order open to just such attacks as that of Fr Cleary.

‘Cut throats’ Admittedly, there did arise, under Romanist provocation, some very violent men in the Protestant peasantry.  And regrettably it was to these violent Protestants that the origins of the Orange Order have been ascribed, even by prominent historians who should have known better, which suits Rome well.  This matter is of major importance to our readers for it, as we contend, the origin of the Order was a remarkable move of God towards a glorious Day of Deliverance in 1798, it was hardly likely that the Lord was going to bless the efforts of “cut-throats” whatever their motives and profession.

Peasants driven to desperation

From 1760 onwards, as the middle and upper classes indulged in the republicanism and freemasonry of the Enlightenment, the peasants were being driven to desperation by the shortage of agricultural land.   About 76% of the population were cottiers (a tenant holding land as the highest bidder) or labourers dependent on the land.  “At the root of these animosities was the fact that nearly everywhere in Ireland the population n the land was greater than the existing system of agriculture could support.  This chronic land hunger was aggravated by a form of land holding that discouraged improvement.  The land was often rented by a middle man from an absentee landlord; then sublet periodically in small holdings, to the highest bidder, without consideration for the former occupants.”

A traveller, rather later, observed, “The hovels which the poor people were building as I passed, solely by their own efforts, were of the most abject description; their walls were formed, in several instances, by the backs of fences; the floors sunk in ditches; the height scarcely enough for a man to stand upright; poles not thicker than a broomstick for couples; a few pieces of grass sods the only covering; and these extending only partially over the thing called a roof; the elderly people miserably clothed, the children all but naked.”

Since the majority of the population was Roman Catholic so were the majority of these cotters and labourers”.

Catholic Irish v. Catholic Irish

To this day Irish woes are regularly laid at the door of rich English Protestant absentee landlords.  But another writer says, “The employer and landlord of the rural poor was not the Anglo gentry, but the Irish Catholic middle class of farmers of two distinct types.  In less economically-developed areas, like most of Connaught, ‘middlemen’ tenants on a long, stable lease, Catholic/Irish, relics of the deposed (Roman Catholic rebel) aristocracy and who were declining, still collected rent from subsistence peasants, profited through subletting and stood between the rural gentry and the poor.  The second group were the farming (Roman Catholic) middle class that arose in this period via commercial agriculture for an international market.”  So when trouble arose as inevitably it would “most rural violence and agitation was class-based, of Catholic Irish vs Catholic Irish.”

The Whiteboys

So it was that the illegal, violent, peasant organisation, the Whiteboys – so called because they dressed in white uniforms – arose about 1760 in Munster.  The Whiteboys were Roman Catholic peasants.  The movement arose, “due to the indignation caused by the action of landowners in enclosing common lands previously reserved for grazing by the country-people’s animals”.  The penal laws prevented Roman Catholics possessing arms. But the rise of Volunteering meant that there were arms aplenty in Protestants hands.  “They (the Whiteboys) were armed with guns, swords and pistols of which they plundered Protestants, and they marched through the country in military array, preceded by the music of bagpipes”.

The Whiteboys “committed dreadful barbarities on such persons as hesitated to obey their mandates or refused to join their confederacy, they cut out their tongues, amputated their noses or ears, they made them ride many miles in night on horseback naked and bare backed, they buried them naked in graves lined with furze, up to their chins, the plundered and often burned houses, they houghed and maimed cattle, they seized arms and horses, and levied (? protection) money”.


The primary cause of the Whiteboy uprisings was “economic”.  But modern historians are at variance with the old Protestant historians when they insist that “there is no evidence the Whiteboys were influenced by papal, Jacobite (those seeking to reinstate the Romanist Stuart Dynasty) or French agents.”

On the contrary, older historian Froude says, “Behind the agrarian riots lay treason, political and religious, and the wrongs of the exasperated peasantry were only the instruments of intriguing and more dangerous incendiaries”.  Sir Richard Musgrave, the careful Protestant Historian of the 1798 Rebellion points out that the Whiteboys were encouraged and often headed, “by persons of their own persuasion of some consideration”.  It this were not so it seems unlikely that poor Roman Catholics would have described the Whiteboys as “an Oath bound secret society”.

Musgrave says, “In their nocturnal perambulations, they enlisted or pressed into their service every person of their own religion, who was capable of serving them, and bound them by oaths of secrecy, of fidelity and allegiance to the French King and (Stuart) Prince Charles the Pretender to the throne of England”.  The priests showed the superstitious peasants no mercy by continuing to exact “exorbitant fees” for all their services, thus compounding their poverty.  The priests’ action only makes sense if we believe Musgrave when he says, “it appeared that they (the priests) were deeply concerned in encouraging and fomenting them (the Whiteboys), in the commission of outrages.”

Musgrave reproduces examinations of those interrogated in connection with Whiteboy outrages to support his claim (see Box).

Violent Protestants shunned

The Orange Historian, Sibbett is very sympathetic to the desperation of the Whiteboys but rightly says that “the remedy” for their “suffering” ought not to have been sought in “violence robbery and murder”.  And he certainly was not partisan, for when, 20 years later, unrest turned into open sectarian strife (which was, no doubt, the design of Rome from the beginning) and poor Protestants resorted to equally violent retaliation, Sibbett is again sympathetic, but just as ready to condemn Protestant violence, as do the Lord’s people today.  Sibbett commends with pride the fact that the violent Protestants “were shunned by all respectable adherents of the two great Protestant Churches, who had no connection whatsoever with their offences”.

Rome has taken advantage of the confusion of this period and the lack of clear historical records, to slander Irish Protestantism by putting it about that the newly risen Orange Order was just these same Protestant thugs under a new guise of respectability.  That is exactly the thesis of Fr Cleary and, if true, makes their distinguished historian Sibett a hypocrite.  We shall look at this important question carefully in the next article. DV.

The Examination of Matthias O’Brien of the City of Kilkenny, popish Priest

Sworn   before me, this 24th of January 1768, THOMAS BUTLER, Mayor of Kilkenny.

In another information, Matthias O’Brien swore, that (Roman Catholic) Doctor Butler, titular archbishop of Cashel, assured him that the cause of the white boys was the cause of God and their holy religion, undertaken to restore (Stuart) prince Charles to the throne of his ancestors, and their ancient faith to its primitive purity … large contributions were frequently made for him (Butler) and the rest of the popish clergy … under the pretext … that a popish college should soon be erected in Dublin …. but for the sole purpose of supporting the white boys … the informant as a priest …. has reasons to be convinced …. the grand scheme of these insurrections of the white boys …. was to raise a general rebellion against his majesty, and the established government of this kingdom, and to massacre all the protestants therein at a certain hour.

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