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Sunday, August 20, 2017
Date Posted:

Days of Deliverance Part 15: The Providential Rise of the Orange Order: Rome’s Slander Soundly Refuted

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

We have seen that before the 1798 Rebellion the middle and upper classes in Ireland had been wooed from historical Protestantism by so-called Enlightenment ideas, particularly Masonry.

Traditional loyalties were completely distorted by the rise of the Volunteer regiments which were at first Protestant but later sought to enlist Roman Catholics and make common cause with them under a banner of republicanism.  The result was a growing alienation from the Crown and the Protestant succession, and in their place the courting of the French and of the Americans.  Rebellion was in the air.  Yet in the midst of much uncertainty and confusion, one clear line was drawn as 1798 approached, and that was the appearance of the Orange Order.

Peep-‘o-Day Boys

But first we must mention the Peep-‘o-Day Boys.  They were violent, poor Protestants and notorious because of their distinctive title and for their activities.  They arose at about the same time that the Lord miraculously resurrected the Williamite spirit amongst Protestant loyalists, leading to the rise of the Orange Order.

Confusion with the Peep-‘o-Day Boys was therefore inevitable and in this confusion Rome saw her chance to slander the Orange movement which was a substantial and crucial Protestant force in Ireland at the end of the nineteenth century when the slanders came to a head.

Thus, in his The Making of Modern Ireland 1603-1923, Professor Beckett, says, “The main hope of the revolutionary leaders still lay within the peasantry, and during 1796 and 1797 they made great efforts to win them over to their cause.  They were aided by a development that at first sight seemed unpropitious – a sharpening of sectarian strife in the north.  This reached a crisis in September 1795, when a pitched Battle between Peep-‘o-Day Boys and defenders took place at the Diamond in County Armagh.  The Defenders who seem to have provoked the conflict, were completely routed and that evening the victorious Protestants established the Orange society.”

Rome’s myth

This, as we shall see, is quite untrue. It was the founders of the Orange Order, not the Peep-‘o-Day Boys, who fought and won at the Battle of the Diamond.

Nevertheless, that is Rome’s myth – that the men who set out to the Diamond as Peep-‘o-Day Boys in the morning became Orangemen in the evening.  Fr Cleary, Rome’s Orange historian, disseminated this notion throughout the British Empire as “Catholic Truth”.  (see my last article).

Independent scholar James Wright states that Fr Cleary’s account, “was a very selective presentation,” and Fr Cleary made, “a seemingly strong case for seeing the original Orangemen as nothing more than the Peep-‘o-Day boys operating under a new cloak of convenience.”

James Wright is saying that the idea that the Orange Order was a continuation of the violent Peep-‘o-Day boys, though untrue, was not easy to disprove and he adds that this slander of Fr Cleary’s became widely accepted as the explanation of the rise of the Orange Order.

Sir Richard Musgrave

The old Protestant historian, Sir Richard Musgrave, rightly says of the battles between the Protestant Peep-‘o-Day Boys and Roman Catholic Defenders: “The details would be as uninteresting as that of  (battles between) the kites and crows”.

However Sir Richard Musgrave adds that we should know that, “The large quantities of arms distributed amongst the population and interest in things military resulting from the Volunteer movement gave an exaggerated importance to normally insignificant brawl … It was still illegal for Catholics to acquire firearms … Roman Catholics broke into and plundered stores or entered the houses of Protestants by night carrying away swords, guns and pistols … As early as 1784 there were reports of efforts by Protestants called Peep-‘o-Day boys at unofficial enforcement of the code by daybreak raids on the homes of Catholics to search for arms”.  The linen industry was growing fast at this time and the

Peep-‘o-Day boys extended their activities to smashing Roman Catholic looms and even maiming any opposition.

The rise of the Defenders

After one brawl a defeated Presbyterian blamed an intervening Roman Catholic for his defeat.  This so escalated matters that a gang, the Nappagh Fleet, came into being.  The confusion of the times saw a Roman Catholic heading a gang of Protestants spoiling for a fight whilst a Dissenting minister headed up the opposing Roman Catholic Bawn fleet.

This Bawn fleet, with other Romanists, became knows as the Defenders.  At first both gangs “had papists and Presbyterians mixed indiscriminately”.  No doubt with priestly assistance, these two groups soon polarised into exclusive Protestant and Roman Catholic warring parties.  Hence the Roman Catholic Defenders’ thirst for arms was only matched by the Protestants aggressive dawn raids to seize them back and more besides.  It is unthinkable that God would use such people and means to effect His purposes in the coming Day of Deliverance.

Rise of the Orange Order

Musgrave insists that the Orange Order arose amongst the Lord’s people.  “The battle of the Diamond … and the duplicity and treachery of the Romanists on that occasion convinced the Protestants that they would become an easy prey to their enemies, from the paucity of their numbers, unless they associated for their defence; particularly as the fanatical vengeance which they (the Romanists) displayed on that and other occasions, convinced the members of the established church that they (the Romanists) meditated nothing less than their total extirpation … They (The Orange Order) were merely a society of loyal protestants, associated and bound together solely for the purpose of maintaining and defending the constitution in church and state as established by the Prince of Orange at the glorious Revolution, which they regarded as a solemn and sacred duty.”

Musgrave recognised a Providence in dangerous times. “It confers distinguished credit on its (The Orange Order’s) members, that they united and stood forward for this truly patriotic purpose, unsupported and unprotected by the great and powerful, to whom their motives were misrepresented by traitors, who knew that the institution would form a firm barrier against their nefarious machinations.”  But Musgrave offers us no detail, because in those days everybody knew this was the truth.

Protestant undustriousness

So just who were these people who fought the militant Roman Catholic Defenders at the Battle of the Diamond?

As always, where Protestantism thrives the associated industriousness brings economic prosperity.  The new Orange movement first appeared in Armagh and part of Tyrone and these were the very areas of a massive expansion in the linen industry.  Wright observes that huge changes had occurred from the time of the violent peasant agrarian societies of the 1760’s.  A much more affluent and mixed urban and rural society had arisen linked to each other through the linen industry.  The number of weavers in Ulster had nearly doubled in this brief period.

Society was more sophisticated.  Masonry was still a powerful force in Ireland but this would not attract these Protestants.  Volunteering in the Irish self defence regiments would be an obvious choice, but the Volunteers were often revolutionaries discarding the Crown and Protestant succession and keen to embrace Romanism in a republic.

However Providence brought about a change of heart in the rank and file of the Armagh and Tyrone Volunteers, rekindling the Williamite spirit of their forefathers.

Other like-minded Protestants could then freely identify with them.  Thus Wright can say, “The role and function of the Volunteers as a precursor of Orangeism cannot be underestimated”.

Benburb Volunteers

As the Roman Catholic Defenders became more militant, Volunteer marches took on a more Protestant character, with the singing of old Williamite victory songs.  Hence in 1778 when, “the Benburb Volunteers marched to Sunday worship at Armagh Cathedral … they were assaulted by a large body of papists”.  A similar disturbance occurred on the way home and two Romanists were killed.  Their funerals were massively attended and the Roman Catholics now saw the Volunteers as the enemy rather than as a potential ally.  The tide was turning.  An enquiry showed that the onset of violence was due to the “Volunteers playing tunes that were an insult to Catholics”.  The illustration shows one of the Williamite victory songs.  These were still in the consciousness of the older generation.  Words like, “Protestant Boys both valiant and stout, fear not the strength and power of Rome …” drove the Defenders to declare their true colours.

This local transformation of the Volunteers into what we now regard as the traditional Orange style, became more marked in the face of the Defenders’ increased militancy.  Following the first Catholic Relief Act, which raised Roman Catholic aspirations, Roman Catholics could now be armed.  As a result, membership of the Defenders burgeoned.  Hence Wright finds evidence of “an Orange-style society meeting in 1793,” of 138 members with no connection to the Peep-‘o-Day Boys.  This confirms the testimony of the early Orange historians like R M Sibbett who insist on a prevailing Orange witness before 1795.

Hence when the Defenders provoked the Battle of the Diamond it was these earnest Protestants, not the rascally Peep-‘o-Day Boys, who rallied to the cause.  Fortunately there were some amongst the Protestants who both possessed military skills and understood discipline in battle which they had learned in their old Volunteering days.  The Defenders outnumbered them ten to one but this was a Glorious Day of Deliverance and the Lord of Victories was on their side.  Indeed there is a song sung to a variety of tunes, composed after this victory, to keep memories fresh.

For we say when the light of the morning broke,
On the Diamond Hill they’d rallied.

What though they were many, and we but few,
Yet each to the conflict hasted,
And the shot was sharp, and the aim as true,
While that fearful struggle lasted.

Yes, last it did – aye, many a day!
But the shield of our God was o’er us;
Till at last, like a quarry long held at bay,
We drove them like chaff before us.”

Which brings us back to Rome’s slanders under the banner of “Catholic Truth”.  For example:

“The Peep-‘o-Day Boys movement was the early or preparatory phase of the Orange association.”

“After having defeated their opponents at Diamond hill, the victorious Peep-‘o-Day boys took the alias of Orange Boys or Orange Men.”

“The Orange association brought about a more complete organisation of the scattered Peep-‘o-Day Forces and opened out … a wider field of activity.”

“For the purpose of taking off the stigma of delinquency, the appellation Peep-‘o-Day Boys was changed to Orangemen.”

“Musgrave (‘s) … statement is not supported be a scrap of proof.”

So, as for Rome’s slanders, “We drive them as chaff before us”.

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