The old order changeth-or not? Modern discourses within the Orange Order

James W. McAuley, Jonathan Tonge

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The peace process offered new challenges for existing political ideologies and discourses within the Orange Order, requiring reappraisal and repositioning of its political and cultural roles. Even prior to the process, the Order (correctly entitled the Loyal Orange Institution) had undergone transformation. While it once claimed a membership of up to 120,000 (one in three of all Protestant males in Northern Ireland) the strength of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland had been revised downwards to 40,000 members by 2007 (Stevenson et al. 2007: 110) and, as part of a more open approach, was acknowledged by the Order itself as having fallen below 36,000 by 2009 (Nelson 2009). Nonetheless, this diminished membership remains greater than the combined memberships of all the political parties in Northern Ireland. Moreover, for many Protestants the Orange Order continues to offer a focus for social life. Its Twelfth of July Boyne celebrations still attract over 100,000 marchers, bands and supporters onto the streets across 20 venues (Belfast alone attracts over 200 bands and lodges) and, although the Order’s political importance declined drastically after the collapse of the old devolved unionist government in 1972, it retains an important cultural and religious influence in many parts of Northern Ireland. Despite this continued influence, the Order struggles to put across its case to a sceptical audience. Hayward (Chapter 1) notes how political norms reflect dominant discourses and that the ability to shape norms depends upon the prevailing strength of an organisation. For the Orange Order, relatively weak after decades of decline, the prevailing discourse (if sometimes not evident ‘on the ground’) within Northern Ireland in recent years has been one of frowning upon overt displays of ‘sectarianism’ or symbolism, in favour of pluralism and neutrality. This new political context is seemingly at odds with the Order’s explicit linkages of religion, culture and political standpoint and country, and the Order has been obliged to adopt new strategies for modernising its image and main cultural activities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPolitical Discourse and Conflict Resolution
Subtitle of host publicationDebating Peace in Northern Ireland
EditorsKaty Hayward, Catherine O'Donnell
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor & Francis Group
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781136906084
ISBN (Print)0203842499, 978-0415566285, 9780415642033
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sep 2010

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution


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