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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: May 2018

10 - ‘Loyal to the Crown but not the Crown's Government’: The Challenge to Policing Posed by the Orange Order in 1830s Ulster

from Section 3 - Sectarianism and Violence


The Orange Order had been formed in County Armagh in 1795 in response to attacks from Catholic secret societies in an area that had become a hotbed of sectarian tension due to its parity of numbers in terms of religious affiliation and because of gradual Catholic incursion into the weaving industry, traditionally the preserve of Protestants. This incursion during a time of economic prosperity greatly raised the demand for land and contributed to a huge density of population. The competition for employment and a plot of land on which to survive, however minute, was reflected in the class make-up of the associational culture that emerged. In common with the Catholic Defender Society, the Orange Order was very much lower class in its initial make-up and because of this was viewed with suspicion by the upper Protestant classes who harboured traditional ascendancy fears of lower-class mobilisation. However, this suspicion was soon to change to acceptance and patronage as the Tory upper echelons (realising, first, the need to control the lower classes and, secondly, the support that this organisation could provide against possible Catholic, liberal, or even French threats) joined the Order in great numbers, especially during and after the failed United Irishman rebellion of 1798. This common cross-class membership of the Orange Order effectively became the glue that held Protestant society together in the first half of the nineteenth century, especially during the post-Waterloo economic recession in which the linen industry in particular, the lifeblood of Ulster, was badly hit. The Order, despite some periods of internal dispute, had mushroomed into a huge Association with a reputed 100,000 members by the mid-1830s and could sporadically or when deliberately mobilised pose a serious threat to everyday law and order. This threat was far from being one of the aims of the Order according to secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge, William Swan, who stated that, ‘it is one of the first rules of the institution that they [the members] should obey the laws whatever the laws be’. This chapter will examine the depth of truth of this statement and trace the relationship between the police constabulary, put in place by the government of the Crown to uphold its laws, and the Orange Order who claimed loyalty to that same Crown.