Church of Ireland `has let Protestants down'

Sat, Mar 25, 2000, 00:00

He calls himself Irish but swears allegiance to the Queen. He supports Glasgow Rangers yet speaks of Derry without the London. He would date a Catholic but would rather not marry one. And he wants to march down Dawson Street in a bowler hat and sash.

Meet 21st century Orangeman - Dubliner Ian Cox (25), the inspiration for this summer's Orange parade in the capital, the first in over 60 years.

"People have these preconceived notions about us, that we're anti-Catholic and sectarian. But they don't really know us and that's why we're having this parade," says Mr Cox, manager of the Dublin-Wicklow Orange Lodge, the only active lodge in the Republic outside of the Border counties.

A recruit to Orangeism just three years ago, Mr Cox has the right background for the job (Church of Ireland, grandparents fought in the war, etc). But he has little interest in politics, particularly the divisive Northern variety.

Which prompts the question: why join an institution born in an era of bitter religious conflict and both the source and target of much unhealthy emotion since?

"Basically, I was a bit fed up with the Church of Ireland," he says. "It has really let Protestants down. It's become so timid that Protestants don't know what it means to be Protestant anymore. The Orange Order brings it back to basics."

Part of the appeal, he says, is Orangeism's rejection of guilt, its refusal to be tied down by real or imaginary sins of the past. "A lot of Protestants feel they have to apologise for the Famine or what happened to Catholics 200 years ago. That's no way to live your life."

It is also no way to secure peace in Ireland, he says. "History has got us into all this. I don't like John Hume but I agree with him when he says not to point the finger of blame, that it doesn't really matter."

While Mr Cox says the Dublin march, scheduled for Sunday, May 28th, is primarily a cultural event, he concedes it is also "to a certain degree political". He says: "We want to show a parade can take place in a healthy spirit which would perhaps help to take the sting out of the more contentious parades during marching season."

The march coincides with the bicentenary of the founding of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland in the former residence in Dawson Street of James Verner MP. One of his sons, Thomas, was elected Ireland's first Grand Master at the body's inaugural meeting on April 8th, 1798.

According to Cecil Kilpatrick, archivist to the Orange Order, the first county lodge had been set up three years earlier but 1798 was the first attempt to put Orangeism on a national footing. "The thinking was that it was never going to go anywhere in the wilds of Armagh. Dublin was the centre of power and influence. It was the place to be."

Dublin remained the headquarters of the Grand Lodge until 1922 and during that time the popularity of Orangeism fluctuated greatly. In the early 19th century, there were between 200 and 300 lodges in Dublin city and county alone. Every county had one, except Kerry and Clare. And the list of members, says Mr Kilpatrick, "read like Burke's Peerage. They were full of archbishops and dukes."

Today, there are no more than a dozen lodges in the Republic. Concentrated in counties Donegal and Monaghan, they have an estimated 200-300 active members in total. Some 14,000 people, however, attended last summer's Orange demonstration in Rossnowlagh, Co Donegal, the only annual Orange march still held in the Republic.

According to Orange Order records, 1937 was the last year in which a march was held in Dublin. July 12th demonstrations traditionally were held around the statue of King William in College Green. When the statue was removed in 1922, the parade was routed from Dublin lodge headquarters at Rutland (now Parnell) Square to the railway station at Amiens Street, where Orangemen would catch the train to join parades in Belfast.

The closest thing to a show of Orangeism today is a church service each October in the Irish Church Missions at Bachelor's Walk. That and the annual July 12th garden party at Aras an Uachtarain, a bridge-building initiative of President McAleese.

The Dublin-Wicklow lodge, which co-ordinates both events, has a mere 30 members. However, more are seeking to join, says Mr Cox. "Bar one lodge in Donegal, we have the youngest membership with a lot of people in their late 20s or 30s."

Part of the success of the lodge, he says, is that it keeps out of politics as much as possible and it hopes to remain that way in the run-up to the Dublin march.

"Anyone with a political agenda can go home," he says. "We're going to be really strict. If we see any Union Jacks or banners our marshals will confiscate them, and if there is any danger of violence we will pull the plug."