Sense of community and heritage runs deep through rural Orange heartland

Armagh’s Twelfth gathering passes peacefully and pleasantly

Mon, Jul 14, 2014, 01:00

On the morning of the Twelfth, the men of the Clantilew Bible and Crown Defenders lodge in Loughgall march from “the back of the hill” to the “head of the road”.

There they get a bus to Armagh’s Twelfth demonstration in Markethill. Lambeg drums echo across the countryside from the many lodges in a five-mile radius, and the cattle don’t know where to run.

This is the heartland of the Orange Order. When I arrive, David Jackson the lodge’s worshipful master, brings me to their hall. “He’s trying to find out what it’s all about,” he explains, after introducing me.

“If you find out let me know,” says his son Philip (all of Jackson’s sons are members). When I arrive they’re testing the drums and using a wrought-iron contraption to tighten the skins.

The drums feature pictures of King Billy and field marshal Montgomery. Another, made to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, is still called “the new drum”.

This rural lodge dates from 1825 and the building from 1885. At the end of the room there’s a ceremonial chair and a case containing an open Bible. There are royal photos, bunting celebrating the Will and Kate wedding and pictures depicting the siege of Derry and the battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo. Along the walls are photos of the lodge through the years, and certain names recur – Matchett, Turkington, Trueman and Jackson.

Joe Trueman, the lodge’s recently retired secretary of 63 years, is in every photo from 1951. “If you look closely you’ll see him in paintings of the Battle of the Boyne,” says Jackson.

He then drives me through prosperous and beautiful “apple country” to Dan Winter’s cottage, where the order began in 1795. Hilda Winter shows me an ancient chair, a nine-county map of Ulster, and a huge collection of sashes gifted by lodges in Scotland and England who visited “to say they’d had a meeting at Dan Winter’s”.

RUC men

There’s also a poster featuring all the RUC men killed during the Troubles. “But we’re supposed to forget all that now,” she says.

On the morning of the Twelfth, when the lodge arrives at “the head of the road”, they have a quick drink before boarding the bus to Markethill. “Sometimes you need a sheepdog to get them out of the pub,” says Jackson.

A naggin of whiskey is floating around. Nobody overindulges, but one of the oldest members, William Matchett, pretends to need help on to the bus as a joke. There are some temperance lodges, but this lodge only went temperate once, for a year, a long time ago. “I think it was as a punishment,” says Jackson.

They tease me. One man tells me he got his union tie in Dundalk and everyone cracks up. “I’m surprised he’s even heard of Dundalk,” another man says to me. During a break between singalongs (Willie McBride, The Boys from the County Armagh) Jackson says: “Patrick says he wants to join. Get him a form!”

Earlier I’d been asked about the history of my surname, a question I didn’t decode until someone said “if you don’t mind me asking, are you Protestant or Catholic?” I tell him I was baptised Catholic.

At Markethill, busloads of Orangemen and marching, pipe, flute and accordion bands gather. “There’s a wee bit of competition between lodges,” observes John Anderson, a retired bank manager. Each has its own style. Some wear bowler hats (this lodge does not). Some wear sashes (this lodge wears “collarettes”). Some carry swords. “But don’t worry Patrick, they’re just part of the ornamental furniture,” says Anderson.