by ehistoryadmin on March 7, 2014


Kildare Voice July 7 2007

The Orange Order in Kildare and Laois

Eoghan Corry

“I do declare that I am not, nor ever was, a Roman-Catholic or Papist; that I was not, am not, or ever will be, a member of the society called United Irishmen”.

These were the words taken on oath by members of the Kildare lodge of the Orange Order in the 1830s, at a time Twelfth of July parades were a feature of most Irish towns in Leinster as well as Ulster.

The Orange Order was relatively young, having been founded in 1795, but had permeated almost every county in Ireland over the next three decades.

By 1835, Wexford had 15 Orange Lodges (as many as Dublin City) while Wicklow and Laois had eight each. Offaly had three lodges but Kildare had just one, meaning it was one of the least orange counties on the island at a time when the county was supporting 35 established churches and four “other places of protestant worship”, serving something close to 10,000 protestants.

It also indicates the nature of the local militia did not resemble those in the surrounding counties.

A Westminster Parliamentary Select Committee report on the Orange Order in 1835 stated “that the order controlled the Irish Yeomanry, enjoyed a certain immunity from justice in Ulster and were frequently engaged in civil disturbances.”

“The Orangemen had a standing army,” The Catholic Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin James Warren Doyle mused, with its ranks populated by “every spendthrift, every public robber and private delinquent.”

A mini famine in 1819 and 1821 caused an increase in agrarian violence but we cannot be sure how much trouble there actually was because almost every report of an atrocity in the “Carlow Morning Post”, the only paper serving the region in the period, was followed by a letter from the local magistrate denying that there was any trouble in his area.

Bishop Doyle went so far as to issue a pastoral on Orange Societies in 1822. It maintained that protestants are: “our brethren in Christ, they have all been baptised in his blood.”

The Kildare Orange Lodge was unlikely to be strong enough to have its own Twelfth of July parade but across the Laois border, where Chidley Coote, from Huntingdon, Portarlington, was Grand Master it was a different story during a troubled few decades through what Laois MP Henry Brooke Parnell called “a monotony of Insurrection Acts, Coercion Acts, and the suspension of Habeus Corpus.”

Mountrath in Laois revived its Twelfth of July parade in 1808 “after many years” perhaps to mark the tenth anniversary of the attack by a party of yeomen on “a conference of priests assembled at Mountrath.”

The parade concluded with an attack on the house of the Catholic parish priest who escaped by scaling a wall and hid under a bridge, as a result of which he is said to have caught pneumonia and died.  Three years later shots were fired at the Parish Priest, Francis Haly.

To the north Mountmellick had its very own orange icon, a memorial to the victory of the Wellesley “Orange” Pole, the older brother of the more famous Duke of Wellington, over local 1798 insurgents.

It consisted of a tin plate on top of a pole, an equestrian figure of William of Orange on one side and the letters GR (Georgius Rex) in honour of English king George IV, on the other.

When Parish priest Anthony Duane successfully appealed to the County magistrates in Maryborough in 1824 to have the pole removed, the removal of Orange Pole’s orange pole was the subject of a mini-riot in the town.

One of the witnesses to the Enquiry on Disorder in 1832, John Dillon from Maryborough traced the outbreak of local disturbances to when “the Orangemen of Mountmellick were put down,” as a result of which “different poor people were ejected and put out of their holdings.”

The Orange Order was nominally suppressed under the Unlawful Societies Act of 1825 only to revive as the Brunswick Clubs and to rebound as the Orange Order when the Suppression Act elapsed.

It was to rise to its zenith under the Stormont regime in Northern Ireland when all the Prime Ministers and leaders of the Unionist party were members of the order, all but three Unionist cabinet ministers between 1921 and 1969, and 87 out of 95 Stormont backbenchers and junior ministers in the same period

But it never enjoyed the same strength in provincial Leinster after the yeomanry was disbanded and was decimated in Leinster by the high casualty rate among the local protestant population during the First World War.

The last Twelfth of July march in Leinster took place through Dublin in 1937, effectively a feeder march en route to the Belfast train.


Key dates:

1795 Orange Order formed after massacre of Armagh Catholics

1797 First twelfth celebration

1797 Dublin lodge formed

c1807 Kildare Lodge formed

1808 Parade in Mountrath revived

1824 Last parade in Mountrath

1825 Orange Order suppressed

1828 Orange Order revived

1937 Last Twelfth parade in Dublin

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