Toward the end of the eighteenth century, the landed Protestant aristocracy in Ireland generally felt that the Irish Catholics were a threat to their position. They felt that the Irish Catholics were likely to be disloyal to the British Crown and were likely to ferment revolution with England’s enemies, particularly Catholic France.
The relaxation of anti-Catholic legislation, particularly with regard to land tenure, created a panic among the Protestant population. Protestants, as a politically and economically dominant minority, had always felt that they needed to be on guard against the Catholic majority and they feared the rise of the Catholic underclass.
There was violence in County Armagh where the Catholics were the majority. In 1791, the Catholics cut off the tongues and fingers of a Protestant schoolmaster and his wife. Then in 1795, Reverend Devine had a sermon at Drumcree Church to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne. His sermon worked up an anti-Catholic zeal which resulted in beating Catholics without provocation (except, of course, for the fact of being Catholic), and breaking the doors and windows of Catholic houses. According to one Irish history written in 1809:
“This unprovoked atrocity of the Protestants revived and redoubled religious rancour. The flame spread and threatened a contest of extermination.”To counter the rise of secret Catholic organizations, such as the Defenders, the Protestants organized the Peep O’Day Boys. Soon there were confrontations and violent incidents between the Protestant and Catholic groups. One of these was the Battle of the Diamond which took place at a crossroads near Loughgall in County Armagh on September 21, 1795. The Peep O’Day Boys confronted a group of Catholic Defenders and killed 30 of them.
On the evening following the Battle of the Diamond, the Peep O’Day Boys met at the house of one of the members and formed the first Orange Order Lodge. The newly formed group resolved:
“that at all times they would stand together, fight for the faith of the Reformed Church, and by all lawful means support, maintain and defend the Sovereign and Protestant Succession to the Throne, and to the utmost of their power keep the peace and public safety.”There was a determined effort to drive out the Catholics and within two months after the Battle of the Diamond, an estimated 7,000 Catholics had been driven out of County Armagh. People were warned not to inform on the Orangemen or
“I will blow your soul to the low hills of Hell and burn the house you are in."A year later there were 90 lodges. The Orange Order was also dedicated to sustaining the “glorious and immortal memory” of King William III (William of Orange) and his victory at the Boyne on July 1, 1690. The Orange Order celebrates this on July 12 based on a misunderstanding of the 1752 calendar reform. It should actually be celebrated on July 11.
King William III is shown above.
The new organization drew on the ritualistic and organizational precedents of the Freemasons. The Freemasons originated in Scotland about 1600 and an Irish lodge was established about 1723. A majority of its members in the late eighteenth century were, in fact, Catholic. While the Orange Order incorporated Masonic symbolism in its rituals and insignia, there were violent conflicts between the two groups following the Revolution (Insurrection) of 1798.