The Orange Order, also known as the Orange Institution, is a Protestant organisation associated primarily with Northern Ireland, although Orange Lodges exist elsewhere in Ireland, and in Great Britain, Canada and other English-speaking countries.
The Orange Order is associated politically with Ulster Unionism and Loyalism: it sees maintenance of the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain as essential for protecting Protestantism; since Northern Ireland was founded in 1921 a large proportion of its political and business leaders have been 'Orangemen'. Supporters of Orangeism say that it is a religious organisation seeking only to support Protestantism; opponents claim that it has promoted and upheld sectarian bigotry and the oppression of Roman Catholics.
The Orange Order dates back to the foundation of the Loyal Orange Order in 1795, at a time when Protestant farmers fought with Catholic 'Defenders'.
The Order has around 75,000 members today, organised in 'Lodges'. One way of publicising their cause is through 'Orange Walks' - annual marches on traditional routes, mainly in the so-called 'marching season' which culminates on 12 July with commemorations of the victory of the Protestant William of Orange (William III) over the Catholic James II at the Battle of the Boyne. The members parade wearing dark suits, bowler hats and carrying furled umbrellas, and wearing also distinctive orange 'collarettes' - v-shaped sashes - over their jackets (hence the famous Loyalist song, "The Sash My Father Wore"). Although members claim their marches are peaceful and traditional events, their routes through areas which were, or have become, Catholic/Nationalist in population have led to disturbances, most notably during the 1990s in the case of the march at Drumcree in Portadown, County Armagh. While Orange marches have been closely stewarded in recent years, with the playing of sectarian and anti-Catholic songs banned to minimise provocation, the presence of Loyalist terrorist leaders at the Drumcree and other events has done little to assuage Catholic suspicions of Orange bigotry.
- Protestant Irish, for U.S.