When the Orange met the Green

Today I attended Rev. Brian Kennaway’s second book launch of his ‘The Orange Order: A tradition betrayed.‘ The venue was An Culturlann, on the Falls Road, and the event a part of the Feile an Phobail, which is now in full swing.

The chairperson for the occasion was leading republican, Sean Murray, and Roy Garland was the guest speaker before the packed audience.

I must say I found the event very informative and refreshing, with both Garland and Kennaway using the occasion to explain their views of the Order: its history, current difficulties, personal experiences and desires. It was not a question and answer session, which did detract from the event somewhat, but nonetheless it was a positive development for which Sean Murray and the Feile organisers deserve credit. Rev. Kennaway will also regard it positively, not least because his book sold like hotcakes in the mainly republican audience, for which he showed his gratitude by providing signings as compensation for parting with £15.

One interesting aspect of the event was the use of an Orange bannerette as a backdrop (not the real one, rather a Power Point illustration, as Sean Murray explained that his efforts to secure the real bannerette for the occasion proved ultimately futile.)

The bannerette belonged to the ‘Broadway Defenders’ and it included a large illustration of the Broadway Presbyterian Church, which is now of course An Culturlann McAdam O’Fiach (so named after the Presbyterian McAdam and Catholic Cardinal O’Fiach, both renowned Irish language enthusiasts.) Roy Garland told how he once took part in the parade up Broadway and onto the Falls Road to this very venue, although that procession ceased some time in the late 1960s.

Brian Kennaway’s speech was interesting because he clearly remains a very committed Orangeman, proud of its history and passionate about reforming it to more honestly reflect what he claims are its religious- as opposed to political- roots. He also, very cleverly, employed the language of the 1916 Proclamation in his desire to not only reach out to his republican audience, but also to show how the rhetoric employed by republicans historically has often mirrored that of Orangeism.

Whilst I may have found many of the assumptions to be questionable and doubtlessly will disagree with a considerable amount of what is written in the book, in many ways that doesn’t matter. Today represented a very positive breakthrough in our political stalemate: that any strand of Orangeism would publicly come together with the Irish republican tradition can only be a positive step, which should embolden others to follow suit so that a genuine- and reciprocal- dialogue can begin.