The Orangemen who walked

13 March 2019

Illustration: Taylor McDaniel

Inside the Orange Order

April will signal the beginning of Orange Marches in Glasgow and beyond. Orangemen will take to the city’s streets with drums, flutes and flags in countdown to the 12th of July anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne. Much debate has been held over whether or not such marches should be allowed, given the sectarian element to them and the Orange Order.

Despite being grandmaster of the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland for 15 years up until 2010, Ian Wilson refuses to sing The Billy Boys and The Sash (my Father Wore). The former because he believes it is sectarian, and the latter because his father never wore one.  

Wilson was introduced to the Orange Order by a school pal. In one sense he may not be your typical Orangeman given neither his mother nor father was in the Order, which he says is very uncommon. However, many are surprised to find he is part of the Order for other reasons.

“Most of my life, because people tend to view me as intelligent, relatively liberal and easy going, of an academic and business background, I have had various people across my life upon meeting me say ‘You’re an Orangeman?’ They are shocked. ‘What are you doing in that?’ They say. I think that is unfair, I have always reacted very strongly against that,” he said.

By 1997 he’d become head of Orangeism in Scotland. Before this, he had left the organisation twice after his mother dragged him out at 16 to focus on school, and in 1976 he left in response to the Order’s reluctance to deal with the eventually expelled Roddy MacDonald, who publicly announced his alliance with the UVF.

“I felt lost [after leaving the Order]. It’d have been a big loss to me personally [resigning]. But it was a point of principle. It wasn’t so much personal about Roddy McDonald, it was the principle in general. At that time the troubles in Northern Ireland were kicking off big style and there was always the danger that Scotland would get dragged in and the people in the UVF would look to the Order in the British Mainlands as fodder, financial backers, interested in joining and all that. There was no question that a lot of young people got dragged into that at that time from the lodge.”

After spending much of his time as grandmaster campaigning for better women’s rights within the lodge – which are yet to be fully achieved – Wilson retired back to his previous role as an ordinary member of the Lodge. Still, he is one of the most respected men within the Order in Scotland. He headed the organisation’s campaign for Scotland to vote No in the 2014 independence referendum. This was despite officials at Better Together rejecting the offer of support from the order.

“I personally was deeply offended at that. I felt unwelcome in my own country. Completely unwelcome. I was handing out leaflets all the while those in Better Together were saying ‘The Lodge? I wouldn’t touch the Lodge with a barge pole!’”

Despite the initial hurt, he admits that he partly understands the rejection because of the perception some members give the wider public, but says a link could have been made behind closed doors. “There are bigots in the lodge,” he admits. “There is a hard edge to the lodge because its a Protestant-only organisation and it takes a particular view. It has to learn to live in a changed secular society; but having said that the vast majority are just ordinary people that live ordinary lives, with ordinary attitudes.”

Photo By: Ardfern

He insists, however, that the Order has no problems with Catholics, only the Catholic Mass specifically the Eucharist. “This magic, this nonsense that the bread becomes the actual body and wine becomes the actual blood of Christ — this is nonsense and is repeating, in effect, Christ’s sacrifice in cavalry – and this is wrong.”

Any member that attends a Catholic service will be expelled by the organisation, which has put a lot of members in difficult situations when it comes to Requiem Mass funerals of friends, according to Wilson — a situation he has personally never been in.

“I’ve never had to attend a Catholic funeral. Would I? Yes, probably.” He continued, “I wouldn’t care to put my membership in jeopardy, that would affect me. Having said that, nor would I care to offend people that I liked — so there’s an interesting tension to me.”

“The view I take is, that if a dear friend of mine, who happens to be a Catholic, has a funeral that is in a Roman Catholic Church, I’m not going there because I’m recognising the mass, or giving up my own principles, I’m going there to show my respects to him and his family. I think it’s only a matter of time before the Order will modify its stance on members attending such events.”

The outcry the Orange Order receives for its marches is something Wilson understands, but he lays the blame on society rather than the organisation itself. “It’s a carnival occasion for us, the problem is it always has an edge to it, there’s no point denying that. As wholesome as it is, the lodge’s restrictive membership is unusual in this day and age, in the fact it has a restrictive membership; it is a Protestant only organisation in what has become a very secular society, and people find it difficult understanding some of the things the lodge holds as being very dear; it is seen as a very anti-Catholic organisation, and that’s an issue.”

Although blame is often laid at the Orange Order for causing sectarian trouble, Wilson himself has suffered sectarian abuse. “The last time I felt threatened as an Orangeman, was when I went to Ibrox supporting Hearts,” he recalls. “We were sitting in the half of the stand that the Hearts support got, we were in the lower part of the stand, and what abuse we got! ‘Fenian this, Papist that’ bloody hell I’m sitting here as grandmaster of the Orange Lodge taking all this abuse – they had no idea who I was!”

Paul Malcomson, however, believes that the Orange Order are inherently anti-Catholic and it stretches way beyond just having a problem with Catholic Mass. Formally an Orange Order member, Royal Arch Purple and Royal Black Institution member (the senior religious societies of the Orange Order), Rangers supporter and chairman of a Protestant flute band, he described himself as once being a “super-Prod”. Malcomson turned his back on the organisation in the 90s after the death of his father brought him a fresh perspective in life which would lead to him committing his life to Christ.

“I realised that, rather than drawing people to Christ, the Orders were pushing people away from Him. These Orders were actually part of cultivating the sectarian attitude on the Protestant side of the fence in Northern Ireland, and particularly a hostility toward Roman Catholics.

“There was an incredible pride within the Orange Order and a sense of superiority. There was a great prejudice toward Roman Catholics, and in many, a deep hatred of them. This to me runs contrary to the message of Christ, which was to ‘love your enemies.’

“I believe the Orange Order is more of a threat to Protestantism than it is to Catholicism. It is a curse to the Christian faith.”

Photo by: Whispering Pine

After his realisation, he left the Order and The Royal Black Institution. He began writing his first book, in which he’d expose what he learned as a high ranking member within the Order, as an effort to save souls from the hatred of the organisation.

“The books I wrote, Behind Closed Doors, The Forgotten History of the Orange Order, and Inside the Royal Black Institution, were explosive and popular in Northern Ireland. We were expecting an even bigger reaction in Scotland. While a lot of journalists showed great interest when we contacted them, not one single journalist turned up to the press conference [in Scotland].

“We later heard that those in the higher echelons of the news organisations had squashed any discussion on this subject. My PR rep, who worked for the BBC at the time, could not believe it. The Masonic Order, who have strong secretive links with the Orange Order, has a very strong grip on Scotland, and I believe it has complete control over the country’s media. They definitely didn’t want my book publicised as it would have been a major embarrassment to them.”

Malcomson insists that, despite continuing to live in Northern Ireland for eight years after the 1999 release of his first book, he never feared for his life. “I have had several indirect threats on my life over the years. However, I have never lived in fear, because I have a very strong faith, and know where I will go when I die.”

Now living in America, Malcomson runs the website Evangelical Truth — which has had over 2.3 million visitors — in which he reveals the secrets learnt during his time within the Orange Order.

The Evangelical Truth homepage

The debate on whether or not Orange Walks should be outlawed intensified last year, after an Orange Order member spat on a Priest during a march. With marching season upon us, that debate is likely to rumble on — particularly with the recent public condemnation of sectarian singing at top flight Scottish football games.

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