Flushed with victory and hoping to build a broad-based movement, the leaders of the Protestant forces founded an organization known as the Orange Order.
The Battle of the Diamond was the culmination of years of rising violence between Catholic and Protestant groups in Ireland, especially Ulster. Since the mid-1780s Catholics in Ireland had grown increasingly vocal in their demands for equal rights. Parliament did pass several acts that repealed many of the most egregious penal laws (laws enacted in the 1690s that stripped Catholics of virtually all their rights). Still, Catholics in 1793 could not hold government office or sit in Parliament.
While members of Parliament debated the passage of full Catholic Emancipation, Protestants in Ireland took matters into their own hands. As members of an elite class known as the Ascendancy, they viewed Catholic Emancipation as a threat to their property and privilege. Protestant vigilante groups formed, most notably the Peep O’ Day Boys, and began to terrorize Catholic farmers. In response, Catholics formed the Defenders, a secret society dedicated to protecting Catholics and avenging Peep O’ Day Boy attacks. From the mid-1790s the groups engaged in an escalating war of reprisal and counter reprisal.
Further adding to Protestant rage and paranoia was the emergence of the United Irishmen. Founded in 1791 and comprising both Catholic and Protestant nationalists, this revolutionary society was committed to both Catholic emancipation and the founding of a non-denominational Irish Parliament. Inspired by the French and American revolutions and led by the charismatic Wolfe Tone, the United Irishmen campaigned openly and legally for these goals. But in 1793 the British government, now at war with revolutionary France, launched a campaign of repression against groups deemed subversive, including the United Irishmen.
As Catholic frustration and Protestant paranoia reached new heights, rural violence escalated. The Battle of the Diamond occurred at a crossroads near the town of Armagh. For three days, Peep O’ Day Boys and Defenders battled until the latter was eventually driven from the field. That evening, Sept. 21, 1795, the Peep ‘O Day leaders founded an organization they hoped would bolster Protestant resistance. Called the Orange Order, it took its name from William of Orange, the king who drove Catholic James II from the British throne and enacted the Penal laws in Ireland.
The Defenders recovered from their loss and soon formed an alliance with the United Irishmen. Driven underground by British repression, the latter had resolved to stage an armed insurrection. It came in mid-1798 but was quickly quashed by the British military.
The Orange Order grew rapidly in the 1790s, establishing lodges in nearly every county. They provided a vital resistance network to the United Irishmen. Many Orange lodges organized military auxiliaries to assist the British forces in putting down the uprising.
Over the next quarter century, the Orange Order developed into a popular and influential organization dedicated to maintaining Protestant privilege in Ireland. As with similar societies, it developed oaths, myths, songs and rituals — most notably annual marches commemorating the Protestant victories over Catholics as far back as the 17th century. Frequently, these marches ended in sectarian violence. When the Orange Order engaged in violent resistance to Daniel O’Connell’s 1820s campaign for Catholic Emancipation, it was declared illegal (as was O’Connell’s Catholic Association). Membership and activism dwindled for decades until Charles Stewart Parnell’s campaign for Home Rule in the 1880s. Once again the Orange Order emerged as a major defender of Protestant privilege, a role it has maintained now for more than a century.
HIBERNIAN HISTORY WEEK
Sept. 18, 1867: Fenian gunmen spring two prisoners from Manchester Jail. Three Fenians — the Manchester Martyrs — were later convicted and executed for their alleged role in the incident, which resulted in the death of a guard.
Sept. 20, 1803: United Irishmen leader Robert Emmett is executed for leading a rebellion in Dublin.
Sept. 22, 1927: Heavyweight champion Gene Tunney survives the famous “long count” knockdown and goes on defeat former champion Jack Dempsey in their celebrated rematch.
Sept. 18, 1905: Labor leader and nationalist Mike Quill is born in Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry.
Sept. 19, 1737: Charles Carroll, American patriot and only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, is born in Annapolis, Md.
Sept. 24, 1896: Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald is born in St. Paul, Minn.
Read about Ed O’Donnell’s new book, “1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History,” or contact him at www.EdwardTODonnell.com.