Yesterday there was a letter in the Irish Times which was critical of the Orange Order and supportive of Gerry Adams and the Garvaghy Road Residents Committee. One of the criticisms was that there are no women in the Orange Order. I responded to the letter and pointed out that there is indeed an Association of Loyal Orange Women. This is the origin of that organisation.
The Orange Women’s Association began in 1887 when a number of women with strong unionist views formed themselves into a body to work together for the promotion of Protestantism and the defence of the Union. The founder was the Hon Helena de Moleyns, daughter of the 3rd Baron Ventry, and wife of Colonel Edward Saunderson, the Conservative MP for North Armagh. The Association was authorised by the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland in December 1887 and it flourished for a short time but eventually ceased to function.
Then in 1911, with the consent of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, Mrs R H Johnston of Bawnboy House, county Cavan, undertook to reissue warrants. That new start marked the origin of the women’s Orange movement of today.
The event that prompted this re-formation of the women’s movement was the promulgation in 1911 by the Roman Catholic Church of the Ne Temere decree. This decree declared that a marriage between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant was only valid in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church if it was performed by a Roman Catholic priest.
The decree became a matter of much public attention when a young Presbyterian girl in Belfast, who had married a Roman Catholic man named McCann, refused to be remarried in a Roman Catholic chapel. The result was that her two children were kidnapped. Protest meetings were held in Belfast and there was a very large meeting in the Presbyterian Assembly Hall at which Bishop Crozier spoke.
Mrs Johnston read about the case in the newspapers and felt that a revived Women’s Orange Association would be an influence against mixed marriages and the effects of Ne Temere.
She called a meeting in 12 Rutland Square, Dublin, in February 1912 and three warrants were issued. The first went to Mrs W Bridgett to meet in Sandy Row Orange Hall, the second went to a lodge at Ballymacarrett and the third to Kingstown, county Dublin.
Today the revived organisation is approaching its centenary.