My parents were both born in Belfast, Northern Ireland but St. Patrick’s day was never celebrated in our house. Why, you ask? Because we are proud Orange-Irish! (Or British, or English, depending on who you ask.)
Growing up, my sister Jacqueline and I were NEVER allowed to wear green to school. We would try to sneak out the door and Daddy would turn us about saying, “No child of mine is wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day. Go and put on your orange.” No matter how we pleaded about getting pinched, Daddy was always true to his heritage. And I passed that on to my children and grandchildren.
And now, for your reading pleasure and education, my annual explanation on why this 100% Irish, first generation American, wears Orange on St. Patrick’s Day.
A Brief History of the Convoluted Difference Between Being Orange and Green Irish
Somewhere around the 5th Century, Christianity was brought to Ireland by a British missionary, Bishop Patrick, who became the patron saint of Ireland long after his death. Irish natives were polytheistic and worshipped several gods and goddesses of what was called the Tuatha De Danann. It was a pastoral religion that centered around nature, fertility and the harvests. Their celebrations were woven into the new religion, monuments erected and they were forced to convert to Roman Catholicism, which is still the predominate religion in Ireland today.
Fast forward to the 17th Century. A large immigration of English and Scottish farmers settled in northern Ireland and established a Protestant stronghold, encouraged by the British faction that was working to oust the Catholic monarchy.
King James, a staunch Catholic who commissioned the English translation of the Christian Bible for the Church of England which is still widely used today, was crowned monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1685, angering the Protestant majority in Britain. Prince William of Orange, nephew to King James and married to James’ daughter, garnered the support of influential political and Protestant leaders and led an invasion of England in 1688, taking the crown from his father-in-law. (This must have created interesting pillow talk!)
Ireland refused to accept the new King. Deposed King James attempted to take back the crown in a bloody battle in 1690 famously known as the “Battle of the Boyne.” King William handily won and Ireland was added to his territory of reign. This marked the beginning of the change from personal rule of the Stuarts towards a Parliament rule in Britain. An interesting side note: William named his wife Mary, a born and raised Catholic who did not convert to Protestantism, as co-sovereign in an attempt to ease political tension. They reigned together and she was regarded as an important voice until her death in 1694.
So what does all this fighting over religion have to do with being “Orange?”
The meaning behind the orange comes from the Orange Order, a fraternal organization established in 1795 to protect the Protestant ascendancy in the monarchy. To this day, Protestants commemorate the Battle of the Boyne on July 11th with bonfires and July 12th with parades and much fanfare. And because King William was once Prince of Orange, orange became the defining colour.
A hundred years plus pass, amidst much more political and religious strife.
Finally, in 1921, Ireland officially split into two republics: Ireland with it’s own government, and Northern Ireland which is governed by the United Kingdom. This split, unfortunately, didn’t heal the tension that it had hoped to achieve and still exists to this day.
The Irish flag, designed in 1848 and adopted as the national flag of Ireland in 1921, consists of three stripes: orange for the Protestants, green for the Catholics, and a white strip in between signifying the hope for Peace. The British flag combines the red cross of of St George of the Kingdom of England, the white saltire of St Andrew for Scotland, and the red saltire of St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.
As often happens in politics and religion though, much of the fighting is between “leaders” who posture for positions of power. Yes, there are still car-bombings and fighting, in the name of religion. All of my maternal and paternal family, with the exception of my sister and me and our children and my Grands, live in Northern Ireland and England. My aunt and uncle and cousins all have friends and neighbors who are Catholic and get along just fine, celebrating both holidays in peace.
So, being a proud descendant of Protestants from Northern Ireland, I will be wearing my orange today, but will also raise a toast to all of my green-wearing Catholic Irish friends. Peace does exist in the middle.
And now you know that not all Irish wear green on St. Patrick’s Day! (And why my Sister, Kids & Grandkids BETTER be sporting some Orange today in honour of John Benson and Nana Hanna! 😉)
For a really awesome corned beef recipe, check out my blogpost: GO To Tuesday: Baked Mustard Crusted Corned Beef & Roasted Veggies.
(Personal note: my son, Harley was born on July 11th. He was given the middle name of “Benson” in honor of my father and his Orange heritage. My daughter was named Meghan from the Celtic/Irish spelling of the name derived from the ancient clan Meeghan and means “brave warrior.” Her middle name, Elizabeth, is after the Queens of England.)