Orange: The Real Color of St. Patrick’s Day

Several facts most people don’t know about St. Patrick’s Day:

  • “Saint Patrick” wasn’t Irish.
  • Irish Catholics wear green.
  • Irish Protestants wear Orange.
  • “Orange was the new Black” since 1690.

Most are familiar with the fact that the Protestants and Catholics fought each other for centuries. But in Ireland, brutality, oppression, and struggle for freedom endured in most recent history, for 233 years until Ireland became a free state in 1921. And, relative peace was not achieved between north and south, Irish and British, and Catholic and Protestant, until 1988.

That’s 300 years of fighting and blood spilt on Irish soil.

Orange is key to being Irish because of William of Orange (William III, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland) who defeated King James II, a Roman Catholic, near Dublin during the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

William “of Orange” didn’t actually refer to a color, but to geography, specifically, a southern province in France. But orange became the color of power and home rule, and the orangemen were the ones who ruled.

The Orangemen built a secret society network after an alleged skirmish (the Battle of the Diamond) in 1795 known as the “Orange Society” or “Orange Order.” They sought to maintain Protestant control in Ireland while support for Catholic Emancipation grew. Known as 18th century Protestant rural vigilantes, the Orange Order fought against its Catholic vigilante counterparts, the “Defenders.”

The Order became critical to Northern Ireland rule after Ireland’s independence in 1921. Every prime minister of Northern Ireland, from Partition in 1921 to the return of direct rule in 1972, was an Orangeman. In fact, several ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive are Orangemen today, and the Order still considers itself a unifying Protestant force.

Even after Irish Independence in 1921, orange is still part of Ireland’s flag, symbolizing its Protestant minority population.

And, since the 18th Century Northern Irish celebrate the “Orangefest.” Part of this celebration involves a “marching season,” a series of events and parades, that take place between April and August every year. The key date celebrated is July 12, commemorating William of Orange’s victory.

Orange, more than any other color, symbolically and historically represents Ireland, and what it means to be Irish. At least over the last 325 years.

March 17, 2016

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