Orangemen and the Political Rights of the Kingdom of Ireland
On the Monday the 9th April 1798 the first Grand Lodge of Ireland was established; the first meeting took place in the home of Thomas Verner on Dawson Street Dublin. Its first task was to elect officers and pass a new constitution and rules for the institution, this brought uniformity and structure to the hundreds of orange lodges and Williamite Societies throughout the Island of Ireland.
After the meeting closed the brethren moved downstairs and toasted the “Glorious and Immortal Memory” with whiskey, wine and porter. The porter was a gift from Arthur Guinness, a Kildare man who 20 years earlier established a brewery at St. James Gate Dublin for the production of a dark beer known as “Guinness, black protestant Porter”. Arthur was well advanced in years but his four sons were among the founding members of the first orange lodge in Dublin in 1797 LOL 176 a year before the Grand Lodge of Ireland was established. The first meeting of LOL 176 took place in a Hotel on Grafton Street Dublin.
Following the 1798 uprising Westminster and Dublin Castle resolved to create a formal union between Great Britain and Ireland to try and stabilise the Kingdom. The public at large was divided on the issue, as were the members of the Orange Order. In fact the Orange Order was in danger of splitting over the legislative union. The Grand Lodge was moved to issue a statement on the political discourse rising through the Orange Institution. “All brethren should strictly abstain from expressing any opinion, either pro or con, upon the question of legislative union because such expression of opinion and such discussion could only lead to disunion; that disunion would lead to disruption, and that disruption would promote the designs of the disaffected and in all probability lead to the destruction of the Empire”.
However several lodges came out in defiance of Grand Lodge, such as LOL 500 of Dublin who issued a statement to the press; against the Union. On the 1st March 1800 31 lodges met at the Maze Co. Down and issued a draft stating. “We consider a legislative union with Great Britain as the inevitable ruin to peace, prosperity and happiness in this Kingdom”.
A week later the County Grand Lodge of Antrim issued a pro union statement. On 12th March 1800 the Maters of 36 lodges representing 2,100 Orangemen met in Armagh City and passed strong anti-union resolutions. LOL 253 of Charlemont in Co. Armagh went so far as to call for the Grand Master Thomas Verner to be replaced with the anti-union George Ogle, who was an MP in the Irish House of Commons. In 1777 Ogle was described as an Irish patriot for financing a ship to run the British blockade during the American war of Independence. He also supported the Reform Bill in the Irish House which removed “Penal laws” against Roman Catholics, in addition to voting against the Act of Union. George Ogle became Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland in 1801, his statue stands in the north wing of St Patricks Cathedral.
The issue of the union was out of the hands of the Orangemen and on the 17th June 1800 the final reading of the Bill to create a union between Ireland and Great Britain was read in the Irish House of Commons and passed. The Act of Union received Royal assent in August and became law. On 1st Jan 1801 it came into action. The new Union Flag was raised for the first time, with the saltire of Saint Patrick joining the crosses of St George and St Andrew. It was flown throughout the UK and has remained flying for the last 214 years.