The Poison of Orangeism

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER VIII (18) start of chapter

Though the hearts of Irishmen in the New World instinctively turn to each other, this pestilent Orange virus keeps them apart. There is their old country, which they love in common, with which their fondest and dearest memories are associated; but this evil thing is so vicious, so full of rancour, that it poisons the very fountains of patriotic emotion, and stimulates to hatred rather than to love.

Under ordinary circumstances, when there is nothing to give life to this Orange feeling, the Irish live in harmony together. They are friends and neighbours, and would willingly assist each other in adversity or distress. The families visit and blend together; the young people grow up in companionship, most likely in friendship; the old people gad and gossip together; births and marriages and deaths are matters of common interest—nay, not a sorrow or pain is felt in one home but excites compassion and sympathy in the other. But, lo! as the period of the Orange festival approaches—as one of those anniversaries of past strife, of battles fought nearly two hundred years ago in Ireland, comes round—then a cloud seems to grow and gather on the brow, and a strange transformation takes place: the open-hearted, kindly neighbour of yesterday is not to be recognised in that downcast, sullen fellow, who meets the Catholic with a scowl, if not a curse; and in his wife, or daughter, or sister, who hurries past the house of the Catholic as if there were contagion in its door-posts, one finds it hard to trace a likeness to the genial matron who so agreeably discussed the nameless trifles that constitute the theme of friendly gossip, or the pleasant damsel whose laughter made music in the family circle. When the day of celebration does come, the Catholic had better avoid his Orange neighbour—for quarrels, blows, bloodshed, may possibly come of their meeting; and if so, alas! deeper hate and greater scandal—sadder shame to those who bear an Irish name. Possibly the crisis passes without collision or disturbance. Happy for all if it be so; and in a few days after, not however without some preliminary shame-facedness, the former relations are re-established, and all goes on as before—until the accursed anniversary again darkens the brow and fills the heart with hate. Terrible, if not before man, certainly in the eyes of God, is the responsibility of those who keep alive the memories of strife and contention which should be left to slumber in the grave of the past.

Canada has a splendid future before her, whatever may be her form of government, or whatever the relations which, in the course of time, she may bear to the mother country, or to her neighbour the United States. She abounds in natural resources. Millions and millions of acres of good land are yet unoccupied, more are still unexplored; and such is her mineral wealth that a vast population should be employed in its development. Thus, with land almost unlimited in extent, mines of unquestionable productiveness, and capabilities within herself for almost every description of manufacturing industry, what does Canada require in order to be really great, but population—more millions of men and women? But she must rid herself of this Orange pestilence; for though she pays her workers liberally, and in hard silver, which knows no depreciation; and though they live well, taxation being small and prices of all necessaries being moderate, still their tendency is towards the other side of the Lakes and the St. Lawrence.

I have met and spoken with too many of my Catholic countrymen in Canada not to know that this Orange feeling is a cause of more than dissatisfaction—even of lurking discontent: it is the one thing which, reviving the recollections of old persecution, makes the Catholic Irishman think less fondly of the home of his adoption; it is likewise, I believe, one of the causes which for many years past has diverted emigration into another and a broader channel. For Catholics, I can say their dearest wish is to live in amity with their Protestant neighbours. They admit and feel that the laws are just and good, that the Government is wise and paternal, that the institutions are favourable to the fullest liberty; therefore the more do they deplore the existence of an organisation which keeps alive an evil feeling that is neither suited to a Christian people nor favourable to the fuller development of a youthful State. I write this in the warmest interest in a country to which so many of my own people have directed their wandering footsteps, and where so many of them have won an honourable independence by the exercise of the noblest qualities.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America