and destruction on the famous 12th
Approaching the Twelfth of July and the memory of the Battle
of the Boyne in which William of Orange defeated King James,
has for years caused tension and tempers to reach boiling
point in Ulster and across the border. The routes have been
changed on numerous occasions to avoid flash points and
keep the peace. Today we think of the Garvahey Road, Derry's
Walls and other places in Northern Ireland, but one of the
first parades to see death and destruction was at Dolly's
Brae on July 12, 1849.
The fact that members of the County Down Orange Order had
stated their intention to march from Rathfriland to the
Earl of Roden's Estate at Tollymoore Park, County Down on
the Twelfth had greatly alarmed government authorities.
The proposed route of the parade would pass through the
almost total Catholic townland of Magheramayo,. This, it
was feared, would provoke the Catholic Ribbonmen. In order
to make sure that things stayed quiet, a body of troops
and police and two magistrates was sent to the area. Early
on the morning of July 12, 1849, the soldiers took up their
positions at Dolly's Brae near Castlewellan, where there
had been trouble the previous year. Shortly after, a force
of several hundred Ribbonmen arrived and finding the pass
occupied, they waited nearby.
The parade of over one thousand Orange Men "all armed
to the teeth" left Rathfriland led by a number of bands
and a company of dragoons. Meanwhile, the numbers of Ribbonmen
at Dolly's Brae had grown to over a thousand, all armed
with pitchforks, pikes and muskets. They appeared to enjoy
themselves with shooting practice but no breach of the peace
At about five o'clock that evening the Orange parade approached
Dolly's Brae instead of returning to Rathfriland by the
same route as they had come. The Ribbonmen had by this stage
moved from Dolly's Brae to a hill which overlooked the pass.
A man at the head of the Orange parade is reported to have
given the order "Now, my boys, not a shot to be fired".
Then, as they marched along there came the sound of a shot
from the head of the parade. Who fired first is not known
(some say that it was a firework that was hurled into the
ranks). A succession of shots from each side followed this.
As shots flew among the police and troops, they charged
the Ribbonmen, firing as they went. When the Ribbonmen took
to their heels, the order to stop firing was given but several
of the Orange section of the parade continued firing.
After the battle, the police found six dead bodies, eighteen
pitchforks, seven pikes and ten muskets. Not one Orange
man was wounded and only one policeman was hurt when he
was accidentally bayoneted in the arm by one of his companions.
A government inquiry later found that at least thirty Ribbonmen
were killed and its report led the government to re-introduce
the Party Processions Act, forbidding sectarian parades.
The underlying tensions are believed to have been fuelled
by the anti-Catholicism that pervaded the popular evangelical
feeling of the time and the resultant resurgence of the
Ribbonmen. However, it gave the Orangemen the knowledge
that they were able to deal with such matters in an effective
Dolly's Brae happened 157 years ago - how much have things
changed since? Many efforts have been made by different
people on both sides to ease the tensions and cool the anger
which boils at times such as the Twelfth of July parade.
Perhaps the first big break came in 1993 with the Downing
Street Declaration. For a brief moment, let us go back to
the lead up to this declaration.
In 1991, Margaret Thatcher was succeeded as British Prime
Minister by John Major and Albert Reynolds became Taoiseach
when Charles Haughey resigned over allegations that he knew
of the tapping of journalists' phones in 1992. Reynolds
then announced that his two top priorities were to achieve
peace in Northern Ireland and prosperity in the Republic.
He had become friendly with Major when they both held the
Finance portfolio of their respective governments over the
previous years and shortly afterwards, Reynolds started
talks with his friend about Northern Ireland. After some
tough negotiations, the two leaders signed the Downing Street
Declaration in December 1993. It declared that Britain had
"no selfish, strategic or economic interest" in
Northern Ireland and that it was "for the people of
the island of Ireland alone" to decide their future.
The Irish side agreed that unity would only come with the
consent of the majority and that clauses in the Irish Constitution
that claimed sovereignty over the whole island would be
talked about. There were some who claimed that Major had
sold Ulster to please the Republicans. It was almost a year
later when a ceasefire was declared by the IRA and six weeks
later, a similar action was taken by the Loyalists paramilitaries.
This may not have been the end of the trouble in the North,
but it was a big step in the right direction.
Courtesy of Willie White and the Carlow Nationalist