Right of Reply: Ruth Dudley Edwards

The historian and author of `The Faithful Tribe' defends Orangeism against our recent leading article
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The Independent Culture
"BIGOTRY SHOULD not be a cause for celebration or a family day out," said The Independent's leader on Tuesday, commenting on the Orange parades on the Twelfth. It found the sight "of small boys wearing sashes and bowler hats, the traditional symbols of Protestant bigotry, a depressing spectacle".

I shared that sentiment at my first Orange parade 12 years ago, but then - although I'm an atheist - I had the excuse of carrying southern Irish Catholic baggage. Nowadays, a veteran of dozens of parades over the four years I've spent writing a book on the loyal institutions (Apprentice Boys, Orange Order and Royal Black), I know how prejudiced I was.

Although I've heard a fair amount at Orange services about the errors of Roman Catholic doctrine, I have heard much more about the absolute requirement of every Orangeman to be tolerant of the religious views of others. Junior Orangemen are schooled to honour the Queen, obey the laws of their state, uphold the Protestant religion and defend the civil and religious liberties granted by King William III. I freely admit that there are Orangemen at the fringes who are bigots and that some of the bands are unsavoury. But I know that the vast majority of members of the loyal institutions are decent people who have endured three decades of terrorism without yielding to the instinct to seek revenge - because their Christian principles tell them to forgive.

I have seen young people being inculcated with hatred at parades. They were republican parades, where their leaders told them that the RUC were murdering thugs and that Orangemen were scum. Orangeism is a valid culture; republican bigots are bent on its destruction.