Author Archives: Liam Cullinane

About Liam Cullinane

Liam Cullinane is a PhD student in University College Cork. His research consists of a comparative oral history of workers in Irish Steel, Sunbeam Wolsey and the Ford Marina Plant.

The Sash by the Seaside: A Brief History of the Republic of Ireland’s Only Orange Parade

A Donegal tourist website, listing some of the events and attractions in the county, draws special mention to the annual Rossnowlagh Orange Order Parade, held every year before the 12th July commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne: ‘It is a moment of high weirdness, once very year – orangemen and -women descend upon the sleepy seaside town of Rossnowlagh to parade from the church to the beach. What has the trappings of an outing to the seaside (complete with ice cream vendors, food stands and tacky souvenir stalls) is in fact the only parade of the Orange Order in the republic of Ireland. Peaceful and a family affair. And colourful, though blue, white and red are the pre-dominant shades. [1]

The idea of an Orange Order parade in the South will likely seem odd to some, especially given the violence that occurred when Willie Frazer and Love Ulster marched in Dublin some years back. Many would also be surprised to know that there are, in fact, some 44 Orange Lodges in Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan, Donegal and Wicklow. The Rossnowlagh Parade represents the most important event in the calendar of Southern Unionism and has, with the notable exception of a gap in the 1970s, taken place annually on the Saturday before the 12th of July with little fuss for more than a hundred years. This post will examine the history of this curious annual event.

Unionism in Donegal

The Orange Order has its origins in the intense sectarian violence that plagued mid-Ulster in the 1790s, evolving from anti-Catholic, agrarian secret societies that were active in the affected areas. The organisation’s stated aim was to promote and defend Protestantism in a country where Catholics formed a significant majority. The organisation was highly active in the early nineteenth century in opposition to Daniel O’Connell’s repeal agitation and was involved in many acts of sectarian violence. By the late nineteenth century, the movement was in decline. However, William Gladstone’s attempts to introduce Home Rule for Ireland saw the Order re-emerge stronger than ever before. In the Unionist state that emerged after the turmoil of the revolution, the Orange Order became the most significant organisation in the six counties. Indeed, between 1921 and 1969, every prime minister of Northern Ireland, and all but three cabinet members, were members. Unsurprisingly, the organisation didn’t fare as well in the Southern State. The annual twelfth of July parades, celebrating the protestant William of Orange’s victory at the battle of the Boyne, is the movement’s most important and widely celebrated tradition.

That the Orange Order was active in Donegal is not surprising. The county has historically possessed a significant Protestant population. In 1861, for example, nearly a quarter of the County’s total population came under the category of ‘other religions’, of which Church of Ireland adherents and Presbyterians formed the great majority. By 1926 relative numbers had declined, though less dramatically than in other parts of the country, and they remained a significant minority, compromising 18% of the population of Donegal. Indeed, of the twenty-six counties that formed the Saorstát, Donegal had the third largest non-Catholic minority, edged out only by County Dublin (excluding the city) and Monaghan.[2] Even today there are a number of Orange lodges in the county, though the Rossnowlagh lodge itself has long been inactive.

Members of the Leitrim Loyal Orange Lodge marching in 200

Members of the Leitrim Loyal Orange Lodge marching in 2000

The Rossnowlagh parade appears to have merited little mention in the pre-revolutionary period, being just one of dozens of Orange parades held in the South at a time when the idea of ‘Northern Ireland’ had yet to come into existence. One of the few times the Rossnowlagh parade attracted attention was in 1906 when the Raphoe bands were returning home from the march. On reaching the town, the Orangemen paraded through the streets ‘though the hour was late.’[3] A Catholic navvy got caught up in the procession before being beaten badly. A ‘scene of wild violence’ then occurred between local Catholics and the Order with the marchers using bayonets and deacon poles as weapons, resulting in several Catholics being ‘seriously wounded’ by bayonet and sword thrusts.[4] The fact that this one outbreak of violence merited mention indicates that the parade was, otherwise, just a regular part of life in Donegal.

Rossnowlagh only became notable after the revolution. After partition, Orangeism became a more or less purely Ulster phenomenon, while Southern Unionism adjusted to the reality of minority status in an independent Irish State. While the Orange Order managed to maintain its structures reasonably well in the border counties of Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal, the Rossnowlagh march quickly became the only major Boyne commemoration in the Free State, though some smaller events did continue to be held in other parts of the country. A newspaper report of the 1936 Rossnowlagh parade described an event greatly similar to the contemporary parade, with the day passing off ‘without a single unpleasant incident’, no political meetings being held and the crowd ‘contenting themselves with the usual features of a seaside outing.’[5] Other pre-1969 parades followed a similar pattern.

Troubled Times

With the outbreak of the troubles in 1969, the future of the Rossnowlagh commemoration was called into question. With the conflict less than a year old, there were well-grounded fears that the marching season would represent a sectarian flash-point. It was in this context that Fianna Fáil senator and Donegal native Bernard McGlinchey warned that there would be trouble were the parade to take place. There was an undeniable sectarian tinge to McGinchey’s comments, made at a meeting of Donegal County Council, accusing Donegal Protestants of ‘separating themselves from the community’ and ‘paying lip-service to Dublin.’[6] When confronted over his statements, the senator was unapologetic, claiming that Donegal Unionists had crossed into Northern Ireland ‘to help the B-specials in their foul work’ and accused them of aiding the UVF in the blowing up of an RTE mast near Raphoe.[7]

The Donegal News reported that McGlinchey’s comments were not well received in the County and represented a view that was ‘alien to normal attitudes in Donegal, where all sections of the people live in reasonable harmony, respect and friendship.’[8] Support came from unexpected quarters. The Ancient Order of Hibernians condemned McGlinchey’s ‘deplorable’ threats while Sinn Féin encouraged the Orange Order to continue with the parade regardless and suggested that they seek Garda protection from ‘sectarian bully gangs.’[9] In spite of this, the Orange Order decided to call off the parade in the interests of maintaining the peace. It was not until 1978 that the parade was again revived.

Orangeman and Orangeboy at the 1981 Commemoration

Orangeman and Orangeboy at the 1981 Commemoration

One of the most striking features of the parade from the mid-1980s onwards was its spectacular growth. In the period before the troubles, the numbers attending the parade rarely rose above 1,000 while, after the restoration of the event in 1978, they tended to be a fairly humble affair. This is not surprising, given the context of the continued tensions that existed across the border. The 1981 parade, for example, saw just 500 or so Orangemen parade through Rossnowlagh ‘amid . . . black flags and walls daubed with H-block slogans.’[10] However, the popularity of the event was growing steadily and, by 1987, numbers had risen to 800. Interestingly, one of the participants that year was Gordon Graham, secretary of the Dublin and Wicklow lodge, who proudly boasted of being ‘the only Connaught-born man in the Orange Order.’[11]

‘A Family Day Out’

It was the nineties that the parade truly came into its own. The 1993 parade saw an unprecedented attendance of 10,000, twenty times the number that had marched on the revival of the event in 1978.[12] By 1997, the estimated attendance was 15,000, including Orangemen from as far afield as Canada and New Zealand.[13] These figures may not be entirely accurate. The Donegal Orange Order’s deputy grand master, for example, felt that the small size of the village may have led to overestimates of crowd size.[14] However, the fact that a significant increase in attendance took place cannot be questioned. That the explosion in popularity of the parade coincided with the peace process is not surprising. Indeed, the scale of the celebrations has tended to ebb and flow with the degree of tensions on the other side of the border.

1994 photo

1994 Parade

Eric Kaufman writes of the Rossnowlagh commemoration that the nature of the parade in ‘this depoliticised setting demonstrates that Orange marches are about culture as well as power.’[15] To say that the Rossnowlagh marches were always apolitical is not strictly true. At the 1960 march for example the southern government were criticised for not doing enough to prevent IRA raids during the border campaign, while in 1980 the crowd were warned against ‘misleading and divisive ecumenism.’[16] However, in general, these were the exception rather than the rule. The parade in recent times has tended to be more of a ‘family day out’, with all the features of a seaside festival, including tacky souvenirs and chip-vans. In 2000, a local Garda, who had policed the gathering for over a decade, commented that the parade was ‘very much a family affair . . . there is never any hassle.’[17] The order itself appears to have taken care to ensure that the parade remains so. For example, the Sash is always played though more overtly political songs are not, while Ulster flags, rather than Union Jacks, are typically carried by the marchers.


So, why has the parade tended to remain so free from tension? A significant factor must be the healthy community relations that have prevailed there. In 2001, a poll of Donegal Protestants found that 86% identified with ‘Irishness’ and the Irish state, demonstrating pride in national achievements, while 96% mixed socially with the Catholic community.[18] The fields where the parades are held, for example, are Catholic-owned while one local Orangemen commented that they and the local lodges of the Ancient Order of Hibernians ‘co-operated closely’, often loaning each other instruments for their respective parades.

The other reason for the trouble-free nature of the parade is their political setting. The Orange Order in the north was indelibly associated with the overtly sectarian Stormont state that emerged from partition. The order was seen to be (and usually was) tightly bound up with institutions like the B-specials and the Northern state itself. Thus, Boyne commemorations there had an entirely different meaning, being an expression of power and control, often of overt sectarianism, as well as a cultural event. In the republic however, the state, though dominated by the ethos and corporeal power of the Catholic church, was not an overt tool of sectarian repression. Thus, Orange marches held in the south were neither an expression of resistance nor of domination, and lacked the potency of meaning that they generated in the North.

In the context of the southern state and an area that has traditionally boasted healthy community relations, the Rossnowlagh commemoration perhaps represents another side of Orangeism, an expression of a more benign Unionist identity, stripped of the sectarianism and triumphalism that is so often characteristic of Orange parades in Northern Ireland. The geographical distance between Drumcree and Rossnowlagh is not large, but the political, historic and cultural gulf between those two places is immense.

[2] Report of the 1926 Census (Dublin: Stationery Office, 1929), Vol.3, Table 9.

[3] Donegal News, 21 July 1906.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Donegal News, 18 July 1936.

[6] Donegal News, 4 July 1970.

[7] Irish Press, 11 July 1970.

[8] Donegal News, 11 July 1970

[9] Ibid.

[10] Donegal News, 18 July 1981.

[11] Irish Times, 13 July 1987.

[12] Irish Times, 12 July 1993.

[13] Irish Times, 7 July 1997.

[14] Irish Times, 26 May 2000.

[15] Eric Kaufman, The Orange Order: A Contemporary Northern Irish History (Oxford, 2007), 237.

[16] Donegal News, 23 July 1960 and 19 July 1980.

[17] Irish Times, 26 May 2000.

[18] Irish Times, 14 August 2001.


Filed under Irish History, Memory, Social History, Twentieth Century, Uncategorized

‘Any Jobs Going?’ Career Advice in Post-War Ireland

From October 1949 until March 1950, the Irish Press ran a series of articles under the title ‘Any Jobs Going?’ with the aim of giving advice to teenagers about to enter the workforce. A weekly feature that covered over a hundred different trades and professions during its six month run, the articles in it are notable both for their clinical frankness and the research that went into them. Tom Garvin, in his popular history of 1950s Ireland, News from a New Republic, argues that this series of articles represents a rich and untapped source for students of labour history. Indeed, ‘Any Jobs Going?’ represents a unique snapshot, not only of the contemporary labour market, but also of the lives of working people and Irish society more generally in the post-war period.


Máire Leane and Elizabeth Kiely write that Irish society in the 1940s and 1950s was ‘class-divided, patriarchal and repressive in many aspects.’[1] Similarly Diarmuid Ferriter wrote that the same period was characterised by ‘the huge gulf between the rhetoric of aspiration that coloured so many of the supposed advantages of Ireland as an unsullied classless, rural idyll, and the reality of a society that failed hopelessly to live up to such rhetoric.’[2] Ireland’s unequal and class-polarised society is blatantly demonstrated in ‘Any Jobs Going’. Professions such as medicine or law, for example, were far beyond the reach of working class people. The cost of becoming a doctor was estimated to be between £1500 and £2000 at a time when even a relatively good job like glass worker brought in an income of just £8 to £10 per week.[3] Another article noted of barristers that it was a common belief that ‘no young man should come to the bar unless he has a private income of at least £300 a year’.[4]

Any job requiring a university degree meant several years of tuition fees and, especially for those living outside of Dublin, much more to be spent on food, accommodation etc. To become an architect through the course in University College Dublin cost £45 in fees per year over a period of five years though, if your home was not in Dublin, it would take ‘well over £1000 to make an architect of you’.[5] Given that most Irish teenagers left school at 14 in order to contribute to the family income, the likelihood that anyone from outside the ranks of the elite could climb the ladder to a profession was unlikely. Similarly, while it is almost certain that scholarships and the like were a possible means of advancement for the working and lower middle classes, these were rare and not mentioned in ‘Any Jobs Going?’ as a reasonable means of social advancement. In my own oral history research on manufacturing workers in Cork, I found that when narrators were asked what they would have liked to have done after leaving education, most cited either craft jobs or unskilled but relatively well-paid work, demonstrating the limited (and accurate) horizon of expectations held by working-class people in a deeply unequal society.

IT Sep 4 1950 - 1

Job Advertisement in Irish Times, 1950

‘Any Jobs Going?’ also reflected the highly gendered nature of employment in 1950s Ireland. The number of occupations covered that were geared towards women was minimal and concentrated in traditional ‘feminine’ spheres of work such as hairdressing, millinery, dressmaking and waitressing. The series also paints a clear picture of the discriminatory practices that existed in relation to payment. In Cork, in 1949 for example, a waiter earned 55/- compared to the 33/- per week earned by his female counterpart, while, after ten years working as an assistant in a grocers or off-license, a man would have a weekly wage of 105/- compared to the female rate of 75/-.[6] Professions and high-status jobs were almost exclusively male domains, with only a handful of female exceptions, such as hotel manageress. The series also gives an insight into the brevity of women’s working lives. Better paying and high-status jobs for women in state bodies or semi-state companies, such as national school teacher or railway clerk, were inevitably cut short at marriage: ‘But girls, a word of warning, if you want to get married and still hold your job, national school teaching is not for you.’[7]

Even in jobs where there was no formal, legal requirement to quit upon marriage it was still the case that gender ideology ensured that the majority of women usually exited employment once they were married. As one working-class woman from Cork commented in her memoirs: ‘Every husband liked to convey the notion that he could support his wife on his own income and a working wife was tantamount to an admission of failure in that regard. It made him feel less of a man.’[8] For an older generation of women workers, the phrase ‘She got married then’ was also a shorthand way of saying ‘She exited employment’. Though married women gradually began to remain in employment from the 1970s, to the point where it is now the norm, the old notion of a male breadwinner and female caregiver had a long shelf life. Indeed, I recently interviewed one woman who recounted feeling guilty when she returned to work in the mid-1980s because she felt she was betraying her role as a mother.

Even within traditionally working class spheres of employment, many avenues were closed off due to restrictive work practices. As the first article in the series comments, ‘some jobs are easy to enter’ but others are ‘hedged about by all kinds of barriers, fees, waiting-lists, trade union regulations, age limits’.[9] These were not the only restrictions. To be a Garda, one had to be ‘not less than 5’ 9’’ in height (barefooted) with a mean chest measurement of 37 in the event of his being 5’ 11’’ or over, and at least 36’’ if he is less than 5’ 11’’ in height.’[10]

Gardaí in the 1950s. Height restrictions remained in place until the 21st century.

Gardaí in the 1950s. Height restrictions remained in place until the 21st century.

Leaving aside the barrel-chested giants of the constabulary, the most significant barriers to employment were in the trades. Many skilled jobs in this period were dominated by a guild mentality that owed more to early skilled trades societies than modern trade unionism. Carpentry for example, a well-paid and high-status craft, was effectively closed to those without relatives in the occupation: ‘If you are not a carpenter’s son or do not have relatives who are engaged in the industry, your chances are not so bright.’[11]  Similarly, the majority of those involved in the confectionery business were ‘closely connected to the trade by family ties and preference is given to those who have relations in the trade.’[12]  These practices tended to prevail much more in the older, more traditional trades such as those mentioned above. Other were less restrictive. To become an electrician, a profession whose ranks were being rapidly expanded by rural electrification, was a more reasonable prospect for a young worker. While the sons of electricians ‘naturally get some preference’, nominations of apprenticeship were shared equally by trade unions and engineering firms, meaning that there were a number of avenues available to those seeking an apprenticeship.[13]

While craftsmen had higher status, pay, conditions and bargaining power than other workers, to become a tradesman also required a lengthy apprenticeship. As Garvin notes: ‘Apprenticeship periods were far longer than in other countries . . . the international norm was three or four years for most trades, but Irish apprenticeship periods amounted to six or seven years of essentially underpaid labour.’[14] Indeed, one of the most striking things about the series as whole is the sheer number of jobs that required an apprenticeship. Even bartending, which is today an unskilled job that doesn’t require a qualification, required a four year apprenticeship in 1949/1950, while to be a grocer’s assistant necessitated a training period of three years.[15]


The Inisfallen, which carried thousands of emigrants from Cork to England

Ultimately, ‘Any Jobs Going’ paints a picture of a highly closed and stratified labour market. After the miniature industrial revolution that coincided with Fianna Fáil interventionism in the 1930s, the limits of protectionism had been reached by 1950. The Irish economy was stagnating and, as a result, there were not enough new jobs and industries to provide fresh opportunities for the young. Beyond the jobs described in the Irish Press, the single most common occupation in the country was that of the unskilled worker, whether factory hand, docker or agricultural labourer, not to mention the thousands of unemployed.

The restrictive practices of many craft unions, which sought to maintain exclusivity within their trades, are understandable in this regard. With a vast reserve army of unskilled workers and the unemployed waiting beyond the factory or the workshop, lowering the barriers to entry would have meant that the industrial power of the craftsmen would have been decreased and the importance of their skills diluted rapidly. For most ordinary people in this period, who lacked the wealth of the elite, or the connections and trade protections of the craft workers, employment prospects were bleak. It is no surprise then that during the decade that followed the publication of ‘Any Jobs Going?’ more than half a million people left the country, seeking a life that the declining and stagnating emerald isle simply could not provide.

[1] Máire Leane and Elizabeth Kiely, Irish Women at Work, 1930-1960: An Oral History (Sallins: Irish Academic Press, 2012), pp.6-7.

[2] Diarmuid Ferriter, The Transformation of Ireland, 1900-2000 (London: Profile, 2005), p.506.

[3] Irish Press, 9 December 1949 and 23 February 1950

[4] Irish Press, 7 November 1949.

[5] Irish Press, 26 October 1949.

[6] Irish Press, 20 October 1949 and 26 December 1949

[7] Irish Press, 8 November 1949.

[8] Eibhlís de Barra, Bless ‘em All: The Lanes of Cork (Cork: Mercier Press, 1997), p.139.

[9] Irish Press, 15 October 1949.

[10] Irish Press, 19 November 1949.

[11] Irish Press, 17 October 1949.

[12] Irish Press, 25 October 1949.

[13] Irish Press, 27 October 1949.

[14] Tom Garvin, News from a New Republic: Ireland in the 1950s (Dublin: Gill and MacMillan, 2010), p.149.

[15] Irish Press, 21 November 1949 and 26 December 1949.


Filed under Irish History, Labour History, Social History, Twentieth Century, Uncategorized