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Monday, 9 July, 2001, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
An Orange day out in the Republic
A lambeg drum in action at Rosnowlagh
Banging the drum: A lambeg in action at Rossnowlagh
With all the attention on Drumcree in Northern Ireland, BBC News Online's Dominic Casciani spent a day with Orange Order members in the Republic of Ireland.

The Orange Order was due to parade through a Catholic area and the only police comment was to wrap up warm.

Welcome to Rossnowlagh, County Donegal, the Orange Order's annual celebration of its culture in the Republic of Ireland.

Every summer, all heads turn towards Drumcree where Northern Ireland's loyal institutions and nationalists continue their stand-off over the route of the parade.

But there are hundreds of parades without riot-gear clad security forces or any hint of community tensions.

The Orange Order's annual Rossnowlagh parade, next to one of the most beautiful beaches in Ireland, is one such occasion.

International institution

When the British government drew up Partition in 1921, the historic Irish region of Ulster lost three of its counties to ensure that Northern Ireland would have a Protestant majority.

A solitary policeman escorts the parade
Visible policing: That was about the extent of it
These counties, Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan have among the largest Protestant communities and therefore largest Orange lodges in the Republic. Approximately 2% of the Republic's population are Protestant.

For any outsider whose experience of the Orange Order is television pictures of Drumcree, Rossnowlagh is entirely different: laughter, smiles and not a whiff of tension.

This year, at least 2,500 Orangemen gathered for the parade. Wives, children and grandparents lined the route.

About a dozen Gardai (Irish police) wandered around, primarily directing traffic.

County Donegal Orangemen led the parade, followed by lodges from Cavan, and Monaghan and then Country Leitrim.

The visiting Northern Ireland lodges from the border areas were dotted between them.

I live in a Catholic country and have Catholic neighbours in our farming community. But there's no grudges, we are all friends who help each other

Donegal Orangeman Mervyn Wylie
As they came down the hill, a big cheer went up. Rather than passing by austerely in silence, many of them broke step and shook hands with old friends.

Bands played away, prompting foot-tapping in the crowd.

Old men tipped their bowlers to their grandchildren. The huge traditional lambeg drums were out in force - and in volume.

One long-retired drummer decided to have a nostalgic return to his former role in his lodge. It took two of the younger members to hold up the beast of an instrument.

Families put out the picnic spread. There was not a care in the world.

'No grudges'

Mervyn Wylie, one of the officers of the No. 3 Destiny Lodge of East Donegal, gathered his children around him as he reached the parade ground.

Mervyn Wylie of the East Donegal Orange Order
Mervyn Wylie: "Family day out"
"Rossnowlagh is very important to us," he said. "It's something that the rest of the world doesn't see - the Orange Order as it has always been - peaceful and celebrating its faith.

"I live in a Catholic country and have Catholic neighbours in our farming community.

But there's no grudges, we are all friends who help each other - and they respect our right to demonstrate our faith - it's a carnival atmosphere."

Growing up a Protestant on the Catholic side of the border has removed much of the political dimension for these southern Orangemen.

But they did sympathise with their brethren across the border - no-one had a good word to say about the Northern Ireland Parades Commission which banned the Drumcree route.

While the Orange Order's Belfast leadership officially opposes the Good Friday Agreement, many of those I spoke to at Rossnowlagh had voted in favour of it.

The loyalty to the faith was clearly visible - but the nationality issue had long been settled.

"There's nothing that says you can't be an Irishman and speak out for a different religious culture," one told me.

"The accident of where they put the border is just not really an issue here."

Religion and politics

Dominic Bryan, an expert on the Orange Order at Queen's University in Belfast, said that the southern Orangemen had something which was still elusive to their fellows in Northern Ireland - a settled place in a society that has changed.

If there was a Parades Commission we probably would be told that we couldn't march. But the Order doesn't need it here as there is tolerance

Rev William Bingham
"The southern lodges are far more religious in nature and parades such as Rossnowlagh have a real feel of a traditional Orange country fair," said Dr Bryan.

"It's a family event. Many of the symbols are different and the music is markedly religious rather than loyalist.

"All the big questions that dominate the debate about the Orange Order here have long been settled."

Dr Bryan says in the years immediately after partition, republicans did attack the Orange culture.

"But over the years, the southern lodges appear to have no problem with the concept of an Irish state because they have found their place within it."

Northern guests

Rossnowlagh's guest speaker was the Reverend William Bingham, deputy Grand Chaplain and a figure involved in attempting to resolve Drumcree.

A Drumcree doll on a drum at Rosnowlagh
Sympathy and unity: A Drumcree doll
At the height of the 1998 dispute, he spoke out following the murder of three Catholic children, telling Northern Ireland that no road was worth a life.

There is anecdotal evidence that since the dispute began, the Orange Order's relationship with the churches in the south has been damaged.

But Mr Bingham, on his first visit to Rossnowlagh, said that the day gave the lie to those who claimed that the Order was sectarian and bigoted.

"I remember that this was what it was like when I was young," he told me. "Lodges have brought their own bands and things are so relaxed we're running late on the speeches.

The Orange Order has been misinterpreted and misunderstood. We display truth and goodwill to all those with whom we share our lives

Deputy Grand Master of Ireland Alfie Lee
"If there was a Parades Commission we probably would be told that we couldn't march. But the Order doesn't need it here as there is tolerance for our community."

But hasn't the Parades Commission become inevitable because of the lack of tolerance and trust between the communities in Northern Ireland?

"You could say that the Protestants are such a minority in the Republic that they are simply no threat to anyone," he said. "The Catholic community say 'let them enjoy their day,' and they do.

"We have got to get back to this in Northern Ireland. I don't want people to think we're a force for evil. We're a force for good.

"The only thing I want us aligned to is the churches."

As the day drew to a close, families wound their way back up the hill. Little boys wearing Orange sashes sat on backseats, waving out of the window.

"It's been a grand day - shame about the wind though," one Garda said as I departed.

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