© Newtownards District No.4
THE BEGINNINGS OF ORANGEISM IN NORTH DOWN
The earliest centre of Orangeism in north Down was Newtownards, where LOL 481 was formed in 1797 (some two years after the birth of the modern Orange Order).
The other place where Orangeism took hold was in Portaferry where Lodge 552 was founded between March and May 1798. The early 1800s saw a second lodge (673) formed in the village.
The 1800 Act of Union, which brought Ireland under the governance of Britain, initially encouraged decline in the Orange Order, although this was short-lived and the Union was eventually welcomed with Orange Societies being seen as a way of displaying loyalty to the crown.
Between 1815 and 1829 there was slow expansion in the area, with occasional rises in the Orange numbers thanks in part to the Grand Master of Down at the time, Nicholas Crommelin of Carrowdore. In 1823 the first demonstration in the area was held in Comber, attended by some 53 lodges. By 1834 there were fourteen lodges in the area with centres in Newtownards, Donaghadee, Bangor and Portaferry as well as single lodges in Kircubbin, Carrowdore, Portavogie and Comber.
A government ban of all outdoor processions in 1830 did little to hamper the spread of the Order and a year later Number 4 District was formed in Newtownards with James Boal as its District Master. Parades continued to be held locally, although not without consequences, with one such procession culminating in the arrest of six Orangemen.
Parades were soon made legal again and a revival occurred, helped by an influx of tradesmen into the area and encouragement given to the Order by the local gentry. Not everything was well however and by the mid-1850s a dispute, apparently with roots in LOL 1054, where District Master James Boal was a member, had split the District into two factions.
The disagreement eventually led to the formation of Upper Ards No. 11 District, with lodges deciding which body to align themselves to. Lodges 240, 481, 1055, 1362 and 1501 along with Comber's 244 and 567 and 1051 and 1058 of Carrowdore stayed with No.4, while No.11 District comprised lodges 111, 128, 1054; 677, 859 and 1310.
The separation had the unintentional effect of boosting numbers in North Down as the two new Districts attempted to outdo each other. Another major factor in the rise of the Order at that time concerned an illegal parade organised by William Johnston between Newtownards and Bangor in 1867. Johnston's subsequent imprisonment and the attention it brought about had a dramatic effect on both Districts, with eleven new lodges formed in the area.
By the time returns were made in 1869 Ards District had 435 members while Upper Ards had over 1100. Even the nobility began to take a renewed interest with Viscount Castlereagh joining LOL 128 in 1881.
Until this time the structure of the movement was extremely loose. Individual lodges did not always parade on the 12th July, or lodges in the same District went to different venues. District Lodges issued warrants over a wide area and brought some complaints when certain Districts were seen to step out of their boundaries.
The 1870s saw the beginning of a more structured institution similar to what we have today. In 1880 the Newtownards lodges, until then split over two Districts, amalgamated with some of the Comber lodges to form 'Newtownards District'. The 'Ards' District No.11 retained lodges from the Peninsula and took in Holywood, Bangor, Ballyknockan and Ballyhackamore. However it was not long before this District was realised too big to manage and 1883 saw the formation of Holywood District No.14.
Two years later and five Comber lodges formed District No.15 leaving only Bangor as part of No.11 District. A District Lodge would be formed there too by 1906, although not before various disagreements had seen the Bangor lodges split up and some warrants even cancelled. Seven lodges eventually founded No.18 District meaning the organisation we know today was complete.
adapted from ‘A Short History of Orangeism in North Down’ which was
published in the Newtownards Twelfth celebrations booklet of 1986