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Not all Orange see differences

Saturday, July 11, 1998

By Dennis Roddy

The Protestant Boys they are loyal and true

Stout-hearted in battle and stout-handed, too

Orange tune

In the week past, the stout hands of the Protestant Boys threw 509 petrol bombs, pulled 14 triggers and crushed the face of one equally Protestant policeman whose offense to the faith was trying to calm a riot.

Protestants and Catholics of Northern Ireland, momentarily unburdened of such minor concerns as national identity, are free now to focus on an issue worth dying for: parade routes.

Members of the Protestant Orange Order want to complete a celebratory march that takes them through a quarter-mile stretch of Catholic housing called the Garvaghy Road. Catholic residents, mindful of the order's legacy of Catholic-baiting, take offense. I, being a descendant of both traditions, wonder if I ought to shoot myself in revenge.

It is all very alien to Bob Barnett, 46, Protestant, Irish, and past leader of Loyal Orange Lodge No. 36. It is Pittsburgh's last outpost in what was once an archipelago of 23 Orange lodges dating to the 19th Century when America's Catholics and Protestants still noticed differences and cared to pretend that they mattered.

"I remember when I was a child, my grandmother wouldn't even let me play with a kid that was Catholic," Barnett said. A respectful lad, he complied. But this discipline had no hold on Barnett. He spoke with me in the printing office of his employer, Mercy Hospital, run by Catholic nuns. He'd just spoken with his best friend, Tony Sebastian, a Catholic. His brother-in-law is a member of the Knights of Columbus.

While applicants to Barnett's lodge still must be Protestant, America's Orangemen six years ago removed language from its applications in which candidates had to actively affirm that they were neither Catholic nor married to one. Barnett's lodge had long ignored that rule anyhow.

When the Pittsburgh lodge held its annual Twelfth of July banquet, celebrating Protestant King William's victory over Catholic King James, no fewer than five of the guests were Catholic spouses of Orangemen.

"Living here in the United States we just can't comprehend what's going on," Barnett said of his Ulster brethren. "Their religion is their politics. My religion is my own."

Someday Barnett would like to enroll his Orangemen in the St. Patrick's Day Parade. The parade, run by the Catholic Ancient Order of Hibernians, is an event boycotted by Protestants in Belfast, who prefer their own marches. Here, the idea sparks occasional, minor debate at the Orange meetings, but the biggest impediment has been a lack of banners and sashes. The stuff got lost during the long pause between the deaths of older members in the 1960s and the arrival of fresh blood in the past two decades.

Before I left Barnett's office, I had a question: should the Orangemen now bivouacked near Garvaghy Road, be allowed their march?

Yes, he said. What else would an American think? Stopping a protest might be legal in Great Britain, but it's positively alien to an American. Not that Barnett's guys are in a hurry to march themselves. The idea causes bickering.

Some fear it would give offense. Barnett's doubts that.

"Three quarters of the people that would see us march wouldn't even know what we are."

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