Today’s Sunday Times carries a story to gladden the heart of any nationalist, Catholic, or reasonable person. The Orange Order, it seems, is dwindling away.
In 1948 the number of Orangemen was 76,447; this rose to its highest number in 1968 – 93,447 members, but this fell to 64,160 within a year and has declined ever since. In 1990 it was claimed that there were 100,000 members in Ireland, but there were actually only 47,084.
By 2006, the latest year for which figures are available, the number of members was 35,758.
And yet they organise around 3,000 marches a year – almost one for every ten members! This must require every Orangeman attending multiple parades all through the summer. If nothing else, its good exercise, but surely hard to sustain in the modern era with many other calls on free time.
If the decline continues (as it surely must – the age of many marching Orangemen is visibly above average) then within a few years the Orange Order will be an irrelevant hang-over from the past, and wider society will probably tolerate its eccentricities in the same way as it tolerates the Salvation Army or vintage car enthusiasts. Then it can claim its rightful place in Ireland – the history book.