The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland recognised a few years ago that the credibility of the Orange Order had been severely damaged within the Protestant community. The Drumcree debacle (Poratadown, County Armagh) that began in the 1990s left its mark on the public perception of Orangeism. Protestants who ordinarily would have considered joining the Orange Order have been shunning the Order, being sickened by its disorderly antics. They have given their commitment to other more fruitful interests. Many were disgusted at the street disorder the Orange leaders encouraged and defended throughout Northern Ireland a few years back. The 12th of July became associated with tension, violence and paramilitary-style road-blocks. This is still very fresh in the minds of most Ulster Protestants. Today, instead of staying for the parades over the July fortnight, many Protestants leave the country in their thousands to escape the drama of the parading season. This would have been unheard of 30 years ago.
The Orange Order has consequently been in desperate need of a face-lift. Internal division (resulting in falling numbers) and an abysmal public image has meant it was in urgent need of a complete make-over. In 2008 the Orange Order decided to rebrand itself. It was decided that there was a grave need to present a softer image to the public rather than the hard sectarian one that had been generated in recent years. Orangeism was trying to encourage younger Protestants back into its ranks.
It created a new cartoon super-hero called Diamond Dan. This Orange mascot was named after 18th century Diamond (County Tyrone) pub owner and one of Orangeism’s founding members, Dan Winters. The Diamond refers to the place where his bar was located, outside which different Masons agreed to form a new secret society of Protestants in 1795. Diamond Dan was intended to be more family-oriented and tourist-friendly. He appeared on everything from the Order’s Christmas cards, to souvenir fridge magnets and notebooks. Orange Order education officer David Scott boasted: “Diamond Dan will be the kind of person who offers his seat on a crowded bus to an elderly lady. He won’t drop litter and he will be keen on recycling.” He was nicknamed ‘Sash Gordon’ by several British media outlets.
But was this caricature, based on Orange “hero” Masonic bar owner Dan Winters, really the type of hero Protestants needed? Many Protestants oppose the vice of alcohol. Why would they want a 18th century bar owner as a model for their kids, even if he was one of the founding fathers of the Orange Order? This seemed like another ill-thought-out Orange gimmick. Maybe he was a poignant picture of where Orangeism has arrived today? After all, the 12th July has become an annual drunken all-day party for many Orangemen. This can be witnessed in the disorderly conduct of many walking home from the 12th field.
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Clearly the Orange was trying to move away from its traditional political and religious persona to a more cultural image. This had been the long-time vision of Grand Secretary of the Orange Lodge of Ireland, Drew Nelson. He wanted to appeal to the tourist that was now coming to Northern Ireland. As part of the planned re-branding of the July marches, it instituted a cultural Orangefest, something that created significant internal strife with the traditionalists. Orangefest involves a programme of music, dance and drama to entertain and educate local people and tourists. It included highland dancing, local bands, poetry, drama and storytelling. The Order’s new mascot Diamond Dan, was set to be the central icon that would help transform their sectarian image into something less offensive, cosier and likable. For those watching on, it seemed like a desperate attempt to resuscitate a terminally declining patient.
But no sooner had Dan come to the fore to lead the new PR campaign than he was exposed as a counterfeit. The Orange Order had stolen him from Dan Bailey, a British designer from Essex. He was a straight rip-off of the “Super Guy” cartoon character created by the English illustrator. Diamond Dan was basically a repaint job of the “Super Guy” character often used by British computer magazines. After a bit of tweaking, the ‘SG’ logo on Super Guy’s chest was removed and replaced with an Orange sash and the purple star. The image was dishonestly acquired on iStockphoto.com (one of the world’s digital libraries) without permission, and then suitably adorned in Orange colours.
This was an embarrassing own goal for the Orange Order. Diamond Dan became the laughing stock of the British media. They suitably (and funnily) re-nicknamed as “Bootleg Billy.” This whole debacle only served to highlight the desperation existing within the Orange Order today, the lack of direction and the amateurish PR machine they possess. It also revealed, how, instead of looking to God for help in a time of need they were turning to foolish carnal man-made gimmicks.
This whole humiliating episode tells us us that the Orange Order is indeed a secret society in trouble. It seems to have lost its way and lost its identify. A lack of leadership and a lack of direction are leading it down foolish paths. When all is said and done, maybe Diamond Dan should have been called “Desperate Dan.”
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