A Nationalist Orangeman

Posted By: April 27, 2015

 On This Day
 Irish News, Saturday, April 25, 1946
A Nationalist Orangeman
One of the most remarkable figures in 19th century Irish history is an Ulster landlord and leading Orangman who cast his lot in with the popular demand for an Irish Parliament and was critical of British rule. The fact of Grey Porter (1817-1903), High Sheriff of County Fermanagh, son of a rector of the Established Church and grandson of a former Protestant Bishop of Clogher, having written in 1844, advocating a measure of Home Rule shocked public opinion at the time. His views were welcomed by Daniel O’Connell. ‘
     In a contemporary Unionist journal Porter was described as having been previously ‘an extreme Orangeman’ who was in the habit of riding round Lisnaskea, Lisbellaw and Maguiresbridge on a white horse, dressed as the personification of  King William. It came as a shock to his fellow-Orangemen, therefore, when he adopted a Nationalist position.
In a remarkable pamphlet in 1843 Porter penned a scathing indictment of English rule and prescribed a local Parliament as the panacea. His comments on the evil of absentee landlordism were not unlike that of Dean Swift a century earlier. ‘Our great landlords are only so many sponges to draw up and away year after year the fruits of our lands, and when the country requires capital for great enterprises, such as railways, it must be sought elsewhere.’
       If, Porter argued, Ireland had a legislature of its own, ‘there would be a cheerfulness, an open honesty and a straightforwardness in the national character and Ireland would step forward in social and political civilization.’
Daniel O’Connell was delighted with the sentiments of Porter’s pamphlet and invited the former Orange Grand Master to join the Repeal Association. Porter did so but on the peculiar condition that he was not joining as a ‘Repealer’ but as a Federalist. Porter had hoped to convert O’Connell to his own federal policy but when he failed he resigned from the Repeal Association. (John Grey Porter (1817-1903) stands out as that rare phenomenon – a Nationalist Orange Grand Master. An eccentric politician and improving landlord, Porter was born in Kilskeery, Co Fermanagh of ascendancy stock.  In the 1840s, as landlord of the Belleisle estate  and a leading Orangeman, he briefly joined O’Connell’s Repeal movement. In 1867 Porter launched his own Lough Erne steamship company. Breaking with the Orangeism, he stood as a Liberal in several elections and launched his own newspaper, the Lisbellaw Gazette in 1879 as a platform for his often idiosyncratic views.)