Anthony  D  Buckley

‘Framed Wall chart: First Loyal Boyne Society 17 October 1798’.

By Anthony D Buckley and Linda J Buckley

In (ed) William A Maguire Up in Arms: the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland.  Exhibition catalogue, item 115, Ulster Museum, Belfast 1998.



115 Framed folding wall chart, inscribed 1st Loyal Orange Boyne Society/ARMAGH 17th Octr 1798. PEN AND WATERCOLOUR ON PAPER, ULSTER MUSEUM (ARMAGH MUSEUM COLLECTION)

This remarkable item, associated with the Loyal Orange Boyne Society, consists of two pictures displayed in a single folding wooden case. One depicts the organisation's symbols, derived mainly from Biblical scenes. The other also depicts Biblical stories, but uses representational landscapes. Both pictures were probably intended to explain to candidates for initiation the meaning of the stories used in the organisation's rituals.

The Boyne Society was set up at the turn of the seventeenth century, and was later superseded by the Orange, Arch Purple and Black institutions, all of which p140 borrowed heavily from its symbolism. Indeed the similarity of this older symbolism with that of still-existing organisations makes the wall chart's emblems comparatively easy to interpret. The map-like landscapes of the second picture are more obscure. They are undoubtedly Biblical, but it is not always clear which picture refers to which story, so the interpretations given here are more speculative.

The secretive symbolism of the Boyne Society was inevitably, indeed intentionally, inaccessible to non-members. In the wall chart, some of the symbolic items are just thrown haphazardly together. In one cluster, the twelve stones of the Jordan stand next to Moses's grape-carrying spies from an earlier story while, nearby, Elijah looks at the 'cloud ... like a man's hand'. Other emblems are simply obscure, for example, the mysterious initials on the pillars, A and J, and G and H, two of which - G and H - reappear in the second pictures as geographical points on a river. There is also a plethora of additional imagery - all-seeing eye, sun, moon, beehive, cock, lamb and others - of the kind which crops up in the symbolism of many different eighteenth and nineteenth-century brotherhoods in Ireland and elsewhere.

Despite its similarity to that of other organisations, the symbolism of the Boyne Society had its own particular emphasis. The Boyne Society's raison d'etre, of course, was to commemorate King William's victory at the Boyne. To clarify its message, however, it associates this victory with Biblical heroes who, like King William, can also deal successfully with water.

a) The Battle of Jericho. Here Joshua leaves twelve stones as a memorial to the fact that he was able to cross the Jordan by miraculously parting the waters.

b) The Two and a Half Tribes. After the battle of Jericho, the two and a half tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh remain faithful to their fellow Israelites, even though they are on the eastern bank of Jordan's waters.

c) Gideon. Gideon defeats his enemies. First, however, he chooses his picked force of men stranded by a water test. Those who drink from the Jordan by lapping the water like dogs are deemed inadequate. His 'chosen few' are those who can handle water correctly.

d) Elijah. Elijah battles with Ahab, Jezebel and the prophets of Baal. He goes to heaven in a chariot of fire. He does this, however, having first crossed the Jordan like Joshua, by miraculously parting the waters.

e) Moses and the Exodus. Moses is here told to bring the Israelites out of Egypt into the promised land, a mission accomplished by parting the Red Sea's waters.

f) Noah's Ark. Faced by flood, Noah rescues pairs of animals and his own family, saving the sentient population from the encroaching waters.

g) David and Saul. The battle between the anointed King Saul, who has lost favour with God, and the anointed King David seems to mirror the history of William and King James. The three arrows and the cave of Adullam refer to the escape of David leading to the defeat of Saul.

h) The Ark of God ('TAOG'). Stories of the loss and rediscovery of the Ark of the Covenant have long been popular. Variants are found in the Orange Order's Royal Arch Purple degree, in the different Royal Arch degrees of Freemasonry, and even in Spielberg's film 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.'

It is likely that the last two stories, the conflict between Saul and David and the search for the lost Ark, neither of which is associated with water, and perhaps too the sojourn in the desert, provided the basis for Boyne Society ritual. But it is also p141 interesting that these ideas should have been interwoven with stories of water-competent heroes, men who, by one means or another, brought salvation by their dealings with water. Thus was the simple story of the Boyne and the 'Glorious Memory' of William III associated with illustrious figures from the Bible. And thus, through documents such as these, one can trace the origins of the rituals of the modern Orange associations.


1) Sources:  C.S. Kilpatrick, 'The Period 1690-1911', in History of the Royal Arch Purple Order (Belfast, 1993).