Orange Volunteers (1972)

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The Orange Volunteers (OV) was a loyalist vigilante group with a paramilitary structure active in Northern Ireland during the early 1970s. It took its name from the Orange Order, from which it drew the bulk of its membership.


The group was established in 1972[1] as a paramilitary movement for members of the Orange Order.[2] Many of its members had previously served in the British Army.[3] Full details of its early membership are sketchy, although its strength was estimated at between 200 and 500 members, most of whom were concentrated in East Belfast and Sandy Row, with some outlying groups in North Down and East Antrim.[4] The group was close to the Ulster Vanguard and provided security at some of its rallies, a task usually undertaken by the Vanguard Service Corps.[3] Following their formation the group was endorsed by leading Orangeman George Watson. However, the Reverend Martin Smyth was not prepared to fully associate the Orange Order with a paramilitary group and so the OV did not receive its official public endorsement.[5]

The leader of the group was Bob Marno, who was also an active figure in the Loyalist Association of Workers.[6] Marno represented the OV on the Ulster Army Council following the establishment of that group in 1973.[7]


According to Steve Bruce the group carried out a bombing on a Belfast pub in 1973 but otherwise did little publicly of note.[2] The group was involved in stockpiling weapons and stashing them in Orange halls.[2] It also enjoyed a close relationship with the much larger Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and some of its more militant members were eventually absorbed into that group.[8] In April 1973 their name was attached, along with those of the UVF, the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and Red Hand Commando (RHC), to a series of posters that appeared in loyalist areas of West Belfast threatening violence to racketeers, particularly those claiming to be paramilitaries.[9]

Its members were active during the Ulster Workers' Council strike of 1974.[2] Around this time it experienced a rush of members and grew in strength to as many as 3,000 men, allowing it to play a leading role in the roadblocks and intimidation that accompanied the strike.[3] During the strike itself the OV was part of a faction of minor loyalist paramilitary groups, represented by the Ulster Special Constabulary Association, Ulster Volunteer Service Corps, Down Orange Welfare and themselves, who pushed for Bill Craig to take a leading role in the running of the strike. The UDA and UVF had hoped to exclude politicians from the conduct of the strike as much as possible but ultimately acquiesced and allowed both Craig and Ian Paisley to play prominent public roles in the stoppage.[10]


Following the strike, the group helped to form the Ulster Loyalist Central Co-ordinating Committee, which replaced the Ulster Army Council in 1974.[11] The group was still in existence in 1977, when Marno was replaced as leader by Jackie Campbell.[12] It supported the United Ulster Unionist Council strike that year. This stoppage, which attempted to replicate the successes of 1974, had little impact.[3] The OV disbanded at an unknown time after this and was certainly defunct by the 1980s.[13]

A separate organisation calling itself the Orange Volunteers emerged in 1998 although members of the original OV disassociated themselves from this new group, claiming that, apart from the name, there was no connection.[14]


  1. ^ Jim Cusack & Henry McDonald, UVF, Poolbeg, 1997, p. 105
  2. ^ a b c d Steve Bruce, The Red Hand, Oxford University Press, 1992, p. xi
  3. ^ a b c d W.D. Flackes & Sydney Elliott, Northern Ireland A Political Directory 1968-1993, The Blackstaff Press, 1994, p. 258
  4. ^ Cusack & McDonald, UVF, pp. 105-106
  5. ^ Eric P. Kaufmann, The Orange Order: A Contemporary Northern Irish History, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 82
  6. ^ Bruce, The Red Hand, p. 85
  7. ^ Bruce, The Red Hand, p. 95
  8. ^ Cusack & McDonald, UVF, p. 106
  9. ^ Bruce, The Red Hand, p. 68
  10. ^ Bruce, The Red Hand, p. 100
  11. ^ Flackes & Elliott, Northern Ireland, p. 334
  12. ^ "Glossary of the strike", Irish Times, 2 May 1977, p.11
  13. ^ Gus Martin (ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Terrorism, SAGE, 2011, p. 449
  14. ^ Henry McDonald & Jim Cusack, UDA - Inside the Heart of Loyalist Terror, Penguin Ireland, 2004, p. 308