Catholics and Protestants can be good neighbours, McAleese says

Posted By: June 25, 2015

Irish Times. Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Good neighbours should know and respect each other, the former president Mary McAleese said on Wednesday at the official opening of the Orange Order’s new interpretive centre in east Belfast.

Ms McAleese and her husband Martin were among the guests who were at the order’s headquarters in Schomberg House for the opening by the North’s social development Minister Mervyn Storey of the new £3.6 million museum.

“The culture of the Orange is not my culture but it is the culture of my neighbours and we who are the children of the Jacobites and the Williamites who share this space, who share this island – we haven’t always shared it happily with each other – we have decided we want to share it happily for the future,” Ms McAleese said.

“It’s important to be here because this place is built with a view to celebrating Orange culture but also to explaining it to a wider audience, opening up that culture so that we don’t live in ignorance and mythology but that we do live with true understanding of one other.” 

Some Orange Order members privately highlighted the fact that the organisation is both an all-Ireland and international organisation. And while there were flags flying outside Schomberg House of countries such as Canada, Australia and Ghana to reflect the wide reach of the order the Irish Tricolour was not flown.

All welcome

Ms McAleese said she liked the fact that the museum was being presented as a place that welcomes anyone who wants to come to learn about the culture of the order. 

“I think good neighbours should know about each other and should respect each and part of that respect is being interested in each other, and what each other believes, where we come from, what their values are,” she said. 

Ms McAleese said that there were many “points of intersection” between the two main cultures on the island of Ireland. 

“I do believe an absolute essential of good neighbours is good dialogue, good discussion, a discussion that doesn’t avoid issues but actually can tackle issues, but do it respectfully and with the facts,” she said. 

“That is what this place offers, a chance to know the truth about the order, to know what its values and history are, and importantly what they hope its future will be, a future where it is celebrated in a country at peace, where those who do not share perspectives, who do not share the same cultural identity nonetheless live as good neighbours to one another.”

International history

The Museum of Orange Heritage is located on Belfast’s Cregagh Road. The overall development involves the extension of Schomberg House to incorporate the museum displaying items and artefacts relating to the history of Orangeism across the world, a lecture theatre and interactive educational space, with particular access for school and cross-community focused visits. The development also includes a replica lodge room, a research facility, shop space and a café.

The Irish Government is providing £500,000 towards the cost of the project with the Northern Executive contributing £400,000 and the European Union donating the remaining £2.7 million in funding.

The grand master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Edward Stevenson, described the opening of the museum as “transformational”, enhancing the institution’s outreach with the wider community in Northern Ireland and beyond.

Mr Stevenson said the “shared space will serve not only to inform, but also demystify perceptions, and create a better understanding of our traditions”.

David Hume, the order’s director of services, said the institution wanted to “reach out and educate and encourage mutual understanding”

One of the new items on display in the museum is a musket used by a Jacobite soldier at the Siege of Derry in 1689 and at the 1690 Battle of the Boyne. It was the gun presented by the late Rev Ian Paisley to former taoiseach Bertie Ahern at the opening of the Battle of the Boyne site in 2007. 

The individual who owned the carbine got it back and has just sold it to the order through auction for £20,000.

© 2015