Northern Ireland

Orange Order museums 'will not be propaganda'

Orange museum
Image caption A full-size model of a white horse is grabbing people's attention at Schomberg House

The curator of a £3.5m Orange Order heritage museums project has said it will not be a propaganda exercise for the order.

Two museums and interpretive centres, entirely funded by EU Peace III money, are due to open in early summer.

The aim is to promote Orange heritage.

Schomberg House, the order's Headquarters on east Belfast's Cregagh Road has doubled in size to become an administration and interpretive centre.

It will include a museum, research library and visitors' café.

A mock-up of the inside of an Orange lodge room will also be open to visitors to explain what happens "behind closed doors" when Orangemen meet.

Director of services for the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Dr David Hume, said they have taken soundings from nationalists in deciding what to include in the new centre.

"Hopefully they learn quite a lot about the institution and how it operates," he said.

"We've had a number of people we call our critical friends from the nationalist community on our sub-committee during the design of the museum.

"They've told us the sort of things they want to know about the Orange Order including basic things like why do people join it, what does it actually do, what happens when a lodge meets and so forth."

Battle of the Diamond

The Museums of Orange Heritage are spread over two sites - Schomberg House and Sloan's House in Loughgall in County Armagh.

It was in Sloan's House, a former inn, that the first Orange lodge warrants were signed and issued hours after the Battle of the Diamond in 1795.

The building on Loughgall's main street has also grown in size after a £1m expansion project.

Denis Watson, who is the county grandmaster of Armagh, said historically important exhibits will be on display along with a restaging of the signing of the warrants in Sloan's parlour.

"We have the roll book of Loyal Orange Lodge 25 dating back to 1796 which only came into our possession recently," he said.

"We also have an original blunderbuss actually fired during the Battle of the Diamond. So there will be plenty for people to see when they come into the centre."

The curator of both museums is Jonathan Mattison who is also a member of the order.

"I think it's useful as Northern Ireland moves forward into what people describe as the 'shared future' that everybody understands each other's culture," he said.

"This project will help to highlight one of the biggest cultural groups in NI and the Republic."

'No polemical exercise'

He denied it would amount to a multi-million pound flag waving exercise for the Orange Order.

"This isn't a polemical exercise by the institution," he said.

"We're putting as much of our history on display as we can in the space available. There will be artefacts and material on display that haven't been seen before. This is not a propaganda exercise, it's an exercise in education."

Mr Mattison said the parades issue would also be dealt with in the museums.

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Media captionJonathan Mattison denied the project would amount to a multi-million pound flag waving exercise for the Orange Order

"The parades issue will be covered as it is obviously one of the most visible aspects of the Orange tradition worldwide."

The newly appointed marketing officer, Ashleigh Hill, has the job of selling the museums to visitors at home and from around the world.

"There are Orange lodges in the States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand," she said.

"We even have them operating in Africa in Ghana and Togo as well. So there's plenty of scope for getting those further afield tourists to come here and visit."

While the building work progresses at Schomberg House, a full-size model of a white horse is grabbing people's attention as it looks out of a first floor window on the Cregagh Road.

"The museum has drawn a veil of secrecy over what it's about, even though odds are shortening on it eventually being the mount of someone called William."

There will be further coverage of this story on BBC Northern Ireland's Good Morning Ulster and BBC Newsline programmes on Wednesday.

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