Northern Ireland

Orange Order: Warm welcome and tough talking as Catholic college opens up to Protestant history

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Media captionIt was the first time that Orange Order members addressed students at a Catholic university

It was a first for St Mary's University College on Belfast's Falls Road, and for the Orange Order.

Two members of the order were invited to give a presentation about its history to a university seminar.

David Scott and Dr Jonathan Mattison spent over an hour speaking to and taking questions from about 25 staff and students.

They received a polite and enthusiastic welcome, but also faced some tough talking at times.

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Image caption The Orange Order does outreach work to offer a better understanding of its traditions and its past

St Mary's educates many students who become teachers in Catholic maintained schools.

Prof Peter Finn, the college's principal, said building a relationship with the order was good for the students.

"St Mary's is a university institution of higher education in the Catholic tradition, but that doesn't mean to say we can't engage," he said.

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Image caption The Orange Order says it is a pro-Protestant rather than an anti-Catholic organisation

"We seek to develop in our student teachers attitudes and values which are positive to other people.

"We have put in place a project enabling our geography students to learn more about the order, the traditions of that culture and to enable them to see another perspective."

Some students who attended Wednesday's seminar had recently visited the Museum of Orange Heritage in east Belfast.

Image caption Prof Peter Finn said St Mary's wanted its students to see other cultures from another perspective

Geography and religious education student Nicole O'Neill said her perceptions had changed because of the contacts between the university and the order.

"I am from a Catholic background and I live in the country," she said.

"I am associated myself with gaelic games and that's something I feel very strongly about.

"But this has allowed me to see that there are other traditions and see how different people celebrate their backgrounds.

Image caption Nicole O'Neill said she could see there was more to Orangeism than just the 12th of July

"It's allowed me to develop a much better understanding of the background of the Orange Order and it's allowed me to see that it's not just the 12th of July."

"There's a lot more to it."

Frank

Mr Scott and Dr Mattison spoke about the order's traditions, its past and its outreach work.

They answered questions from the audience, and some of the exchanges were frank.

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Image caption St Patrick's Church in Belfast is a notorious flashpoint for contentious Orange parades

One staff member said he had witnessed parades past St Patrick's chapel on Belfast's Donegall Street and saw "blatant hatred of Catholicism".

The qualifications of an Orangeman state that "he should strenuously oppose the fatal errors and doctrines of the Church of Rome, and scrupulously avoid countenancing (by his presence or otherwise) any act or ceremony of popish worship".

However, Orangemen are also told to refrain "from all uncharitable words, actions, or sentiments" towards Roman Catholics.

Mr Scott said the order was a pro-Protestant rather than an anti-Catholic organisation.

Image caption David Scott said it was "critical" for the Orange to build relations with its neighbours

"That doesn't prevent us from building relationships with our neighbours," he said.

"And it's critical that we do that.

"We find exercises like this very, very valuable, and if we can make a single step of this change through this process we want to do it.

"We're not going to change the mindset of everybody, we'll never do that.

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Image caption The Orange Order and St Mary's College say they are committed to developing their links

"This is a very powerful relationship we have with St Mary's, but we've found that the engagement with the maintained schools sector has been very, very successful."

The relationship between the university and the order is in its relatively early stages.

Both say they are committed to developing it further.

So we may see the Orange Order visiting the Falls Road more often in the future.

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