THE Orange Order has announced plans for two new interpretive centres it hopes will promote better understanding and increased tolerance of the organisation.
Almost £4 million in funding has been allocated for the two new projects – one at its Belfast headquarters and the other in Co Armagh – from the European Union’s Peace III programme.
Speaking at a launch event in Belfast yesterday, Orange Lodge of Ireland Grand Master Edward Stevenson said both Schomberg House and Sloan’s House in Loughgall will be transformed to become museums and learning facilities, as well as shared community spaces.
The extension of Schomberg House in east Belfast will include a replica Orange hall as its entrance.
A range of items including a letter written by William III before his departure to Ireland in June 1690, a book of payments to the Williamite army in 1690 and a pair of gloves worn by King William will be on display.
Mr Stevenson said: “The aim of this transformational project is to create understanding, education, tolerance and mutual respect through interpretation and creation of shared space.
“The creation of two unique educational and resource centres will tell the story of the foundation of the institution as well as its traditions, development and place in wider society.”
A full-size replica of the King William on horseback statue above Clifton Street Orange Hall will be a centrepiece of the revamped Schomberg House exhibition space.
Refurbishment of Sloan’s House in Loughgall, Co Armagh – where the first Orange warrants were signed more than 200 years ago – will include a museum exhibition area to provide information on the early history of the Orange Order.
A musket with bayonet used during the 1795 Battle of the Diamond at Loughgall will be among the artefacts on show.
“Such world-class developments at both Schomberg House and Sloan’s House will also preserve and present the impressive historical collections of the Orange Order in a form that will encourage an informative and engaging learning process,” Mr Stevenson said.
The Sloan’s House site will also incorporate a research facility and educational resource, with particular access for school and cross-community focused visits.
Among the high-profile political figures attending the launch were Lord Bannside, Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt and DUP MEP Diane Dodds.
Five full-time staff, including a museum specialist and a marketing executive, will be appointed to run both sites, which are expected to be open by the summer of 2014.
The Reach project (Reaching out through Education and Cultural Heritage) has received a total of £3.6 million from the EU’s Peace III programme, which is managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).
Pat Colgan, chief executive of the SEUPB, said: “Upon its completion, this EU-funded project will promote a greater awareness of the history and traditions of the Orange Order.
“By proactively reaching out to people, on a cross-community basis, the Order will be able to demystify many of the existing perceptions of what it is.
“This open and honest dialogue will lead to a positive understanding of Orangeism and its place within our society.”
Match-funding for the project has been provided by the Department for Social Development in Northern Ireland and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in the Republic.
DUP Minister for Social Development Nelson McCausland, who spoke at yesterday’s launch, said the new centres would help cement the Orange Order in society.
“These will provide the Orange Order with educational and research facilities that will be warm and welcoming, will be open to everyone, and support schools to deliver on the national curriculum,” said Mr McCausland.
His party colleague Mrs Dodds said: “It would be good for Northern Ireland if, through better education, understanding can be improved and many myths dispelled about the Loyal Orders.”
Mrs Dodds added: “For many years these funds have been believed to favour one side of the community but through hard work and greater confidence within the broad unionist family to apply, that is changing.”
Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann has welcomed the news, saying the two new centres “will be ideally placed to recount the development of the Orange institution” and its place in wider society.
“I am confident that this initiative will prove to be a great asset not just to the local community but in terms of historical and cultural tourism and I wish it every success,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Republic’s environment minister, Phil Hogan TD, said the new project could create greater levels of mutual understanding on both sides of the border.
He said: “I am also pleased to see that it will involve a comprehensive cross-border element to its outreach programme that will hopefully encourage more people living within Ireland to learn about the traditions of the Orange Order.”
See Morning View, page 18