Museum of Orange Heritage looks at all aspects of last 100 years in Northern Ireland
GRAEME COUSINS visits a new exhibition on the Northern Ireland centenary ahead of museums reopening today
The Museum of Orange Heritage at Schomberg House is excited to be able to open its doors again today, and the timing couldn’t be better with a new exhibition in place about Northern Ireland’s centenary.
While an ‘Orange thread’ runs through the exhibition, curator Dr Jonathan Mattison and his team were careful to present an unbiased history of the past 100 years focusing on every aspect of life in the Province.
Jonathan said: “One of the motivations behind the exhibition was to be people focused.
“We didn’t want to just tell the political narrative of the last 100 years, we wanted to punctuate that narrative with the achievements of people, whether it’s a sports personality, a business personality, individuals who have contributed to the last 100 years in Northern Ireland.”
One of the galleries is a chronological exploration of the past 100 years using 100 main images to go with the centenary story.
Another gallery houses a large collection of memorabilia relevant to the events of the past century – things like the bike on which Philip McCallen won an unprecedented five out of six races in one day at the North West 2000 in 1992 and the prison card which was attached to Ian Paisley cell door in 1969 when he was detained along with Major Bunting.
Jonathan said: “You’ll see all backgrounds and identities represented in the exhibition.
“There is an Orange thread given where we are, and given that the institution was so large and involved in society.
“What we’ve tried to do is draw out the people who have made a massive contribution over the last 100 years in laying the foundations for the next 100 years.
“Everyone is always proud of the country they come from. Northern Ireland’s success hasn’t just been about endurance and survival. It’s been about the endeavour of its people, the achievements, the innovation.
“It’s a remarkable story of punching above our weight. Almost setting our faces against a certain level of adversity that’s always been rumbling along in the back and going out determined to achieve.
“Individuals have a tendency to look at the history of Northern Ireland through the prism of the last 50 years, but it’s much, much more complex than that.”
He added: “You could have filled warehouses with the stories. One of the main issues was trying to limit it to 100 images.
“We had a small group when creating the exhibition. We tried to ensure as many different aspects of our history, and ways of life, and individuals were reflected as possible.
“We’re trying to capture a very rich kaleidoscope of cultural heritage.”
Jonathan discussed key points in the history of Northern Ireland: “Shipbuilding has had its highs and lows over the past century, we’ve tried to reflect that.
“You had the strategic importance of Northern Ireland during the Second World War. It became a massive training base for soldiers from the United States of America.
“One of the regiments raised here was the 9th Belfast Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, they were evacuated from France in 1940 and ended up being deployed to the far east – Burma and India.
“There were a lot of Orangemen within the regiment, their sashes were made by local women, with hand sewn lodge numbers. We’ve a few photos on display in the exhibition of them celebrating the Twelfth of July out in Madras in 44 and 45.”
He went on: “We look at the changing nature of politics. You started with Craig, Andrews and Brook, building the economy, in the 60s you had Captain Terence O’Neill and although his prime ministership was overshadowed by the Troubles he was one of the main drivers in ensuring big international companies came to Northern Ireland.
“We haven’t hidden any aspects of the political history, we’ve charted the ceasefires, the signing of the agreement, issues surrounding public processions, competition over shared space.”
He added: “We’ve tried to ensure the artefacts reflect the story. We have items relating to the early political development of the Northern Ireland Parliament. We have an original copy of proceedings from June 22, 1921 – it’s in remarkable condition.
“Sporting traditions loom large right the way through. We’ve a signed jersey of the ‘82 World Cup team and a programme from 1964 when Pat Jennings and George Best both made their Northern Ireland debuts.”
Jonathan said the museum saw an increase in donations during lockdown and were also provided a lot of material in the estate of the late David Brewster, the Limavady lawyer and Orangeman who passed away in January.
When the museum reopens today those visiting will be asked to give their details to allow for track and trace to be used if necessary.
It will operate at a capacity of 20 adults to begin with, who will be asked to wear a mask and avail of sanitising points throughout the building.
The Museum of Orange Heritage is located at the top of the Cregagh Road in Belfast, just off the A55 outer ring.
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