100 not out '“ oldest women's Orange lodge in Belfast marks centenary
A Belfast Women's Orange Lodge marks its 100th anniversary this week, and is using the occasion to call for new, younger members.
At its annual meeting this week, South Belfast WLOL 17 celebrated its proud history which includes the courage of members to keep their lodge in Sandy Row open during the Belfast Blitz.
At the meeting which took place on Tuesday evening each member of the lodge was presented with a centenary medal while the minutes from the lodge’s first meeting on April 30, 1918, were read out.
Lodge secretary Ann Dickson said: “It’s a great honour to be part of this lodge and part of the Orange Order.
“My father was an Orange and Blackman all his life. He instilled the virtues of Orangeism within me.”
Ann, 70, joined the lodge in 1974 and has held a number of positions. She said: “Nowadays a lot of the lodges are dwindling away down which is very sad.
“Some lodges have just about enough to open their lodge meetings.
“At one time our lodge had 181 members and now you wouldn’t get all the lodges together to give you 181 members.”
She continued: “We would love to see other women joining the Orange.
“Some say to me, ‘I couldn’t walk’, but we’re not asking them to walk, we’re just asking them to join because it’s important to keep the Orange Institution flourishing.”
She continued: “The oldest in our lodge is about 90 and the youngest is in her early 50s.
“We really need some younger members.”
South Belfast Women’s LOL No 17 was formed at a special meeting held in Sandy Row Orange Hall on Tuesday, April 30, 1918 at 8pm.
Brother John Drennan of Belfast District occupied the chair for the purpose of installing officers for this newly formed Women’s Lodge.
A number of the Bridgett sisters – of the famous banner painter William Bridgett and Sons – were also in attendance.
The first officers installed were Worshipful Mistress Sister Margaret Drennan, Deputy Mistress Sister McAuley and Secretary, Sister McGuinness.
It was agreed dues were to be paid every three months at 2/6d.
At the June meeting, 16 new members were proposed.
There were members from all over Belfast including the Shankill Road, Crumlin Road, Sandy Row, Malone Road and even Andersontown.
Many of Belfast’s most distinguished citizens were members; these included councillor Mrs Elsie Armstrong, councillor Mrs Margaret Laird, councillor Mrs Breakie, Mrs Patricia McLaughlin MP and Lady Harcourt who was Lady Mayoress of Belfast.
Even the German bombing raids on Belfast in 1941 did not stop the lodge meeting, and eight sisters made their way to Sandy Row Orange Hall and managed to open the lodge.
The first Worshipful Mistress of WLOL 17 was Sister Margaret Drennan a daughter of Mrs Annie Bridgett, the founder member of the first women’s lodge in Ireland.
Margaret Drennan’s contribution to the development of the Women’s Orange Association is somewhat overshadowed by her famous mother, but lodge minutes and newspaper reports demonstrate her tremendous work in helping develop the Women’s Association as Grand Mistress of the Association of Loyal Orangewomen of Ireland.
She lived at Tates Avenue then Malone Avenue.