‘A pillar of Orangeism with immense vision’

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Many deserving tributes have been paid to the late Drew Nelson, Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, but it is difficult to find words which would do justice to the outstanding service and leadership which he provided, writes Brian Courtney.

Mr Nelson was a huge pillar as far as the Orange Institution was concerned, and his loss is of devastating scale to the organisation which he so greatly loved and served so well.

He was a man possessed of great talent, but also of immense vision as he sought to promote Orangeism, and ensure that it continued to play a leading part in Northern Ireland society.

He never deviated from his commitment to the Orange Order, and it is accepted that he played a huge part in ensuring that it is geared to face the challenges of the 21st century.

Drew was prepared to take the Orange case to places once thought to be a cold house for unionism and Orangeism.

His visit to Dublin four years ago when he addressed members of the Senate and put the Orange case in a positive way is a case in point. He did so without diluting in any way the principles and objectives of the Order in defending Protestantism on the island of Ireland, at a time of great social change.

I was travelling on the Enterprise train on the morning that Mr Nelson was travelling to Dublin, and was delighted when he invited me to sit at his table.

It was, as always, a highly enjoyable and enlightening experience to speak with Drew, and on that journey I once again benefitted from his wise and relevant information as to how the Order was moving.

Mr Nelson was always keen to exchange his views with fellow members of the Order, and he was interested in my modest contribution, demonstrating once again his willingness to take on board and discuss aspects of the case.

Drew was utterly convinced that if the Institution was to remain at the heart of Northern Ireland affairs, and continue to be a leading advocate of Christian values and the Protestant faith, then it needed to adapt to the rapidly changing face of political and social structure in the province.

He remained firm in his conviction the Orange Order must not be afraid to face the realities of a country which has experienced such an upheaval due to the 35 years of the Troubles.

However, Drew’s commitment to the Orange cause was not confined by any means to headline-grabbing issues.

There was nothing that gave him greater pleasure within the Orange family scene than attending meetings and functions of his own private lodge, Listullycurran LOL No 616.

Drew truly was a giant of the Orange Order, and the best way in which the brethren can remember him is to strive to follow his example and play a full part in advancing the cause he represented so ably and honourably.

That will ensure that the legacy of Drew Nelson will be carried on, and the Orange Institution will continue to be a vibrant and progressive organisation – something to which he gave so many years of dedicated service.

• Brian Courtney is a journalist and writer, and a member of Wesleyan Temperance LOL 161, Portadown.