The leader of the Royal Black Institution will step down this weekend after a 10-year tenure during which he helped the organisation to make massive strides.
Cookstown man Millar Farr, who has been an Orangeman since the age of 17, will make way for a new Grand Sovereign Master this Saturday.
Reflecting on a decade at the helm of the Royal Black, Millar looked ahead to the institution’s new home and looked back at some of the sad losses of dear friends.
The 76-year-old said: “It’s gone in fairly fast. It’s certainly been interesting and busy.
“I’ve met many characters from all over the place.
“Every day in that 10 years – with the exceptions of a Sunday and some Saturdays – I would have been in touch with our headquarters at Brownlow House at some stage, maybe two or three times a day.
“It’s going to be a change of life come this Saturday.”
Millar, a former policeman and a member of the Orange Order since 1959, began as the Royal Black Institution’s Sovereign Grand Master in 2008.
Explaining the significance of his role, he said: “You’re the figurehead of the institution. The Sovereign Grand Master is the grand master of the Royal Black Institution worldwide – Ireland north and south, England, Scotland, Canada, United States, Australia, New Zealand, West Africa, Togo and Ghana. So it’s a worldwide commitment as opposed to a localised one.
“If for example, as has happened recently, Australia had bush fires, New Zealand had earthquakes, or Ghana had a petrol station explosion, you’d be touch by email or phone expressing your support and offering help if feasible.
“Locally, if a preceptory in Dungannon for the sake of argument had a problem with something, they’d ring looking guidance. Of course there’s general day-to-day business as well – you just have to deal with what comes up.”
He added: “It would be a fair comment that the pace of life in the Royal Black would be more leisurely. You get problems given to you, but I’m a great believer that there hasn’t been a problem invented yet that there isn’t an answer to.
“Sometimes you don’t get answers there and then. It might be the next day. While there is a certain amount of urgency with things you have time to deal with them.
“We steer away from the political scene therefore it is unlikely we’ll get into the same difficulties as another organisation that might have a certain political edge to it.”
Despite Millar having a global role, the Cookstown man, who grew up close to Dungannon, is not so keen on travelling too far afield: “I am not a fan of airplanes. If I had to I would fly but if there was an alternative I would find it. I’m a typical country man. If you were meant to fly there’d be feathers on you.
“I have been to France, Spain, Belgium, Germany and Holland with my wife, by car and boat. In relation to the institution all my engagements have been with the UK and Republic of Ireland although we have had representatives go to America and other places.”
During Millar’s tenure the Royal Black Institution has raised upwards of £500,000 for various good causes in its biennial charity appeal.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of my tenure was undoubtedly the endless charitable outreach of our membership, who selflessly and willingly raised – and continue to do so – substantial funds for an array of deserving causes,” he said.
“Such Christian compassion and kindness is deserving of the utmost praise and admiration.”
The charities chosen by the Royal Black Institution every two years alternate between Bible-based charities and medical-based charities.
Millar said: “Each and every one of them are close to my heart, they’re all something different, but all very worthy charities.
“Medical research hopefully helps find cures to a lot of illnesses. These diseases aren’t selective about who they hit. They hit anybody. Therefore all sections of society benefit.
“The Bible based charities help to extend our mission statement.”
One particular charity drive ticked both boxes. As well as raising £105,000 for Kiwoko Hospital in Uganda, the organisation sent a work party out to Kiwoko who had to raise their own money to go.
Millar said: “There was 17 people, in the main from Northern Ireland. They rewired the operating theatre, serviced the fleet of vehicles, put in solar panels, and helped to create two houses for doctors. They also engaged in leading worship.”
As a 17-year-old Millar Farr joined the Orange Order, but his time with his first lodge was to be short lived.
He recalled: “I started off with a lodge in Castlecaufield. It had reached the stage there was quite a few people getting old at the same time so unfortunately along the road it fell by the wayside. I joined in 1959 and probably within three years it folded.
“At that stage I was away with the police. I didn’t take out membership anywhere else until about 1967.”
He explained how a family tragedy shaped his choice of lodge: “I went to a lodge outside Dungannon called Boland. The reason I went there is because my brother had been in that lodg.
“He died about 10 months after in a motorbike accident. The people of the lodge were extremely good towards my parents and it was a sort of a natural follow-on that I would go there.”
Ivan Farr was 22 when he died, two years younger than his brother Millar. Their parents did not have any other children and while Millar was thankful to have enjoyed his brother’s company growing up, he said those memories were bittersweet because of Ivan’s untimely death.
Millar said: “He died in August 1966. The accident had happened the Christmas before that.
“In them days you didn’t wear crash helmets and things. He got a bang in the head and there were all sorts of complications.”
In memory of his brother, Millar named his son Ivan.
Millar was responsible for bringing former News Letter editor Austin Hunter on board as the Royal Black’s media consultant in 2009.
“Nowadays things have moved on, thinking on the hoof is not a good idea,” said Millar. “I think Austin made a difference. He stayed with us until his untimely death.”
He said the deaths of two former Sovereign Grand Masters – Lord Molyneaux and William Logan – also filled him with sadness.
He said: “There have been many other wonderful Sir Knights who have passed on, it would be unfair to start putting forward some of them and not all of them.”
Earlier this year, it was confirmed the Royal Black Institution would be moving away from its rented headquarters at Brownlow House to a new purpose-built facility in Loughgall which is due to open in 2020.
Millar said: “We’ve been tenants at Brownlow House since 1926, but now we’re moving to our own place. It will be the first time since the Institution was reconstituted in 1797 that we have ever owned our own property.
“We are already making provisions for a purpose-built library available for people doing research.
“There will be an interpretive centre as well. We hope to move in in two years.
“It’s a listed building in a conservation area. One of its owners was Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer. It was also originally the Cope family estate during plantation times. It needs to be refurbished and revamped.
“Loughgall is a conservation village with Sloan’s House a museum for the Orange, Dan Winter’s Cottage out the road and now you’re going to have the Black headquarters all in the one area.”
Of the other changes he has helped bring about during his 10 years as Sovereign Grand Master, he said: “We now put out a magazine twice a year.
“We also have a revamped, modernised, updated website and we advanced to using Facebook and Twitter around a year ago.”
He said the Royal Black also focused on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, culminating in services and rallies in Londonderry and Portadown.
He added: “We’re really working on our Christian and charitable outreach in a big way.”
Millar said the Loyal Order has also benefited from the generosity of a Sir Knight in Scotland called Tommy Kennedy.
“If Tommy was anywhere and he saw a book he had to buy it. He had donated his library of 1,200 historical and religious books – some of them reasonably valuable – to us. It’s a highlight that someone thought enough of this institution to give us a library that he had accumulated over a lifetime.”
Asked what the highlights of his 10-year tenure were, he said: “It’s impossible to pick out any one or two. I’ve been invited to attend various functions, where a preceptory or a district were celebrating say 100, 150, 175 years of continuous existence. For me that’s a real highlight, realising the humble beginnings that this institution has started from.
“Also to get an invite to be part of the platform at places like Scarva, Fermanagh, Scotland and England is a proud moment for me – to see everyone who you’ve known over the years, out on their day, witnessing to their faith, trying to put on a good show.”
He added: “We have a mission statement which sets out the core reasons for our existence – to study holy scripture, to help spread its influence throughout the world, to engage in Christian and charitable outreach, and to bring about a better standard of truth, justice and morality in all aspects of life both public and private. We try to focus everything we do inside those four core reasons. I wouldn’t like to think they will ever change because that sets out who we are, what we are and what we do.
“You can change the way you do things but you don’t change what you do.”