Gallery: Battle of the banners begins

ORANGE banners marking seminal historic events are among the nominees for a prestigious award later this month.

Artistic images depicting the signing of the Ulster Covenant, the end of World War Two, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and King William crossing the Boyne all feature in the Best New Banner category at this year’s Orange Community Awards. Tragic maritime disasters with particular local resonance, involving both the Titanic and the Princess Victoria vessels, are also remembered among the respective banner illustrations. The shortlisted banners – all painted by local artist William Magowan – are representative of six individual Orange Lodges from across the Province, and were all unfurled for the first time during 2012.

Artist William McGowan

Artist William McGowan

William painted all of the banners but it is the lodges themselves that are in the running for the best banner award as they instructed him on the designs they wanted. William is a full-time banner artist and is almost fully booked for the next two years, such is the demand for his skills.

“When I was a boy all I wanted to do was to be an artist,” he said.

“All the older men, careers teachers and so on, always said I could never do it. But I ended up coming back to what I really wanted to do. My first job was spraying the sides of lorries, then I went on to sign writing, and then one of the banner painters died and another went out of business.”

He was thrown in at the deep end. The secrets of how to paint a banner that will remain flexible and not flake after a few years were a very closely guarded secret.

“It takes two weeks to paint a banner. I usually paint almost 30 banners a year but I also fit in Lambeg drums and things like that in between, although if I take on too many I get behind with the banners.

“I don’t have a website as I don’t need to advertise. I turn enough work away that could keep another artist in work full time.”

Speaking ahead of the awards ceremony in Londonderry, Orange Order director of services Dr David Hume maintained all banner nominees were of an equally high calibre.

He said: “The banners entered for this year’s Best New Banner award present our judges with an extremely difficult task. They draw on the local history of the areas concerned and they provide excellent artistic expression.”

The Orange Community Awards – now in their eighth year – are held on an annual basis to showcase the community work undertaken by members of the Loyal Institution. Other prizes at the event – at the Waterside Theatre in Londonderry on January 26 – include the Grand Master’s Award, Individual and Lodge Community Involvement categories and the Best Charity Fundraising Lodge, amongst others. Tickets, at £6 each, can be obtained on 028 7131 4000. The event starts at 7.30pm.