A series of commemorative events will take place across Northern Ireland next weekend as the institution marks its inaugural Orange Victims Day.
On Saturday September 1, the loyal order will formally remember the 335 Orangemen and one Orangewoman murdered by terrorists during the Troubles. The day, which will become an annual event, will also highlight the ongoing plight of the injured and bereaved.
Leading various acts of remembrance will be Grand Master Edward Stevenson, who will lay a wreath and pay his respects at the institution’s memorial window at Schomberg House in Belfast during a short religious service.
County, district and private lodges are being encouraged to hold events in their areas which commemorate murdered members within their locality. Many Orange halls are expected to fly flags at half-mast.
Confirmed activities on the day include remembrance parades in Portadown and Kilkeel; the launch of a garden of remembrance at Burnside Orange hall, Antrim; and a memorial event at the Museum of Orange Heritage in Loughgall.
Poignantly, members of Tullyvallen lodge will also hold a short act of remembrance at their hall to coincide with the time of an IRA terror attack, 43 years ago. In 1975, republican gunmen stormed into Tullyvallen Orange hall in rural South Armagh during a lodge meeting, and indiscriminately murdered four Orangemen. A fifth member subsequently died later as a result of the injuries sustained.
Whilst September 1 is synonymous with the massacre, the institution wishes to use victims’ day to commemorate and highlight the losses suffered throughout the organisation during the terrorist campaign. The majority of Orange victims were murdered whilst serving as members of the security forces.
Mr Stevenson said the day would be one of “remembrance and reflection” for the Orange fraternity, while aspiring to give those bereaved and injured “hope for the future”.
He said: “When I was elected grand master, I made a pledge the innocent victims of the Troubles and their families would remain a key priority for the Orange Institution. Our designated victims’ day is another public demonstration of that promise.
“As an organisation which suffered immeasurably during the Troubles, with our deceased members amounting to approximately one in 10 of all those who were killed, this yearly initiative will serve as a constant reminder of the loss experienced by Orangeism during the terrorist campaign.”
He added: “Cemeteries across this Province bear testimony to the sacrifice paid by so many people and in particular our members. More than half of them were singled out by republicans because they were serving this community in the security forces. Others were targeted because they were Protestant and members of the Orange Order. They must never be forgotten.”
• Next Thursday’s News Letter will include an eight-page supplement – Faithful Unto Death – marking Orange Victims Day.