After the thrilling auction last week in which a musket sold for £20,000, it emerged yesterday that the successful phone bidder was in fact the Orange Institution.
This is, as the Grand Lodge Director of Services, Dr David Hume, said yesterday, a “tremendous acquisition” for Orangeism and the museum sector in Northern Ireland.
The specimen will become a central exhibit in the new Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast, which was formally opened yesterday.
What an apt home for a gun that was believed to have been used at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
The musket is, aside from its usage in that battle, of historical interest because it an example of early gun technology.
But, as this column argued last week, the Battle of the Boyne was a major moment in European and world history, because it had lasting ramifications on both sides of the Atlantic.
Those two aspects to the musket’s past will make it one of the most important artefacts on display in Northern Ireland.
That the musket was fired by Jacobite forces, who lost at the Boyne, adds a further dimension. Many young people today would barely have heard of Jacobitism, yet the early News Letters of the 1730s were reporting on the progress of both the Old Pretender and the Young Pretender – the son and grandson of the defeated James II, who believed that the English crown was theirs.
In the tension over Orange parades, such history gets buried.
But the Orange Order, which did not emerge until more than a century after the Battle of the Boyne, has been a very influential movement. It still can bring tens of thousands of members on to the streets for July 12, including for the magnificent spectacle which is the vast Belfast parade.
The museum is a joint project with the refurbished Sloan’s House in Loughgall, Co Armagh, which opens next week.
We hope that these welcome additions to the cultural scene in Northern Ireland become fixtures on the tourist trail.