Orange veteran Billy steps down from post after 56 years

Billy Kennedy
Billy Kennedy

Members of a south Armagh lodge gathered recently for a unique and special occasion to mark the long service of outgoing secretary, Billy Kennedy.

Billy – a distinguished journalist and author and former news editor of the News Letter – has stood down from the role with Bessbrook Purple Star LOL No 959 after a remarkable 56 years in the post.

Members of Bessbrook Purple Star LOL 959 with County Armagh Grand Lodge and Bessbrook District LOL No 11 officers at the event held to recognise the service of outgoing secretary, Billy Kennedy

Members of Bessbrook Purple Star LOL 959 with County Armagh Grand Lodge and Bessbrook District LOL No 11 officers at the event held to recognise the service of outgoing secretary, Billy Kennedy

Tributes were paid to Billy for his commitment and service – believed to be one of the longest of any officer in the history of Orangeism.

First elected as lodge secretary in 1962, aged just 18, Billy served under 20 worshipful masters during over half a century in office, who included his late father Trevor and uncle the late William King JP.

Armagh County Grand Master Denis Watson and Grand Secretary Roger Gardiner led the tributes at the lodge meeting and dinner afterwards, and presentations were made to Billy and his wife, Sally, by the LOL 959 worshipful master, Derek Rantin, and deputy master, Gary McCombe.

Former LOL 959 worshipful master, Harry McKelvey, along with Bessbrook district master, Richard McMinn, and district treasurer, George McKelvey, spoke highly of Billy’s contribution to Orangeism in Bessbrook. Billy retains the role of district secretary, having served in that post for 50 years.

Billy said: "It has been an honour and privilege to have been secretary of LOL 959 ('The Star') since 1962 and I have some wonderful memories of warm fellowship with brethren, both past and present.

“In my time the membership of the lodge has always figured between 50 and 70 and it has been the backbone of Bessbrook District.

"We have always been a family lodge with five or six families from the village, including my own, providing the nucleus of the membership. Currently, nine of my own family are members, including my four brothers – Trevor Terry, Gary and Danny.

"Tragically, back in January 1976 we lost two stalwart members – Joseph Lemmon and James McWhirter, murdered in the Kingsmill massacre with eight other Protestant workmen. Every year, the lodge remembers Joe and Jimmy and the others murdered at Kingsmill, both at lodge meetings and at our District's annual Twelfth morning remembrance service at the memorial in Bessbrook village.”

Billy is being replaced as LOL 959 secretary by Philip McKelvey, whose family is also prominently identified with the lodge.