Chapter Chat: Fascinating lives and times of past Royal Black leaders go on display

They say every picture tells a story – and that’s very true of the Leaders’ Legacy exhibition at the Royal Black Institution’s new headquarters in Loughgall.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 25th April 2022, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 25th April 2022, 11:12 am

There’s a fascinating history associated with each of the past sovereign grand masters whose portraits grace the displays.

But let’s not focus on the exhibition just yet.

The headquarters building itself – dating back to around 1820 – has an imposing presence in the historic village. Locals are delighted with how the renovation work was completed, the fresh look of the building, and the care taken to retain its original features and character.

Past sovereign grand master Millar Farr had a vision for the institution to have its headquarters based in its own property

Customers in Sloan’s coffee shop – on the opposite side of the Main Street from the HQ – lauded the fact the Royal Black Institution was now a permanent feature in the village and believed the exhibition would attract more visitors to the area.

One said: “Loughgall is rich in the history of Orangeism, and the Museum of Orange Heritage – here at Sloan’s House – draws many visitors. The Royal Black’s HQ and exhibition site can only add to the story of loyalism being told and its culture understood.”

Across the street, visitors entering the headquarters, at 45-47, are greeted by the sight of a ‘WELCOME’ inscription cut into the large stone announcing the institution’s presence.

Inside, the rooms are modern and bright, and the exhibition is laid out in an easily accessible way, with information text clearly displayed.

Visitors to the Loughgall headquarters are greeted by a ‘WELCOME’ inscribed in stone

The exhibition forms part of the Sir Norman Stronge Memorial Project, which has seen a series of events and features throughout 2021 and 2022.

Sovereign Grand Master Rev William Anderson said: “Sir Norman served with distinction as the sovereign grand master of the institution from 1948 to 1971. He gave a lifetime of service to his country and the Crown, being the recipient of the Military Cross for gallantry at the Battle of the Somme, and it is our privilege to honour his life and work in this way.”

Rev Anderson commended Sir Knight Calvin Reid, “for all his research, production and obtaining of artefacts”, and Sir Knight Steven Mitchell, who designed the displays.

“Both showed great dedication to the tasks,” he said. “They richly deserve the institution’s thanks for their hard work.”

A section of the exhibition devoted to Lord Molyneaux

The project marks the 40th anniversary of the murder of Sir Norman, who was shot dead alongside his only son James at their Tynan Abbey home in January 1981.

A bust of Sir Norman – based on a photograph and crafted using digital technology – has attracted the praise of many visitors.

The exhibition records Sir Norman’s history through his work in the community and church, as well as his military and political careers.

His successor as leader was James Henry (later Lord) Molyneaux, who enlisted in the RAF during the Second World War and saw action at a number of key engagements, including the infamous D-Day landings.

Under the heading Liberating Bergen-Belsen, the exhibition notes Lord Molyneaux was one of the first British servicemen to enter the concentration camp in April 1945, “and there he was to witness sights which would stay with him for the rest of his life”.

Lord Molyneaux would go on to forge a distinguished career in politics, leading the Ulster Unionist Party from 1979 to 1995 – “one of the most turbulent periods in Northern Ireland’s history”.

Dark days, indeed, but among the exhibits there is a reminder of a happier occasion for James Molyneaux: an invitation to attend “the Marriage of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales with The Lady Diana Spencer in St Paul’s Cathedral on Wednesday, 29th July, 1981 at 11.00am”.

Millar Farr, sovereign grand master from 2008-2018, was the holder of the Queen’s Police Medal.

The exhibition notes that “this prestigious award only confirmed to Millar’s friends and family what they already knew: that he was a man of courage, conviction and integrity”.

Referring to his leadership, the text adds: “Perhaps Millar’s largest and most profound contribution was the beginning of the realisation of the institution’s own headquarters, in which this exhibition is now housed.”

His “ground-breaking vision” was to ensure the Royal Black Institution would have its headquarters housed within its own building.

That vision has become a reality, with the state-of-the-art administrative base having been officially declared open in early April.