Chapter Chat: From former pub to new HQ of Royal Black Institution

The Royal Black Institution is set to officially open its new headquarters.

Sovereign Grand Master Rev William Anderson outside the new Royal Black headquarters in Loughgall
Sovereign Grand Master Rev William Anderson outside the new Royal Black headquarters in Loughgall

Final preparations are under way for the grand opening of the property in Loughgall on Saturday, April 2.

A parade of sir knights and accompanying bands will take place at noon in the Co Armagh village, before the building is officially declared open by Sovereign Grand Master Rev William Anderson.

The new Royal Black headquarters at 45-47 Main Street were purchased by the institution in 2018. Understood to date back to 1820, the B1 Listed Building has been sympathetically renovated, with listed features restored to their original character, at a cost of approximately £600,000.

One of the spacious rooms in the new Royal Black headquarters

The substantial refurbishment, carried out by Weir Bros Construction (NI) Ltd, Aughnacloy, includes a host of modern facilities and amenities which will allow the Royal Black Institution to flourish in the 21st century.

These include new administrative offices, exhibition space, a library to house the institution’s collection of books and artefacts, meeting rooms, reception area, kitchen, toilet block, outdoor memorial area, and car parking facilities.

The Loughgall building is the first time the loyal order – founded in 1797 – has ever owned its headquarters.

The institution had been an anchor tenant in Brownlow House, Lurgan, since the late 1920s. Prior to being in Lurgan, the organisation’s administrative base was located in Dublin and Belfast.

The Royal Black moved out of Brownlow House in 2019 to temporary premises in Loughgall, beside the Museum of Orange Heritage at Sloan’s House.

Now, the institution is looking forward to taking up residence in their own purpose-built administrative centre.

“The opening of our new headquarters will be a landmark day in the history of the Royal Black Institution,” said Rev Anderson.

“This project has been one of the biggest and most important ever undertaken by the Imperial Grand Black Chapter of the British Commonwealth.

“The need for our own headquarters was discussed and agreed in 2013, we purchased the Loughgall building in 2018, renovation work began in May 2020, and I’m delighted to say we’re ready to cut the ribbon on Saturday, April 2.

“It has been a long road to get to this point, and there have been many challenges along the way.

“We had originally hoped to open the building in 2021, so that the unveiling would form part of our celebrations for the centenary of Northern Ireland. However, the Covid pandemic wreaked havoc with our work schedule. But we were fairly relaxed about the delay as our focus was always about completing the building to a high standard rather than rushing to a completion date.

“There are so many people to thank for all their hard work but I would like to take this opportunity to pay special tribute to the contractors, Weir Bros Construction, for their professionalism and attention to detail, and to our own clerk of works, Edgar Patterson, and quantity surveyor, Keith Anderson, and the entire Royal Black HQ project team, for their passion, commitment and expertise over the last few years.

“Thanks to the efforts of everyone involved, we now have modern headquarters from which we can proudly maintain our stand for the Reformed Faith and strengthen our Christian and charitable outreach.”

The building itself has an interesting history. At one stage it was a public house known as the Rock Tavern. Afterwards, a temperance advocate, Cecilia Cope, turned it into a coffee house. A later inhabitant was Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer, a senior British Army officer and former chief of the Imperial General Staff, who fought in both world wars. In more recent times it housed a popular antiques business.

The grand opening will also include the opening of a ‘Leaders’ Legacy’ exhibition on the lives of past sovereign grand masters, and the unveiling and dedication of a bust of Sir Norman Stronge.

Sir Norman Stronge was a former sovereign grand master who led the institution from 1948 to 1971.

A hero of the Somme and a senior Ulster Unionist politician, having served for 23 years as speaker of the House of Commons of Northern Ireland, he was murdered in January 1981 when an IRA gang burst into his home, Tynan Abbey in Co Armagh, and shot dead the 86-year-old, together with his only son, James, also a member of the institution.