The Grand Secretary of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland has described how Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stood with his head bowed to pay his respects to the more than 300 members of the Loyal Order murdered during the Troubles.
Speaking after the Irish Prime Minister’s visit to Schomberg House in Belfast on Friday morning, Rev Mervyn Gibson welcomed the fact that Mr Varadkar had taken the time to pause at the memorial window erected in memory of the 336 members who lost their lives at the hands of republican terrorists.
“I showed him the window and spoke to him about the symbolism on it, most importantly the cross in the middle with a collarette draping it which illustrates that we lost 336 of our members during the Troubles, one of whom was a female member of the Ulster Defence Regiment,” Rev Gibson explained.
“Many were indeed members of the security forces, the police and Prison Service, but many were just Protestants who lived along the border, simply shot because they were Protestants.”
Rev Gibson showed the Taoiseach the memorial book, which carries details of those who lost their lives, before Mr Varadkar and Grand Master Edward Stevenson paused in front of the window and bowed their heads in respect.
The Grand Secretary, who has been a member of the Orange Institution since he was seven years old, says he didn’t think he’d see the day when an Irish Prime Minister would make such an historic visit, but said there is now “an opportunity to build relationships with our neighbours, particularly for the sake of our brethren in the south, but also for the sake of an organisation that wants to go forward and not back to the bad old days.”
During his visit to the Museum of Orange Heritage, the Taoiseach also viewed many historic documents and artefacts including a Scrapbook of Trinity College Dublin, a Roll of Honour from the Dublin Lodge and a biography of reformer William Tyndale which was damaged by a bullet strike at the start of the Irish Civil War.
Iain Carlisle, chief executive of the Orange Order, welcomed that Mr Varadkar had extended his visit by around 15 minutes to see more of the museum.
“I think he has a genuine, deep interest in Irish history, so it was good that he felt flexible enough to go and investigate further,” he said.
“I think the most symbolic part was when he went into our memorial room and paid his respects to the 336 of our members who were murdered by terrorists in the Troubles campaign, and I think that is a very powerful, symbolic image akin to the Queen paying her respects whilst in Dublin.”