My trip to the Orange Museum

I paid a visit to the new Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast’s Schomberg House on Thursday. I was given a guided tour by David Scott, a very articulate and clearly passionate advocate of the Order. The tour featured in a BBC Good Morning Ulster story on Friday (1hr 16 mins in.)

The tour took in the key historical junctures of Orangeism, including the Williamite Wars and Dolly’s Brae. The role of the Orangemen in British military regiments and in British forces in Ireland featured prominently. A stained glass window and interactive display paid tribute in different ways to Orangemen killed during the post-1969 conflict, whilst an education centre will allow for presentations to be made and discussions to take place in the venue.

A list of famous Orangemen from the past and present was notable in reminding the visitor that the Order once played a significant role in shaping northern Irish society.

All in all, I thought it was an interesting experience, with the artefacts gathered from the Williamite Wars era- as well as an invaluable source of primary evidence in the form of the Paymasters General’s Book of Accounts– proving to be the most captivating part of the experience.

This museum will represent the realisation of a dream for many Orangemen and women, and there is a lot of information of interest to observers of our troubled history making it a worthwhile destination, regardless of political or religious background.

As an Irish republican, I found nothing to fear from the existence of this museum in my city.

Indeed, by its clear efforts through museum exhibits to emphasise the Order’s close affiliation and connection with British Forces in Ireland- including the B Specials, RUC and UDR- the Order will find common ground with republicans.

The stained glass memorial window paying tribute to Orangemen and women killed during the conflict is accompanied by an interactive display allowing visitors to read about how each of the Orangemen and women were killed. Allowing for individuals and groups to find ways of remembering loved ones is an important part of the healing process in a divided society.

I did not get a chance to explore this on the day, but I’ve no reason to believe that loyalist paramilitary members of the Order are excluded- including UVF man Brian Robinson, who is remembered on the banner of Old Boyne Heroes LOL, and who was killed by British soldiers only minutes after he killed a Catholic civilian, Paddy McKenna, in Ardoyne in 1989.

The museum did present a loaded interpretation of many of the pivotal events in Irish history, and the Order’s place within it. That is not surprising, given the contested nature of our past, present and future in this part of Ireland.

The Orange Order has a story to tell, and in a divided society, it is of the utmost importance that all voices are heard, and providing the Order with a facility like this museum to articulate its cause will in reality do no harm to those who fundamentally disagree with its interpretations of historical events.

The Order would like to believe that it is engaged in ‘mythbusting’ through the opening of the museum and associated outreach work to Catholics. According to this logic, the museum will allow the Order to explain itself more clearly to those outside of its membership and broader Orange Order community.

But the Orange Order’s difficulties have never been a product of their voice not being heard in Northern Irish society- almost every single unionist politician of note or influence since and before the foundation of the State belonged to the Order, and many members of unionist civic society were Orangemen.

Its voice has always been present.

Rather, it has been- and continues to be- the Order’s difficulty with accepting that there exists other voices in this society which are of equal worth and value that is the root of the problem, and that these must not just be heard but listened to by Orangemen if they are to make peace with the reality of the shared society that is unfolding in the north of Ireland.

An insight into this mentality was provided by DUP Minister and Orangeman, Mervyn Storey, who said of the museum’s opening that, “In order to have a shared future we need to have an accurate knowledge of the past and this new facility provides a space for that to begin to happen.” (my emphasis)

A mistaken assumption that has and will be oft-repeated with regard to the Orange Museum is that it provides an opportunity to challenge nationalist perceptions of the Orange Order, an assumption which suggests that nationalists have somehow reached an opinion of the largest of the Loyal Orders as a result of some great big misunderstanding.

This is quite obviously not the case.

The problem is not, and never has been, one of nationalists not understanding the Order.

We understand and know the Order only too well.

The recognition and acceptance elements within the Order crave will result only if and when the Orange, to pardon the pun, get their house in order.

If the Orange Order is serious about changing perceptions of the organization, then it must begin by addressing and altering the reality of how it conducts itself in a divided society.

Opening up a museum will not achieve that, but taking decisive and practical action to show that the Order respects the Nationalist tradition by ending the aspects of its practices which cause resentment and fuel division will do so.

So long as the Orange Order continues to fight its war in places like Twaddell and Drumcree, stubbornly persisting with contentious parade routes, continuing to give cover to a destructive bonfire tradition and to those claiming territory and dividing communities through the erection of flags ahead of the banner day for Orangeism, the 12th of July, it will rightly be regarded with suspicion by many in society- and not just nationalists.

And while it continues to stand against the Good Friday Agreement and in favour of crude sectarian unity as demonstrated through its PUL rallying cries, it will remain the case that Nationalist attitudes towards the Order will remain, to say the very least, unfavourable and indeed hostile.

On that note, the debacle regarding the presence of the flags of Togo and Ghana but omission of the flag of Ireland from the front of the Museum neatly illustrates the dilemma fac`ing the institution. The absence of the Irish National flag is an unfortunate but telling reminder to any visitors that the Order continues to struggle to legitimize the voice of its neighbours in the 6 Counties and throughout the rest of Ireland.

I did see hope in the idea of the new museum, a chance to present a positive and affirming vision of a tradition which could one day become comfortable with defining itself on its own two feet, as opposed to by what it stands against: An Orange Order at ease with sharing its country of Northern Ireland with those whose country is Ireland.

Orangeism will be a part of our future; it is up to those within the Order to determine what its role will be, and ultimately if it can find peace in a new shared political dispensation which has consigned the Orange State, and the mentality that defined it, to the exhibits on display in its museum.

  • Dan

    ‘My city’…… Why not ‘our’?

  • Granni Trixie

    The OO will always be wrong footed as long as it has a rule stipulating that members cannot go into a Catholic Church, not even for funerals.

    Incidentally I went into Schomberg House a few years ago (to meet up prior to an useful educational bus trip around rural Lodges) and was amazed when the first person I saw was a man I knew from WB! (Think he was representing Mary McAleese)
    I took the opportunity to look around their then small OO museum upstairs in Schmberg House.

    I have no problem with a certain amount of public monies going into “outreach” projects with the proviso that there has to be more to OO analysis of negative attitudes towards them than ignorance or media representation. I read somewhere that the OO got millions for outreach work From European peace funds which if so is ridiculous.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    Anything about wee Bill’s stature or sexual preferences?

  • Korhomme

    I’ve not been to the museum. I generally approve of things that record and try to explain the past—how we got where we are today. So, I’m slightly alarmed by the references to the ‘Williamite Wars’.

    Does the museum tell visitors the convoluted history of the principality of Orange, 100 square miles of southern France? Or that William III, James’s son-in-law can be seen as a political operator, accepting the crown of England as furtherance of his fight against the territorial aggrandisement of the sun king in the nine year’s war? Or whose side was the Pope on at the Boyne, and why?

    So much of the history of Ireland is mythology; in what way does this museum attempt to present a factual account, rather than relying on ‘spin’ and ‘boosterism’ to reinforce an understanding more based on belief than fact?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “An Orange Order at ease with sharing its country of Northern Ireland with those whose country is Ireland”

    Chris, as Nit-Picker-in-Chief I duly note your use of the term ‘Northern Ireland’ and commend you for it.

    Carry on Sir.

  • “All in all, I thought it was an interesting experience…”

    If only you had found it a thoughtful experience as well.

    “As an Irish republican, I found nothing to fear from the existence of this museum in my city.”

    Well, that’s nice. Obviously, fear was what they were going for…

    “The problem is not, and never has been, one of nationalists not understanding the Order.

    We understand and know the Order only too well.”

    Of course you do… [What’s this ‘we’, kemo sabe? – Ed]

    “and in favour of crude sectarian unity as demonstrated through its PUL rallying cries…”

    Pot. Meet kettle.

  • tmitch57

    I noted that it took him until the penultimate paragraph before he mentioned it. I wonder how the Anglo residents of New Mexico would react to a large number of hispanic residents constantly referring to the state as part of Mexico as if the passage of a century under a different sovereignty made no difference to its political status? What would a unionist make of a museum to Irish republicanism told from the IRA’s point of view?

  • james

    Well, we never got that (though it was for a while threatened to happen) at the Maze. I daresay there’d have been a few ripe tales told there. What with all the talk of the need to “agree a narrative”, whatever that means.

  • james

    Why would that be relevant?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    It did Mitch, but, had he stuck to the ‘north of Ireland’ routine I’d have probably been all over it like a jakie over a case of Tennents Super beer, so it’s only fair that I give the proverbial thumbs up whenever this topic has been addressed.

    As for the theoretical Walter Whites of New Mexico, I imagine they wouldn’t be too chuffed and it could n theory be fuel for paranoia.

    As for the IRA museum, well, we both know how that would go down…

  • Reader

    I suggest there is one sure way for you to find the answers to these questions. Or you could rest content with your suspicions.

  • Carl Mark

    There is a very interesting museum at Andersontown, maybe show you it sometime!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Seriously?!
    If that’s true then they are being truly unreasonable.

  • Trevorabh

    Interesting that Dolly’s Brae gets a mention. After the ombudsman finding on the premeditated attack on an orange parade in 2013 in east Belfast it is worthwhile to draw a comparison to this attack. Would also be worth mentioning that the Irish outside Ireland continued the traditional attack in New York City in 1870. The police wouldn’t protect them but the federal authorities did. The new York orange took the moral high ground and did not parade again. A link to the Ormeau Bridge situation in 2000.

  • barnshee

    “As an Irish republican, I found nothing to fear from the existence of this museum in my city.”

    Kind of you in YOUR city

  • Mike the First

    I don’t know what flags they do use, but having driven/walked past similar displays (e.g. on the Ormeau Road), is it not possible that they use the St Patrick flag to represent the island of Ireland given that the OO here is an all-Ireland organisation? (as I say I don’t know what flags they do use, this train of thought might be “derailed” somewhat if they do use a NI flag)

    Edit – have just seen the separate thread below so that’s that theory gone! Strangely enough at the Ballynafeigh Orange Hall they used to have flags which included the St Patrick flag representing Ireland (the island) alongside the English, Scottish, Canadian etc flags (and no Union Flag at that level).

  • Mike the First

    To be fair to Chris, he does tend to (presumably carefully) interchange terms, including Northern Ireland. He used both “northern Irish” and “Northern Irish” in the post which I’m sure was deliberate.
    Actually, I thought the “its country” bit was more significant.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Pete, what on earth do these snide contributions with these childish “-Ed” footnotes accomplish ?

  • barnshee

    Totally opposed to giving public money to projects like this.

  • barnshee

    The Roman catholic church will continue to be wrong footed as long as it persists in the blackmail of parents in — no wedding unless children are brought up Roman Catholic – and the old protestants are apostates who “cannot go to heaven”

  • babyface finlayson

    To nit pick your nit pick, it is clear he was referring to the perception of the Orange Order that their country is Northern Ireland, rather than recognising that nomenclature himself.
    Therefore I submit, your commendation should be rescinded.

  • Granni Trixie

    You wont find me defending the Church or its policies for many reasons but in exercising whataboutery you are off topic.

  • Granni Trixie

    By “Andersonstown” do you Infact mean the one in Conway Mill (middle Falls) or another one?

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    That so called ‘Irish Republicanism’ might want to reflect on the similar part it has played in continuing division here, claiming victories (so we do), crying foul at every opportunity and not understanding itself, particularly its (along with life and death unionism’s) futility?
    In short, both urnj and glas need to be a lot less dishonest with themselves as do the rest of us.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    If only the OO was so consistent as in New York of the last century. It is interesting that you remember the Dolly’s Brae skirmish but learn nothing from it.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Noted BF, however, being a shameless scavenger I shall take what I can from it and do a runner.

  • Spike

    This museum only helps perpetuate our problems. Who in this day and age thought this would be a good idea. I hope we’ll see no handwringing when a republican museum turns up

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I think you’re wise to have your suspicions/questions as do I until my 1st visit this afternoon. It’s clear that the Williamite wars were already mythologised by the OO’s founder members up to 1795. The Whig/Williamite victory had become symbolic by what it had engendered over the course of the intervening century.
    What I hope to see is an evaluation of OO’s foundation and the economic and ethno/religio/social context in Armagh that inspired it. I hope to see an examination of the trend for forming secret societies at the time. I also hope to see an exploration of how its founder members were originally of the ‘lower orders’ exclusively yet how and why it rapidly became part of the ‘establishment’. Was the OO hijacked by the aristocracy and local gentry or did it remain a working class political movement? Was it then to be used as a tool by the gentry to manipulate the rural poor in a turbulent county? Were the founder members quiescent or did they retain their founding vision? Did the founder members demonstrate ‘false consciousness’ or self determination? Has the OO deviated from its original intentions? How has it evolved through changing times? What is its purpose in the 21st century? In any visit to a museum I want to have these obvious questions raised and explored. I’m optimistic yet sceptical.

  • Nevin
  • barnshee

    ? Er you raised the Catholic church bit

  • mac tire

    My daughter is married to a Protestant. Their child, my beautiful grandchild, has never been christened. They do not believe in religion. The “Catholic” side of the family have no problems with the decisions they made – after all, it’s their lives.
    Barnshee, this is Ireland as it is today.

  • Carl Mark

    the one in the Roddy If its still there, GT I have been out of Belfast for a while but I know the difference between Andytown and the Falls

  • mac tire

    You read the Ombudsman’s report wrong.

  • Korhomme

    I hope you will put up a post here on what you found; it should make for interesting reading.

  • Granni Trixie

    Apologies for being a bit smartalecky – on reflection underlying my comment was my misplaced annoyance at people who assume a homogeneity in WB than is the reality. Again,sorry…still learning…

  • barnshee

    “Barnshee, this is Ireland as it is today.”

    Have you informed the Catholic Church -they don`t apppear to have amended their ways

  • mac tire

    C’mon, Barnshee. Enough of this mopery.
    Most people brought up Catholic couldn’t tell you how the Catholic Church thinks because they do not care. The people think for themselves now. Your views are outdated by decades, at least.

  • james

    So you mean it was a bad idea to create this museum. And nobody should criticize the Republican version when it sprouts up.

  • Reader

    Spike: I hope we’ll see no handwringing when a republican museum turns up
    if you can do it for E700,000 people would probably be too relieved to complain all that much. What was the planned budget for the Maze shrine?

  • murdockp

    I wonder does it have a piece on the Pope Innocent XI funding William of Orange.

    Just mention this given the OO tried to scratch Pope innocent from Dutch master Pieter Van der Meulen’s painting when Unionist MP John Nixon (1880 – 1949) led a gang of Loyalists into Stormont where they slashed the painting with a knife and threw crimson paint over the image of the Pope.
    Just a thought, doest bother me who fnded William, but revisionist historians I can’t abide.

  • Sp12

    It’s clever and funny of course, like he’s a journalist for a broadsheet.

  • LordSummerisle

    The painting to which you refer is the subject of some scholarly debate. The suggestion that it depicts William III is contested. It appears at first glance to be the Dutch usurper, returned triumphant, however….Some years after its purchase an art expert at the Ulster Museum researched the painting and concluded not only that it was not the work of van der Muelen but also that the figure on the white horse was a minor German prince, not King William. And even if it was by van der Muelen, he was a minor Flemish painter who has left little trace of his work apart from this particular painting: outside Ireland no one claims it as his. There is no evidence that he painted at William of Orange’s court, let alone that he was the official court painter.

    Full article here http://www.historyireland.com/18th-19th-century-history/a-papist-painting-for-a-protestant-parliament/

  • murdockp

    interesting, the question I then have is why go to such efforts to destroy something that does not represent the event the vandal think it represents?

  • LordSummerisle

    Ignorance as Plato quite rightly said is the root of all evil.. and as Shakespeare observed in The Second part of King Henry the Sixth “And seeing ignorance is the curse of God, Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven”( Act 4, Scene 7 ). Obviously an act of hate fuelled by ignorance.

  • barnshee

    It was bad idea to spend public money on it.

  • LordSummerisle

    O it appears that it was not John W Nixon MP who slashed the painting, it was a Scottsman, Charles Forrester of the Scottish Protestant League.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I intend to. It’ll have to wait until tomorrow though. It’s closed Mondays.

  • Trevorabh

    What are the lessons that I have not learnt from Dolly’s Brae?

  • Trevorabh

    Really? What did i miss in the letter? Strange that it hasn’t been discussed on here and yet there are over 300 comments about a flag or lack of flag.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Well, there goes one of my favourite row-starters in the pub.

    Nuts….

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I’d say as a rule of thumb ‘mixed marriages’ tend to follow the mother’s religion.

    Maybe down south things are a bit different but in my years of Lundyism and hanging around with other traitors and heretics this has been my impression.

  • kalista63

    Historians find it interesting plus it had influences on his political appointments.

  • kalista63

    Its like fek’n QI on slugger today

  • kalista63

    Agreed. It reminds me of the ongoing confederate flag debate.

  • kalista63

    Its a first person essay

  • barnshee

    “As for the IRA museum, well, we both know how that would go down”

    Since republicans in general deny that they were every in the RA -any such museum would have to concentrate on dead RA members or wait until the “denied” were safely gone to promote them to inclusion

  • barnshee

    thats a Phd project old chap any chance Belfast council will fund a grant ?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    My Lord, it was “Cromwell Club” Nixon who put the patsies up to the slashing, something left a little vague in the excellent “History Ireland” article you linked to. Nixon was never one to act openly himself when another would do the task. Interestingly he was a mentor for the future Lord Bannside.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Murdockp, historical writing methodology Is in essence revisionism. We find new thinks out and reconsider the past in the light of what these things tell us. Would you rather we had a “fixed version” of the past that reflected either “Our Island Story” or the national equivalents?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh. don’t worry AG, the Dutch Usurper was still firmly in the pay of Rome…….

  • SeaanUiNeill

    In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries any late seventeenth century figure on a horse with a plumed hat, wig and sword could be palmed off on the unsuspecting patriot with some ease as either the Dutch Usurper or some Jacobite hero. You have only to look at the variant portraits of Patrick Sarsfield, where about four dramatically different faces strive for “authenticity”. Piers Waucoupe has an excellent summary of the provinances in the fine biography he wrote of Sarsfield some years back. My own money is on the Dominican Portrait he uses on the cover of the book, which has strongest resemblance to those Kilmallock Sarsfield descendants I’ve met personally, at least as much as those portraits of those of my own ancestors I’ve come across bear to current members of my family.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Well said…..

  • murdockp

    No, maybe revisionism is the word, it is when history is shoehorned to suite the Author such as David Irving and WWII. Airbrushed is probably a better word. For me anyway there are two major events airbrushed from Orange history. The first is the Catholic support for the Williiamite cause both in terms of funding and soldiers and the impact of the Irish Famine on the Orange community. The latter point is a particularly prickly issue, I am no expert but there are many other there who are, it would be good to hear their views.

  • LordSummerisle

    Yes, his background somewhat dubious as I recall. There is an Orange Lodge in No5 District that carries his name.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    My own historical areas are early modern and Irish Cultural Revival, but I agree that then effect of an Gorta Mór on both communities was appalling.

    I’ve written about the Williamite war, and my own concern is just how strongly many more perceptive protestants throughout the war continued to support James, who had offered genuine civil and religious liberty for every section of the community. Presbyterians would not experience such freedom of worship and civil inclusion as they had in 1687 until the dawn of the nineteenth century. The “Orange Revolution” was essentially an Ascencdancy event, restoring Anglican privilege, with little to actually offer dissenters, and despite what we are so often told. But then British History has essentially been Whig history for the last three hundred years. The actual standard of liberty offered James’s Declaration of Indulgence is well worth comparing too what the Dutchman offered:

    http://www.jacobite.ca/documents/16870404.htm

    Any serious historian tries to look at every available fact and evaluates history from all available evidence. David Irving (who used to swim in the Lansdowne club pool in Mayfair during the 1980s when I was using it myself) is not so much an historian as a propagandist, but the term is (sadly) all too often interchangeable here where we try to live!

  • james

    Funding will likely be available if you promise to do a hatchet job on ‘the Orange’

  • james

    For example?

  • james

    In what way, then, are they Catholic?

  • james

    I’d say it is 50-50. In my brother’s case, his wife is and was a Catholic and my niece is (nominally) Protestant.

  • james

    Why? If the GAA receive funding in the UK they are hardly required to fly a Union Jack, are they? Just as a Muslim organization would not be required to hoist a Christian cross on a mosque.

  • james

    Certainly it is, complaining about the actions of them as is third person plural. Why should me decide for thee?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Having spent a great deal of time with Orangemen over the decades I know that one of the chief rants and source of outrage is the ‘accepting the Queen’s money’ argument. i.e. They’re outraged that the taigs won’t toe the line because they take money (that’s on offer) from the government.

    Now I hear (IF it’s true) that the OO are accepting money from a country that a number of their members hail from and are (just like ‘the taigs’) not showing anything in return or even the smallest amount of gratitude or acknowledgement.

    Pot-kettle-noir.

    What an organisation that the OO has neither time nor respect for (the GAA) does or does not do with ‘the Queen’s money’ has nothing to do AT ALL with the Orange Institution’s inability to afford some respect to a neighbouring country, a neighbouring country that many people in NI have a great deal of affection for.

    Next whataboutery please.

  • james

    So what you’re saying, in essence, is that unionists should be held to a higher standard of behaviour than nationalists? Ahh the self loathing of the liberal left..

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Nope.

    What I’m saying is that the OO should adopt a standard for themselves, one that is not dependent on the actions of people that they don’t like.

    In this instance;

    Are they Christian organisation? – Yes

    Is forgiveness a key tenant of Christianity? – Yes

    Do they have members from Togo? – Yes

    Are they represented by a flag? – Yes

    Do they have members from Ghana? – Yes

    Are they represented by a flag? – Yes

    Do they have members from Ireland? – yes

    Are they represented by a (official) flag? – No

    “Why not?”
    “Because themuns”.

    Has the Irish government funded the museum at all? – Yes

    Would it hurt to show some respect? – Apparently.

    FYI James, I’m actually rather proud of my background and am sick of seeing others give it a bad name.

    Ulstermen once had a reputation for being stoic, hardworking types (with a dark sense of humour).

    Nowadays thanks to parading debacles, blinkered spokesmen and behaviour tolerated (if not encouraged) by politicians we’re coming across as sponging, lazy, easily-offended, thuggish cry babies in Rangers tops with an identity crisis.

    You can (inaccurately) call me left wing (based on no evidence whatsoever) if you wish but that is merely another act of distraction from my highlighting of unionism’s many follies.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Another characteristic the Ulster Scot was lumbered with, AG, in the popular imagination, was “analytic thinking” as opposed to the the romantic twilight yearnings of us Gaels! Thank you for being one of the few commentating here to take this kind of analysis through to its logical conclusion and demand simple consistency!

    It seems just too difficult for some of the others to realise that anyone who really cares about something is going to be highly critical when it begins to show itself up with the kind of silliness you so accurately pinpoint. Far from “liberal guilt” this is simply the common sense reaction of anyone who sees that the old “my country right or wrong” approach is on a hiding to nowhere…………

  • LordSummerisle

    I have to say that the original Irving books on Hitler’s War are actually rather good. Picked up all three volumes for £25 in the Oxfam Book Shop.

  • LordSummerisle

    I hate having to pay to go into a museum ! One has to spend the whole bally time making corrections with a large red marker !