On Friday the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland launched its plans to develop two Orange interpretive centres, one at Schomberg House in Belfast and the other at Sloan’s House, Loughgall in county Armagh, where the Orange Order was founded in 1795.
An application for funding for the iconic £4 million project has been submitted to a European funding programme along with a detailed business plan.
I attended the launch where Dr David Hume said, ‘It is a central plank of the submission that the Orange Order has a key role in society and that unless there is engagement with the Order from the wider community there will continue to be misunderstandings, leading to conflict and lack of respect for different cultures. The Orange interpretive centres proposal gives the opportunity for that understanding to develop.’
The Orange Order has an extensive programme of outreach to schools and community groups, which is headed up by David Scott, and there has been a high level of uptake from schools in the Roman Catholic sector. This outreach was first undertaken by members of the Education Committee of Grand Lodge on a voluntary basis, and some years ago when I was convenor of the Education Committee, I visited the Abbey Christian Brothers School in Newry to speak to the boys about the Orange Order. However the demand outstripped the supply of voluntary speakers, who were generally not available during school hours, and the Order now employs a full-time education officer.
The outreach work and the development of interpretive centres are initiatives that are worthy of support and they have much to contribute to the creation of a 'shared and better future'.