McAleese hails Orange Order museum
Former Irish President Mary McAleese has hailed a new museum charting the history of the Orange Order for promoting understanding between the island's differing traditions.
Mrs McAleese and her husband Martin were among invited guests at the official opening of the £3.8 million interpretative centre in Belfast.
The museum re-tells the story of the Glorious Revolution and the resultant war between William of Orange and James II which culminated with the Dutch king defeating the Jacobean forces at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
It goes on to explain the formation of the Orange Order a century later and how the institution has developed and grown since.
Mrs McAleese said the centre would be a place where those of a nationalist perspective could learn more about the Orange tradition.
"The culture of the Orange is not my culture but it is the culture of my neighbours and we who are the children of the Jacobites and the Williamites we share this space, we share this island," she said.
"We haven't always shared it happily with each other but we have decided that we want to share it happily for the future.
"So it's important to be here because this place is built with a view, first of all, to celebrating Orange culture, but also of explaining it to a wider audience, opening up that culture so we don't live in ignorance and mythology, but we do live with true understanding of each other.
"I like the spirit in which it is being offered - as a place that welcomes those who want to come to learn about the culture. I think it's important that we all do, I think good neighbours should know about each other, should respect each other. Part of that respect is being interested in each other and what each other believes and where we come from and what their values are, what our values are - also to find points of intersection, of which there are many.
"Sometimes history tries to tell us there are no points of intersection and I think what we find here is there are many."
The majority of the funding for the museum - £3.6 million - was made through EU's PEACE III programme, which included contributions from the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish government.
The Grand Lodge of Ireland contributed £200,000.
Grand Lodge of Ireland's director of services, Dr David Hume, welcomed Mr and Mrs McAleese's attendance.
"It was fantastic to see them here, it was really good they were here," he said.
"They seemed to be very impressed with what they saw and I think it's all to the good.
"I think it is important that they and other people who come from the nationalist community pass on the details and the message of what we have here and we are very much here to outreach to people and explain to people and to do so in a way which I believe is a very non-confrontational way."
The museum is housed in the refurbished Schomberg House headquarters of the Orange Order on the Cregagh Road in east Belfast.
Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Edward Stevenson, said it would enhance the institution's outreach with the wider community in Northern Ireland and beyond.
"The opening of the Museum of Orange Heritage at Schomberg House marks a significant and momentous moment for the Orange Institution," he said.
"Orangeism is engrained in the cultural fabric of Northern Ireland and our new interpretative centre will allow us, for the first time, to preserve and present the impressive historical collections of the Orange Order, as well as promote understanding and mutual respect through interpretation and creation of shared space.
"By showcasing the traditions of the Orange Institution, we aim not only to demystify existing perceptions which may exist, but also inform and educate a wider audience of our proud cultural heritage."
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Chief Constable George Hamilton was also among invited guests at the opening. During the event the Orange Order revealed it was the mystery buyer which purchased a Jacobite musket used in the Battle of Boyne for £20,000 at auction in Belfast last week.