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Orange outreach bearing fruit

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 01/07/2015

County grand master Denis Watson with former Armagh GAA star Jarlath Burns at the official opening of the new Museum of Orange Heritage in Loughgall
County grand master Denis Watson with former Armagh GAA star Jarlath Burns at the official opening of the new Museum of Orange Heritage in Loughgall

As the marching season begins a sense of negativity about Orange culture emerges. This is almost entirely due to tensions over a very few contentious parades in flashpoint areas and the resultant publicity that ensues.

Yet there are considerable efforts being made to create greater understanding about what the Orange Order is all about. Much of this is under the radar but it is bearing fruit, albeit very slowly, like all attempts to move towards a shared society.

The Order is making a determined effort to make itself understood through its Reach - reaching out through education and cultural heritage - initiative. It may surprise many that some 60% of the engagement is with Catholic schools.

Former GAA star Jarlath Burns, principal of one such school in Bessbrook, yesterday paid tribute to this initiative, saying it is laying invaluable groundwork for greater understanding between the communities.

Some of his pupils were the first schoolchildren to enter the refurbished Schomberg House museum in Belfast and he also attended the reopening of Sloan's House in Loughgall, an important icon in the history of the Order.

Both he and the Order deserve great praise for their willingness to increase their understanding of each other, just as the Order made an important statement in asking former Irish President Mary McAleese and her husband Michael to perform the opening ceremony at Schomberg House. Understanding of each other's culture in this society can only be achieved through a genuine desire to reach out to each other. It requires people to meet in a mood of what Mr Burns calls curiosity, a willingness to find out what is important to the other side and why.

Of course that is easier in places like south Armagh, which is mainly nationalist and where tensions like those in Drumcree or Ardoyne are not part and parcel of the annual marching season.

It does require courage and the ability to stand up to the naysayers on either side who are determined not to give an inch. The Order did not need to invite nationalists to its celebrations at the newly-refurbished museums, nor was there an imperative on those guests to attend. But both displayed the moral courage to do the right thing. More should follow their lead for all our sakes.

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