Our future is Orange as well as green, says former Armagh GAA star Burns
A Catholic school principal and ex-GAA star has praised the outreach and educational work of the Orange Order.
Jarlath Burns - a former captain of the Armagh team - recently visited two refurbished Orange Order museums, at Sloan's House in Loughgall and Schomberg House in Belfast, with pupils from his school.
And the south Armagh headmaster hit out at those who complained that an Irish tricolour was not flown at the reopening of the Belfast facility. He said: "Why would we ever expect to see an Irish tricolour outside the headquarters of the Orange Order? We wouldn't expect to see a Union flag at a GAA match. Those things would be very difficult for people to accept."
He added: "I think the real story was that the museum was opened by former Irish President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin, that the word 'Failte' - 'Welcome' in Irish - was prominently displayed and that the first schoolchildren through the doors were from a Catholic school in south Armagh.
"These are positive stories about people genuinely wanting to reach out to the other community.
"I commend the work that the Orange Order is doing in reaching out through the schools. David Scott, who is leading this outreach, has been welcomed in my school several times over the past two or three years and has also been involved with a number of other Catholic schools in south Armagh."
He said he was surprised at how happy people seemed to be with his attendance at the Sloan's House event.
"I found the experience interesting and the museum explains the part this building played in the formation of the Orange Order after the Battle of the Diamond," he said.
"Unless we start re-imagining a relationship with each other and do it through education, I don't think we are really going anywhere. We certainly are not at the moment."
He admitted during an interview on Radio Ulster's Talkback programme that coming from south Armagh, where there has not been any Orange Order marches, made it easier for him to consider reaching out to the other community. "However, we all have to rethink how we view the other community," he said.
"This year the Twelfth celebrations in Armagh are being held in Bessbrook and I want any of my pupils in the town to know that the people taking part in those celebrations are not bad people. They must realise that the Twelfth is part of their culture and that their flag and their Britishness is important to them. I would like unionists to come to a deeper understanding of the GAA, the organisation to which I belong, and recognise what is important to us."
Mr Burns added: "We cannot change the past but we can rethink how we can share the future. We have to become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. We have to reach out. This should not be shock territory for anyone."
He pointed out that many people who had been bereaved by the Troubles felt that when the ceasefires were announced and the Good Friday Agreement signed that perhaps their loved ones had not died in vain, but had helped to produce a semblance of normality.