Pioneering ex-Catholic school head 'delighted' by Varadkar's visit
A ground-breaking Catholic headmaster who opened the doors of his north Belfast school to prominent Orangemen and to the Rev Ian Paisley has welcomed the proposed visit by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to the Order's headquarters tomorrow.
PJ O’Grady, the retired principal of St Patrick’s College, Bearnageeha on the Antrim Road hailed Mr Varadkar’s trip to Schomberg House and an Orange museum there as a major step forward for community relations.
It’ll be the first time a serving Taoiseach has ever visited the HQ of the Orange Order.
“I am truly delighted,” said Mr O’Grady. “I think any moves in this direction can only play a positive role in consolidating greater understanding.”
The Orange Order’s community education officer David Scott was a regular visitor to Bearnageeha where he spoke to pupils about the institution’s history and policies.
And in 2011 the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern travelled to the college to present Mr Scott with an award recognising his efforts. The school’s reconciliation award was made in memory of a former teacher and peace campaigner Terry Donaghy, who had died two years earlier.
Mr Scott said the pupils from St Patrick’s always showed a deep interest in the Orange tradition but that didn’t stop them asking him tough questions.
Mr O’Grady said last night that the visits had led to a close friendship between him and Mr Scott.
He added that the Orangeman always received a warm welcome at St Patrick’s.
“The chemistry was good,” he went on.
It’s understood a number of pupils from flashpoint areas of Belfast had private meetings with Mr Scott at the time of the Twaddell Avenue marching controversy but by their very nature they went under the radar.
Mr O’Grady said he’d been pleased to accept an invitation to the opening of the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast in June 2015.
“I recorded a piece for the promotional video recommending a visit to the museum too,” said Mr O’Grady, whose pioneering work with the Orange Order had its roots in tie-ups between hurlers from Bearnageeha and hockey players from Ashfield Boys High School in east Belfast.
In 2004, Mr O’Grady and his opposite number at Ashfield, Andy McMorran, brought their respective pupils together to play a Scottish school in the highland sport of shinty.
The upshot was a meeting with the Orange Order and a long-running interaction between the organisation and Bearnageeha.
The former President of Ireland Mary McAleese was credited with helping to cement relationships, and she and her husband Martin also attended the Orange museum opening.
In May 2008, the late DUP leader, the Rev Ian Paisley paid a visit to St Patrick’s where he was presented with a hurley stick and he also received an invitation from Mr O’Grady to attend a GAA game at Croke Park in Dublin.
Five years ago Mr O’Grady and Mr McMorran received honorary degrees from the Ulster University “in recognition of the role they played in helping to transform their respective schools and for their contribution to the community”.