Orange Order: Educational visits prove a hit with Catholic schools

The Orange Order, Trail of William poster On the trail of King William - the Orange Order has launched a new educational poster for schoolchildren

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Educational visits by the Orange Order have proved more popular in Catholic schools than in those mainly attended by Protestants, the order has said.

The aim of the outreach programme is to explain both the history and current role of the organisation.

So far, 58% of the visits have been to Catholic schools, 33% to schools mainly attended by Protestants and 8% to integrated schools.

A spokesman for the order said the figures were "surprising".

To support their outreach programme, the Orange Order has launched a new educational poster, designed as an alphabetical guide to the people, places and events that shaped the organisation's history.

The ABC poster follows William of Orange, a Dutch Protestant, on his way to victory over his uncle, the Catholic James II, at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland.

In the poster A is for Aughrim, site of a key battle in the war, while B is for the Boyne, where the battle commemorated by the Orange Order every year on 12 July was fought in 1690.

The order aims to continue its school visits programme, by invitation, to expand on the history featured on the poster.

'Committed to diversity'

David Scott, the order's community education officer said the enthusiasm of Catholic schools, and the fact that Protestant schools were not quite so keen, was surprising.

One of the Catholic schools visited was St Paul's High School, Bessbrook, County Armagh, whose principal is former Gaelic Athletic Association star Jarlath Burns.

Pupils also travelled to the site of the Battle of the Boyne when the order launched a new schools workbook in May.

Start Quote

These are little steps but we are up for it. We are not in any way scared. It is all to do with understanding that everybody who puts on an Orange sash is not bitter or bigoted and the same for anyone who pulls on a GAA jersey”

End Quote Jarlath Burns St Paul's High School

"We are committed to the community relations diversity agenda and we celebrate the diversity that exists within our world and community," Mr Burns said.

"We welcome any opportunity for people to explain their culture and we're all about creating discerning individuals - educating the whole child."

To that end, the police and the Orange Order have been invited to the school.

St Paul's also took its pupils in uniform to watch the Gay Pride parade in nearby Newry - a point that Mr Burns admitted raised a few hackles, but made an important point about diversity and understanding.

Talking about the links with the Orange Order, he said: "In the last year, David Scott has come into the school and spoken and we've been to the Boyne.

"We are actually having a panel discussion in the school next week.

"These are little steps, but we are up for it. We are not in any way scared.

"It is all to do with understanding that everybody who puts on an Orange sash is not bitter or bigoted and the same goes for anyone who pulls on a GAA jersey."

'Amazing uptake'

The poster and the talk offers young people studying history at Key Stage Three, a window into the Orange Order.

Mr Scott said: "We aim to try and put history into its proper context and to support the teacher, educationalist and student in the classroom environment.

"We want to give young people a better understanding so that they can explore and discover history, not based on the knowledge they may think they have, on hearsay or on other people's opinions.

"The uptake has been amazing from the maintained school sector that is traditionally viewed as the Catholic sector," he said.

"It has been a wee bit more challenging in the controlled school sector which would be deemed to be Protestant. We are not sure why. Perhaps there is more willingness from the maintained school sector - they seem more curious, more inquisitive and more keen to learn.

"It is just a theory, but perhaps in the controlled sector, they think they know enough about the tradition because the majority of pupils come from the Protestant tradition. We are not really sure what the nuts and bolts of it are."

'Shared future'

The trail is very much about history.

Debate about the more modern conflict surrounding loyal orders parades in Northern Ireland comes up very rarely said Mr Scott.

"We are only in the early stages of the idea and the concept of a shared future," he said.

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