President Mary McAleese makes the first official visit by an Irish head of state to an Orange Order hall when she visits Brakey Orange Hall, just outside Bailieborough, County Cavan on November 28, 2008.
Brakey Orange Hall had been destroyed in an arson attack on July 13, 2000, but had since been rebuilt and reopened in 2004. Further extensions and improvements have been made since, with the latest recently completed in time for the occasion.
Approximately 50 local people, many of the men in their orange lapels and other regalia, pack the little hall to honour their guest. Placing the visit in a wider context, McAleese says the “journey of peace-building and peace-making” since the signing of the Belfast Agreement ten years earlier must continue, and calls for a new culture of tolerance and acceptance in both parts of Ireland.
McAleese is welcomed by Cavan County Grand Master Henry Latimer, who praises the financial support for Orange halls in Border counties provided by the Government. He outlines to the President and her husband, Dr. Martin McAleese, the close bond between local communities and Orange halls and the facilities provided for meetings, classes and social events. “Given the widespread nature of such activity, it demonstrates why when halls are damaged, attacked, destroyed or [placed] beyond use for periods of time, the community activity of its related hinterland suffers and is curtailed,” he adds.
McAleese hails the occasion as an example of fresh understanding in relationships between different traditions. “We have taken the first important steps towards ending the bitter culture of ‘either-or,’ of them versus us,” she says. She calls on Irish people everywhere “to build a new culture . . . each accepting that there are different perspectives and practices.”
McAleese praises Latimer as a good Cavan man, a good Irishman and a good Orangeman. The burning of Orange halls, she says, are “intemperate acts of vandalism” which are “a throw-back to another time.”
Appealing for an end to attacks on Orange halls and GAA clubs by arsonists McAleese adds, “I invite them all to stop and think how wonderfully transformed all our lives would be if we were all made as welcome in each other’s homes as I have been made welcome here.”
McAleese receives a bouquet of flowers and a piece of Cavan crystal to mark her visit. She later attends other engagements throughout Cavan.
(From: “President makes first official visit by Irish head of state to an Orange hall” by Dan Keenan, The Irish Times, November 28, 2008)