President makes first official visit by Irish head of state to an Orange hall


PRESIDENT MARY McAleese has made the first official visit by an Irish head of state to an Orange hall.

Mrs McAleese visited Brakey Orange Hall, just outside Bailieborough, Co Cavan, which was destroyed in an arson attack on July 13th, 2000, but rebuilt and reopened in 2004. Further extensions and improvements have been made since, the latest of which was recently completed in time for the occasion.

Around 50 local people, many of the men in their orange lapels and other regalia, packed the little hall yesterday to honour their guest.

Placing the visit in a wider context, Mrs McAleese said the "journey of peace-building and peace-making" since the signing of the Belfast Agreement 10 years ago must continue, and called for a new culture of tolerance and acceptance in both parts of Ireland.

The President was welcomed by Cavan County Grand Master Henry Latimer, who praised the financial support for Orange halls in Border counties provided by the Government.

"Halls like this one we are in today are held very dear by the Orange family," he said.

He outlined 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 added.

"Ironically, when such tragedies occur, it is a testament to the local community which relies on these facilities that the buildings are often returned to their former use as soon as possible. This hall has been rebuilt after an arson attack and efforts are under way, thanks to the support of the Government, to enhance the facilities in other halls within the Border counties."

Mrs McAleese hailed 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 said.

She called on Irish people everywhere "to build a new culture . . . each accepting that there are different perspectives and practices".

She praised Mr Latimer as a good Cavan man, a good Irishman and a good Orangeman.

The burning of Orange halls, she said, were "intemperate acts of vandalism" which were "a throw-back to another time".

Appealing for an end to attacks on Orange halls and GAA clubs by arsonists she added: "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."

Mrs McAleese received a bouquet of flowers and a piece of Cavan crystal to mark her visit. She later attended other engagements throughout Cavan.