The strains of a traditional accordion ring out among flags and banners, LP records and songbooks, Lambeg drums and bagpipes, flutes and caps.
All of them, the memorabilia of more than 300 years of Orangeism in Ireland.
They are part of a new exhibition of words and music from Ireland’s Orange tradition.
It even reveals a little-known connection between the Orange Order and The Beatles.
“For Singing and For Dancing is highlighting the most obvious aspect of Orange cultural history, that of musical heritage,” explains Dr Jonathan Mattison, the curator of the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast.
However, the link between that musical heritage and one of the iconic Liverpool quartet will surprise many.
“Ringo Starr’s mum was briefly in the Orange Order,” said Dr Mattison with a smile, as he points to a panel in the exhibition.
“Ringo began to learn the accordion for a time.”
The displays cover everything from the ballads and poetry of the 17th to 20th centuries through to the praise sung at meetings, the bands and their instruments and the movement’s wider cultural impact.
“Bastion of Orangeism”
On a wall near the entrance is a copy of an LP from 1959, released by Fontana, and called Richard Hayward, With The Loyal Sons Of William. Track one has an atmospheric crackly version of The Sash My Father Wore.
“The air, the tune for the sash, is a lot older than the words themselves,” said Dr Mattison,
“It wasn’t actually first recorded until Richard Hayward recorded it in the early 1930s.
“The words themselves were probably laid down in the 1880s. But it’s not until the early 20th century that it really becomes that bastion of Orangeism that it is today.”
There is also a section of the social impact of music sung or played in Orange halls over the decades.
Sometimes the halls came to be regarded as their own style of ballrooms of romance.
“That element of couples that met at various dances and then married, and the next generation then are attending social events at the Orange hall, is a very important one for us to focus on,” said Dr Mattison.
There is also a section showing how Orangeism has impacted other cultures, including the Irish poet WB Yeats.
“Individuals who weren’t champions of the Orange Order by any stretch of the imagination, but still were influenced by it,” explained Dr Mattison.
Like WB Yeats, who recounted that he was exposed to Orange songs in an Orange songbook at his grandparents’ house in Sligo.
The exhibition is open until December 2019.
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