Our Loyal Orders and local bands may no longer be on the march due to Covid-19, but that does not mean they aren’t keeping in touch, planning ahead, and lifting the spirits of both their members, and the wider community as Laura McMullan finds out
When it comes to ensuring members of local Orange lodges stay connected, it’s all about “thinking outside the box”, according to Derek Reaney, who is Assistant Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, as well as a member of Plumbridge LOL 506, a small country lodge situated deep in the Sperrins of Mid Ulster.
He’s also its chaplain and treasurer of the District Lodge it belongs to, Newtownstewart.
“I joined the Orange Order literally the day after I left school – the first Thursday in June 1980, so I’ve been a member for 40 years,” he reveals.
“My father was a member, as were his grandparents. I actually started off in our local pipe band, learning to play the drum.
“Our members haven’t practised now since March, so Coronavirus has really impacted on them as well. And normally, they would be looking forward to get togethers etc. at Christmas, but that won’t be happening, so the whole social side has been taken away as well.”
Derek said that for many people in the Protestant community, their lives “revolved around their local Orange hall and their church.”
And certainly in this part of West Tyrone, when the pandemic hit, residents felt the impact of the degree of social isolation it brought with it.
However, rather than wallow in the situation, they began to look for ways in which they could pull together and help and look out for those who needed it.
“There was actually a lady in the local area who passed away from Covid, so that really brought it home to us all very quickly.
“Everything sort of came to a very quick shuddering halt. We had our meetings in February, and by the first week in March they had all ended.
“The community came together through talking on the phone, and suddenly, the word ‘Zoom’ came into our vocabulary.
“The Orange Order is all about community,” Derek agreed. “Those who oppose and disagree with us don’t understand that.
“It is very much about community. My local lodge is a small one, with only 27 members, and we are made up of about seven or eight families, but we are all part of a bigger movement, reaching out to people.
“Over the summer, the Twelfth was difficult, although we tried to make it the best we could. In Co Tyrone what they did was encourage each lodge to meet at their Orange hall and get their banner out and have a picture taken.
“One of the county officers went round the lodges too, and that worked well. I was on the road from 10 that morning and the last home I called at was at Drumquin at 12 that night!”
It’s great to hear of such positivity and community spirit, however Derek says that this year has still proved challenging, in terms of “keeping things together.”
“You have to really think outside the box, and this has been the one good thing about it,” he says.
“You always have to try to adapt to see if you can overcome the situation, and try and keep that social contact.
“This is a farming community, and I would say over 80 per cent of the 400 members in our District have farming connections.
“One of the things we organised was a tractor run, raising over £1,200 for charity.
“This Saturday night, our district officers are going to be tested with a Zoom Quiz! We always hold a quiz each November, and each lodge puts up a team.
“We would also have our yearly Gospel Praise Service in February, so this time we will be looking to see how we can keep that going too, should it be virtual, or drive-in, or whatever format. It’s all about keeping communication with our members. It’s really important that we do that.”
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