A display of Orange culture was in store for a special group of visitors in Fermanagh over the Twelfth period.
A group of 20 civic leaders including councillors and community activists from Sligo were taking part in a three-day itinerary hosted by Fermanagh Grand Orange Lodge and funded by a number of organisations including the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin. Previously the County Grand Lodge had organised trips for groups from Limerick and Longford.
During the three days, the group was hosted to a cruise on Lough Erne, spending the Twelfth in Ballinamallard, hosted to a dinner on the Twelfth evening and visiting the Museum and the Enniskillen District Hall.
One member of the group had a particularly interesting reason to visit Ballinamallard on the Twelfth on Friday. Rosaleen O'Grady, a Fianna Fail councillor and former Mayor of the Borough of Sligo, is mother of Conor O'Grady who played for Ballinamallard Football Club in their successful debut season in the Irish Premiership.
Conor played fulltime soccer first with Sligo Rovers, then with spells with Cork City and Derry City before returning to Sligo to captain them in their successful rise to the top league. He left Ballinamallard this week.
"I've attended matches in Ballinamallard several times and some on cold evenings," she said. Now back in the village for a different reason, she said after watching the Fermanagh Twelfth, "It's a fabulous family day. My mother used to listen to the Twelfth on the radio. This is the first time we got a group to see the Orange Order. And we have been treated with the utmost kindness." On Friday, she returned to Ferney Park, home of Ballinamallard United to see the Twelfth procession assembly and get ready for their 1.2 miles of parade.
During the welcoming dinner in the Killyhevlin Hotel, Stuart Brooker, Deputy County Grand Master of the Fermanagh Grand Orange Lodge, said it would be their intention to visit the group in Sligo to have a Question and Answer session about their views on the visit. He believed it was a successful event for them to show others their Protestant culture.
The County Grand Master, Norman Johnston, told the group it was their honour and privilege to welcome them to Fermanagh for such an occasion and Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA, Tom Elliott, who is also a Past County Grand Master, said they were keen to tell their story. In the past, he felt they had been "too inward looking." "We are a cultural organisation but that doesn't mean we do not have respect for other traditions. I was born into it and it was part of my life," he told them.
Mr. Elliott said he felt they had a positive story to tell in Fermanagh and when they have their question and answer session, they don't mind being challenged about their ideals and views.
He told the Sligo group how the Orange Order is now present in other parts of the United Kingdom, as well as Togo, Canada, Australia and the United States.
Replying on behalf of the group was Vinnie Blithe, a former Captain in the Irish Army who served abroad on peace-keeping duties with the United Nations. His involvement came about through his part in a Battle Enactment Group, and had previously been invited by the Apprentice Boys of Derry, bringing their muskets and other military artefacts with them. They did the same for a parade in Sandy Row, Belfast.
In recent years, Vinnie has been involved in inviting Fermanagh bands to the St. Patrick's Day parade in Sligo.
"The people of Sligo gave them a great reception and I was surprised today the people didn't clap the bands," said Vinnie.
Bryony May of Green Hat consultancy, explained how she was involved in delivering a Good Relations audit for the Fermanagh Grand Orange Lodge and facilitating a project known as "Path to Commemoration" which involved speakers and dialogue. As part of this she will be leading a study group to Ypres and the Flanders battlefields in the autumn and the visit of the Sligo group was also part of the project.