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Brotherhoods and Friendly Societies are multipurpose organisations with origins dating back to medieval times.  These societies were formed for a number of reasons including religion, politics, recreation and charitable support.  In the Newry and Mourne area a number of Brotherhoods have flourished, including Freemasonry, Ancient Order of Hibernians, Loyal Orange Order, Royal Black Institution and Irish National Foresters.  These organisations have their origins in medieval traditions of craftsmanship and chivalry and while often different, have similar characteristics such as hierarchies, processions and regalia.

The textile panel and Orange Order and Irish National Foresters sashes on display along with artefacts from the early 20th century at Newry and Mourne Museum Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
The textile panel and Orange Order and Irish National Foresters sashes on display along with artefacts from the early 20th century at Newry and Mourne Museum Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

The ethos of charity and community also led to the development of societies formed to provide humanitarian and professional support for charities and members.  These include the Rotary Club and Inner Wheel, Soroptimists, Women’s Institute and the Round Table.  Church groups have included the Mothers’ Union, Presbyterian Women’s Association, the Knights of Columbanus and the Archconfraternity of the Holy Family. 

An Irish National Foresters collarette dating from the mid-20th century belonging to Branch John Mitchel No. 61, Newry.  Collarettes are worn at Meetings and the annual parade to the grave of John Mitchel in Newry.  Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
An Irish National Foresters collarette dating from the mid-20th century belonging to Branch John Mitchel No. 61, Newry. Collarettes are worn at Meetings and the annual parade to the grave of John Mitchel in Newry. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

From the Industrial Revolution onwards, movements for the welfare of factory and mill workers began to emerge.  These were formalised as Trade Unions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

A number of artefacts relating to Brotherhoods are now on display in the recently revamped Newry and Mourne Museum. One of these is a textile panel probably made in America in the early 1900s.  This was a time when Cultural Nationalism was flourishing in Ireland with a revival of interest in Irish language, music, literature and applied arts.  The embroidered panels are filled with Irish Nationalist, and patriotic American symbols.  The Irish symbols include shamrocks, harps, a Celtic cross, a wolfhound, a round tower, and the rising sun of the Fianna (legendary warriors of Finn McCool).  Similar symbols were made use of by the Irish National Foresters. 

A textile panel believed to have been produced in America in the early 1900s.  The embroidered panels are filled with Irish Nationalist, and patriotic American, symbols. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
A textile panel believed to have been produced in America in the early 1900s. The embroidered panels are filled with Irish Nationalist, and patriotic American, symbols. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

The first Irish National Foresters branch was founded in 1877 as a breakaway society based on the Ancient Order of Foresters.  The new order was open to men of any religion or social class, but only to those who were ‘Irish by birth or descent’.  They modelled themselves closely upon the Ancient Order, providing in return weekly dues, a free doctor and free burial.  Although they are now a much smaller organisation, the Foresters survive in many Irish towns providing entertainment primarily for working men.  However, they maintain a clear link, through marching and the wearing of regalia, with the Brotherhood tradition.  The John Mitchel branch of the Irish National Foresters was established in 1885 and today continues with its proud traditions.

A sash from the private lodge of Altnaveigh LOL 37 which is a lodge within Newry District LOL No 9.  They are worn by the Orange Order during parades and demonstrations.  In more recent decades, sashes have been replaced by collarettes. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
A sash from the private lodge of Altnaveigh LOL 37 which is a lodge within Newry District LOL No 9. They are worn by the Orange Order during parades and demonstrations. In more recent decades, sashes have been replaced by collarettes. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

The Orange Order as it is now known, was formed in 1795.  Little is known of the organisation in Newry around this time, but by 1819 there was thought to be ten lodges working locally and met on occasion throughout the year.  In a meeting on Thursday 27th January 1825 a District Lodge was formed and was known as the District of Newry.  Altnaveigh LOL 37 is first mentioned in 1825 when Newry District LOL No. 9 was formed, although the Lodge is believed to have been active prior to this.  Initially the Lodge met in a stable in the North Street area of Newry owned by Bro. Davy McCullagh.  In 1884 the Twelfth celebrations came to Newry, the demonstration field was on the lands of Bro Henry Thompson near Altnaveigh.  Altnaveigh Orange Hall was opened in July 1892 and LOL 37 continues to go from strength to strength. 

NOTE MUSEUM REMAINS CLOSED AT PRESENT MARCH 2020

Newry and Mourne Museum is open to the public seven days a week with admission free of charge. For opening hours, information on events and exhibitions, other services and bookings please phone 0330 137 4422 or visit www.bagenalscastle.com.

 by Dymna Tumilty

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