THE Royal Black Institution has launched its plans to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland.
The Loyal Order’s programme of events will see it adopt a two-fold approach of both marking 100 years since the foundation of Northern Ireland, and commemorating the life of a former leader of the Institution who was murdered by the IRA.
The “Sir Norman Stronge Memorial Project” will focus on the joint themes of “Service and Sacrifice”, and those behind the project have outlined a number of exciting initiatives, including:
- Unveiling of a bust of Sir Norman Stronge at the Institution’s new headquarters in Loughgall;
- A special exhibition and booklet on the life of Sir Norman Stronge;
- A charity walk covering parts of the Ulster Way, with funds going to the Somme Nursing Home in Belfast, which is the Institution’s Designated Charity Appeal;
- Launch of a Centennial Medal;
- A Book of Remembrance recording all Sir Knights who paid the supreme sacrifice during the Troubles.
The Institution’s Sovereign Grand Master, Rev William Anderson, said: “I believe these events, subject to coronavirus restrictions, of course, will be a fitting way to remember Sir Norman Stronge’s faithful service to our Institution, and to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland.”
The centenary plans were launched during an online Act of Remembrance which was broadcast last week to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Sir Norman Stronge’s murder.
Sir Norman Stronge was a member of RBP 264 Breaghey and was Sovereign Grand Master of the Royal Black Institution from 1948 to 1971. He fought at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and was awarded the Military Cross. He later became a senior Ulster Unionist Party politician, serving as Speaker of the House of Commons of Northern Ireland for 23 years.
He was aged 86 at the time of his death.
On the evening of January 21, 1981, the IRA shot dead Sir Norman Stronge in his home, Tynan Abbey, in Co Armagh.
Killed alongside him was his only son, James, also a member of the Institution.
The pair were murdered by an IRA gang who then firebombed the property, and the resulting blaze left the historic building in ruins.
During the online launch of the “Sir Norman Stronge Memorial Project”, Rev Anderson laid a poppy wreath in the shape of a cross at the graveside of the former Sovereign Grand Master.
He has commended the team behind the centenary plans for their organisation and foresight.
Rev Anderson said: “As Northern Ireland celebrates 100 years, and we give thanks to Almighty God for our position within the United Kingdom which has guaranteed us our civil and religious freedoms, security and prosperity, it is only right to look back and recognise the contribution made by so many people who, down the decades, have made our country such a wonderful place to live.
“That is why the Royal Black Institution’s approach of focusing on both Northern Ireland’s centenary and the life of Sir Norman Stronge is so appropriate.
“Here was a man who fought at the Battle of the Somme, before the creation of Northern Ireland. He then continued to serve his fellow man, both in politics and civic society, before he and his son were cruelly slain by republican terrorists in their own home.
“It’s an inspiring, humbling and tragic story, interwoven with the history of our beloved country, just like that of all our members who were also killed during the Troubles – and that’s why we feel it’s important to also record their sacrifice during this centenary year in a special Book of Remembrance.”
Rev Anderson said any events staged by the Royal Black Institution throughout the year would be in accordance with coronavirus guidelines, adding: “Although the United Kingdom is leading the way with vaccines, and we have a fantastic health service with dedicated and brave staff working day and night to safeguard all our lives, it’s clear we remain in a precarious position with Covid-19, and I would urge everyone to follow government advice to help stop the spread of this dreaded virus.”