Jack donates his extensive collection to Order Order

Jack donates his extensive collection to Order Order

14 October 2020

JACK McKee has spent half his lifetime researching and collecting stories connected with the Orange Order.

Jack, from Bells Hill, near Downpatrick, has collected enough newspaper cuttings over 40 years to fill seven A3 display books.

Now, at the age of 81, he has decided to hand it all over to Orange Order headquarters in Belfast for safekeeping.

Last week he presented his collection to Dr Jonathan Mattison, curator of the Museum of Orange Heritage at Schomberg House.

The collection largely spans from 1795 to 1900 and much of it cannot be found in history books.

There are reports of where and when early Orange lodges were founded, when bands first appeared and Orange halls were built, as well as reports of parades across the whole of the north of Ireland.

Jack says he did most of his research looking through old newspapers, including the Down Recorder, at Downpatrick Library. However, his thirst for information also took him all over the province, including Enniskillen, Armagh and Londonderry.

“It is around 40 years since I started to collected newspaper reports on the Order, but once I retired I was able to spend more time on my research,” he said.

His collection includes many reports dating back to 1798, the year of the United Irishmen Rebellion, including one of a meeting in Clough and another in Dromore when Earl Annesley was elected the first County Master.

“In the next few years there are reports of church parades in many parts of the county. One was to Kilmegan Church in Dundrum led by Earl Annesley and Lord Downshire in 1799. Another was led by Lord Lecale, the second County Master, in Downpatrick, on July 1, 1804,” Jack said.

“The first records I have found for a Twelfth parade in Lecale District were from 1813 when 22 lodges met in the village of Kilmore and the following year when 36 lodges met at the old racecourse near Downpatrick.”

Jack has also written a history of his own lodge, Bells Hill No 32, of which he has been member for over 60 years. He has also been a member of the Orange Lodge of Research for 40 years and regularly gives historical talks at Schomberg House.

Jack says he has no regrets handing over his collection. “I believe it is now time to pass on what I have collected. I hope it may be used to let others know a little of our history.”

Thanking Jack, Dr Mattison said: “Jack has spent many years carefully combing the newspapers archives for stories about the Orange Institution.

“The material he has collected will prove valuable for students of history, especially Orange history. In many cases he has painstakingly filled in the gaps in established Orange history, with particular reference to the activities of private Orange lodges during the formative years of the Institution.

“Any researcher understands the importance of time when working at the ‘coal face of research’ and Jack has spent a considerable amount of time examining and amassing information about the Institution during the 19th century, with special attention being paid to the activities of Orange lodges in County Down.”

Dr Mattison added: “His collection will prove very valuable to future students of Orange history.”