Bellarena man elected to serve Grand Orange Lodge
Published in The Londonderry Sentinel
13 January 2011
Wednesday of last week was a red letter day for the Orange Order, who faced the unusual task of having to elect new faces to the top two posts in the Grand Lodge of Ireland. Elected as one of the two most influential Orangemen in the country, Rev Alastair Smyth, the new Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, said he was committed to the strengthening of the bond between Orangeism and the Faith.
Married to Leslie, the couple have a family of two: Graham (24), and Rosalind (21). Although he may have less time for his hobbies and interests now that he had a prominent role to fulfil with the Grand Lodge of Ireland, nevertheless, he said he “enjoyed going occasionally to Ravenhill to watch the Ulster rugby team play”, and he also described himself as “an armchair Manchester United supporter, Rangers supporter and Coleraine supporter”.
He is also partial to watching suspense and murder mysteries on the small screen.
Asked for his initial thoughts on how he would fulfil his role, Rev Smyth said his predecessor – now the Grand Master – had given of himself unstintingly to the Orange Order and he hoped to do the same.
Christian and Reformed Faith
“Being a Minister of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland I would be hoping to use my position to promote the Christian and Reformed Faith, because that is one of the first principles of Orangeism, so that would be what I would be aiming at and encouraging the Brethren in that and trying to roll out the Christian influence throughout the Institution, he said.
Rev Smyth’s ‘home’ Lodge is Bellarena Faith Defenders LOL984, which was established in 1947, amongst others, by the new Deputy’s late father. Bellarena is the townland ‘nextdoor’ to Magilligan near the cost.
“I suppose I’m a second generation Orangeman in the Lodge, and I am sure if he could see this day, I am sure he would probably be mightily surprised that a son of his had become the Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland; but he would be very pleased, too, I’m sure,” he said.
Alastair joined the Lodge in 1989, and has been a lifelong member since that time.
“Since I grew up in a house that was steeped in Orangeism, I always had an interest. Probably, in a sense, my first involvement in that whole scene would have been as a member of Bellarena Accordion Band as a boy,” he said, revealing that he still plays the accordion.
“I first of all was what you might call a junior drum major, marching in front of the band beside my uncle Bob. Then I graduated from that to become an accordionist in the band, and I still as opportunity affords itself and if I am free – Bellarena isn’t just nextdoor to Carryduff where I am a minister – so I am not always free to come, but in so far as I am, I still try to attend.”
Thanking his fellow Brethren for their vote of confidence in him, he said: “I want to thank those people who nominated me and who seconded me, and I want to thank all those who gave their support to me and I want to assure all the members of the Orange Institution, whether they voted for me or didn’t vote for me, that I hold them all in the highest esteem and I want to serve them all to the best of my ability.”
As the realisation settled on Rev Smyth that he had just been elected the second most senior ranking Orangeman in the while island, he said it had surprised him.
“It makes me feel very surprised, first of all because little did I think that I would ever occupy this position. It makes me feel very humble that other people should think that I am in any way qualified to fulfil the office, and I also feel very challenged, because after the euphoria of being put into the position subsides there is work to be done, so there is the challenge of all of that.”
A former pupil of Bellarena Primary School and Limavady Grammar School, Alastair said: “It was at the age of 13 that I was converted and came to a personal saving Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and from a very early age I felt called into the Christian Ministry.”
Asked if he felt there was any conflict between taking up the post of a leading Orangeman and his work as a Clergyman, he said: “I don’t think there is any conflict in the principles of the two positions, because the Orange Order should be first and foremost a Christian institution, a fraternity of people who belong to the reformed Faith and, therefore, as a Minister of the Reformed Faith, the two in my opinion go hand in glove. Obviously, with regard to the time commitment, that is something that I will have to work on,” he said, laughing and adding: “I am a reasonably prompt person. I don’t think there is really ever much excuse for being late. I do my best to be on time.”
Asked what he thought his time in service as the Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Orange Lodge would be, he said: “First I would say the promotion of the Christian Faith, because the qualifications of an Orangeman demand of him that he should be a professing believer, so I would want to keep that foremost. Secondly, I would like to see – and this is not down to me exclusively – but I would like to see the Orange Order still fulfilling a role of binding people of a unionist persuasion together in these days of where unionism has become increasingly splintered over recent years. I think the Orange Order has very important role in binding the members of the unionist family together and supporting each other, rather than trying to undo each other.
“And, I think, probably, a recognition of the Orange Institution in the cultural life of Northern Ireland. I think I am right in saying that the Twelfth of July is still the biggest tourist attraction in the calendar year, so I would want to see the role and the prominence of the Orange Institution in that respect maintained,” he said.
Considering the role of the Orange Order’s traditions and culture within the context of ‘a central tourism product’ for Northern Ireland, Rev Smyth said: “I think it does have a role, providing that in no way any of the principles of or Orangeism are sacrificed in the doing of that. In other words, I think everything that is in keeping with the principles of Orangeism can be used for the promotion of Orangeism, but I don’t think we should be doing anything that is in any way contrary to the principles of Orangeism and if the two come into conflict then we need to make sure we stand by our principles,” he said.
Turning to the UK City of Culture celebrations, he said: “We are living in an age of parity of esteem and a recognition of where we have all come from in Northern Ireland and in the whole of the island in general, and I think it would be good to recognise the Order within that. The City of Londonderry in the history of Ireland in general and in Northern Ireland in particular has lots of echoes from the Siege of Derry and all of that , and therefore, I think that if the Institution could play some positive part in that. It would probably be up to the Grand Lodge of the City of Londonderry to be organising that. I am a member of the County of Londonderry. So there is a distinction there, but I am happy to work with the City Grand Lodge to ensure the Order is properly represented,” he said.
Bellarena man elected to serve Grand Orange Lodge