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Orange and Hibernian banners adorn the walls of Cavan church

Samuel Gardiner (left) and a member of the Belturbet community prepare to lay wreaths on Colonel Saunderson's grave which has been restored recently. INPT01-941.

Samuel Gardiner (left) and a member of the Belturbet community prepare to lay wreaths on Colonel Saunderson's grave which has been restored recently. INPT01-941.

It was a rather unusual service, with Orange and Ancient Order of Hiberians (AOH) banners adorning the walls of the church.

And when you consider it was in the historic church in County Cavan, on the former estate of none other than Colonel James Saunderson (the uncompromising unionist whose statue dominates the centre of Portadown), it shows that times indeed can change.

For this was the self-same unionist party leader who said during the Home Rule controversy at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries that, “The Home Rule Bill may pass this House (Westminster) but it will never pass the Bann Bridge in Portadown”.

The service was held at the Saunderson Estate in County Cavan – just a mile from the Fermanagh border - with the estate straddling that line which divides north and south.

But there was a great spirit of togetherness as both sides of the communities gathered in worship.

Wattle Hill Orange Lodge and an accordion band from the north were there, and provided the Orange banner. The AOH banner was loaned by the Cavan Museum at Ballyjamesduff. And the Armagh Museum loaned an Army uniform worn in days of yore by Colonel Saunderson.

Among the worshippers were Upper Bann UUP Assembly Member Samuel Gardiner and Portadown historian William Wortley, both of whom have taken a keen interest in developments at the estate, and have helped campaign for the restoration of the Saunderson properties.

Said Mr Gardiner, “The church has been beautifully restored, as has the Colonel’s grave a few yards from the stone building. This was a short, simple service during the Christmas period and it was a great inspiration.”

County Cavan Council is behind the works, with the sprawling estate recently turned into a national Scouting facility – it was opened by Irish President Michael D Higgins last summer and Scouts from all over the island attended. Mr Gardiner and Mr Wortley were among the hundreds there.

Colonel Saunderson was MP for Cavan in the pre-partition days (from 1865-1874) and he was North Armagh’s MP from 1885 until his death in 1906.

The estate near Belturbet contains Castle Saunderson which is only a shell these days, although all the walls are standing and it is quite a tourist attraction.

Said Mr Gardiner, “It would take millions of euros to restore the castle and perhaps that’s an impossible dream. But improvements are being made all round. I’m proud that William and I played a major role in restoring the grave, and that was a catalyst to other projects. It’s forging positive links between north and south.”

 

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