During lockdown the Independent Loyal Orange Institution ran a project funded by Belfast City Council entitled RECONNECT. Its aim was to research the history of the Institution from its foundation in 1903. As well as historical research the project aimed to reconnect with former members friends and families from Belfast.

At that time its two heartlands were in the working class areas of Belfast and of course North Antrim. There was a County Grand Lodge of Belfast with three Districts and almost 50 lodges. Many inner city Districts south as South Belfast saw the Independents outnumber the Orange Order and within a few years they had bought a magnificent headquarters and hall in Great Victoria Street.
Indeed until the late 1970s the Institution had two demonstrations one in Belfast hosted by the County Grand Lodge of Belfast and the other in North Antrim hosted by the County Grand Lodge of Antrim. Interestingly there was another County Grand Lodge of the City of Londonderry where the modern Londonderry lodge remains.
The headquarters building in Great Victoria Street, was a beautiful three storey hall with an intricate facade and stained glass which had been built as the first Jewish Synagogue in Belfast. As that community outgrew it they sold it to the Order and it was opened by the famous Jewish Lord Mayor of Belfast Otto Jaffe. Tensions between the two Orders in Belfast are to such an extent that the building has the unwelcome legacy of being the first building in Belfast to be Bombed.
The Second World War, the decline in shipbuilding and heavy engineering as well as the displacement of whole communities during the Troubles changed the face of Belfast wiping our entire Protestant areas. This lead to a decline in membership of the ILOI in Belfast where it ceased to exist as a County Lodge in the early 1980s. While the Order still has a lodge in the city an entire generation has been lost. The RECONNECT Project sought not only to research the history but to reconnect with former members, supporters and their families.
One real success story of the project was one such reconnection with the daughter and descendants of our last Imperial Grand Master from Belfast, William John Alexander 1970-72. The Alexander family had been founding members and stalwarts of the Order in Belfast, and had worked tirelessly to further it in the city. One of the traditions Rt. Wor. Bro Alexander had preserved was the Alexander Cup, presented to the best band each Twelfth. In the chaos of the Troubles as many members of the Order were faced with attacks upon their homes and entire streets in Belfast were displaced not to mention bomb attacks on our Orange Halls in the city the Alexander Cup was lost.
With Br. Alexanders untimely passing another link was lost and the family lost touch with the Order as it moved its operations and finally Headquarters to North Antrim. However in the last two years connections have been made, and many items of historic interest have been donated by the family to the Institution and one – the Alexander Cup has been kindly replaced by the family and was recently presented to the present Imperial Grand Master Rt Wor. Br. James Anderson. Br. Alexander’s daughter attended the Independent Twelfth in Ballymoney and visited the Headquarters building where the presentation took place.
It was decided to invite her again next year when we hope the traditional Twelfth field will return to present the Cup once more to one of our bands. We hope that this and other reconnections made in Belfast will see a return of the order to those areas in the city where it was born and grew.