THE Orange Order has been revealed as the mystery owner of the antique ‘Boyne musket’ almost a week after the artefact was sold to an “anonymous” telephone bidder for £20,000.
Now taking centre stage among other historical memorabilia, the purchase was kept under wraps until yesterday’s official opening of the organisation’s new Museum of Orange Heritage at Schomberg House on the Cregagh Road.
Following its sale at public auction at Ross’s Auctioneers in Belfast last Thursday, there had been some speculation that the 17th Century gun might not go on public display after both the Ulster Museum and the Boyne Visitors’ Centre said they were not the new owners.
The Republic’s Office of Public Works (OPW) had bid – unsuccessfully – for the weapon believed to have been used at both the Siege of Derry and the Battle of the Boyne – and which centuries later came to symbolise the peace process.
Auctioneer Daniel Clarke said the gun – made in 1685 at the Tower of London and commissioned by a Dragoon officer for King James II army – had been “mothballed” for several hundred years when in private ownership and, prior to its sale, historians and private firearms collectors across Ireland had expressed interest in snapping it up.
The gun first came to prominence in 2007 in a very public show of reconciliation between the former first minister, the late Ian Paisley, who presented it – on loan from its Co Antrim owners – to the then taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, at the opening of the Boyne Visitors’ Centre in Co Meath.
As a result of this symbolic gesture the centre was seen as one of the most likely and keenest purchasers, but eventually bowed out of last week’s bidding war before the hammer fell at £20,000.
Grand Lodge Director of Services David Hume, said the piece would be a “tremendous acquisition” for Orangeism and the museum sector in Northern Ireland.