Two Hundred Years in the Orange Citadel

In 1982 I began researching the history of Orange parades in Portadown. The research was carried out on behalf of the local H-Block committee, for which I was the secretary, and it was partly inspired by Orange Order and RUC (police) claims that the violence associated with Orange parades through the Nationalist/Catholic Obin Street (“Tunnel”) enclave was a recent phenomenon and that it was being orchestrated by Sinn Féin. 

My findings were issued in pamphlet form to journalists and other visitors attending the scene of the so-called ‘Drumcree siege’ (sic) of 1997. They were also summarised in the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition submission to the North Commission: Independent Review of Parades and Marches (1996).  And an edited and updated version was included in the 1999 book Garvaghy: A Community Under Siege.


The Orange Order’s official response to the ‘Seige’ of 1995 is a good example of how the organisation persists in justifying its existence through presenting itself (and Northern Protestants in general) as being persecuted and put-upon by Nationalists/Catholics, Republicans and others who regard their parading as being a triumphalist and provocative incitement to hatred and violence.  The official response came in the form of a booklet bearing the imprimatur of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. The booklet was published in 1995 under the title The Order on Parade and in his introduction the Reverend Brian Kennaway, a leading light in Grand Lodge’s self-styled ‘Education Committee’, held that the ongoing debate about Orange Parades was ill informed. The Reverend thought that ‘If people were better informed as to the nature of the Orange Institution they would be in a much better position to understand the purpose of parades’.  Then, clearly failing to grasp the realities of Orangeism this evangelical labourer in the vineyard of our Lord proceeded to quote from the Bible in support of the organisations advice to those who opposed loyalist parades through Nationalist areas not ‘go out of their way to be offended’ by Orangemen who ‘should not give offence to anyone’.[1]  Without offering the slightest insight into the actual ‘nature of the Orange Institution’, The Order on Parade proceeded to defend coat-trailing demonstrations of sectarian supremacy in ways that implied that the sectarian ‘demonstrations of strength’ and domination were the organisations raison d’être.  Without the slightest indication of irony, the book defended all and every Orange Parade as being part of a colourful tradition that fulfils a common need to celebrate political and religious commitments and beliefs.  It described the parades as being ‘a celebration’; ‘a display of pageantry’; ‘a demonstration of strength’ that provides ‘a sense of tradition’; ‘a testimony and a statement of beliefs’; and ‘the culmination of each lodge’s activities’.  What follows is a partial (and perhaps just a little partisan) testimony to the 200 year history of the Orange Order’s political and religious commitments. [2]

Towards a History of Orange Parades, Violence, and Corruption

In The Red Hand, Steve Bruce, Professor of Sociology at the University of Aberdeen, offers the following short account of the origins of Orangeism in North Armagh. 

The Orange Order … was founded after a battle at the Diamond in 1795 by Protestants who expected it to be the first of many skirmishes….  At first the Episcopalian gentry were ambivalent about the Order.  It had the right religion, but there was always the danger that it might move from destroying and expropriating Catholic property to stealing from the aristocracy.  It was only when the United Irishmen seemed an even greater threat that the gentry entered the Order.  [The strength of Orangeism fluctuated as history moved on until] …the Irish home-rule agitation of the late nineteenth century gave it a new salience.  Now professional and urban Ulster Presbyterians joined the rural Anglican gentry and their peasants (1992, p. 8).

    The landed gentry and their agents often treated the peasantry as assets to be exploited for all they were worth and rents, pensions and sinecures accounted for the major part of all capital transferred to England.  With the majority of people almost completely dependent on agriculture the landlords and their agents, or ‘middle men’, had a great deal of power over their tenants and many were reduced to a state of impoverished serfdom and abject misery. In 1750 the Irish philosopher George Berkley asked: “whether there be upon the earth any Christian or civilised people so beggarly wretched and destitute as the common Irish” People were driven from the land in such numbers that even the king of England became concerned.   In 1772 King George the 3rd. wrote to his Viceroy in Ireland expressing his fear that, “the overgreediness and harshness of landlords may be a means of depriving the kingdom of a number of His Majesties most industrious and valuable subjects”. By 1773 the Belfast Newsletter: “…computed that within forty years past, 400,000 people have left this Kingdom to go and settle in America”.

     Presbyterians in Antrim and Down were among the first to react to the ruthless extractions of the landlords.  However, by the end of the 18th century the landlords had effectively countered the threat to their incomes and position by sacrificing the interests of their Catholic tenants to their Protestant neighbours.  In the Portadown area Protestants from the Established Church formed secret societies for the purpose of persecuting Catholics and driving them from their homes and farmland so that a Protestant could take over the tenancy.  These gangs came to be known as ‘Peep O’Day’ and ‘Break O’Day’ boys. They were so-called because of their pre-dawn raids on Catholic homes and farms.  Though they would sometimes burn their victim’s homes their favoured method was to deprive the occupants of the means by which they could pay their rents.  They did this by killing or injuring livestock, destroying crops, breaking farming tools and wrecking the contents of homes – particularly the spinning wheels and looms which were the only means by which many people could earn enough to pay their rents.  This method of dispossessing Catholics of their homes and clearing them from the land was known as ‘wrecking’ and the various gangs which employed it were collectively known as ‘Wreckers’. 

A Quaker by the name of James Christie described the policy of ‘wrecking’ during a Parliamentary Select Committee investigation into the Orange Order on July 10th 1835. Christie said:

it was termed “wrecking” when the parties broke open the door and smashed everything that was capable of being broken in the house … they threw the furniture out of the house smashed; and in other cases they set fire to the house and burnt it.’

Christie also said that the ‘wrecking’ actually began in 1794 on estates administered by James Verner, a Justice of the Peace who lived at Church Hill, on the Dungannon Road, but that the greatest depredations committed against the Catholics were in the Spring of 1795, and on a lesser scale in 1796 – 97.  He told of twelve to fourteen Catholic houses being burned down in one night just a mile or so from Portadown, at Battle Hill, in the spring of 1795.  He also told of Catholic churches being burned in various parts of North Armagh.

The first recorded Drumcree ‘Church Parade’.

       At a Sunday service in June 1795 a Reverend George Maunsell, a magistrate and rector of Drumcree Church, called on his congregation ‘to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in the true spirit of the institution’ by attending a sermon to be given by a Rev. Devine of ‘the Established Church’ (meaning the Church of England) at Drumcree.  These reverend gentlemen and others like them were largely responsible for turning what had been a largely criminal campaign of dispossession against tenant farmers and weavers into a sectarian campaign of ethnic cleansing and it was the Reverend Devine’s Sunday service at Drumcree Church in the summer of 1795 that inspired the 200-year-old tradition of ‘first Sunday’ demonstrations of sectarian supremacy.  On page 17 of his History of Ireland (Vol. I), published in 1809, the English Catholic historian, Francis Plowden described the events that followed the Rev. Devine’s sermon saying:

 This evangelical laborer in the vineyard of the Lord of peace so worked up the minds of his audience, that upon retiring from service, on the different roads leading to their respective homes, they gave full scope to the antipapistical zeal, with which he had inspired them, falling upon every Catholic they met, beating and bruising them without provocation or distinction, breaking the doors and windows of their houses, and actually murdering two unoffending Catholics in a bog.  This unprovoked atrocity of the Protestants revived and redoubled religious rancour.  The flame spread and threatened a contest of extermination…

Plowden, whose research and writing was commissioned by the British government of the day, tells of a similar assault on Catholics in the neighbouring town of Lurgan where influential Catholics and Protestants living east of the river Bann convened a meeting and succeeded in maintaining the peace.  But, he noted, in Portadown the Catholic Defenders: ‘remained under arms for three days successively, challenging their opponents to fight it out fairly in the field rather that harass them with murderous nocturnal visits’.

Seven weeks later, on the 21st of September, a party of Defenders was ambushed by a coalition of ‘wreckers’ and yeomanry at the Diamond, 4 miles from Drumcree. The yeomanry, who Plowden considered to be ‘military savages’, were under the command of a Captain John Giffard from Dublin. Giffard, who claimed to have been instrumental in founding the Orange Order, was stationed in Portadown where William Blacker who, in 1812, was made a Lieutenant Colonel in the County Armagh Militia, had command of the  Seagoe yeomanry.


Orange historians have attributed Blacker with playing a minor role in the affray at the Diamond.[3]  He is said to have stripped lead from the roof of his house to make ammunition in preparation for ambushing the Defenders.  But that may be no more than a piece of Orange legendry that was contrived after the ambush so as to establish an affinity between the landed gentry and the Protestant peasantry for Blacker was in Dublin at the time and local landlords feared that the Orange might turn on them.[4]  It was after the Diamond skirmish that the name ‘Orange Boys’ beceme more popular.  This was changed to ‘the Orange Order’ as the ‘wreckers’ became more organized under the leadership of Giffard and Blacker and Verner.

     In the months after the Rev. Devine’s sermon at Drumcree the homes of Catholic peasants were attacked with such frequency that troops were drafted in from other parts of the country and the Irish Parliament in Dublin debated a bill designed to prevent insurrections.  In the course of that debate, on February 22nd 1796, a Colonel John Cradock, who had been dispatched to take control of the Armagh militia, observed that if the magistrates of Co Armagh had acted as they should the ‘local petty warfare will cease in one fortnight’. Colonel Craddock thought that although the Catholic Defenders may have initiated the conflict at the Diamond, they had been retaliating out of sheer exasperation.  He said that, ‘the conduct of the Orangemen, or Protestants, was atrocious to the highest degree; and that their persecutions of the Defenders or Catholics should be resisted and punished with the whole force of the Government’.

     The ‘Battle’ of the Diamond was reported in the Freemans Journal on 24 September, 1795.  Letters had been received saying that two parties of “rioters”, armed with a few muskets and farming implements, had clashed at Loughgall and that several people were said to have been killed.  In October 1795 the Freemans Journal published another letter from an officer in the 9th Dragoon Guards saying that on 21st September the ‘Peep-O-Day boys and Defenders had a dreadful engagement in which 30 of the latter were killed’. 

The Ethnic Cleansing of LOL District No. 1

     By the end of 1796 an estimated 700 Catholic families, about 4,000 people in all, had been forced out of their homes by what were often called the ‘Orange Boys’.  The clearances sometimes began with the painting of warnings such as “To Hell or Connaught” on selected Catholic houses.  The notices to quit were sometimes signed with a foreboding nom de guerre – such as ‘William Thresham’, ‘John Thrustout’, ‘Captain. Rackall’, or ‘Capt. Firebrand’. When the threats were ignored nocturnal attacks followed.  The ethnic cleansing of the area became so intense that the County’s Governor, Archibald Acheson, the 2nd Earl of Gosford, later Lord Gosford, convened an emergency meeting of 30 of the county’s magistrates on December 28th 1795.  The magistrates issued the following statement:

Resolved, that it appears to this meeting, that the County of Armagh is at this moment in a state of uncommon disorder, that the Roman Catholic inhabitants are grievously oppressed by lawless persons unknown, who attack and plunder their houses by night and threaten them with instant destruction, unless they abandon immediately their lands and habitations.

     It is no secret that a persecution, accompanied with all the circumstances of ferocious cruelty, which have in all ages distinguished that calamity is now raging in this County.  Neither age nor sex, nor even acknowledged innocence, as to any guilt in the late disturbances, is sufficient to excite mercy or afford protection. The only crime, which the wretched objects of this ruthless persecution are charged with, is a crime indeed of easy proof: It is simply a profession of the Roman Catholic faith, or an intimate connection with a person professing that faith. A lawless banditry have constituted themselves judges of this new species of delinquency, and the sentence they have denounced is equally concise and terrible!  It is nothing less than a confiscation of all property, and an immediate banishment.

     It would be extremely painful, and surely unnecessary to detail the horrors, that attend the execution of so rude and tremendous a proscription.  A proscription, that certainly exceeds, in the comparative number of those it consigns to ruin and misery, every example, that ancient and modern history can supply: for where have we read of more than half the inhabitants of a populous county deprived at one blow of the means, as well as of the fruits of their industry, and driven in the midst of an inclement season, to seek shelter for themselves and their families, where chance may guide them. 

     This is no exaggerated picture of the horrid scenes now acting in the county.  Yet surely it is sufficient to awaken sentiments of indignation and compassion in the coldest bosoms.

These horrors are now acting with impunity.  The spirit of impartial justice (without which law is nothing better than an instrument of tyranny) has for a time disappeared in the county, and the supineness of the magistracy of Armagh is become a common topic of conversation in every corner of the Kingdom.

That resolution was referred to by Henry Grattan during a Parliamentary Debate in February 1796.  Grattan spoke of the “horrid persecution”, “abominable barbarity” and “general extermination” being conducted against the Catholic population in Co. Armagh.  One of the principal leaders of that ‘general extermination’ was Justice of the Peace and founding member of the Orange Order, James Verner.  When questioned in the House of Commons on November the 7th. 1796, James Verner, known locally as “Orange Jimmy”, admitted that the persecution of Catholics in Co. Armagh was the work of the “Orange boys”.

The First Twelfth

 In 1797 over 160 people were tried at the Spring Assizes in Armagh in relation to the ongoing ‘disturbances’.  Later that year Orangemen staged their first major 12th of July ‘demonstration of strength’.  The demonstration was a direct response to attempts at putting a stop to their attacks on Catholics and it was designed to intimidate the magistrates and the Governor of the County.  Lord Gosford himself estimated that 1,500 men in Orange regalia marched in military formation into the grounds of his estate on July 12th.

Sectarian Scheming and Corruption in Dublin

On the 9th of April, 1798, a new headquarters for the Grand Orange Lodge was set up in the home of ‘Orange Jimmy’ Verner’s student son Thomas on Dawson Street in Dublin where LOL 176 was already active. [5]   

It was estimated that by 1798 the United Irishmen, which had formed in Belfast in 1791 under the leadership of the radical Protestant leader Theobald Wolfe Tone, had 280,000 members.  Their initial objective was to unite Protestants and Catholics in seeking Parliamentary reform. But under Tone’s leadership and inspired by the French Revolution the movement became more radical and sought the removal of British rule and the establishment of an Irish Republic.  When the United Irishmen rebelled in May 1798 the Catholic population in county of Armagh was still being attack by Orangemen and with the help of Blacker’s yeomen the Orangemen helped the Crown forces to prevent United Irishmen from Co. Antrim joining up with their allies in Co. Down. 

For the Honour of the King and the Greater Glory of God

Orange violence abated somewhat as County Armagh was cleared of Catholics and the towns and villages were ghettoised. Nevertheless, the Orange Order kept up its belligerent ‘demonstrations of strength’ so as to intimidate and deter the possibility of organized resistance from the beleaguered Catholics. They did this, as they still do, under bogus banners of civil and religious liberty, the defence Protestantism, and loyalty to the crown. Speaking in the House of Commons in July 1805 Henry Grattan referred to their demonstrations saying:

… when the spirit of religious discord descends on the lower order of the people, and the holiday becomes a riot; and when the petty magistrate turns Chapman and dealer in politics, turns theologian and robber, makes for himself a situation in the country formed out of the monstrous lies he tells of his Catholic neighbours, fabricates false panics of insurrection and invasion, then walks forth the men of blood… and atrocities, which he dare not commit in his own name, perpetrates for the honour of his King, and in the name of his maker.

The Vicars of Seagoe and Drumcree supported the judiciary with their own peculiar interpretations of ‘the word of the Lord’.  In 1807 the very Reverend Stewart Blacker, William Blacker’s father and a member of LOL 176, was fomenting the ‘spirit of religious discord’ in Drumcree Church.  The fact that a member of the Blacker family was the rector of Drumcree may be the reason Orange revisionists hold that 1807 was the year when the traditional ‘Church Parade’ was first established. The murder and mayhem that issued from the doors of Drumcree after that 1795 call to ‘celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in the true spirit of the institution’ would not have been a fitting anniversary for the foundation of such a religious tradition. 

     Some appreciation of the degree to which Orangeism was subverting the rule of law at the time can be gained from a report that was published in the Belfast News Letter on August 21st 1812. The report said that the Lord Lieutenant had disbanded the entire Armagh Yeomanry because of ‘insubordination’. The insubordination first come to light when, on the 2nd of July that year when a sergeant and nine privates were dismissed for having refused to serve under an officer who had signed a petition in favour or Catholic Emancipation.  A Judge Fletcher was reported to have made the following observations on the ongoing disturbances in Northern Ireland in his address to the Grand Jury of Co. Wexford on August 18th:

Orange Societies have produced the most mischievous effects….  They poison the very foundation of justice; and even some magistrates, under their influence, have in too many instances, violated their duty and their oaths (1814, p. 4).

Fletcher went on to say that the self-styled “Orange Yeomen” carried arms under the pretence of self defence but, ‘with the lurking view of inviting attacks from Ribbonmen […] confident, that, armed as they are, they must overcome their defenceless opponents’. He said murderers were being set free and serious charges being reduced by Petty Juries under the influence of the Orange Society and that:

… with these Orange Associations I connect the Commemorations and Processions […] producing embittering recollections […] and I do emphatically state it as my settled opinion, that until these associations are effectively put down and the arms taken from their hands, in vain will the North of Ireland expect tranquillity or peace (1814, p. 15). [6]

Orange Riots.

Judge Fletcher’s remarks were referred to in the House of Commons in July 1815 when Henry Parnell called for an inquiry into the Orange Lodges in Ireland.  In the course of his address Parnell pointed out that 14 petitions had been presented to Parliament requesting that the ‘Orange Associations’ be investigated. He said the petitions alleged that:

… to the existence of Orange Lodges in Ireland, was mainly attributed the disturbances of public peace, particularly by the celebrations of processions with certain insignia etc…. [and that] besides the agitation which these necessarily produced they beget a counter spirit among the people, that led to animosities, which, in their consequences, produced riots.

That same month Portadown Orangemen marched to Drumcree and on the very same day a party of Orangemen returning from Middletown attacked Catholic homes at Cruskeenan and murdered a Catholic man named Patrick Grimley.  At the inquest into Grimley’s death it was alleged the two sons of a Rev. Nathaniel Smith, the rector of Madden, and a man named Brown attacked Grimley with ceremonial swords and a pistol.  The Rev. Smith had previously stood bail for another man accused of wrecking Catholic owned houses.  Samuel Smith was charged with the murder of Grimley.  At his trial in March witnesses said Smith was leading the march on horseback and encouraging the Orangemen to attack Catholic bystanders. They said that when Grimley was being attacked Smith charged in shouting  ‘Cut down all Papists – men women and children’ and struck the deceased on the head with his sword.  Grimley was able to walk away but Smith followed him and killed him.  Witnesses for the defence claimed that Smith was only trying to disperse Grimley’s assailants.  The verdict was ‘not guilty’.

     On July 17th, 1815, John Lawless, editor of a Belfast newspaper called The Irishman presented a petition to the House of Commons investigation into Orange depredation.  In it he recounted instances of Orange violence at 12th of July demonstrations and asserted that the parades, ‘tended naturally to disturb the peace’.  The reputedly liberal Tory MP, Sir James Mackintosh said the marches were an annual insult to the people of Ireland and a libel upon the memory of King William.  He said, ‘This was the only instance in the history of nations where a minority of conquerors continued to insult the people of a country through a series of ages down to the present period’.

The Unlawful Oaths Act of 1823

One Catholic man was shot dead and a number of others were wounded by Orange demonstrators at Killileagh, Co Armagh, in July 1823.  Michael Campbell was returning from a fair at Caledon when he was shot dead.  Four Orangemen were charged with the murder but were acquitted at the Spring Assizes. When discharging the Orangemen judge Johnson said:

They all knew the strong feeling that prevailed in the country respecting their silly processions.  Was it to triumph over the fallen – to exult in victory – to insult a large portion of their fellow subjects, that they made such mischievous exhibitions?

The persistence of the Orange Order in murdering and intimidating Catholics with militaristic ‘demonstrations of strength’ resulted in the passing of the Unlawful Oaths Act of 1823.

The Unlawful Associations Act of 1825

      The Unlawful Oaths Act was not sufficient to put a stop to Orange violence and the organisation carried on persecuting Catholics and campaigning against the movement for Catholic Emancipation.  In 1825 the act was reinforced with the Unlawful Associations Act.  This effectively outlawed the Orange Order and the Dublin based Grand Lodge of Ireland, LOL 176, went into voluntary dissolution.  However, Portadown Orangemen were determined to persevere and when the local magistrates, most of whom supported Orangeism, were obliged by the new law to prevent a 12th July demonstration they claimed they had insufficient forces ‘at their command’ and the Orangemen marched without hindrance.   In July 1826 Portadown Orangemen joined up with their brethren from the neighbouring town of Lurgan to stage an even larger demonstration of strength. Meanwhile the mayor of Derry, Richard Young, and a number of magistrates and landlords of the county appealed in vain to the Orangemen there to abandon their demonstrations.

    On July 29th 1826 Orangemen attacked and burned a Catholic altar in the townland of Tartaraghan, near Maghery, a few miles from Portadown.  Twenty-one men were charged with the crime but all were acquitted despite being identified by eyewitnesses.  On the 5th of November two Catholics were shot dead and several others wounded when Orangemen marched into the predominantly Catholic village of Hilltown, County Down.

     In 1827 Portadown magistrate Curran Woodhouse, who had quit the Orange Order, attempted to persuade the Orangemen not to flout the law.  He called their leaders to a last minute meeting on the 12th of July but his requests were rejected and the Orangemen marched to meet up with their Lurgan allies at the Red Cow Inn on the Portadown to Lurgan road.  Reinforced by the Lurgan lodges the 5,000 Orangemen marched into Portadown where there were only 14 policemen on duty.

     On May 14th 1828 Orangemen marched into the Co Armagh town of Blackwatertown and murdered a Catholic.  One of the marchers was charged with murder and received 12 months for manslaughter.  Five Catholics and two Orangemen were charged with rioting.  Each Catholic got one months’ hard labour.  The Orangemen were fined sixpence each.

The Spread of Orange Violence

In April 1829 Catholic Emancipation became law and in July the Grand Lodge of Armagh issued a letter to all lodges recommending that they abstain from marching.  On July 14th the Belfast News Letter reported that on 7 July Belfast magistrates met ‘at the request of the Marquis of Donegall, in consequence of some information that the processions of Orangemen here would probably endanger the public peace’.  The magistrates issued notices dissuading participation in the marches but Portadown Orangemen ignored local magistrates and, accompanied by reinforcements from Richill, they marched through the town on the 12th of July.  While there were no reports of violence in the Portadown stronghold there were Orange riots and shootings in Armagh, Strabane, Newtonstewart, Stewartstown, Castlewellan, Eniskillen and Maghera.   The Belfast News Letter reported 20 people killed and many more wounded.  Orangemen at Macken in Eniskillen shot many of the casualties.

     The District Master of Orangeism in Armagh was charged with having caused the Armagh riots.  However, at his trial in Armagh on August 6th, the judge asserted that if it could not be proven that the Orangemen started the riot then District Master Tyrrell must be acquitted as he would have been shooting at the Catholics in self defence. Tyrrell was acquitted, as were 15 other Orangemen who were tried at the spring assizes in 1830 on the charge of rioting in July 1929.

     The violence instigated by the Orangemen in July 1829 was so severe and so widespread that on July 18th the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland issued a proclamation banning all Orange gatherings and all counter demonstrations.  On July 21st the Belfast News Letter reported that between 25 and 30 “insurgents”and 8 Orangemen were killed in Armagh and Tyrone.

     In July 1830 Portadown Orangemen marched to Lurgan where ‘A large assembly of Orange Lodges took place here, in opposition to the wishes of the Government and the Magistracy of the county.  After a great deal of silly display they retired to their homes’.  Four thousand Orangemen were reported to have taken part in the Lurgan demonstration.  Five people were shot in Castlewellan and in Newry the Orangemen shot two people who, they claimed, had thrown stones at them.  Several Catholics were reported to have been shot when an Orange demonstration was stoned at Culladuff, in Co Derry, where the Orangemen burned down the home of a Catholic family.  Arms were seized from the Orangemen around a dozen of them were arrested.  When they appeared in court on July 25th the members of four Orange Lodges stormed the courthouse and freed the prisoners.

The Wrecking of Maghery

On November 22th 1830 there was a riot in Maghery when locals opposed an Orange Order parade through the village.  Two days later an armed mob wrecked 29 houses in the village.  Some inhabitants fled before the attack but some were caught and beaten by the mob.  Seven Orangemen were charged with offences relating to the attack. All of the Orangemen were acquitted but some of the victims submitted accounts of the attack to the Parliamentary Select Committee that was set up to investigate the ‘Orange Societies’ in 1835.  What follows is the account given by three of them:


Eleanor Campbell, sworn: –Resides in Maghery and keeps a public house; it is near the Blackwater foot, near the quay; was there on Monday the 22nd November last, between 11 and 12 o’clock, as near as she can recollect; was out standing before the door; a great number of men came down across the fields and attacked the house; four men attacked the four windows; deponent then went into the house for fear of her life; the windows were smashed, sashes and all; they attacked deponent’s two daughters in her house, to beat and abuse them; two young men of the party came in, and one of them fired a gun in the house up at the deponent’s son, who was on the loft and had made a noise to come down when he saw the men going to abuse his sister; the skirts of the deponent’s son’s coat appeared as if they had been perforated with shot from the gun; it might have been done with slugs; four or five men then attacked the deponent herself with bayonets, and threatened to take her life if she would not give up a gun which they said she had; they swore  deponent on her hand and by the five crosses to tell where it was, and deponent had to send out for it; they got it, and took it away.  A lump of a boy, about 16 or 17 years of age, came forward with a bayonet fastened on a stick, and made a stab at deponent, which struck her; deponent was wounded on her forehead with the bayonet, she thinks by the boy who had it; was also knocked down by a blow of a stone, which she thinks he held in his hand, and which stunned her; all deponent’s delf, glass, and furniture were broken; her spirits and beer spilled, and her clock broken; all the spirits and beer in the bar were spilled; thinks five or six gallons of spirits were spilled; they also robbed deponent of her money, notes, silver, and halfpence, destroyed her feather bed; they took away table linen, and sheets and shirts, and coats, and her children’s clothes, and also a great deal of her own clothes, and left her very little behind; never saw any of the party before, to her knowledge; would not have known her child she was so much confused and put through other; thinks the party was disguised; the boy who struck deponent had his cap drawn down over his forehead; deponent was so frightened she could not tell any of the crowd; they cried out  ‘‘We are Killyman boys,’’ and would clear all before them; and to see what Lord Charlemont would do for her now; did not know any person by the name of Carner  in that neighborhood; deponent thinks 14 or 15 of the party came into her house, as well as she can tell; it is not positive, they were all under arms, and had weapons of some kind or other; some guns, some bayonets, one man had a scyth, and another had a large sword, horseman’s, or like one of the policemen’s; they came in in two or three parties; first, four at a time, then five, then three, and so on; they were in deponent’s house very nearly an hour, more or less;  deponent, after her house was wrecked (in about five or six minutes after) saw two policemen, Moneypenny and Crawford; thinks they were not under arms then, but they may have had their side arms; Did not see any other person that deponent knows; at that time they were doing no harm; she reflected on them for not coming down to save her.  Sergeant Crawford came into deponent’s house, and the others went down to his brother’s boat; deponent is not just sure, can’t say exactly, but has heard and thinks there were 26 houses wrecked and injured in the town; very few escaped; deponent’s house is quite the opposite end of the town from where the row took place on Saturday; deponent saw no other person that she knew but the two policemen.    

Catherine Donnelly, sworn: –Recollects the 22nd November last; was in Maghery on that day; is daughter of last witness, Eleanor Campbell; was at her mother’s house when the party came there; her own house was locked up.  When the party came into town, deponent ran with her children to a lighter to save them.  She had locked her own house; when she went back to her own house she found it locked; the party must have got in by the window; the door was not forced but the windows were broken; she found her husband’s and her own clothing burning; some of the furniture was injured, broken; whilst in her mother’s house heard a gun fired therein; saw several men with guns and bayonets on them in the house. Deponent did not then, nor does she now, know any of the party concerned in the outrage, she was so much thunderstruck; saw no stranger in the town that day that she knew; she called on Stewart Moneypenny to go up the town with her; he refused, and said he could not do anything for her.  Was in Maghery on the Saturday when the scrimage took place; she was in her own house, and four of her children with her; there were men that had been saving her house that morning from the storm; swears positively that no men left her house that day to take part in the ruction.                                             

Sarah Campbell, sworn: –Is daughter of the late Owen Campbell, her mother is living; was in Maghery on Monday the 22nd of November last; was in her mother’s (Mary Campbell’s) house; saw the party, a number of men, coming through town; they were armed; they had all guns and bayonets; knew one of them, the boy who broker her mother’s furniture, his name is John Catton; there were others with him; they did nothing, he did the whole damage; he broke the windows and smashed a deal of other things; broke a clock and a wheel….

The Party Processions Act 1832.

   On July 7th 1831 the Governor of Co. Antrim, the Marquis of Donegall, issued a letter to the county magistrates instructing them to ‘use your utmost endeavours to persuade such persons, in your neighbourhood as may intend to violate the law, by walking in procession on the 12th July, of the folly and illegality of such proceeding”.  In Portadown 27 Orange Lodges demonstrated before a crowd estimated at 10,000.  After the 12th demonstration in Rathfriland, Co. Down, it was reported that five Catholics had been shot dead and three or four drowned in the river Bann a few miles from the town, near Katesbridge.  The violence contributed to the passing of the Party Processions Act in August, 1832.  That Act was to be enforced for 5 years, until August 1837, and though it banned all party processions it was specifically aimed at suppressing Orange demonstrations. That was confirmed by an address to the Grand Jury of Armagh at the Summer Assizes of 1833 when a Judge Moore dealt with 10 Orangemen who had been charged under the Act.  Commenting on the provisions of the Act he said:

its objective was to put an instant stop to parties marching in procession, with colours, badges, or other insignia, calculated to create a disturbance, or arouse religious and political animosity in his Majesty’s Roman Catholic subjects.

1833 Drumcree ‘Church Parade’ is Rerouted onto the Garvaghy Road.

On June 28th 1833 the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Sir William Gossett issued the following statement to all Chief Constables:

Sir – The Lord Lieutenant entertains a confident hope that there will be no recurrence, on the 12th of July, of those assemblies which have proved so destructive of the peace of the country, and so inconsistent with its real interests.  His Excellency directs me to say, that should he be disappointed in that hope, by the continuance of a custom, not only mischievous in its effects, but in violation of the law, the utmost aid of the Government will he afforded for the suppression of such assemblies.  The Constabulary under your command should be directed to be most vigilant on the day in question, and to note the persons taking part in such illegal assemblies, and what is said and done, with a view to the prosecution of the offenders.  This caution applies not only to the 12th July, but to all other periods on which the demonstration of political or religious feelings may, by any party, be attempted.[7]  

With mounting opposition to their illegal parades the Orangemen marched to Colonel Blacker’s estate on July 12th, 1833. In his address to the Orangemen Blacker warned them of the dangers of drawing unwanted attention by marching on Catholic areas and instigating violence that would be brought to the attention of the authorities.  Despite his advice, however, some of the Orangemen could not constrain themselves and, on their return from Carrickblacker, two Lodges from the vicinity of the Diamond attacked the Catholic hamlet of Ballyhagan, four miles from Portadown. Twenty-five Orangemen were fined sixpence each for marching in Portadown that year and another sixty were prosecuted in July, 1834. 

      Four months on from the 1833 parade to Carrickblacker, on November 5th, Portadown Orangemen used the pretext of celebrating Guy Fawkes Day to challenge the enforcement of the Party Provisions Act.  They did so by way of ‘the Walk’ – which was then a quiet country road and which is now better known as the Garvaghy Road, a densely populated Nationalist enclave.  According to the Orange historian W. H. Wolsey, the Orangemen marched along the Walk ‘without flags or music’ but ‘in full uniform’ (meaning they wore their sashes). This was the earliest known record of an Orange march down the Garvaghy Road and it happened at a time when the local police and judiciary felt obliged to implement the Party Processions Act. By re-routing and moderating their ‘display of pageantry’ the Orangemen sought to preserve the most important symbol of their supremacist culture. By timing it as they did they sought to convey an image of the organisation as being loyal to the parliament that was trying to suppress it and by making it a ‘church parade’ they were presenting themselves as defenders of the Protestant faith from papist subversives.

The Ballyhagan Petition

The sham march down the Garvaghy Road couldn’t prevent a Parliamentary inquiry into Orangeism during which the attack on Ballyhagan was mentioned. Following that attack local Catholics sent a petition to justice of the peace, John Hankock. The Ballyhagan petition was presented to the Parliamentary investigation into Orange lodges and contributed to Colonel Blacker losing his commission as keeper of the peace.  His co-conspirator, Colonel William Verner avoided that same humiliation by resigning his commission and the Orange Order was forced to lower its profile on the roads and streets of Co. Armagh for the next few years – until it was emboldened by Verner’s election to Parliament:


Affairs at Maghery, Portadown, Tanderagee, &c.

To his Excellency Henry William Marquis of Anglesey, Lord Lieutenant-General and General Governor of Ireland, &c. &c.

The Petition of the undersigned Inhabitants of the townland of Ballyhagan, near Portadown, in the county of Armagh.

                 Humbly Sheweth,

That Petitioners had fondly hoped that all party processions in Ireland, and the numerous evils arising therefrom, would have ceased on the enactment of a law prohibiting such processions; and that the declared determination of His Majesty’s Government to establish internal peace, and promote concord among all classes of His Majesty’s subjects, would have met with the approbation of every good and loyal subject, and of every friend of peace and good order:

That petitioners, with deep regret, are sorry to be obliged to approach your Excellency on the present occasion, for the purpose of representing to your Excellency, that notwithstanding the expressed sense of the Legislature and the Government, the law, in this part of the country, continues to be reviled and set at nought; and that party processions are not only allowed with impunity, but, as petitioners have every reason to believe, are encouraged and fomented by persons in authority, whose bounden duty, as magistrates and clergymen, ought as petitioners humbly submit, to cause them to act very differently:

     That the townland of Ballyhagan, in which petitioners reside, is principally inhabited by Roman Catholics; and that on the 12th day of July last, two lodges of Orangemen bearing flags, and some of whom were armed with pistols, entered the said townland on their return from parading round the country. And attacked a number of people, among whom were petitioners, without having received any provocation whatever; and that a shot from a pistol was deliberately fired by one Robert Williamson, at a man named Michael Carron, who had a narrow escape, the ball from the pistol having entered his dress and grazed his belly; that several individuals were severely cut and wounded.

That petitioners, with others, being enabled to identify twenty-one persons who walked in said procession, and who were concerned in said outrage, applied to Curran Woodhouse, esq., a magistrate of the county of Armagh, who at once granted summonses against the parties, to answer the charges on Saturday next, at the petty sessions of Portadown; and petitioners being afraid to serve said summonses themselves, same were placed in the hands of the police at Portadown for that purpose; but petitioners have reason to believe that said summonses have not yet been served:

    That Lieutenant-Colonel Blacker, a deputy-lieutenant of the county of Armagh, and an Orangeman, is chairman of the petty sessions at Portadown; and that petitioners firmly believe this gentleman encourages Orange processions, as he permitted a large Orange procession with banners and music to enter his demesne at Carrick, on the last 12th July, when he received them very kindly; and he and his lady appeared with party colours on their persons, having caused their gates to be decorated with orange colours, and that he has since been very active in collecting subscriptions, and in arranging the defence of a number of men of the same procession, who were tried at last Armagh assizes, for unlawfully assembling and marching in procession at Lurgan, in said county:

     That Joseph Atkinson, esquire, of Crowhill, another of the magistrates, who sits at said petty sessions, is an Orangeman, and a relative of one of the parties accused, and as petitioners believe, also encourages and approves of such processions:

     That petitioners’ lives have been threatened, in case they prosecute the offenders on this occasion; and they humbly represent, that before a tribunal, constituted as the petty sessions of Portadown is, they do not believe their cause would receive such an investigation as the ends of justice and the vindication of the laws require:

That petitioners further humbly beg leave to represent to your Excellency, that from the well-known principles of a large majority of the magistrates in Armagh, and the selection of the juries of that county, most of whom are composed of Orangemen, that there is little probability of petitioner’s cause receiving a fair and impartial trial and judgement, particularly if same be tried in the court of quarter sessions; and petitioners, therefore, humbly hope, that your Excellency may be pleased to order a magistracy of the county to take informations against such persons as can be identified who composed the unlawful assembly and committed the outrage in question; and that such information may be returned to the assizes, and the parties accused dealt with in the mean time according to law.

                (signed)   Barnard Halligan.                                his

                               William McQuillan                     Daniel  X   McKeever.    

                                Henry Dowley. (by order)                   mark

                                Arthur  X  McGeough.            Francis Hughes.

                                           mark                                      Francis Hagan (by order)

                                John X Lavertry.                                      his

                                                                                  Patrick  X  McCormack.

        24th July 1833

When Verner returned to Armagh in triumph on January 15th 1835 he was chaired through the streets of by his supporters, who then went on a rampage of the Catholic districts.  Over 150 Catholic houses were wrecked and one old man died of exposure after being carried out of his house and laid in the snow by an armed mob.  The mob burned 10 Catholic homes near Charlemont.  Eleven of Verner’s supporters were charged in connection with the riots.  All were acquitted.

On March 23rd a Parliamentary Select Committee was appointed to inquire into the nature and activities of the Orange institution in Ireland.  Of the 27 who were appointed to the Committee 13 were Tories and 14 were Whigs and Liberals, and of these 14 only 3 favoured the repeal of the Union with England.

Murder in Drumcree, 1835

While the Select Committee was taking evidence Hugh Donnelly, a Catholic from Drumcree, was killed by a blow to the head with a stone on Easter Monday 1835.  Six of the seven Orangemen charged with the murder were found guilty on the reduced charge of manslaughter.  At the same court an Orangeman named John England was found guilty of assaulting a Catholic on May 22nd when Orangemen marched in Knocknamuckley.  On July 12th Portadown Orangemen erected an arch in Woodhouse Street before marching to Drumcree.  In a letter submitted to the Parliamentary Select Committee investigating Orange Lodges W. J. Hankock, the County Magistrate who had drafted the Ballyhagan Petition, described the behaviour of the Orangemen and the events that followed from their demonstrations:


[The letter from Portadown put in and read.]

     Dear Sir,                                                                                              Portadown,  21 July 1835

    For some time past the peaceable inhabitants of the parish of Drumcree have been insulted and outraged by large bodies of Orangemen parading the highways, playing party tunes, firing shots, and using the most opprobrious epithets they could invent.  On the morning of the 1st instant, four small flags were placed on the steeple of the church, and the bell tolled occasionally during the day; a man named Kalter was on his death-bed quite contiguous to the church; his wife in suppliant manner requested a person, whom she met at the entrance of the church, to prevent the tolling of the bell; the reply she received was, that if all the priests in hell and out of hell were to make the request, it would not be acceded to; she said she would go to Mr. Woodhouse, J.P.; the person told her, she need not, as he left home on that day, lest she, or the like of her, should trouble him.  In the evening the Orangemen flocked into town from the adjacent districts, lighted a bonfire, beat drums, played party tunes and fired shots the greater part of the night; bonfires blazed on almost all the surrounding hills; I observed a large one only a few perches from the hall door of Mr. Disney, the Protestant curate of Drumcree.  Shortly after this, a few Catholics waited on Mr. Woodhouse, to know if he intended to be at home on the 12th; he told them he had written to the executive for instructions, and that he would strictly adhere to whatever orders would be sent.  On the 11th, 16 or 18 of the 2nd dragoon guards, under the command of Coronet Knox, and 50 or 60 infantry, of the 33d, under the command of officer Reid, arrived in town, some of them wearing Orange lilies.  On the night of the 11th, or morning of the 12th, the Orangemen placed an arch over Woodhouse-street, and two flags were exposed from public-houses, and shots were fired almost continually during this and the two succeeding days.  A body of Orangemen, wearing Orange sashes, and about 50 in number, marched through town on the 12th without hindrance, and proceeded to Drumcree church, passing by the Catholic chapel (though it was a considerable distance out of their way).  At half-past 1 o’clock P.M. the flags and arch were removed, but shortly after they were re-erected, and remained so until Tuesday morning.  On Sunday night, Monday and Monday night, and a great part of Tuesday, the peaceable inhabitants of the town were alarmed and terrified by the frequent discharge of musketry, accompanied by the most menacing language.  The Orangemen flocked into town on the morning of the 13th; the cavalry patrolled the streets, but did not attempt to arrest any of those persons who wore colours. Between 12 and 1 o’clock Mr. Joseph Atkinson, J.P. arrived in town, and I am informed by those in whom I can confide, that he addressed the Orangemen from his gig, in the back of which an Orange lily was stuck; he told them he had supported their cause for the last 50- years; wished to know if any of them remembered the Diamond fight: stated that he had been there; said they should support their arch, and that it should remain untouched, as the military had no business with it;  after this he proceeded as far as the front of the church ( where a great number of the Orangemen were collected ); after consulting with a few of them for some time, he drove out of town by the Armagh road.  Shortly after, a large body of Orangemen, wearing sashes, beating drums, and carrying no less than 10 banners, entered the town, Mr. Atkinson driving his gig close in the rear.  Before this formidable body arrived at Woodhouse-street, Mr. Woodhouse and the cavalry stopped them, but did not arrest any of them, neither did they take their drums or colours; after this repulse, the Orangemen returned up the street, and deposited their flags in different public-houses, out of the windows of which they were exposed, and out of some of which several shots were fired.  About half-past 2 o’clock P.M. a great many of them proceeded out of town by the Loughgall road, with unfurled banners; about 4 o’clock P.M. a portion of this body, decorated with the insignia of their order, and having with them seven flags, marched to the center of the town without meeting any obstruction from the magistrates, military or police.  On the 14th a sham battle was fought at Blacker’s-mill, convenient to the colonel’s residence; a number of Orangemen, wearing sashes and carrying two flags, marched through Portadown to the scene of action.  A curtailed statement of these facts has been embodied in a memorial to Earl Musgrave, requesting him to institute an investigation, and to appoint a stipendiary magistrate, as the people do not place confidence in the local resident magistracy since your departure.  George Blacker of Cosheny, a tenant of Mr. Brownlow’s, was severely beaten by a body of Orangemen, armed with deadly weapons, hatchets, &c; the only provocation was, not shouting “Verner for ever,” when demanded.

     With best wishes for your welfare, I have the honour to remain, &c.

         William John Hancock, Esq.

Five Orangemen were charged with the attack on George Blacker but all were acquitted. In subsequent years the Orangemen burned effigies of William Hancock on 12th  night bonfires.

    About three weeks after the events described in Hancock’s letter, on August 4th 1835, five Catholic families were attacked by Orangemen in Tartaraghan.  Windows and doors were smashed, animals killed and farm implements were broken or stolen.  Some of the victims had provided evidence that led to the conviction of the six Orangemen who had killed Hugh Donnelly at Drumcree on Easter Monday.  Seven men with family connections to the convicted killers were charged with the attacks at Tartaraghan. One was convicted.

Report of the Commons Select Committee on Orange Institutions

Despite lengthy submissions by the leaders of the Orange Order the report of the Select Committee confirmed that:

The obvious tendency and effect of the Orange society is to keep up an exclusive society in civil and military life, exciting one portion of the people against the other; to increase the rancour and animosity too often, unfortunately, existing between different religious persuasions… by processions on particular days, attended with insignia of the society, to excite to breaches of the peace and to bloodshed.

When the report was published a Cabinet council was held at the Foreign Office for the purpose of agreeing the terms of the resolutions which were to be submitted to the House of Commons by Lord John Russell, Secretary of State for the Home Department, on the 23rd of Feb. 1836. The final resolution stated:

That it is the opinion of this house that the existence of any political society in Ireland, consisting exclusively of persons preferring one religious faith, using secret signs and symbols, and acting by means of affiliated branches, tend to injure the peace of society – to derogate from the authority of the Crown, to weaken the supremacy of the law, and to impair the religious freedom of his majesty’s subjects in that part of the United Kingdom. That an humble address be presented to his majesty, laying before him the foregoing resolution, and praying that his majesty will take such steps for the discouragement of all such societies as may seem to his majesty most desirable.

Russell read the King’s reply to that resolution in the House of Commons on Thursday 25th of Feb. 1836:

William Rex – I willing assert to the prayer of my faithful Commons, that I will be pleased to take such measures as shall seem advisable for the effectual discouragement of Orange Lodges, and generally of all political societies excluding persons of a different religious persuasion using signs and symbols, and acting by means of associated lodges.  It is my firm intention to discourage all such societies, and I rely with confidence upon the fidelity of my loyal subjects to support me in my determination.

Lord Russell read the response of the Grand Master of the Orange Order, the Duke of Cumberland, in the House of Commons on the 26th of February.

I have received your Lordships letter, with the copy of the resolutions of the House of Commons on the Subject of Orange Lodges, together with his majesties gracious answer there to.  Before I received your lordships communication, I had already taken steps, with several influential members, to recommend their immediate dissolution.  In conformity with the wish expressed by his majesty, I shall take all legal steps to dissolve Orange Lodges.

Dissolution of the Orange Order, 1836

A number of Orange Lodges in Ireland issued public statements in response to what had been said in the Commons.  These resolutions generally bemoaned the specific references to Orange Lodges in the king’s statement.  The Orangemen argued that the king had been ill advised by the Select Committee, the Foreign Office, and the Secretary of State for the Home Department.  Despite their protestations the Grand Lodge of Ireland met in Dublin on April 13th 1836 and voted in favour of the dissolution of the Orange Order.

Portadown Orangemen Persist.

Two months after the dissolution of the Grand Lodge, on June 13th 1836 Orange leaders met secretly in Portadown and resolved to set up a provisional Grand Lodge in the town.  ‘Orange Jimmy’ Verner declined the post of Grand Master.  Taking such a position might have hampered his political ambitions so the honour fell to Colonel William Blacker.  The Colonel may have had less to lose for he had already been stripped of his role as commissioner of the peace for participating in Orange demonstrations.

Upwards of 50 Orangemen were charged under the Party Processions Act for marching in Portadown on the 1st of July 1836.  In March of the following year 91 Orangemen were prosecuted for various offenses. Among them were a father and son who were tried for attacking a Catholic house in Aughnacloy, County Tyrone, on July 13th 1836. The father was acquitted while the son was sentenced to 6 months hard labour.  These and other prosecutions helped to quelled Orange violence for a few years. However, in 1845 Armag Orangemen staged the County demonstration in Portadown and Armagh town erupted in violence.  Ignoring the warnings of police and magistrates 150 Orangemen, some carrying firearms, marched into the Catholic part of Armagh town and were stoned by residents.  The Orangemen shot one Catholic dead and wounded a number of others.  Three Orangemen were later found guilty of manslaughter and received sentences of one to four months.  Fifteen other Orange supporters and ten Catholics were found guilty of rioting and were bound to keep the peace.  The judge warned the Orange Order that although the Party Processions Act had expired this did not mean they could stage armed processions.

The Party Processions Act seems to have quietened the Orangemen and ‘Orange Jimmy’ Verner was distracted when his 15 year-old daughter Jenny eloped with John Mitchel, the 21 year-old son of a Presbyterian minister. Jimmy caught the pair and they were married in Drumcree Church of Ireland Church in February 1837. In 1951 Jenny and her four children followed John to Van Diemen’s Land where he had been exiled for participating in the Young Irelander rebellion of 1948. After his escape she joined him in New York where he was hailed a republican hero.  However, the two supported slavery and moved to live in Confederate states.[8]


The Party Processions Act was revived in 1850 after what came to be known as the ‘Battle of Dolly’s Brae’. 

Some years later, in 1857, the 12th July demonstrations in Belfast triggered some of the serious sectarian rioting that the city had ever witnessed.  The riots lasted until September 6th and there was extensive damage to property.  A Royal Commission appointed to investigate the riots said:

The Orange system seems to us now to have no other practical result than as a means of keeping up the Orange festivals and celebrating them; leading as they do, to violence, outrage, religious animosities, hatred between the classes and too often bloodshed and loss of life.

  • In a letter published in The Northern Whig in October 1857 the Catholic Lord Chancellor, Maziere Brady said:

It is manifest that the existence of this orange society, and the conduct of many of those who belong to it, tend to keep up, through large districts of the North, a spirit of bitter and factious hostility among large classes of her Majesties subjects, and to provoke violent animosity and aggression.

Dastardly attack on Orange Parade

The first edition of the Portadown News was published in 1859 and, being the local paper, it has been a primary source of information on violent Orange marches.  The paper’s editor declared that it would advocate ‘the principle of pure enlightened Protestantism and sound progressive conservatism’ and that it would ‘pander to the bigotry of no party’. On July 14th 1860 the paper reported on an incident that happened a few miles from Portadown in the townland of Derrymacash. The main headline to the report said OUTRAGEOUS ATTACK ON ORANGEMEN AT DERRYMACASH CHAPEL.  The subheading read 16 Roman Catholics Shot. Pandering to the institutionalised bigotry of Orangeism the report said that 300 Catholics armed with turf-spades and billhooks had attacked 70 Orangemen as they marched past the local Catholic Church.  It said:

The Catholics had blocked the road at Derrymacash Chapel and attacked the approaching Orangemen who in their defence, fired on the lawless mob, shooting down sixteen […] of their cowardly assailants

Abandoning the principles of enlightened Protestantism, the report went on to say that seven Orangemen had been arrested but none of the attacking party.

In the following week Catholic witnesses to the ‘outrageous attack’ testified at a preliminary investigation.  They said they didn’t expect the Orangemen to pass by the chapel as they had taken a different road into Lurgan that morning.  They said the Orangemen were heard firing pistol shots as they approached the chapel on their return from Lurgan and word quickly spread that ‘the chapel was a wrecking’.  They said that when the Catholics reached the chapel there was some stone throwing and that the Orangemen challenged them to fight.  As more Catholics arrived the Orangemen retreated, shooting at the Catholics as they went.  In its report of on the preliminary investigation the Portadown News said, ‘there was an utter absence of all proof that the Orangemen were prepared for a fight.  It was not shown that they had any weapons, except a harmless pistol or two, which they fired off harmlessly’.

One of the wounded Catholics, T. Murphy, died from his wounds shortly after the attack. Another man was paralysed and a woman was shot in the eye by the Orangemen who, the Portadown News reported, ‘luckily… escaped the Wolf dogs thirsting for their blood’.  At Murphy’s inquest a Mr. John Rea, acting on behalf of the deceased man’s father, asked that no Orangemen be allowed to sit on the jury.  He referred to the Lord Chancellor’s instructions to the Lord Lieutenant not to recommend anyone connected with the Orange society for appointment to the bench. Rea indicated that the presence of Orangemen on the jury would render any verdict suspect.  Justice Joseph Atkinson refused to exclude his brethren.

On March 9th 1861 an Orangeman by the name of Samuel Tait was sentenced to 15 month in prison for the manslaughter of Murphy; the sentence to be effective from the date of his committal some 9 months earlier.  Three other Orangemen were sentenced to 6 months in prison for having ‘fired off harmlessly’, another twelve were sentenced to 3 months each for rioting and two others got six weeks for unlawful assembly. 

Five years after the Derrymacash shootings seven Orangemen were injured by gunfire when an Orange ‘drumming party’ marched on a mid-summer’s eve bonfire in the Catholic village of Annaghmore.  Thomas Davison was sentenced to one year in prison and two other villagers were sentenced to 9 months each.

The Party Emblems Act, 1860

The ‘outrageous attack’ on the Orangemen at Derrymacash led to the passing of the Party Emblems Act in August 1860.  This Act forbade the carrying of arms and the wearing of party colours in procession so it effectively made every semblance of an Orange demonstration illegal.  However, in Portadown, where Orangeism had deeply infiltrated into the judiciary, the police, the press, and the Protestant Church the organisation carried on parading.  They did so despite an appeal from the Order’s Grand Master, Lord Enniskillen, who called on the ‘lower orders’ to keep the peace and stop their illegal marching.  The Grand Master feared that ‘Our good and sacred cause is injured when you give your enemies occasion to speak ill of you as acting illegally or to triumph at your punishment’. The following July extra police were drafted into Portadown where the Orangemen went ahead with an illegal demonstration on the 12th of July.

In July 1866 some Orangemen were charged with parading in a manner, ‘calculated to provoke animosity between different classes of Her Majesty’s subjects’ and in 1867 Portadown Orangemen assembled with a marching band outside St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in William Street.  They harassed people attending the annual ‘mission’.  Catholics were attacked on their way to and from the chapel and one of the Passionist Fathers who were conducting the mission that year was knocked unconscious.  Police reinforcements were drafted in but a Sub Inspector claimed that ‘the men under his command were not sufficient to keep back the Orangemen’. The parish priest advised the men of the parish to band together for protection.

Calculated to lead to a breach of the peace

On the 1st July 1869 a crowd of 3,000 people attended a bonfire in the loyalist Edenderry area of Portadown.  Effigies of Prime Minister Gladstone, the Pope, and Robert Lundy were ceremonially burned.  The cultural celebrations came to an abrupt end when the crowd learned that a large majority in the House of Commons had affirmed a bill for the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. The news provoked the ‘defenders of civil and religious liberty’ who attacked the police. After retreating to their barracks for reinforcements and weapons, the police fired shots over the heads of the rioters and succeeded in driving them back across the Bann river bridge.  According to reports in the local newspaper some of the rioters thought that the police were firing blanks and a 17-year-old Protestant named Thomas Watson was shot dead when the crowd charged back across the bridge towards the town centre.  The Orange Order used Watson’s funeral as a ‘demonstration of strength’ and twenty-four Lodges marched through the town.  Heartened by the success of that show of strength the Orangemen went on challenging the Party Emblems Act.  In the run up to the 1870 marching season they posted notices urging the brethren to disregard the law and march on the 1st of July.  On June 30th over one hundred members of the Royal Irish Constabulary and half as many soldiers were drafted into the town but they did not attempt to stop the Orangmen marching on the 1st. Then, on July 12th tens of thousands of Orangemen marched to Carrickblacker. The Party Emblems Act had been repealed.

A few days before the July demonstrations of 1871 Lurgan magistrates issued a public notice stating that they had received information to the effect that the Orange demonstrations were ‘calculated to lead to a breach of the peace’.  They banned all processions and drumming parties and threatened to prosecute anyone who took part in parades.  At a mass meeting in Lurgan on June 30th the Orangemen announced they would defy the ban.  Over a hundred extra police were drafted into the town to stop the Orangemen but they fled when the demonstrators attacked.  The magistrates withdrew their ban before the 12th of July.

‘Sneakish attack’ on Protestants

Residents of the Catholic enclave of Obin Street petitioned for police reinforcements to be sent to the town in advance of Orange demonstrations in July 1873.   Though their petition was supported by a Justice of the Peace no extra police were made available and when the Orangemen returned from the county demonstration in Armagh they marched into the ghetto.  At the trial of those of them who were charged with rioting it was reported that as the 300 Orangemen progressed along the street one of them rushed at a girl who was waving ‘something green’.  This was said to have sparked what one RIC man described as being the worst riot he had witnessed in 20 years.  The Orangemen fired pistols and wrecked Brankin’s pub and houses all along the street.  Another RIC man said he used his sword to protect a woman who was being attacked in her home.  She was one of a number of women who received injuries to the head and face.  In its defence of the Orange mob the Portadown News said, ‘It chanced that the route […] lay through the Tunnel’, and went on to accuse the residents of the area of having launched a ‘sneakish attack’ on the 300, ‘peaceable men whose only crime was that they were Protestants and loyal subjects’.

The Home Rule Riots

On December 18th 1873 around three thousand loyal subjects assembled in the Fair Green, a public space close to Portadown town centre. They gathered to protest against the Home Rule Bill that was being debated in the British Parliament.  That evening the mob assembled at the Catholic Church in William Street. They fired shots and smashed windows in the church and in the nearby parochial house.  Then they headed for Obin Street but were stopped by the RIC in Woodhouse Street. 

Lurgan Catholics petitioned the local magistrates to prevent an Orange demonstration passing through Edward Street in July 1877.  The Orangemen were re-routed and the 12th passed without incident.  However, the Orangemen resolved to stop a demonstration in support of Home Rule that was scheduled to take place in Edward Street on the 15th of August, ‘Lady Day’.  Notices were posted calling on supporters to assemble in town on the morning of the 15th.  Police reinforcements were drafted in but failed to prevent Orangemen from marching into Edward Street at 5 o’clock in the morning.  Later that day Catholics paraded without incident.  The Portadown News reported the events in Lurgan with an abusive attack on the Catholics and when local Catholics returned from Lurgan after attending Home Rule demonstrations the following year they had to be escorted from the railway station by the RIC.  Catholic owned shops and homes in the town were attacked. 

Orangemen were stoned as they marched through Obin Street on Easter Monday, 1879, and there was fighting at the railway station as Orange demonstrators returned from Belfast.  There was more fighting on July 23rd when the Cockhill Orange band marched into Obin Street. Police who arrested one of the Orangemen were followed to the RIC barracks in Woodhouse Street where the mob was dispersed and two more arrests were made.  Later that night shots were fired and Catholic property and homes were attacked.

A number of reckless agitators, under pretence of endeavouring to ameliorate the condition of the tenant-farmers, are promulgating doctrines in the south and west of Ireland which, if acted upon, would rupture the bond of union between England and Ireland, create universal anarchy and communism, and plunge the country into the horrors of a civil war. The province of Ulster has hitherto been happily free from this pestilential agitation; but latterly attempts have been made to divert the attention of the tenant-farmers from the peaceable industries which they have hitherto contentedly pursued, and incite them to a denunciation of their landlords, with whom the most cordial relations have up to the present been maintained. In answer to the so-called tenant-farmers’ meeting announced for Wednesday next, let the loyalists of Portadown and neighbourhood assemble in their thousands to protest against this exhibition of sedition in a town which has so long maintained a reputation for loyalty to the Crown and Constitution.

On the 5th of March, 1880, Irish MP’s asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland why the RIC had failed to protect people attending a Tenant Rights meeting in Portadown. When responding the Chief Secretary, James Lowther, a strident opponent of the Land League read from a ‘proclamation’ that had been circulated by loyalists prior to the meeting. It said

To the Loyalists of Portadown and Neighbourhood.

A number of reckless agitators, under pretence of endeavouring to ameliorate the condition of the tenant-farmers, are promulgating doctrines in the south and west of Ireland which, if acted upon, would rupture the bond of union between England and Ireland, create universal anarchy and communism, and plunge the country into the horrors of a civil war. The province of Ulster has hitherto been happily free from this pestilential agitation; but latterly attempts have been made to divert the attention of the tenant-farmers from the peaceable industries which they have hitherto contentedly pursued, and incite them to a denunciation of their landlords, with whom the most cordial relations have up to the present been maintained. In answer to the so-called tenant-farmers’ meeting announced for Wednesday next, let the loyalists of Portadown and neighbourhood assemble in their thousands to protest against this exhibition of sedition in a town which has so long maintained a reputation for loyalty to the Crown and Constitution.

God save the Queen

On the 20th of August 1883 the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was questioned in Parliament about attacks on a Catholic owned post office, a church and homes by Orangemen who were allowed by the Protestant town commissioners and magistrates to parade through the streets firing shots.  The Chief Secretary refused to answer the questions.

Orangemen returning from Scarva in August 1884 attacked Catholic homes and property in Edward Street and Shankill in Lurgan.

1885, Saint Patrick’s Day  With the approach of St. Patrick’s Day, 1885, two hundred police reinforcements were drafted into Portadown.  The nationalist ‘Tunnel Band’ was restricted to a stretch of Obin Street while the Orange Order demonstrated without hindrance in the town centre before trying to invade the Catholic enclave.  As the local loyalist newspaper reported it, the Orangemen were forced back by the ‘Tunnelites’ who injured the County Deputy Grand Master, George Locke. The RIC then moved in with  bayonets fixed and drove the Orangemen back into the town centre. Later that year this report on the 12th of July demonstration appeared in the Portadown News:

The line of the march included the Tunnel and some apprehension was experienced as to the safety of the Orangemen while in this vicinity.  But the precaution taken by the magistrates in drafting in some seventy-five constabulary ensured the good behaviour of the Tunnelites and the procession passed through in perfect safety.

Later that same year, on the 13th of August, 1885, Orangeism and the administration of the law in Portadown was debated in the Houses of Parliament. question of Orange aggression and  questions were asked about Orange parades and the administration of the law in Portadown. Hansard recorded the exchanges under the heading:


Under that heading it was recorded that the MP for ‘Kings County’ (now Co Offaly), Bernard Molloy:

asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Whether, in connection with the recent Salvation Army riots at Portadown, thirty Catholics and sixteen of the opposite faction were prosecuted; whether the prosecutions were so managed by the clerk of the Town Commissioners that the Catholics were tried first in batches, so that all the persons charged on the Salvation Army side could be examined against them, while the Salvationists charged with riot were enabled to be examined in each other’s defence, with the result that several of the Salvationists identified by the police as rioters escaped punishment; whether the riot of the 12th of July was caused by the Salvationist faction being permitted to traverse the Catholic quarter with bands and party cries, notwithstanding an arrangement come to by Mr. Hamilton, R.M., forbidding the Orange bands to parade in that neighbourhood; whether, in spite of the warning conveyed by the riot of the 12th July, Orange bands accompanied by a crowd of the lowest roughs were again, on 6th August, permitted under escorts of police to march through the Catholic quarter playing Party tunes and cursing the Pope, and otherwise insulting the Catholic inhabitants; and, whether, in view of the repeated complaints of the defenceless condition of the Catholic inhabitants of Portadown, the resident magistrate and police officers will be specially instructed to enforce the Law?

In his response the Chief Secretary, Sir William Hart Dyke said:

In a telegram which I have had from the Inspector General of Constabulary to-day he states that he has not had time to make such full inquiries as would enable him to express an opinion as to the manner in which these prosecutions at Portadown were brought, or as to how far the police were responsible. Without going into particulars, then, I will confine myself to saying that the case is one for full inquiry, and the County Inspector has been directed to investigate it himself. The prosecutions appear to have been conducted, and the summonses issued, by the Clerk of the Town Commissioners.

Storming the Tunnel

This was the headline to a Portadown News report about the trial of an Orangeman who led the mob that marched into Obin Street and started a riot in celebration of the defeat of the Home Rule Bill in 1886.  At the height of that year’s marching season the Portadown News reported on a nationalist rally in Obin Street saying, ‘the bulk of them would have been the better of a good turn in the wash tub […] and as for fighting power, if it went to that, we should be ashamed of the couple of Orange Lodges that would ask help of a single outsider to sweep them clean off their path’.  Two days later, on the 12th and again on the 13th of July Orange marches resulted in rioting in the nationalist enclave. A total of twenty-seven Orangemen and Nationalists subsequently appeared in court where lawyers for both sides agreed to have all charges dismissed so as, ‘to encourage better community relations’.  The Orangemen returned to Obin Street the following year on St Patrick’s Day and started another riot.

More Questions in the House of Commons

There were more Orange riots in the Obin Street area during July 1887 and they were the subject of exchanges in the House of Commons where the Chief Secretary was asked to respond to reports that the police stood idly by as the Orangemen stoned local Catholics and seriously injured one of them. The Chief Secretary said that the police reported no serious injuries.

Band banned from marching.

Nine members of the ‘Tunnel Band’ (St. Patrick’s Accordion Band) appeared in court on charges of riotous behaviour on the 28th of September 1891.  The Nationalist band had turned out to protest at the actions of the police in allowing an Orange band to march though Obin Street on the day before, Sunday.  Stones were thrown when the RIC and a crowd of Orange supporters blocked the road to prevent the Band from parading past Corcraine Orange Hall to block the Band’s way.  Police reinforcements were sent for and accompanied by some of the Orangemen they went to the band-hall in Curran Street, just off Obin Street, where they attacked the bandsmen.  In the course of the subsequent court hearing the chairman of the court said he thought the Orangemen should not have been allowed parade through Obin Street on the 27th.   District Inspector Bonis opposed bail for the bandsmen but bail was granted when an assurance was given that they would not parade while on remand.

 “Ye have not passed this way heretofore”

On St. Patrick’s day 1892 all police were concentrated in Obin Street while the Orange Order marched around the town and its supporters attacking Catholic owned shops and pubs.

 ‘Strong drink’, ‘Home Rule’, and ‘Papists who wanted ascendance’ were the theme of a Rev. Austin’s address to the Orangemen at Drumcree on the 10th of July that year.  The brethren heard the Reverend read from Joshua 111.4: ‘Ye have not passed this way heretofore’ before returning to town to plan for parades through Obin Street again on the 12th, 13th and 14th of July. On the 13th around 2,000 Orangemen followed Corcraine Orange band out of the town centre and into the Catholic enclave where they ran amok and smashed windows all along the street.  They returned from Corcraine Orange Hall via Edgarstown and formed up in Woodhouse Street to attempt another pass through the nationalist street.  But by then the people of the area were ready and beat them back.  When the Orange mob returned for a third assault on the Tunnel they came firing guns and as locals retreated they went ‘a wrecking’ once again.  It was only then that the dozen or so RIC men from the Obin Street RIC barracks armed themselves and drove the Orangemen out.

The Portadown News reported that the ‘blackguards’ in the Tunnel broke their own windows but when the Blackmen marched on Obin Street on the 14th their way was barred by police reinforcements who had arrived overnight. 

Might is Right

Four weeks later, on the 12th of August 1892 the Apprentice Boys were barred from entering the Tunnel but Catholic property in the town centre and the home of a Catholic JP, James Grew, were attacked. There were similar attacks in September when Orangemen convicted of rioting in Obin Street on the 12th of July were released from prison.  Then on November 5th RIC men from surrounding towns were drafted into the Tunnel to secure the way for an Orange demonstration that was led by a band from the Birches. 

The Tunnel was swamped with police again on the 12th and 13th of July 1893 when the brethren initiated a new tradition which effectively doubled their opportunity intimidate the residents of the Tunnel.  The Portadown News described the new tactic thus: ‘the Royal Black Preceptories proceeded to Brankin’s Hill [via Obin Street.] and there joined their country brethren in order to secure their safe passage into town’.

On August 12th 1893 members of an Orange band beat up a Catholic man at Corcraine and attacked a Catholic family in their home at Drumcree.  They broke in the windows and doors, wrecked furniture and beat the householder, John Furphy.  Two of the Orangemen involved in the attack later claimed that Furphy and his sons had attacked them.  The Irish News reported that a ‘barrow load of stones’ was removed from Furphy’s house.  The attack was reported in the House of Commons on August 18th.

Dastardly attack in Maghery

On the 15th of May, 1894 the Belfast Newsletter reported what ha ‘most dastardly and cowardly’ attack by the Catholic residents of Maghery on the funeral of a prominent Orangeman called Thomas Irwin on May 13th. Apparently ‘considerable numbers’ of Orangemen, some of them armed, had assembled to escort the funeral through the Nationalist village. Two Orangemen, William John Verner and David Fox, were charged with shooting a Catholic boy called Patrick Tennyson and twelve Nationalists were charged with unlawful assembly, rioting, and shooting two members of the funeral cortege; namely Eliza Wilson and Robert McMinn.

Nothing to Fear for 100 Years

A Reverend Turner from Dundalk was guest preacher at Drumcree on the 100th anniversary of the Rev. Devine’s rousing sermon to the ‘Orange Boys’ in Drumcree Church back in 1795.  The Reverend Turner assured his audience that Catholics who took the Pope for their God had nothing to fear from the Protestant ascendancy. 

In July 1897 a Catholic man was fined 10 shillings for crossing Obin Street during the 12th of July demonstration or Orange supremacy.

Boycott Catholics, Ostracise Protestants.

At the opening of Derryhale Orange Hall, in July 1899, the Reverends Thacker and Austin made what the Portadown News described as being ‘important speeches’.  The pair of preachers castigated Portadown Protestants who sold land to, employed, or consorted with ‘Papist rebels’ and they accused an unnamed Protestant employer of making his factory ‘look like the Tunnel’.  Another Protestant businessman was accused of helping to ‘plant Popery’ in Portadown by selling land to Catholics, ‘on which to build a nunnery’.  William J. Locke, a Justice of the Peace and Worshipful District Master of the Portadown Orangemen chaired the proceedings.   Locke owned property the Tunnel area where there had been a serious outbreak of fever a few years before.  At the time of the outbreak the Portadown News urged landlords to do something for fear the fever would spread beyond the ghetto. The paper said:

many of the private houses in the Tunnel are in an unhealthy and unsanitary condition [… and] many of the residents are wretchedly poor.  They are destitute of food and clothing […] household and personal cleanliness are almost unknown; filth and squalor abound….

Then, fearing an outbreak of pestilence, the paper called on the landlords, for the sake of humanity and in the interest of every inhabitant of the town to do more for their tenants than collect rents.

On February 28th 1900 the good citizens of Portadown celebrated those ‘political and cultural links with mainland Britain which guarantees a pluralist society which can tolerate ethnic and religious diversity’. (Rev. Kennaway, 1995).  They attacked St. Patrick’s Hall, the parochial house, Catholic homes and businesses and the home of James Grew, JP.  Criminal charges against a number of them were dismissed in court when they claimed they had been enraged at the failure of the English to relieve the town of Ladysmith, in South Africa, which was under siege by the Boers.

 ‘The Canons Trip’ goes to Parliament

On the 26th of March 1901 a member of Parliament for North County Dublin, Mr John Joe Clancy asked what was being done to protect Portadown Catholics from ‘the Orange majority’ and if any person ‘connected with the administration of justice in Portadown who has been removed from his post?

Later that year, after first mass on Sunday the 21st of July, around 200 Catholics, mostly women and children, left St. Patrick’s Church in William Street on their way to the railway station in Edenderry where they caught a train to Warrenpoint.  This annual outing was called ‘the Canon’s trip’ and five hundred RIC men were drafted into the town to protect the excursionists who, acting on the advice of Father F. Kerr, carried no flags, emblems or Nationalist colours.  When they returned in the evening the day-trippers were assaulted and abused all the way from the station to the centre of town where the RIC baton charged the Orange mob.  In the House of Commons J.J. Clancy said that Protestant clerics had been inflaming passions in the town for a week before the Canon’s trip and asked the Chief Secretary to ensure that police reinforcements be retained in the area for the protection of the minority Catholic population.

A man was fined 40 shillings for throwing stones at Orangemen in Obin Street on July 14th 1903.

Alternative route

On Easter Monday, 24th April 1905 Paddy Faloon, a thirty-six year old father of four, was shot dead in Woodhouse Street. The shooting happened when an Orange parade was blocked from entering the Obin Street. Reports suggest that Faloon was standing alone at Magerrity’s shop when Thomas Cordner shot him with a revolver.  Faloon ran for cover but was shot in the back and died a short time later at his home in Curran Street.  When Cordner was arrested a mob of 400 Orangemen tried to free him from the RIC barracks where he was being held.  Several Orangemen and a bandsman from Keady were arrested. That evening the RIC prevented another Orange parade from entering Obin Street.

The Faloon murder was raised in the House of Commons by MP for West Belfast, Joe Devlin. Devlin asked the Chief Secretary if he was aware that there were not sufficient police in Portadown on Easter Monday when the Orangemen, led by a band from Coalisland, attempted to return through the Catholic quarter of town.  He said:

seeing that year after year crowds of Orangemen assembled in Portadown for the purpose of attacking the Roman Catholics there, and that there were alternative routes, namely by Montague St. and Charles St. or The Walk… and in view of the conduct of these mobs… would he issue an order prohibiting such assemblies from marching through the Catholic quarter…

The MP for Antrim South, C. Craig, said it was not true to say the Orangemen assembled with the intention of attacking Roman Catholics and begged to have that part of the question withdrawn.  He was laughed at when Devlin pointed out that that was the principal part of the question.  When Chief Secretary Walter Long said the shooter was ‘believed to be insane’ Devlin asked ‘By whom’ and if it was ‘in order for the Chief Secretary to state that a man now awaiting his trial is insane?’. Mr Long also defended the Orange Order saying there had been no trouble in the Tunnel when the Orangemen marched through the area with police protection.  He said the route was a traditional one and that the murder of Faloon was not sectarian.  Devlin noted that Orangemen had cheered the murderer on the day.  The Orangemen cheered Cordner again and celebrated with bonfires when he was found guilty but insane and committed to a lunatic asylum.[9]

The Men of Annaghmore

     On Easter Monday 1906 300 Orangemen from the Portadown District assembled at Derryadd with the intention of marching through the exclusively Catholic village of Annaghmore on their way to lay the foundation stone of a new Orange hall.  When the people of Annaghmore arranged a counter demonstration the police asked the Orangemen to take an alternative route that would add only 400 yards to the length of the march.  The Orangemen refused and marched on the 30 men who stood in their way on Annaghmore hill.   They beat the local men off the road and damaged 12 Catholic owned houses.  Six Orangemen and eight Catholics were charged with offences arising from the riot.  All the Orangemen were acquitted; all the Catholics were sentenced to two months hard labour and bound to keep the peace for a year.  However, their stand on Annaghmore hill was rewarded later that year when 150 RIC men were drafted in to keep Orangemen from parading through the townland on the 13th of July (According to Parliamentary papers form the time, the Orange were barred from parading through Annaghmore again in 1908).

One Orangeman had his eye put out and 10 were arrested when police baton-charged rioters who attacked Catholic homes in Tandragee after the Sham Fight at Scarva on the 18th of August 1906. 

A man was arrested in Obin Street on the 12th of July 1906.

There was more fighting in Obin Street in 1907 when Orangemen from Derrykevin marched into the area on Easter Monday and again on the 12th of July. There was more of the same in July 1908.

‘A Perfect Reign of Terror Has Been Established in Portadown’

In July 1909 an Orangeman appeared in court charged with breaking the windows of a Catholic house near Corcraine Orange Hall.  The Orangeman admitted to having been at the scene of the attack but claimed he was there to protect an Orange arch. When questioned further he admitted the arch had never been interfered with.  He was acquitted.

Three Catholic women were prosecuted for rioting on the 12th of July.

Speaking in the Commons on the 28th of July 1909 Joe Devlin condemned the police in Portadown for allowing a mob to harass Catholics on their way by train to a temperance rally in Armagh on the previous day.  He said that on their return from Armagh, the Catholics had been forced to detrain before reaching Portadown station and that the Orangemen saw this as a great victory.  He went on to say that, with the indulgence of the biased police force, ‘a perfect reign of terror has been established in Portadown against the Roman Catholics’.  He asked the Chief Secretary if he was aware that every year the Orange Order marched, with police protection, through an exclusively Catholic part of Portadown – even though there was an alternative route open to them.   He said this had happened again on the 13th of July when Orangemen, with a police escort, had marched in a provocative manner playing party tunes and cursing the Pope.  Devlin said this behaviour resulted in fighting and injuries with shots being fired by the Orangemen.   He called for a searching inquiry into the conduct of the police on June 27th and July 13th and asked why they had permitted the Orangemen to parade in an offensive manner and erect an Orange arch in front of the Catholic Church in William Street. Chief Secretary Birrell said he did not have sufficient information to give a detailed reply to Devlin’s questions.

‘Strange Police’, in the Most Peaceful Town in the Country.

There were 600 RIC reinforcements on standby in Portadown on Saturday, August 14th 1909 when the District Master of the Portadown Orange Order and Chairman of the Town Council, W. H. Wright, addressed a rally in the town centre.  Wright urged the crowd to demonstrate against an excursion by the local branch of the Irish National Foresters on ‘Ladys Day’. After 8 o’clock mass at St. Patrick’s church in William Street the police escorted the Foresters through back streets to the railway station where they were to board a train for Newry.  When the procession was confronted by loyalists on the road-bridge over the river Bann the police baton charged the mob and forced a way through to the station where the Foresters boarded a waiting train. While the Foresters were away the mob roamed the town.  They assaulted men and women on their way to mass and they threw stones at the church and parochial house in William Street. They attacked Saint Patrick’s Hall and the convent school in Thomas Street. They also attacked the homes of two Catholic JPs and Catholic homes and shops all around the town were attacked and looted. When the train carrying the foresters returned in the evening it was heavily stoned and the Foresters were forced to walk back along the railway tracks to Obin Street.  That night and the next loyalist mobs made repeated attempts to storm the Tunnel but were beaten back by the RIC reinforcements and residents. The rioting spread to Lurgan when, on the pretext of escorting two Protestants who were leaving for America, an Orange band led 1,000 supporters to the railway station in the predominantly Catholic end of town.

Over 30 men appeared in court charged with riot and assault.  The police reinforcements who made the arrests were referred to in court as ‘strange police’, meaning they didn’t know how things were done in Portadown, and their evidence was treated as being unreliable.  In the House of Commons the Member for South Down, Jeremiah McVeigh, observed that ‘an absolutely and deliberately false account’ of events in Lurgan and Portadown had been published in the press and called on the Chief Secretary to release the police account of the disturbance in Portadown. The member for East Down, James Craig, was reminded that the town where the Forester’s had been attacked was the very one that he had only recently described as being ‘one of the most peaceful in the country’.

UVF march through Portadown in 1912 centre

Three Catholic women were shot and wounded at Annaghmore, a few miles from Portadown on August 15th 1914. Thomas Benson from Teaguy was charged with the shooting but justice J. G. Waugh refused to hear the evidence against him and he was released.

Gunmen ambushed a group of Catholics on their way home to Annaghmore and the Moy after the ‘Lady Day’ celebrations in Lurgan on 15th of August 1920.  The ambush took place at the Bann-Foot ferry.  Francis McNeice was shot dead and another man was seriously wounded.  No one was ever charged in connection with the shooting.

Portadown curfew

     On Saturday the 15th of August 1931 a bus carrying people back to Obin Street from the Ladys Day celebrations in Armagh was attacked in Woodhouse Street.  Loyalist mobs then attacked Obin Street and Catholic homes and businesses in other parts of the town.  The attacks continued late into the night and resumed after church services on Sunday evening. A horse and cart was used as a battering ram in an unsuccessful attempt to break down the gates of the convent school in Thomas Street and a car was wrecked when the driver prevented the mob from taking his petrol. Catholic homes in Thomas Street and William Street were repeatedly attacked and many Catholic owned shops and every pub in the town was looted and wrecked.  Extra RUC men and B Specials were drafted into the town on Monday and local magistrates called for a curfew.  Pubs were closed at 7 o’clock and the RUC and B-Specials blocked the entrance to Obin Street and enforced a dusk to dawn curfew by patrolling the town in armoured cars.  

The Eucharistic Congress, 1932.

Thousands of Northern Catholics travelled by train to Dublin for the International Eucharistic Congress in the summer of 1932.  All trains servicing counties Armagh, Tyrone, North Down and South Derry had to pass through Portadown and it was there that those principles of civil and religious liberty that the Orange Order was sworn to uphold were put into play.  As the pilgrim trains approached Portadown on Sunday the 26th and Monday the 27th of June they were subject to repeated barrages of stones and bottles.  Many of the trains’ windows were smashed and many passengers injured.  While waiting for more trains to arrive the loyalists attacked the Tunnel and Catholic homes and businesses in other parts of the town. 

A few of those who were injured or had property damaged in the attacks sought compensation though the courts.  A woman who had received serious eye injuries when the trains were ambushed was told by a judge Green that he had known, ‘many clever draughtsmen with one eye’.  Then, echoing what William Blacker said in 1833 and what Lord Eniskillen said in 1864, Judge Green warned the Orangemen that the attack on the trains, ‘was the worst possible way to attempt to serve that cause’.  The judges advice was not lost on the Orange leadership and the Grand Orange Lodge issued a statement condemning the violence.  Judicial contempt for the victims of Orange violence surfaced in another case when a Mrs McConnell sought compensation for an arson attack on her home in Thomas Street.  Mrs McConnell told the court that ‘a crowd assembled in the middle of the night at her house and threw petrol under the door, to which they set fire’.  She said ‘The door was burned; also linoleum mats, pictures, frames etc.  There was also a gent’s hat that was hanging in the hall’.  Judge Green interrupted her to ask if she hadn’t damaged the hat herself when trying to put out the flames.  The Portadown News said the attacks weren’t serious.

RUC Riot and Murder in Obin Street.

On the 16th of July, 1935, large crowds of Portadown loyalists converged on the railway station in Watson Street to harass Catholic families on their way home from the annual ‘Canon’s Trip’.  When the day-trippers were allowed out of the station they were made to walk a gauntlet of abuse by mobs singing ‘Derry’s Walls’ and shouting ‘No surrender’.  Catholic anger at this humiliation was aggravated by the indifference of RUC men at the scene.  This anger erupted into rioting on the 17th when three RUC men assaulted a man near the Tunnel Bridge entrance to Obin Street.  The RUC called in reinforcements who baton charged the Nationalist crowd and forced them back to the top of River Lane (where Parkside flats now stand).  The RUC retreated under a hail of stones but charged again firing their revolvers and fatally wounded 56 year old Hugh Faloon. At the time that he was shot Faloon was watching the riot from the second floor bedroom window of a house that had previously served as an RIC barracks and which was now occupied by an ex-British army soldier and his family.  When the shooting started the Nationalist crowd fled indoors but RUC men broke in after them and made some arrests.  Hugh Faloon died within two days of being shot.  During the trial of those who were charged with rioting the RUC claimed to have fired only one shot and suggested that Faloon had been shot by local republicans for being an informer. Nobody has ever been charged in connection with the shooting.

Sham fight, sham lies

There were disturbances in Maghery when an ‘Orange excursion party’ from Belfast arrived in the Catholic village on Saturday the 23rd of May 1936.  Brother David Watson provided the Portadown News with a fanciful account of how he defended the brethren during a planned attack by a huge mob armed with pitchforks and revolvers.  But an RUC man said the disturbance lasted no more than 20 minutes and was started by Orangemen who assaulted a local man.   

A few months later three Orangemen were charged with making false statements to police concerning an incident at the Tunnel Bridge on the 13th of July, 1936.  The three had thrown bottles into Obin Street when the train taking them home from the Sham Fight at Scarva stopped on the bridge.  They claimed bottles thrown from Obin Street had smashed the windows of the train but the claims were proven false and the Orangemen were prosecuted. 

There were no reports of Orange violence during the years of World War 11. The Orange Order did not parade during the war years.

Indecent behaviour

Eight residents of Obin Street were arrested for crossing the road during an Orange parade through the area on 13th of July 1950 as two marching bands from the Birches were being ‘escorted’ into town from Corcraine Orange hall.   Mr. H. McFarland, instructed by Armagh solicitor Gerry Lennon, a Nationalist member of the Northern Ireland senate, defended John Creaney, Michael Creaney, Michael Grimley Mary Hughes, Thomas Kelly, Rory O’Connor and Patrick Shevlin.

McFarland informed the court that there were two alternative routes available to the Orangemen and that: ‘if either of these routes were taken there would be no trouble in the future.  His worship might even intimate that that was a reasonable suggestion on the part of the defendants’.  The District Inspector of the RUC interrupted to inquire if McFarland was accusing the RUC of a dereliction of duty.  McFarland replied saying the route through Obin Street was an abnormal one and that there was a suggestion of, ‘trailing of coats’ in the use of this route.  When Head Constable Stansfield was questioned by McFarland he admitted that the bands were playing ‘party tunes’ and that before Mrs Hughes had been arrested her daughter had been assaulted by an Orangeman and was bleeding from the mouth.  When asked if, in the interest of peace, the Orangemen should not be confined to their own areas Stansfield said ‘It is not given me to think […] I am here to obey orders’.  When asked what he thought about the alternative routes it Stansfield was given to think that Obin Street was the only suitable route for the Orange parades as there was a narrow road bridge on one alternative while the other had a steep hill and would add four or five hundred yards to the length of the Orange march.  All but one of the defendants was discharged. 

The Head Constable’s contempt for the residents of Obin Street was made public again in 1954 when a woman from the area appeared in court on a charge of ‘indecent behaviour’. The insulting accusation was concocted after an incident in Obin Street on September 12th when a car was driven through St. Patrick’s Accordion Band.  Head Constable Stansfield told the court that as he went to break up a crowd of people who were hammering on the car he saw the defendant running towards the driver and said, ‘I put up my clenched fist with the gloves in it and she ran her face right onto my knuckle’.  Council for the defence pointed out that the Nationalist band was confined to just one street and suggested that the police had not made adequate traffic arrangements.  He reminded the court of an incident in 1948 when a sand-truck driven by a Protestant man seriously injured four bandsmen and he referred to two more recent incidents of a similar nature when a bus driver forced the bandmen off the road and a motorcyclist crashed into them.  Nevertheless, the woman was convicted of ‘disorderly behaviour’ – assaulting his fist with her face.

Portadown Orangemen marching from the town centre into the Catholic ‘Tunnel’ area in 1962

Civil Rights and the ‘End of Protestant Supremacy’.

There were a few disturbances in connection with Orange demonstrations in Portadown during the 1950s and 60s.  However Orange marches continued to provoke violence in other parts of the North.  Although Portadown appeared to be relatively peaceful, Orangemen and Unionist politicians continued to ferment sectarian divisions in speeches at annual demonstrations and in Orange halls.  In 1954 T. Richardson warned the brethren at Corcraine Orange Hall that Catholics were boasting that a recent Roman Catholic Marian celebration in the town showed that, ‘Portadown could no longer be classified as an Orange stronghold’.  On the 1st of November 1968 Lieutenant Commander Jack Glendenning told the Corcraine Orangemen [ PROTESTANTS ONLY ADMITTED] that Civil Rights campaigners were being schooled in Moscow and warned the defenders of ‘civil and religious liberty’ that Civil Rights, ‘means an end of Protestant supremacy’.

On the 24th of March 1970 around 200 RUC men and 150 British soldiers stood guard over a handful of Civil Rights campaigners in the centre of Portadown. Joe Duffy, who was elected to the council in 1997, was among them. Some of the Civil Rights group were injured by stones thrown from a large crowd of loyalists and two of the Civil Rights campaigners were later prosecuted. 

At a Loyal Order demonstration in the grounds of Killiyman castle on August 13th Joshua Bell, Imperial Grand Treasurer, advised the assembled Blackmen not to make the job of the RUC a harder one for, ‘When the chips are down they will know what side to look to’.

Three Strands, Two Classes, and Catholics.

On July 4th 1971 members of the recently disbanded B-Specials led 1,000 Orangemen on the ‘traditional church parade’ to Drumcree.  In the run up to that ‘demonstration of strength’ hundreds of Catholics fled their homes or sent their children to refugee camps set up by the Irish Government in the South.  Later that month Stormont Prime Minister, Brian Faulkner imposed a six-month ban on all parades.  He renewed the ban on the 18th of January 1972 and issued a statement saying that if circumstances permitted a relaxation of the ban without risk to life he would review the situation.  Faulkner was less concerned about the risk to life in 1955 when he marched along with 15,000 Orangemen along the exclusively Catholic Longstone Road in Belfast.  The road had been cratered by bombs the day before the demonstration and 300 RUC men with armoured support were drafted in to secure the way for the Orangemen.

Corcraine Orange Hall was the venue chosen to announce a Vanguard rally in Portadown on the 11th of March 1972.  In The Red Hand, Steve Bruce described the Vanguard rallies as being:

the coming together of all three strands of loyalism: dissident politicians, Protestant trade unionists, and the vigilantes in the UDA.  The important novelty was that the second and third groups were not just on the field listening and applauding: they were on the platform with their social betters, making the speeches (1992: p. 82).

An estimated 10,000 loyalists attended the 11th of March Vanguard rally in Portadown.  Among the principal speakers were Rev. Martin Smith, Grand Master of the Orange Order, and the town’s Lord Mayor.  David Trimble was Deputy Leader of the Vanguard alliance.  After the rally the three strands of loyalism attacked the Tunnel.  Vanguard called for a two-day strike starting on March 27th and loyalist mobs took control of the town.  From Sunday 26th to Wednesday the 29th the whole of the Catholic quarter of Portadown was kept under siege. Night and day the mobs attacked from every angle and sometimes on a number of fronts simultaneously.  Electricity supplies were cut off and the few corner shops in the area soon sold out of food.  By Tuesday night the British army had moved into the area and set up sandbag defences at all entrances to the Tunnel.  Loyalists blocked all the main roads into town with hijacked vehicles and the three strands of loyalism went ‘a wrecking’.  While they intimidated Catholics out of every area under their control the RUC followed them and used a loudhailer to appeal to them to live in peace with their neighbours.  Many of the families who were driven out of their homes in other parts of the town moved into the relative safety of the Catholic/nationalist enclave.  Some moved into houses still under construction in the Ballyoran estates.  Others moved into houses vacated by Protestant families who fled in fear or who were driven out to make room for the refugees.

The hoods their brothers wore

Faulkner lifted the ban on demonstrations in time for the ‘mad month’.  This meant that the ‘traditional Church Parade’ to Drumcree would bring many of the organisers and perpetrators of the Vanguard violence right into the heart of the area they had laid siege to just a few months before.  A Nationalist ‘Resistance Committee’ that had organised the defence of the Catholic area in March called a public meeting in Obin Street on April 9th 1972.  After the meeting they issued a statement criticising those who were making facile statements about the need to encourage better community relations and called for all Orange demonstrations to be banned from the Nationalist area.  Their call was ignored and on the Saturday before the 1st Sunday ‘church parade’ IRA checkpoints at the entrances to Obin Street were reinforced with barricades. 

I believe that is RUC Inspector Charles Rogers surveying the scene in Obin Street before letting loyalist paramilitaries marched into the area and line up to salute the passing Orangemen in 1972.

At 9 o’clock on Sunday morning British troops moved in to clear the way for the Orange Church parade. Scores of CS gas canisters and rubber bullets were fired and the barricades were bulldozed off the road to make way for riot troops and RUC men in armoured personnel carriers. RUC men and British soldiers broke into the terraced houses fronting onto the street and beat and arrested dozens of men and women. When the area was fully secured the ‘security forces’ ushered a contingent of hooded UDA men in paramilitary garb into the street.  The hooded men drilled in the street and lined up to form a guard of honour and saluted alute their ‘social betters’ as they marched behind the bible to divine worship in Drumcree. The UDA men then made their way to Drumcree from where, with the assistance of a heavy British army and RUC presence, they marched the brethren back into town along the Nationalist Garvaghy Road.  The District Master of the Orange Order later complained about the media having reported the spectacle.

     The IRA warned the British Government that their invasion of Obin Street was a sever breach of the terms of an ongoing truce.  The truce disintegrated later that evening in the Lenadoon area of Belfast.

Hooded loyalists marching back along the Garvaghy road from Drumcree Church to Portadown

   In the early hours of the 12th of July Paul Beattie, a 19 year old Protestant was shot dead when he entered the Churchill Park estate with a number of other loyalists.  The ‘Tunnel’ and Garvaghy Road were saturated with ‘security forces’ on the 12th morning and the Orange Order demonstrated without hindrance.  Later that day an off-duty RUC man called Ralph Henry shot and killed a Catholic publican, Jack McCabe, and a Protestant customer called William Cochrane in McCabe’s town centre pub.

On the 13th the Orangemen were once again escorted through Obin Street by the British army and the RUC. Then, four days after providing the Orangemen with a guard of honour in Obin Street the UDA abducted, tortured and killed a 47-year old Catholic man called Felix Hughes. 

    In January 1973 the SDLP presented a dossier on the intimidation of Catholic families in Portadown to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw.  Orangemen reacted saying Protestants were being intimidated out of the Garvaghy Road so that Orange demonstrations would be banned from the area. In July British army paratroopers helped the RUC to prevent any opposition to the Orange demonstrations and the situation was much the same in July 1974 when the local newspaper held that:

Controversy has surrounded the Drumcree parade only in recent years, and it is a fact that for the previous 100 years prior to the serious outbreak of trouble in the town in 1972, this was a Church parade which gave offence to none and which few of the residents of the Obin Street. area took exception

In 1975 two small bombs were found in derelict houses in Obin Street on the day of the Drumcree Church Parade.  Warnings had been given and the devices were defused in time to meet assurances given to Orange leaders that their demonstration would not be delayed. The local newspaper carried the following report about the loyalist ‘demonstration of strength’:

On Sunday morning a visitor to the town could have been excused if he had been under the impression that a fair proportion of the British Army stationed in Ulster had been drafted into the town for a church parade, and an equally large proportion of the strength of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

      Right from the moment the procession of 1,000 men and three bands entered Woodhouse St. there was an atmosphere of a town under siege.  Soldiers armed with rifles, and officers equipped with high-powered binoculars thronged the railway bridge.  Scores of policemen flanked the entrance to the station itself, and the footpaths, and the military were preventing spectators from going through the underpass into Obin Street.

     As the parade sneaked through the underpass, a women bystander was heard to exclaim, “you would think it was the Berlin Wall.”  Inside Obin Street it was a case of troops and police all the way to Corcrain with Saracens and jeeps in profusion and soldiers also prowling around with fierce-looking Alsatian dogs.

     As well as this, redcapped military policemen, green clad Women’s Army, and of Course Women’s RUC, were also to the fore, not to mention scores of plain clothes policemen and soldiers.  All the time a helicopter whirred over head, swooping down at times to survey the scene.  But the biggest contrast with pre-trouble days was evident on the return parade from Drumcree to the town centre.  Until a few years ago there wasn’t a policeman to be seen on the return procession and any tension there might have been evaporated once the parade had passed Obin Street.

     This year the security measures from the top of Garvaghy Park to Parkmount were just as stringent as those on the outward parade.  Saracens and soldiers crowded grassy slopes of Ballyoran Park estate and the entrance to Garvaghy Park.  It was the same at Churchill Park where scores of police watched the outer perimeter and troops were on patrol in the alleyways.  Even in the “Walk” itself the troops were everywhere – an Army lorry blocked the entrance to the public park gates and soldiers were lined up along the walls in the park itself.

In 1977, as the ‘security forces’ took control of the Nationalist area in preparation for the 12th of July demonstration two members of the Ulster Defence Regiment drove through Obin Street firing their army issue weapons.  They were arrested when they crashed into a Saracen armoured car.

Blanket Men and Blackmen

In 1981 the local H-Block committee staged a protest in Obin Street during the annual demonstrations of Orange strength.  The RUC forced the protesters off the road and in the ensuing riots they fired plastic bullets and made a number of arrests. The RUC drafted hundreds more reinforcements into the area for another demonstration on the 14th when 1,500 Orangemen marched past about 100 protesters who were hemmed into side-streets by a wall of RUC men and armoured cars.  When a number of local men appeared in court on charges of rioting on the July 12th resident magistrate, Sara Creanor, sympathised with the defence argument that the riot was an inevitable consequence of the Orange demonstration and agreed the Orangemen should not be allowed into the area.

The local H-Block group issued a news sheet on October 23rd.  In it they criticised the double standards of the RUC in banning a H-Block protest march from Obin Street to the Garvaghy Road whilst facilitating, ‘blatantly triumphalist and often violent Orange marches’ through the area ‘at the behest of their Orange masters’.  The newssheet noted that at a recent meeting of the ‘Police Liaison Committee’ a Chief Superintendent of the RUC had given

assurances that next year’s [Orange] parades would be given safe passage once again.  Apparently the guarantees were extracted by […] Bob Dodds who expressed concern at the impudence of the H-Block protestors who appeared in Obin Street during the Royal Black Institutions parade on July 13 last.[10]

In 1983 a few Orangemen broke ranks as they passed a peaceful protest at the bottom of Obin Drive and injured a photographer with their swagger sticks.  Local people identified a member of the UDR as being the ringleader of the attack and claimed the manner in which it had happened suggested some RUC complicity.

Prayer Meetings and Catholic Beatings

In 1985 the Nationalist Tunnel Band applied for permission to make a complete circuit of the Catholic district by taking in all of the Garvaghy Road and returning to Obin Street via Park Road.  This meant they would be passing by a few Protestant homes located along 150 yards of the two mile route near the junction of Park Road and Garvaghy Road. Though the application was made at a time when local people were campaigning for the banning of Orange marches through the Catholic district the bandsmen were surprised when the RUC gave them the go-ahead.  However, local Orangemen decided to block the nationalist parade past the Protestant area and on the morning of March 17th the mayor of Craigavon, Arnold Hatch, led a small crowd of supporters carrying flags and hockey sticks in a ‘prayer meeting’ on Park Road.  The RUC moved immediately to block the path of Nationalist band and informed the organisers that they could not proceed as agreed.  When the band attempted to go in the opposite direction, back along Obin Street, their way was blocked by armoured cars and the bandsmen quietly boarded a bus for a big parade in Co. Tyrone.

     When the Nationalist band returned in the evening there were no Orangemen ‘praying’ on the street and they attempted to march along the agreed route but the RUC drove their armoured cars through the parade and assaulted followers.  Those actions helped galvanise support for opposition to the Orange marches through the Catholic district and local people disrupted a meeting of Craigavon Borough Council to protest at the actions of Mayor Hatch and his followers.

With the growing publicity surrounding provocative Orange parades the RUC announced that the ‘first Sunday’ Orange march to Drumcree Church on July 7th would be permitted to pass through Obin Street but all others would be re-routed from the enclave. However, residents of the area held a meeting in Obin Street on the Saturday before the ‘church parade’ and resolved that all Orange demonstrations be excluded from the area. They also announced their intention to hold a peaceful protest in Obin Street on the 7th morning. 

Nationalist residents staging a sit-down protest against Orange marches through Obin Street in the early 1980s.

As the Orangemen approached Obin Street on the first Sunday of July, 1985, locals hoped the high level of media coverage and the presence of Eunice Schriver, sister of US president J. F. Kennedy, would afford them some protection.  However they were attacked by the RUC who, a journalist wrote, ‘waded into the protestors, battening them without provocation’.  Many of the protesters were injured and one man was knocked unconscious by the batton-wielding defenders of Orange tradition.  When the road was cleared of local people Harold McCusker MP, Rev. Martin Smith MP, and George Seawright (a notoriously bigoted Belfast City counsellor) lead 2,000 Orangemen ‘in full military uniform’ to hear the word of the Lord at Drumcree Church. The entire length of the Garvaghy Road was sealed off by hundreds of RUC men with British Army back-up to ensure safe passage for the spiritually fortified Orangemen.

On the 12th and 13th the Orangemen and their supporters attacked the RUC barrier at the entrance to Woodhouse Street from the town centre.

`Midnight Marches and ‘Mutiny’

On Easter Sunday 1986 the Apprentice Boys were banned from staging an Easter Monday demonstration on the Garvaghy Road.  Around 9 o’clock on Sunday evening the Garvaghy area was swamped with RUC men and British soldiers in preparation to enforce the ban.  Later that evening cars with loudspeakers toured loyalist areas calling for Orange supporters to assemble in the town centre to protest at the ban.  Just before midnight and without any warning the RUC and British army withdrew from the Garvaghy Road and Ian Paisley led a three-to-four thousand strong mob through the Catholic enclave.  Eyewitnesses said some of the mob carried firearms and some were identified as being members of the UDR and RUC.  The RUC accompanied the mob in armoured cars and but did not intervene when they attacked houses along the route.  They did, however, react to local people who came out to defend their homes and when the loyalist mob left the area residents erected barricades and fought RUC riot squads for several hours.

In the days after the Paisleyite parade local community leaders and representatives asked why the minority community was suddenly left to the mercy of an armed mob.  A local priest said, ‘The basic question raised by last night’s display is who controls Portadown – local bully boys or a professional impartial force’.  Gerry Adams said the fact that no action had been taken to prevent the illegal march was, ‘more evidence of the untrustworthiness of the RUC’.  Seamus Mallon asked if it was the Chief Constable or, ‘sections within the RUC who are making the ultimate decisions’.

The furore following the midnight march down the Garvaghy Road put a spotlight on the RUC and when Portadown loyalists ran riot in the town centre on Easter Monday one man was fatally injuring by a plastic bullet fired by RUC men defending a barrier at the entrance to Woodhouse Street and the Tunnel area.  Nationalist opinion in Portadown was that local RUC officers had mutinied but there was no official inquiry and none of the leaders or participants in the midnight march or in the mutiny have ever been charged in connection with the illegal parade or with attacking people and property on the Garvaghy Road.

Peter RObinon and the Parade Action Committee.

With the approach of July 1986 two new organisations announced their support for Orangeism. The ‘Parade Action Committee’ and the ‘Ulster Clubs’ were fronted by Portadown Orangeman Alan Wright, Peter RObinon and Noel Little.[11] Among their other activities these leaders organised a parade through Portadown by a shadowy loyalist paramilitary group called the ‘Ulster Resistance Movement’.  This group threatened major disruption if the Orange Order were denied access to Obin Street.  They followed through on that threat with a protracted campaign of intimidation and terror. Throughout the month of June vulnerable Catholic homes and Church property were attacked; shots were fired at people on the Garvaghy Road; Catholic owned businesses in Portadown were wrecked and Saint Patrick’s Hall was burned to the ground after an Ulster Clubs march and rally. As the Hall was burning, on June 16th, a mob kept the Fire Brigade from tackling the blaze while the RUC declined to intervene.   Main roads into town were blocked with hi-jacked vehicles and businesses were forced to close.  There were more night-time demonstrations in the town on the 19th & 24th of June.  The RUC kept a low profile while the minority community was put under constant siege.

In the run up to the July parades an editorial published on 5th of July the Irish News said:

It is the simple and stark fact that, once again, members of the Nationalist community of Portadown are to be treated as second class citizens in their own town.

It is difficult for those fortunate enough to live in more sophisticated communities to understand and appreciate the deep sense of fear, outrage and humiliation that marks these annual incursions into the little streets of this little town…

It is no longer relevant to speak of traditional routes and traditional marches as if tradition validated terrorism and intimidation. There is no longer any reason for remaining fixed in a frozen bigotry that prides itself on ignoring change in demographic and geographic realities.

In preparation for the upcoming ‘Church parade’ to Drumcree a massive force of 4,000 RUC and British Army reinforcements moved into the town.  Meantime, local Sinn Fein councillor, Brian McCann invited a number of prominent civil liberties activists from Ireland and abroad to monitor the situation.

A planned protest by residents of Obin Street was banned by the RUC and when approximately 300 nationalists assembled at Parkside they were forced off the road.  Another protest be a People Against Injustice Group was forcibly broken up to make way for the Orangemen to return from Church via the Garvaghy Road.  The Portadown Times described ‘clashes’ between the RUC and Garvaghy residents as being ‘a pitched battle’.

The Irish News reported an attack on St. John’s Catholic Church during morning mass and that a priest had been injured in an attack at another point along the rout of the Drumcree parade. The editor held that ‘In the long term, the best contribution police can make in the marching season is to make clear that, in future, parades will be confined to areas where they are not calculated to cause offence’. And even the staunchly unionist Belfast Telegraph had come to the conclusion that ‘A better route must be found that will give loyalists the opportunity to parade their colours where they are welcome’.

Secret Deals

 After listening to the sectarian rantings of George Seawright at the 11th night bonfire in Montague Street a few hundred loyalists attacked nearby Catholic homes in Obin Drive.  An English reporter described the attack saying ‘Flames and smoke billow in the air. Petrol bombs, flares and bricks come flying over the fence hitting the roofs of pensioners houses.  Many residents are out on the street’.  Next morning the Orange Order held its first ever 12th demonstration on the Garvaghy Road. Having denied them their ‘traditional’ right to humiliate the residents of Obin Street the British Government and RUC compensated the Orange Order by allowing them to march down the Garvaghy Road.  No representatives of the Nationalist community were officially consulted about the new arrangement and a few residents were assaulted on the day of the march. The minority community was incensed at the new arrangement and, despite having been allowed to march through an area in which the majority of Portadown Nationalists now lived, it appears that many Orange sympathisers were also incensed for they carried on rioting in the town for a number of days. After investigating that rioting the Orange Order issued a statement in which the blamed the RUC for causing the trouble. 

`The End of the Heritage Trail

 During the next twelve months residents and representatives of the minority community succeeded in drawing even more media attention to the intimidation and humiliation they were being subjected to. In July 1987 RUC Chief Constable John Hermon declared that the ‘traditional church parade’ would be banned from Obin Street, but not from Garvaghy.  This supposed compromise was wholly unacceptable to the minority community and was seen as nothing more than another tactical manoeuvre aimed at deflecting criticism and perpetuating the most offensive of the Orange demonstrations.  From early on the morning of the ‘first Sunday’ hundreds of locals gathered on the Garvaghy Road to take part in a sit-down protest.  To their great surprise and relief (no beatings from the RUC) the Orangemen did not appear.  The Orangemen seemed to have perceived, or wanted to present, the denial of their annual custom of humiliating the residents of Obin Street as a denial of their civil and religious liberty and they refused to march to Drumcree.  Instead they assembled at Corcrain, as near to Obin Street as they possibly could, where they prayed for the deliverance of their Protestant heritage and traditions.  There was little opposition to the 12th demonstration in Garvaghy. Many locals believed the Orangemen would not appear on that day either.  The few who did show were hemmed into side roads and a ‘Silent Protest’ by women was not allowed to leave Churchill Park.  Their placards were torn from them and they were insulted and bullied by members of the RUC, one woman was hospitalised.

Missplaced Faith?   

In 1988 the ‘Drumcree Faith & Justice Group’ planned a march to the town centre to highlight the double standards which were being employed by the RUC in dealing with nationalist and loyalist demonstrations.  When requesting permission to hold the June protest march the ‘Faith & Justice Group’ informed the RUC that only 30 people would participate and they would carry no flags or banners.  Their protest was banned.

The group attempted to defuse the growing hostility towards the Orangemen and the RUC by staging a sit-down protest with a limited number of participants when the Orangemen were due to march through again in July 1988.  The RUC manhandled them off the road and hemmed in the residents of Ballyoran, Garvaghy, and Churchill Park.   ‘Only a massive show of strength from the police and the army ensured the Drumcree parade passed off without major incident’. said one report.

Similar ‘massive shows of strength’ were kept up over the next few years while the ‘Faith & Justice Group’ staged modest protests and local youths vented their feelings through attacking the RUC and British Army. By 1991 the ‘Faith & Justice Group’ were beginning to accept that their protests (‘cross community tea-parties’) were an inadequate means of expressing the community’s grievances and were not able to defuse the frustration and tension which gave rise to the annual cycle of harassment, riots and vindictive prosecutions.

As David Trimble MP led 1,200 Orangemen with four marching bands down the Garvaghy Road in 1992 his brethren broke ranks to assault local people and a press photographer. The assaults took place in full view and in close proximity to RUC men. When no attempt was made to arrest or detain the assailants for identification there was fighting all along the length of the road, at Garvaghy Park, Ballyoran Park, Churchill Park and Woodside.  

The Formation of the Garvaghey Road Residents Group (Coalition)

 A 1993 survey of the people living on the Garvaghy Road found that 95% of them were opposed to Orange marches in the area. There was no organised protest that year but there was more rioting and an empty factory building was set on fire.  Though the anger that gave rise to this type of violent reaction was understandable it was obviously counterproductive. Concerned residents and community activists who understood the need for action realised that the cycle of violence could only be broken by an organised and peaceful campaign to deal with the causes of the violence.  This led to the formation of the Garvaghy Road Residents Group.  It was to act as an umbrella organisation for co-ordinating the efforts of the different groups opposed to the routing of Orange demonstrations through their streets.   A public meeting was called for and representatives of the ‘Lower Ormeau Concerned Community’ in Belfast were invited to attend.  At that meeting a committee was selected and objectives were discussed and agreed.


Bruce, S. (1992) The Red Hand, Oxford University Press.

Coogan, T. P (2005) 1916: The Easter Rising

Farrell, M. (1976) Northern Ireland: The Orange State.

Plowden, F. (1809) History of Ireland: Vol. 1

Russell, A. (2015) Between Two Flags: John Mitchel & Jenny Verner

The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Education Committee (1995) The Order On Parade

LOL District No.1  (1996) The Orange Citadel. “Portadown Cultural Heritage Committee” 

British Parliamentary Papers: Select Committee on Orange Lodges 1835.

Armagh Observer

Belfast News Letter

Freemans Journal

Irish News

Irish Times

Lurgan Mail

Newry Telegraph

Northern Whig

Portadown News

Portadown Times

[1] Rev. Kennaway and several of his colleagues resigned from the Education Committee in the year 2,000 because, as he put it, the Order ‘has tragically failed to grasp the realities of the days it is living in’ (Irish Times 17 June 2000).

[2] The bulk of the material that I have drawn on in this history of Orange disorder was taken from Unionist and/or Orange publications such as the Portadown News and the Portadown Times. As the reader will see, both of those local newspapers were consistently biased against the nationalist/Catholic community and failed to record the full extent of Orange violence and corruption.

[3] Blacker is credited with having penned the maxim ‘Trust in God and keep your powder dry’ – a line that he credited to Oliver Cromwell in a poem called Oliver’s Advice.

[4] Blacker was made a High Sheriff in 1811 and he was Vice Treasurer of Ireland from 1817 to 1829.

[5] Dublin Corporation saw fit to grace the site on Dawson St with a plaque in the year 2,000.

[6] These excerpts are taken from a paper called A Correct Report of the Charge of Judge Fletcher to the Grand Jury of the County of Wexford, at the Summer Assizes, 1814.

[7] See House of  Lords: The Sessional Papers 1835, Vol. 24Third Report from the Select Committee Appointed to Inquire into the Nature, Character, Extent, and Tendency of Orange Lodges, Associations, or Societies in Ireland (3 July 1835)

[8] It might be noted here that the Irish journalist/historian Tim Pat Coogan reckoned that Orangeism was manifest in the USA in the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant organisation called the Know Nothings (a term still used in references to the modern day Republican Party) as well as in the racist Ku Klux Klan. He thought that its sectarian ideology was also used by some American employers to keep Protestant and Catholic workers from uniting in struggles for better wages of conditions. See Tim Pat Coogan 1916: The Easter Rising.

For more on Jenny and John Mitchel go to  or see Anthony Russell’s book: Between Two Flags: John Mitchel & Jenny Verner.

[9] In the following year Walter Long was made leader of the Irish Unionist Party in Parliament.

[10] DUP Councellor Dodds was an ex RUC man

[11] Little was subsequently arrested in Paris in for organising loyalist arms shipments from South Africa to loyalists.