Northern Ireland

Time for Orangemen to move on, say Garvaghy Road residents 25 years on

25 years ago, a protest by nationalist residents against an Orange Order parade along the Garvaghy Road resulted in a three-day stand-off and scenes of serious violence for several years in Portadown and areas across the north. Connla Young looks back on the bitter Drumcree dispute

Residents spokesmen Joe Duffy and Breandán MacCionnaith on the Garvaghy Road in Portadown
Residents spokesmen Joe Duffy and Breandán MacCionnaith on the Garvaghy Road in Portadown

BY the time Drumcree became headline news in 1995, there was already a long history of tensions over loyal order parades in nationalist areas of Portadown.

The stand-off that July would light the touch paper for a bitter dispute that lasted several years and spilled into other areas across the north.

The sight of thousands of Orangemen and their supporters camped close to the church at Drumcree dominated summer months until the return leg of the annual parade down the Garvaghy Road was finally banned for good in 1998.

While Orange protests would continue over the intervening years, they eventually petered out.

But the Drumcree showdown wasn't the first between nationalists and the Orange Order in Portadown.

Ian Paisley and David Trimble at the bottom of the Garvaghy Road after the 1995 parade was allowed to proceed
Ian Paisley and David Trimble at the bottom of the Garvaghy Road after the 1995 parade was allowed to proceed

A decade earlier residents in nearby Obins Street had opposed loyal order parades through the district, which had been a point of confrontation in the past.

A particular encounter in July 1972 stands out for local people when security forces cleared protesters from the tiny nationalist enclave to make way for an Orange Order parade, also to Drumcree Church.

By the mid-1980s nationalist attitudes had hardened in the Obins Street area as opposition to parades grew.

After inevitable clashes with the RUC, the Orange Order was effectively banned from the area in 1986.

However, it was still allowed to march along the nearby Garvaghy Road.

On Sunday July 9 1995, residents there blocked members of the order from returning along the road from Drumcree church.

After a three-day stand-off, the parade finally went ahead after nationalists agreed to end their protest.

However, for many the image of unionist leaders Ian Paisley and David Trimble holding hands aloft as they led Orangemen through Portadown was seen as an act of triumphalism.

The following year the parade was banned but after violent clashes between the RUC, Orangemen and their supporters the decision was reversed, resulting in nationalist protesters being forcibly removed from the Garvaghy Road to make way for the march.

At the height of the 1996 stand-off, Catholic taxi driver Michael McGoldrick (31) was shot dead by the UVF outside Lurgan.

The organisation, under the command of Billy Wright, also brought a bulldozer to Drumcree, which it is believed was to be used to smash through RUC lines.

Read more: Portadown Orangeman insists arson attack that killed Quinn children 'nothing to do with Drumcree'

As July 1997 approached, sectarian tensions in Portadown continued to run high.

Two months earlier Catholic man Robert Hamill (25) was beaten to death by loyalists as he walked through the town. RUC officers who were nearby were accused of failing to intervene.

Robert Hamill
Robert Hamill

Weeks later off-duty RUC man Gregory Taylor (41) was beaten and kicked to death in Ballymoney in Co Antrim by a loyalist mob in an attack linked to parade tensions.

The Orange Order was again allowed to march along the Garvaghy Road after the area was flooded by police in the early hours of Drumcree Sunday.

Scenes of residents being hemmed into side streets by heavily armed RUC members sparked a furious backlash from nationalists across the north.

Drumcree 1997
Drumcree 1997

Local people were refused permission to attend Mass, which priests were forced to hold in the open air in front of British army lines.

However, victory for the Orange Order was short lived and 1997 would be the last time members would parade through that part of Portadown.

In 1998 the order was again stopped from marching along the road, sparking several days of violence with police.

In the early hours of July 12, a sectarian arson attack carried out by the UVF claimed the lives of Catholic schoolboys Richard (10), Mark (9) and Jason Quinn (8) in Ballymoney, Co Antrim.

While some Orangemen continued to protest, many lost heart and left Drumcree never to return.

Despite the passing of more than two decades, the Orange Order continues to apply to the Parades Commission to complete the 1998 parade.

Joe Duffy, a member of the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition, said Orangemen have the opportunity to parade elsewhere in Portadown every year.

“It is important to state that, in any given year, there are an average of 60 unionist/loyalist parades organised in Portadown, the majority of which are organised by the Orange Order,” he said.

“Those parades provide ample opportunities for members of the Orange Order to exercise their right to freedom of assembly.”

He also pointed out that the order and Royal Black Institution continue to apply to be allowed along Obins Street on Drumcree Sunday and July 12 and 13 every year.

Mr Duffy claimed the stand-off is “not a simple case of one group demonstrating support for a particular and explicit cause, countered by another group opposing that cause”.

“What we are dealing with here is a much more subtle and unspoken message - often disingenuously denied by march organisers, yet only too plainly understood by residents - conveyed in the very act of parading through - one might say 'temporarily occupying' - particular areas where that message causes most offence,” he said.

“It is a classic case of the medium being the message.

“That was made very clear by the actions of the Orange Order and its supporters in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.”

Fellow residents' spokesman Breandán MacCionnaith said local people have now left the dispute behind them.

“Since 1998, an entire generation of our young people have grown up and reached adulthood without having to experience the humiliation and fear, tension and violence, or the physical sieges that once accompanied those unwanted and unnecessary sectarian marches through our community during the mid- and late 1990s, and earlier decades,” he said.

“Our community, and the wider community, has moved from those years.

“The Orange Order in Portadown should do likewise.”

Read more: Portadown Orangeman insists arson attack that killed Quinn children 'nothing to do with Drumcree'