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Friday, July 2, 1999 Published at 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK


Drumcree: Marching into the past

Flashpoint: Drumcree Church a focus for Orangemen

by BBC Northern Ireland reporter Mervyn Jess

The Portadown District Orange Lodge has been going to services at Drumcree Parish Church on the outskirts of the County Armagh market town since 1807.

June Kelly in Drumcree: It has become an annual military operation
It is only in the last five years that what is now their annual Somme Commemoration parade has come to the attention of the world and become a byword for violent protest and confrontation.

However there is a history of clashes between Catholics and Protestants in the area arising from Orange marches over the past 150 years.

The Search for Peace
More recently in the late 1980s and early 1990s, violence erupted in the mainly nationalist Obins Street, which was then the outward leg of the Drumcree parade.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary blocked the Orangemen at the Tunnel area preventing the parade from entering Obins Street.

There followed the spectacle of violent exchanges when bowler-hatted Orangemen dressed in Sunday-best suits, traditional Orange collarettes, white gloves and umbrellas, clashed with the forces of the crown to which they swear allegience.

Cradle of Orangeism

The Portadown District comprises 32 Orange Lodges with a membership of 1,400.

These men grew up in the cradle of Orangeism. The Portadown area is steeped in its history and tradition.

In 1795, the Orange Order was formed in Dan Winter's cottage in Loughgall just a few miles from Portadown.

It is this long tradition and to an extent a belief that they are in the vanguard of defending the Protestant faith, that sets Portadown Orangemen apart from other members of the Order.

From a nationalist perspective these men are sectarian bigotry personified.

Changes in demography

[ image: Tradition: Drumcree is steeped in history]
Tradition: Drumcree is steeped in history
A hundred years ago when the Orangemen paraded back to their hall in Portadown from Drumcree, the Garvaghy Road was little more than a country lane.

In the late 60s and early 70s, the Ballyoran housing estate was built alongside the road and now a population of 6,000 people, most of whom are Catholics, lives there.

With the changes in demography came changes in the politicial climate.

When parades became an issue about five years ago nationalist/Catholic residents' groups sprang up in various parts of the province.

The campaign of organised opposition to traditional parades through what were now mainly Catholic areas had begun.

Wider impact

Despite the history of confrontation in the Portadown area, the effect on the wider community in Northern Ireland has only been felt in recent years.

When the Orange parade has been re-routed away from the Garvaghy Road after its service at Drumcree, mass protests have ensued.

Elsewhere in Northern Ireland property has been attacked and destroyed by rioters.

At times illegal roadblocks have been thrown up in a coordinated campaign by loyalist supporters, bringing part of the province to standstill.

When the Orange parade has been forced through the Garvaghy Road amidst a massive security operation, against the wishes of the nationalist residents, serious trouble has erupted in republican and nationalist areas.

Unless the Parades Commission rescinds its re-routing decision in light of new developments, the Portadown Orange Lodge will march down the hill at Drumcree on Sunday.

When they reach the hollow they will be met by a massive security operation.

It will stretch into the surrounding fields which last year was described by one leading Orangeman as resembling a scene from the First World War.

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