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Friday, July 3, 1998 Published at 20:02 GMT 21:02 UK


Two centuries of tradition

The church where the march begins, and The Rev John Pickering

By BBC Northern Ireland's Religious Affairs Correspondent, Noreen Erskine

Drumcree is Portadown's oldest church. It is an ancient Christian site that has been used by both catholic and protestant traditions. The existing church was built 150 years ago.

Portadown Orangemen have been marching to a service at Drumcree on the Sunday before July 12 for 191 years.

The Reverend John Pickering, Rector of Drumcree Parish Church explains: "In the early days of this last century the various trade guilds used to go to church on a certain day together. Then the Orange Order, when they formed, decided to do the same thing. They came out to Drumcree church on every Sunday before July 12 every year.

"The reason they've been coming out to Drumcree is because Drumcree was the parish church. There was no parish church in Portadown then".

About two thirds of the church's parishioners belong to the Orange Order - they are adamant that they will return along Garvaghy Road on Sunday.

Alan Milligan, a local parishioner and Orangeman says: "The Orangemen would say it's tradition they return that way and that's the reason why they want to return that way - because they've done it for so long.

"They also feel if they did return through Corcrain Way, the way they came out, it would only be a matter of time before they would try to stop them coming out of town as well".

The church hall was used as a base by the Orangemen during the stand-offs in 1995 and 1996. The Orangemen's use of the hall during the stand-offs embarrassed many in the Church of Ireland.

Its leaders, however, were powerless to intervene because, unusually, it does not own the hall. Donated by a local benefactor at the turn of the century, it belongs to a group of trustees.

This Sunday's parade to Drumcree will mark yet another page being written in the church's history



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