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Thursday, 4 July, 2002, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Drumcree: Marching into the past
Flashpoint: Drumcree Church which is a focus for Orangemen
Flashpoint: Drumcree Church a focus for Orangemen
By BBC Northern Ireland reporter Mervyn Jess

It was back in 1807 that Portadown District Orange Lodge started going to services at Drumcree parish church, perched on a tranqil country hillside on outskirts of the County Armagh market town.

However it has only been over the past eight years that the Orangemen's annual Battle of the Somme commemoration service has been making headlines in newspapers and on television screens around the world.

During this time, Drumcree has become synonymous with violent protest and angry confrontation.

Drumcree: Recent history
1995: Blocked, but then allowed
1996: Blocked, but then allowed
1997: March allowed as "least worst option"
1998: Blocked, widespread violence
1999: Rerouted; Orangemen accept ruling
2000: Rerouted: Stand-off and violence
2001: Rerouted: Verbal protest
There is a history of clashes between Catholics and Protestants in the area arising from Orange parades over a century and a half.

In the late 1980s and early 90s, violence erupted in the mainly nationalist Obins Street.

At that time, this was the outward leg of the Drumcree church parade.

The police later prevented the parade entering Obins Street by blocking the Orangemen at a small railway underpass known locally as the Tunnel.

This resulted in bowler-hatted Orangemen, in Sunday-best suits, traditional Orange collarettes and white gloves, beating police officers over the heads with rolled-up umbrellas.

An unlikely spectacle of members of a Loyal Order which swears allegience to the Queen, in open and violent confrontation with the forces of the Crown.

Cradle of Orangeism

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

These men grew up in the what is called "the cradle of Orangeism".

The Portadown area is steeped in the Order's history and tradition.

Tradition: Drumcree is steeped in history
Tradition: Drumcree is steeped in history

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

A combination of history, tradition and to an extent a personal belief that they are in the vanguard of defending the Protestant faith, sets Portadown Orangemen apart from other members of the Order.

But for many nationalists, they represent little more than sectarian bigotry and Protestant "coat-trailing" personified.

Changes in demography

A hundred years ago, when the lodges paraded back from Drumcree church to their Orange hall in the centre of Portadown, the contested Garvaghy Road section of the route was little more than a country lane.

In the late 60s and early 70s, the Ballyoran housing estate was built along the route and a population of approximately 6,000 people, most of whom are Catholics, lives there today.

With the changes in demography and the start of the peace process, came changes in the political climate.

When parades became an issue, nationalist and Catholic residents' groups sprang up in various parts of Northern Ireland.

Organised opposition to traditional "Protestant" parades through what were now mainly Catholic areas had begun.

Wider impact

Despite the history of confrontation in the Portadown area, the knock-on effect elsewhere has only been felt in more recent years.

Mass protests have been staged at Drumcree when the Orange parade has been re-routed away from the Garvaghy Road, although in recent years the numbers have gone down.

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

At the height of that violence, illegal roadblocks were thrown up in a co-ordinated campaign by loyalist supporters of the Drumcree Orangemen, bringing parts of Northern Ireland to a standstill.

When the Orange parade has been forced down the Garvaghy Road amidst a massive security operation, against the wishes of the people who live there, serious disturbances have ensued in republican and nationalist areas.

This year the Parades Commission has again re-routed the Orange march away from the nationalist area.

The last time Orangemen paraded along the Garvaghy Road was in 1997.

This Sunday, the Portadown Lodges will continue the "tradition" of leaving Drumcree church, marching a few hundred yards down the hill before being brought to a halt by the police and army barrier blocking their route.

Find out more about the Drumcree dispute in Northern Ireland

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