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Thursday, 6 July, 2000, 15:03 GMT 16:03 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

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.

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
It is only in the last seven 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.

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 as 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.

But for many nationalists, these men represent little more than sectarian bigotry personified.

Changes in demography

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

Tradition: Drumcree is steeped in history
Tradition: Drumcree is steeped in history
In the late 60s and early 70s, the Ballyoran housing estate was built alongside the road and a population of approximately 6,000 people, most of whom are Catholics, lives there today.

With the changes in demography and the coming of the peace process, came changes in the politicial climate.

When parades became an issue, 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 co-ordinated 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 any sudden agreement between the Orange Order and the residents, the Portadown Orange Lodge will march down the hill at Drumcree on Sunday.

And there they will be met by the RUC and Army, preventing them going any further.

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