Portadown and the Marching Season
Portadown and the Marching Season
The outline facts on the Protestant marching season and the annual confrontation between marchers and Catholic residents of the Garvaghy Road enclave in Portadown.


  • The Marching Season in the Six Northeastern Counties of Ireland spans from April through to December. The majority of these marches are organised by what are termed the Loyal Orders, namely the Orange Order, the Apprentice Boys and the Royal Black Preceptory.

  • In Portadown approximately 40 parades are organised each year by the above groups as well as by other Loyalists groupings, With one exception, that of the return leg of the Drumcree parade along the Drumcree and Garvaghy Roads, all these marches take place in the town centre or other areas of the town which are predominantly Protestant/Unionist. Although all of these marches cause major inconvenience and annoyance, it is only the return leg of the Orange Order’s Drumcree parade along the Drumcree and Garvaghy Roads which Catholic/Nationalists actively oppose.

  • The Loyal Orders named above are secret societies from which Catholics are excluded. When a person becomes a member of any of the Loyal Orders, he must swear he has no blood or marital connection with any member of the Catholic faith. The Loyal Orders are exclusively Protestant, Unionist and pro- British organisations.

  • A number of marches by these organisations go through areas which are predominantly Catholic/Nationalist, such as the Garvaghy Road in Portadown and the Ormeau Road in Belfast. Such marches are considered to be akin to Ku Klux Klan marches through coloured communities in the U.S. or marches by neo-Nazi organisations through Jewish or other ethnic communities in Europe.

  • In these disputed areas, the Loyal Orders refuse to meet with residents’ groups to discuss rerouting parades and marches away from contentious and controversial routes.

  • The local Member Of Parliament is David Trimble, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, who is a member of the Orange Order. From the time he was elected in 1990 until May 1999, Mr Trimble refused to meet with the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition (his own constituents). After a visit to the U.S., where over 100 members of Congress presented him with a letter that strongly urged him to talk with his constituents, he finally attended two short meetings with the Garvaghy Road residents. During those years he did not speak with nationalist residents, he had no such problems meeting with known Loyalist paramilitary members, such as Billy Wright, also known as King Rat, at Drumcree in July 1997. Wright was the leader of a Loyalist death squad based in the Portadown area which has been responsible for the murders of over 150 Catholics since 1970. Harold Gracey, leader of the Orange Order in Portadown, frequently publicly appeared in Wright’s company. For further details of David Trimble’s links with Wright and others, read “The Committee” by Sean McPhilemy, published by Roberts Rheinhart.

  • As is the case in all disputed areas, an alternative route which totally avoids the Garvaghy Road area is available to the Orange Order. This alternative route in Portadown (along the Corcrain and Dungannon Roads) is actually the route taken by the Orange Order on their way TO Drumcree.

  • The Loyal Orders allege that residents groups are not representative of local communities. In Portadown, the Catholic/Nationalist population is represented by the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition - an umbrella group whose membership is drawn from local community-based organisations.

  • Portadown is a predominantly Unionist/Protestant town in County Armagh with a total population of approximately 28,00O. The minority Catholic/Nationalist population of the town is approximately 6,000. Almost all the CathoIic/Nationalist population live in housing estates along the Garvaghy Road or the smaller Obins Street area in the north-western corner of the town. (See Map) Many of those living there were forcibly evicted from their homes in other parts of the town by pro-British Loyalist paramilitaries.

  • A survey carried out in the Garvaghy Road area by the Independent Review of Parades and Marches in 1996 (a British Government agency) found that 93% of the local Catholic community in Portadown were sympathetic to the concerns expressed by the Residents Coalition.

  • 97% of all those questioned in that Survey, and 99% of Catholics, said that parade organisers should take into account demographic and other changes which have occurred in the religious mix of an area.

  • When asked if a parade should go through an area where the religious balance is 10% (or less) Protestant and 90% (or more) Catholic - similar to the make-up of the Garvaghy Road area - NO Catholics in favour of a march going ahead, with 90% of Catholics calling for rerouting or outright ban on such marches.

  • In the 1997 local government elections, two candidates put forward by the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition were both elected, and both Breandan Mac Cionnaith and Joe Duffy now represent their community as members of Craigavon Borough Council.

  • The above official statistics totally contradict the untruths continually put out by the Orange Order and by the Unionist politicians that the Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition is unrepresentative of the local community.

  • British Crown forces in the North of Ireland, including the British Army and RUC, have mounted major operations to ensure the passage of Loyal Order marches along disputed routes like Garvaghy Road and Ormeau Road.

  • These operations have been widely condemned by national and international human rights Organisations and by Irish, European, Canadian, American and South African parliamentarians who have been present on the ground to bear witness to the reality of the situation.

  • These military operations virtually amount to the imposition of martial law and curfew upon the Catholic/Nationalist communities. In the Garvaghy Road in 1997, at least 2,500 members of the RUC and British Army were used to subjugate the local community whose population totals 6000 men, women and children. Such was the extent of the military occupation of the area, and the restrictions placed upon the movements of the local community, that local Catholics were physically prevented by armed soldiers and police from attending their normal Sunday 8.00am, 10.00 am, and midday Masses in St. John the Baptist Church on the Garvaghy Road in order to facilitate an Orange Order march.

  • Nationalist residents who have attempted to mount peaceful protests against Orange Order marches have been beaten and forcibly removed. Over two hundred people were injured in unprovoked assaults in 1996 and a similar number again on July 6 1997 on the Garvaghy Road alone.

  • In Portadown, Catholics/Nationalists only feel secure within their own area. Over the years, many have been murdered by pro-British Loyalist death-squads. Jack McCabe, Felix Hughes, Eamon McMahon, Joey Weir, Martin McConville, Robert Hamill, Thomas Trainer, Dennis Kelly and Adrian Lamph are all Catholics who have died horrific deaths at the hands of Loyalists in the area of the main commercial town centre alone. Many other Catholics have been severely assaulted and wounded in the same area while going about their normal everyday activities.

  • Robert Hamill was murdered by a lynch mob of up to thirty Loyalists while returning from a night out with two female relatives in April 1997. A major controversy still surrounds his brutal death as it was revealed that members of the RUC (police force) were present when the attack took place but refused to intervene to save his life, or later go to render medical attention, despite the cries and pleas of Robert’s two cousins. In March 1999, the one member of the murder gang that stood trial for Robert’s killing was acquitted of any charges. The RUC witnesses were allowed to remain silent and not testify during the trial.

  • Since the July 1998 Drumcree march, four people have been murdered as a result of the Orange Order assaults on the Garvaghy Road community. On July 12, three small boys were murdered while they slept in their home in Ballymoney. The Quinns home was petrol bombed by Orange Order supporters because the mother was Catholic. Rescuers could not reach the three brothers before they died in the fire set by the bomb. In October, an RUC officer, Frank Reilly, died of injuries sustained in September when a loyalist mob threw blast bombs and fireworks at RUC lines protecting the Nationalist area. And in 1999, Elizabeth O’Neill, a 65-year old grandmother was killed when loyalists threw a bomb into her home.

  • On March 15, 1999 Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition Solicitor Rosemary Nelson, the well known Human Rights Activist and Civil Liberties Advocate in Ireland, was brutally murdered when a bomb was planted under her car. The first woman to set up a law practice in Lurgan, Rosemary Nelson stood for many clients who were victims of the emergency legislated system in the six counties. She accompanied the GRRC to meetings with both the British and Irish prime ministers and in proximity talks with the Orange Order. She had been under death threat from supporters of the Portadown Orange Lodge, and had received death threats and intimidation from the RUC. These threats were being investigated by the Metropolitan Police force at the time of her death. All the residents groups have joined in the call for a fully independent investigation into Rosemary’s assassination, because there is no confidence that the RUC could conduct an impartial investigation.

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