The Troubles in Portadown


The Troubles in Portadown

The Troubles in Portadown recounts incidents during, and the effects of, The Troubles in Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland.

Overview

Portadown is located in an area known during the troubles as the "murder triangle" [http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/events/dublin/bowyer.htm] because of the high number of killings carried out by paramilitary organisations.

The town is the site of an annual parade in July by an ex-serviceman's lodge of the Orange Order, from St Mark's Church in the town centre, where participants lay wreaths at the war memorial. Participants then march to Drumcree Church through the mainly nationalist Obins Street (also known as the "Tunnel" area because of an underground walkway connecting it to a higher level at the bottom of Fowler's Entry/Mary Street/John Street). The residents objected to the march, claiming it to be triumphalist and arguing that it marked them as second-class citizens. The parade was rerouted in the mid 80s [http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/csc/reports/rituals3.htm] through the then lesser populated but nearby area of Garvaghy Road. In the interim fresh housing stock built on the former McGredy's Rose fields on the Garvaghy Road was occupied by a cross-section of families from both persuasions but slum clearance in Obins Street meant that many of the Catholic residents were relocated to the new housing and following sectarian intimidation between both communities in various estates in the town, the Garvaghy Road estates became almost 100% Catholic.

The parade was one of three which had been staged by the Orange Order to march through the Tunnel and was the scene of rioting from as early as 1873. In the modern troubles this flashpoint became the source of confrontation between the Catholics of the Tunnel area and Protestants from neighbouring Edgarstown, often exacerbated by men from other areas within the town reinforcing the numbers on either side. On several occasions in the 1970s this resulted in gun battles between the police and locals. [http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/csc/reports/rituals3.htm] [http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/csc/reports/rituals4.htm]

Areas of interest & Flashpoints

*Edgarstown: a small Protestant enclave of Georgian terraced houses to the West of the town centre, scene of much rioting.
*Brownstown: initially a mixed estate, built postwar, slightly west of the town centre on the site of a former Prisoner of War Camp, which became predominantly Protestant through polarisation.
*Redmanville/Corcrain: two estates built over several decades on the western edge of the town with a very mixed population which by and large managed to endure the ghettoisation of many of the town's other estates.
*Killicomaine: A largely Protestant estate on the north eastern edge of town. The few Catholics who did live here were intimidated from their homes during the worst of the troubles.
*Edenderry: A largely Protestant urban area of mixed Georgian terraces and Victorian townhouses to the east of the River Bann. Part of this area was blocked off by the UDA but cleared during Operation Motorman.
*Obins Street: Also known as the Tunnel; running north west but linked to the town centre by Woodhouse Street and continuing onto the Dungannon Road. A Catholic enclave of terraced Georgain housing, much of which was demolished during "slum" clearances. The residents were decanted into new housing on the Garvaghy Road estates.
*Garvaghy Road: an area of new, mixed housing, running north west of the town centre, built mainly on the site of the former "McGredy's Roses" growing area. This also takes in the earlier "Churchill Park" estate built by Portadown Borough Council prior to the formation of the "Northern Ireland Housing Executive". Both estates were filled by both Protestants and Catholics who had been moved from "slum clearance" areas such as John Street, Mary Street, Fowlers Entry, West Street and Obins Street during the 1960's and early 1970's. Becoming mainly Catholic in the early to mid 1970's, the Protestants who were domiciled there were largely intimidated out and relocated to housing vacated by Catholic families in Protestant estates such as Killcomaine where intimidation forced Catholics out.

During the late 1960's and up to the mid 1970's the Edgarstown and Obins Street areas were separated only by a wasteland which had formerly been railway lines and the railway marshalling and repair facility which had dominated the area for many years. Civil engineering projects such as new roads and housing eventually covered this area but in the interim it became a venue for civil disturbance between the rival factions of the two areas who would clash on the site.

The IRA Bombing Campaign

Portadown was greatly affected by the Provisional IRA's bombing campaign from 1970 onwards. Large swathes of the High Street and West Street were destroyed on several ocaasions by large explosions from car/van bombs and IED's as were a number of side streets and at various locations elsewhere in the town. Public houses appeared to be a favourite target with some, like the Shamrock Chalet on the Armagh Road, being reduced to rubble on mulitple occasions.

Loyalists

Portadown is a predominantly Protestant town and ancestral home of the Orange Order. Other Loyalist organisations were strongly represented in the town during the Troubles such as: the UVF, the UDA and the UFF. The leader of the latter, Billy Wright, known by the press as "King Rat" was resident in the Corcrain Estate prior to the period of imprisonment at HMP Maze during which he was assassinated. Loyalists ran a social club in the former Summerson's Cinema in Bridge Street for several years before it was closed down by the police.

The Police & Military

Police

The Royal Ulster Constabulary initially had two stations in the town; one at the "Tunnel" entrance to Obins Street and the other at Edward Street. The former closed in the 1950's and the latter remained the main centre of police operations throughout the Troubles but is now reduced to part time as the police presence has been transferred to the Mahon Road complex.

Army

Portadown had no regular army presence but maintained a small Territorial Army base at Charles Street (known as "Charlies Walls") which housed HQ Company of the 4th Battalion Royal Irish Rangers, (The North Irish Militia). Although this did house small numbers of troops in the early part of the Troubles the main military presence was from units based outside Portadown, such as Kitchen Hill Barracks in Lurgan. The formation of the 11th Battalion Ulster Defence Regiment saw a small barracks being built on the Southern edge of town at Mahon Road on a greenfield site. This was dubbed "Fort Mahon" by the UDR. It housed HQ Company, A Company (Tandragee) and E Company (Portadown) - formerly the Lurgan/Portadown Company of 2 UDR. As paramilitary activity in the town increased accomodation was increased at Fort Mahon to include, firstly, a roulemont unit of regular soliders, mostly Royal Artillery units in battery strength. In the mid 1970's 3 Infantry Brigade was relocated from Lurgan to Portadown and in the late 1970's RUC DMSU & HMSU units were also based there. When the UDR increased in strength a full company of permanent cadre (A Company) was then formed at what was then known as Mahon Road Barracks. In the mid 1980's married quarters were built on the dge of the barracks for the families of regular soldiers attached to the Brigade HQ. Since the end of Operation Banner the military have withdrawn from the complex and the PSNI have taken over the complex to relieve the pressure of working from the cramped conditions of the Edward Street RUC Station. The married quarters have been sold off to the public.

*The SAS - from 1975, a detachment of SAS were based at Mahon Road Barracks in a building fenced off from the remainder of the barracks. Windows were covered in mirrored glass and the occupants did not mix with the other military or police units in the various bars and canteens scattered throughout the camp. The site was cleared by the early 1980's and became the parade square for the barracks complex.

Notable Incidents in Portadown during the Troubles

1972

* 12 July 1972 - Jack McCabe (48), Catholic and William Cochrane (53), Protestant, both civilians, were shot and killed by the Ulster Defence Association while inside McCabe's Bar, High Street, Portadown. 6th September.http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/sutton/chron/ NI Conflict Archive on the Internet]

1978

*8 March 1978 - Thomas Trainor (29), a member of the Irish National Liberation Army, and Denis Kelly (31), civilian, both Catholics, were killed by the Ulster Volunteer Force with shots fired from a passing motor cycle shortly after leaving the Department of Health and Social Services office, Jervis Street, Portadown.

1979

* 13th March - Robert McNally Protestant, Ulster Defence Regiment soldier, killed by the INLA. First recorded use of a mercury tilt device by the INLA.

1992

* 1 July 1992 - Gregory Burns (33), Catholic John Dignam (32),Catholic and Aidan Starrs (29), Catholic. Killed by the IRA and dumped by the roadside in South Armagh after being accused of being "informers". [http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/2/newsid_2491000/2491893.stm]

1997

* 27 April 1997 - Robert Hamill, a Catholic civilian, was kicked and beaten to death by a mob of up to thirty Protestants in Portadown town centre in a blatant sectarian attack. Suspicions of security force collusion was investigated by Peter Corry and a public inquiry is currently underway.

References


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