'Northern Protestants: An Unsettled People' by Susan McKay
[Key_Events] Key_Issues] [Conflict_Background]
The following chapter has been contributed by the author Susan McKay, with the permission of the publishers, The Blackstaff Press. The views expressed in this chapter do not necessarily reflect the views of the members of the CAIN Project. The CAIN Project would welcome other material which meets our guidelines for contributions.
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From the back cover:
An acclaimed journalist presents an uncompromising, in-depth examination of her own people - the Protestants of Northern Ireland
Largely regarded by the outside world in a negative light, many Protestants in Northern Ireland feel beleaguered, misunderstood and outmanoeuvred. But to what extent are Protestants undermined by a sectarianism that few of them acknowledge - including perhaps an ambivalence to loyalist violence?
Within the overall Protestant community there is a wide diversity of views, from hardline defenders of the Union to a surprisingly large number who would welcome an end to the notion of a Protestant state for a Protestant people. With the current peace process founded on the awareness that there can be no resolution to the conflict without the consent of both communities, a deeper understanding of the range and complexity of Protestant attitudes has never been more essential.
This important book by a distinguished journalist breaks new ground in the search for that understanding. Presenting and analysing over sixty in-depth interviews with a wide range of northern Protestants, Susan McKay gives the clearest picture yet of these perplexing - and perplexed - people.
'Hatred,’ said John. ‘Hatred.’ It was 1 July 1998 and he was describing what Portadown loyalists felt about the ban on the Orange Order’s march from Drumcree church down the Garvaghy Road. I had asked John about this the previous year, and his answer had been the same. ‘Hatred.’ This time, though, John was elated. His eyes shone. The ruling, which had been denounced by unionist and Orange leaders, had filled him with a fierce rapture. ‘I hope and pray Mo Mowlam will stick by what she says. The Ulster people will be united again. There’s too many organisations, too many Churches, too many political parties. We’re too split. If the Orange Order is battered here, it is going to unite the people. It could end up bad, but at least it’ll unite the people. It’ll take something like this. This will be our Alamo. This’ll be Custer’s last stand.’
John was an Orangeman but his sash was worn over a shoulder which also bore a UDA tattoo. There was something of the old soldier about him and he liked to hint that he had seen service. He took a hard line, and his pronouncements usually had a harsh simplicity, ideal for the international media. ‘Soundbite’ was too flimsy a word for such utterances. It was not unusual in early July to see a queue of camera crews and reporters outside his home. Drumcree was known around the world. It meant a place, a series of events, a state of mmd. And what a state of mind. John, a typically militant Portadown Orange-man, prayed that the right which he claimed he cherished above all others would be denied him. ‘When the British people see British subjects being battered on the streets of Portadown, when they see British blood running down the faces of people that is only looking to walk the Queen’s highway, they will think, hold on, those people has the right,’ he explained. Then, most revealing of all: ‘This will be our Bloody Sunday.’ He clasped his big strong hands together and grinned.
Bloody Sunday. Derry, 1972. Fourteen unarmed Catholic civilians killed by British soldiers. Innocent victims. Their community was seen by the world to be the innocent victim of a bullying state. Seen not least because of television and newspaper photographs. It was a defining moment. The republican movement had used the touchstone of that innocence, faced with that brutality, to neutralise antipathy towards its own bloody campaign. To take away the stains. On the verge of a new century, John craved such a martyrdom for his people. He wanted blood sacrifice, filmed and photographed. Blood to wash away the image of Protestants as triumphalist bullies, and show them as the true victims.
John supported the Concerned Protestants group. Set up when the Drumcree parade became controversial in 1995, it was part of the Ulster Civil Rights Movement (UCRM), again, the title a claiming-back. In 1968 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association had fought for equality for nationalists, for ‘one man one vote’, for access to housing and employment. UCRM spokeswoman Pauline Gilmore told me that the 1995 movement, open only to Protestants, was all about Protestants claiming equal civil and religious rights. Once they reached something like equality, they might consider allowing Catholics to join. Gilmore said that everything had changed, that whereas in the sixties ‘RC rights were at the lowest of the low’, things had now turned full circle. Protestants were afraid to speak, ‘unless you’re standing with two men on either side of you with a 9 mil’.
The movement’s groups attracted their share of such men, and rallies drew rough crowds, which included maverick paramilitaries. ‘I don’t ask what side of loyalism our support comes from. Within Protestantism, another Protestant is not your enemy. We want strength from all sources,’ Gilmore had told me when I interviewed her at her home in east Belfast in 1996. She was a bone thin, intense young woman with black hair, scourged with her sense of grievance. The UCRM in practice was about the right to march. The right to march, which became the right to break the law.
The Portadown group set out to highlight allegations of intimidation by nationalists of the mainly elderly Protestant population of Park Road. Its members would make sure that the lampposts and walls on the frontier with the militantly nationalist Garvaghy Road were properly bedecked with unionist flags and colours. Skirmishes with nationalists routinely occurred when loyalists were putting up the Orange arch, important because Catholics would have to pass under it.
‘What is happening on Park Road is ethnic cleansing at its worst,’ said John. ‘Years ago Catholics and Protestants used to run about together. The Catholics would have come out and watched the parades and everything. Then McKenna and his boys come in and tried to get the Protestants out. The hatred now is unbelievable.’ Breandan Mac Cionnaith - loyalists refuse to give the name of the reviled republican leader of the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition the Irish pronunciation. ‘I know the score. People know my background. They look to me. I’ve had ladies coming up to me saying, "John, what do you want me to do?" I had a pensioner ringing me and she said, "Do you want me to make sandwiches?" There’s good-living people backing the Orangemen on this. Even the lady folk is in on this.’
He did not only offer advice to old ladies - he boasted that the younger generation of paramilitaries in the town looked up to him. ‘The Loyalist Volunteer Force took an oath to defend the Protestant people. They’ll not let the Protestant people be beaten,’ he said. Ceasefires, he implied, can be broken. ‘There is dissent among the ranks of the UVF and the UDA. They are saying they’ve been conned. It takes very little to spark things off.’ It was obvious that John included the paramilitaries in his wish for the unionist family to be reunited.
John was in demand. The phone rang and he made brisk arrangements, punctuated with angry, excited laughter. Billy, a stout man in the stained clothes of a labourer, arrived at the door and came in to sit across the narrow fireplace from his friend. ‘If there’s one Orangeman shot out there, the whole country will go up,’ predicted John, clapping his hands. Billy reckoned republican pressure on the government might work in the Orangemen’s favour. ‘I think,’ he said, ‘the IRA has told Mowlam - if you let the Orange down the road, we’ll hit the mainland.’
However, the men took the view that both British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern would, in the interests of the Assembly, prefer the march to go ahead, and that they wanted to persuade Mac Cionnaith to drop his opposition to it. This worried the Orangemen. The Order had to be seen to stand up to the combined forces of the republican movement, the British and Irish governments and the pro-agreement unionists. They had to do it alone, David against Goliath. The new powersharing Assembly was meeting for the first time that day. The Orange Order’s county grand master for Armagh, Denis Watson, who had been elected on an anti-agreement ticket, had demanded that the Assembly devote its first day to a debate about Drumcree. This had not happened.
John’s face clouded. ‘I think the Northern Ireland Office might push this march through to make Trimble look good,’ he said. Billy nodded significantly at me. ‘There’s men in the army camps refused to come out, but, against their own people. We have people in high places too, you know. I mind cutting grass in those fields where Garvaghy Road is now. It was all outsiders has come in dictating. That is the way Sinn Féin works. The fear is put in the Catholics. I laugh at these ones, these nationalist ones gets their brew sent out every Wednesday. They don’t want the British but they’ll carry it in their pocket.’ The brew is the dole, unemployment and other state benefits. This is one of the most popular and enduring grievances held by loyalists right around the North. The taking of the Queen’s shilling. Catholics, they said, were loyal to the half-crown but not the crown. Recently, the Orange Order’s newspaper, Orange Standard, had carried advertisements urging its readers to find out about their rights to benefits: ‘As British citizens, these benefits are yours by right. Many who are enemies of the union with Britain are claiming their rights. Don’t be foolish and miss out on what is rightfully yours.’ Credit unions had been opened in Orange halls, and the same thing was said: ‘The other side has been at this for years.
‘The Catholics stick together. One time I was working on a site and these two Catholics were saying, "Youse have that many breakaway groups,"’ mused Billy. ‘This is the first time the Grand Lodge has got off its fucking knees,’ said John. ‘It has said it’ll back the local lodges. The Spirit of Drumcree has redd out the dead wood.’
The hardline Spirit of Drumcree group, led by the bulldog-headed Joel Patton from Dungannon, County Tyrone, had opposed compromise of any kind, and denounced as a sellout any kind of talks with residents’ groups. ‘The Drumcree ones is prepared to sit,’ said Billy. ‘You like to see the crack when it starts. You’ll find people shot. If you’re a Catholic and you come up to a blockade, you’ll just be shot. The other side got everything by violence. Daddy is dead and gone this fifteen years. I mind him saying, "The day is coming that the Orange will be like the Masonic. You won’t be let walk. You’ll have your collarette in your pocket and you’ll have to put it on behind a bush before you go into the field." Aye. It’s the truth. The parades is finished if Portadown is bate.’
The chalice of Orangeism is passed down the male line, from father to son. Men say, ‘My father marched, and his father before him.’ There was a joke I heard in Portadown. Why did the chicken want to cross the Garvaghy Road? Because my feathers crossed it. And my feathers feathers before them.
‘If Trimble walks, my collarette will be off,’ said John. Billy shook his head, smirking. ‘Trimble is afraid to put his foot in Portadown. He’ll be pinned against the wall and pinned right,’ he said. ‘He has pushed the Ulsterman down the road -‘ ‘Trimble is a traitor,’ said John, fiercely. ‘He’ll be swinging from a telegraph pole if he comes to Portadown.’
I lost track of John and Billy’s conversation. Billy had a sort of chorus line: ‘Aye, the dirt was done on me. The dirt was done all right.’ There was talk of a man who went off with another man’s wife in the toilets of an Orange hall. ‘The dirt goes in,’ said Billy. ‘Oh aye. The dirt goes in. I’m telling you, if I meet them in the barbed wire, they’ll not go out. When I hit, I hit hard.’ He punched the fist of his right hand into the palm of his left hand, his cheeks quivering angrily. John returned to the main theme. ‘If you want a civil war, you stop Drumcree. When the Ulsterman’s back is against the wall, he’ll fight.’
That night loyalists burned down nine Catholic churches across the North. One of them was St James’s church at Crumlin, near the international airport at Aldergrove. Just a few weeks earlier a young student, Ciaran Heffron, had been buried in the graveyard there. He was a Catholic, killed by loyalists after a rally in support of the parades at Drumcree. Crumlin was a village turning nationalist, its population increasing as nationalists, who had been intimidated out of Antrim town, moved there. The LVF carried out the murder, and a group linked with it, the Red Hand Defenders (RHD), claimed the burnings.
‘THIS IS HOW THEY REPAY US’
She was standing on the path, a small, elderly woman tugging her cardigan around her. Emily. She lived near Park Road, where soldiers were stopping cars at the huge steel barriers they had erected. She was taking her leave of a young woman in jeans when I stopped to speak. The disputed Drumcree parade was now just two days ahead. Emily looked at me warily. I told her I was writing a book and asked if she would talk to me. ‘Wait,’ she said. The two women walked slowly to the gate, through the small, flowerless garden. ‘So you’re sure you don’t need anything?’ asked the young woman, turning as she reached the pavement. ‘No, dear, I’ll be fine,’ said Emily.
The young woman headed off towards the park and the Garvaghy Road, the frontier marked by the end of old Victorian housing and the start of modern estates, the yielding of Union Jacks on the lampposts to tricolours. ‘That wee girl is my home help,’ explained Emily. ‘I didn’t like to say too much in front of her. She’s one of the other sort.’
The house was part of an old terrace, beyond the railway bridge. There was an air of decline about this small redbrick enclave, but it had been grand in its time. ‘My family has this house this 120 years,’
she said. ‘I laugh at all this fuss about the Garvaghy Road. There is no such place. The parish of Drumcree runs from there’ - she pointed towards town, then swung her arm round to include the other way -‘up to Seagoe church and Tartaraghan on the Armagh Road. Marley Terrace used to be up there, belonging to one of the Miss Marleys. They’re Catholics. From Cecil Robb’s big white house down is Ballyoran. A man came and took the sign down for Victoria Terrace. I said to him, "What are you doing that for?" He said, eff off. The Garvaghy Road isn’t a real address. There was never any trouble till that estate was put up.’
The estates, Churchill Park, Ballyoran and Woodside, were built in the sixties. Churchill Park provided new houses mainly for Catholics from the Tunnel and Obins Street areas of the town. In the seventies, widespread intimidation led to ghettoisation - Catholics from other parts of town moved to Churchill Park and Woodside and Protestants moved to Killycolmain and Brownstown. After the republican hunger strikes in 1981 residents renamed Churchill Park in Irish after the dead hungerstriker Martin Hurson - a martyr in the eyes of republicans; in the eyes of loyalists, a murderer.
Garvaghy Road was a sweeping avenue of tall lampposts trailing bright new tricolours. The housing estates were set back from the road, with gable walls facing out with defiant graffiti. ‘No talking, no walking’.
‘We took them out of a rat-infested hole down there and we put them in here and this is what we get. They got beautiful houses and this is how they repay us,’ said Emily bitterly. She shook her head. The narrow terraces off Park Road were heavily festooned with red, white and blue bunting and Union Jacks hung from the metal brackets on the housefronts. Emily’s house flew no flag. ‘There’s a Union Jack in a box upstairs somewhere,’ she said. ‘But I don’t bother with it.
‘The carpet factory out on the road there used to be called Castleisland factory,’ she said. I asked if her family had worked there. ‘Oh no, we never worked in any factory,’ she said, indignantly. ‘My father was a tradesman, and my sisters worked in shops. I had brothers in the armed forces and any amount of relations fought in the wars. Another sister gave blood. She gave so much blood in the wartime that she got meningitis. I’ve three brothers under the soil.’ She spoke with bitter pride. Her family had worked hard, and given their all for their country. And it had come to this. She was full of disgust. ‘What do these people want? They’ve all the pubs in the town only two, all the bookies, and they’re working as doctors and solicitors and I don’t know what else. There’s a lot of them in Wellworth’s and the post office. What more do they want? I know Protestant boys and girls have got good education and they’re working in that carpet factory. What more do the Catholics want?
‘My nieces and nephews wouldn’t live here. They’ve moved away to Australia.’ She proudly named the professions her family had gone into. She was annoyed about the state of the old streets around her, and blamed local landlords for letting the area go downhill. ‘There was never a Catholic till now in the houses round here. Now they are putting every Tom, Dick and Harry in. This area is not what it used to be. There are people living here who are not married and they have families.’
The army barrier on Park Road and the fortifications at the far end of the Garvaghy Road meant that Emily was effectively barricaded in with the nationalists. ‘I used to go to Drumcree church,’ she said. ‘If I had my way, I’d burn every one of those tricolours down. If they are nationalists, they shouldn’t be here taking our British money. Let them go to the Free State if that’s what they want. I have had every window in the house broken. On Monday and Tuesday you couldn’t get into the post office for prams and there they are, getting their children’s allowance. Oh well. I never go out, anyway. Except to go to Woolworth’s for books. I love books.’ She showed me a stack of romantic novels in her hall. The houses in the area were regularly vandalised by nationalist youths, and in the evenings elderly residents could be seen hoisting metal shutters onto windows, locking themselves into potential firetraps.
‘My aunt was a nurse. She was in every house in that Tunnel and every one of them had thirteen or fourteen children. It’s their offspring now who are causing all this bother. I know all about them. I could tell you more, but I won’t. I’m keeping it to myself. Gerry Adams’ - she spat out the Sinn Féin leader’s name - ‘I have to laugh at them. This was only an island with nothing on it. It was the Norwegians came here first because we are quite close to Norway. They came here. There is no such thing as an Irishman. We all intermarried years ago. If only they’d read their history books.’
There was a leaflet from the Orange Order on the hall table. It had been put through the letterbox that morning, said Emily. ‘There will be clear directions given shortly as to how you can meaningfully assist us,’ it read. ‘Do not listen to the propaganda or rumours. Maintain regular contact with leading members of the Orange institution.’ I asked Emily what she thought about Drumcree. ‘It’s a dreadful thing these men can’t get down from their place of worship,’ she said. ‘That’s why they are burning down these chapels.’
‘I REMEMBER THE ROSES...’
Armagh is known as the orchard county, and the apple orchards start on the edge of Portadown. Drumcree church has orchards behind it; wheat fields in front of it. Local history has it that just before the Battle of the Boyne, William, Prince of Orange, sent his cider maker, Paul le Harpur, to the town to produce cider for his army. However, the Armagh apples are ‘cookers’. A farmer told me they are not suitable for cider. Too bitter. Nineteen ninety-eight was a bad year, the farmer said. Most of the harvest was lost. Frost in May, and a cold north wind.
Out in the apple orchards a few miles from Portadown, Hilda Winter runs a ramshackle museum dedicated to the history of Orangeism, in this, its source and heartland. Her ancestor, Dan Winter, also known as ‘Orange Dan’, was one of those who fought at the Battle of the Diamond. The Diamond field was across the farmyard from the thatched cottage which Hilda claimed was the place where the Order was formed in 1795. A big tall woman who strode about in wellingtons, Hilda made tea and threw long branches onto the wide, cottage hearth, before sitting down to talk. She had two sons. One voted for the Belfast Agreement, the other against it.
‘We want to live in peace with our neighbours,’ she said. ‘I was of the belief that when we had this agreement the Roman Catholics would accept our parades and our culture. I can’t understand them, the hatred they have of the Orangemen. They would need to look into themselves to find out what has got into them to hate people. Is it a Sinn Féin push to goad the Protestant people into a civil war?
‘I’d like to think people would be sensible. We have a lovely country. A dead man is no good. I was just reading there about the twelve tribes of Israel. Some of them rebelled, but you have got to get together and respect one the other. I don’t see the parades as triumphalist. Lord save us, look at the reception Gerry Adams gave the murderers coming up to the referendum. That was a sword turned in everybody’s heart in the Protestant community. Now, we had to accept that and forget about it and go and vote. Surely the ones on the Garvaghy Road should forget Trimble lifting Paisley’s hand ...‘ said Hilda. In 1995 Trimble and Paisley had stepped through the centre of Portadown holding hands in triumph after a violent five-day standoff which ended with the RUC allowing the Drumcree parade to go ahead. Despite the involvement of the Mediation Network and other intermediaries, Trimble insisted there had been no negotiation. The traditional route had been ceded, that was all.
‘Why should the Orangemen bend the knee and beg to do something they’ve done for two hundred years?’ demanded Hilda. ‘To bend the knee’ meant to talk, negotiate, compromise. Orangemen vowed they would not do it. ‘Soon it will be that every parade that passes a Catholic house will be stopped. I heard on a programme the other night a lady from Londonderry and she actually shuddered at the idea of standing at the war memorial. Now, she had two uncles who had fought, one of them a Protestant lost an arm and the other a Catholic was killed. Yet she shuddered at the thought of standing for the Queen at the memorial. Why should she? John Hume’s uncle fought at the Somme. Some of those ones on the Garvaghy Road, their own ancestors probably fought there too. They should recognise it. That parade from Drumcree is to commemorate the Somme.’
The cottage was damp. Books were disintegrating on the shelves, pictures had mildew creeping under their frames, and guns and swords were rusting. Mrs Winter did her best, but said the rats had already got some of the stuff in the attic. She had found weapons in the thatch from several eras. In the corner of a tiny bedroom was a UVF helmet, a B man’s hat, while on the iron bed lay folded garments made from flour bags. A few years ago there was a grant won and lost because of a dispute in the family over which of the Winters’ cottages was the right one to restore. This was still the subject of vehement correspondence in the Orange Standard.
Faith was the heart of it, said Mrs Winter. Saint Patrick had brought Protestantism to pagan Ireland. Later the Bible had been published in English but not in Irish, so the Protestants had supported King William because they understood the ‘simple faith’ for which he was fighting, whereas the Gaelic-speaking Catholics did not, she said. A hundred years after the Battle of the Boyne, the Protestant faith had again come under threat. ‘Again men stood up for their simple faith,’ she said. She struck her hand against her heart. ‘Your faith. Men died for the Bible. When I was young the big family Bible stood in the parlour open. I read that the Bible gave liberty to the poor. It’s in the qualifications of an Orangeman that they read the Bible. The bibles nowadays is lying gathering dust.’
The ‘qualifications’ require that an Orangeman should ‘cultivate truth and justice ... obedience to the laws; his deportment must be gentle and compassionate ... he should honour and diligently study the holy scriptures ... abstain from all cursing and profane language’. He should, above all, be a Protestant ‘never in any way connected with the Church of Rome’ whose ‘fatal errors’ he should ‘strenuously oppose’, while ‘abstaining from all uncharitable words, actions or sentiments’ towards Catholics.
‘The first Orange parade took place in Lurgan in 1796,’ said Mrs Winter. ‘It was like a big picnic. Joyous. The Order kept men from going out and committing crime, shooting. Orangemen wouldn’t do that sort of thing. Harold Gracey said, "Remember, men, you are wearing your collars." Any trouble at Drumcree, it is outsiders. I don’t agree with Billy Wright being there. He was not an Orangeman. The Orangemen stood shoulder to shoulder to keep the roughnecks from attacking the police. Mind you, I could be saying a wrong thing to call Billy Wright rough. At our Bible study group one night there was an Orangeman and he was at Drumcree and he said that Paisley had said something that ignited the crowd and it was Billy Wright came down and calmed the roughnecks down. He had great control over the roughnecks.
‘Then again, I have heard people say that the loyalists only did what a lot of other Protestants hadn’t the guts to do. Murder is murder. But if anyone took Gerry Adams’s life, would any of us shed a tear? We are hypocrites, I suppose. The Unionist Party should be more like the Orange, and go forward with one spake. Look at the way the RCs can all back each other. What does it say in the Bible? If you are not for me, you are against me.’ Mrs Winter’s talk ranged across the centuries, as if she had been at the joyous picnic in 1796, as well as at the Bible study group with the man who watched Billy Wright in 1996. ‘Roughneck’ seemed a good word for the crowds at Drumcree.
She said the Order had helped put down the 1798 rebellion and that in 1914 Orangemen had fought for their country. ‘It was never against your Roman Catholic neighbour. This terrible hatred has only come from 1969 when this trouble started. Before that, it was great.
‘I remember after the war all the schoolchildren got flowers to celebrate and we went out and sat in the fields where the Garvaghy Road is now. Another thing about those houses, there was a lot of houses in the town, two-up, two-down and an outside toilet. A builder campaigned to get good houses built. He encouraged the council to buy the land off Sam McGredy, the rose man, who had his rose gardens there. The builder built a house for himself there too. He was tied to his chair and burnt. Now. That is what the downtrodden minority did to him when they got their houses.’ The builder Mrs Winter was referring to was the late Alderman William Wright, who had been a UUP mayor of Portadown and chairman of the Borough Council. He had campaigned to get the estates built and had built two big houses for his family at the same time. He and his family had survived the fire. Mrs Winter shook her head with disgust. ‘That was the thanks he got,’ she said. ‘It is all Catholics there now. But however.’ She sighed. ‘I remember the roses.’
‘A PROBLEM WHICH DID NOT REALLY EXIST’
Portadown loyalists were fond of remembering the roses. There was ‘never any trouble’ about parades until Breandán Mac Cionnaith turned up. Their conviction that Sinn Féin was behind the strategy of opposing parades was confirmed when Radio Telefis Eireann (RTÉ) revealed that Gerry Adams, speaking at a private Sinn Féin meeting in 1995, had commended the work of Sinn Féin activists in residents’ groups. Certainly, Mac Cionnaith’s background could hardly have been more provocative. He had been jailed for his part in blowing up the British Legion hall in Portadown.
However, the history of Orange parades in Portadown has been anything but peaceful. The town was planted with British settlers by James I in 1610. During the 1641 rising, local chieftain Manus Roe O’Cahan drove eighty Protestants - men, women and children - into the River Bann, ‘and there instantly and most barbarously drowned the most of them. And those that could not swim and came to the shore they knocked on the head, and so after drowned them, or else shot them to death in the water’ (quoted in Bardon, p. 138). In 1646 the town was burned by the Irish. In 1657 it was occupied by Cromwell.
In 1741 the canal was opened, and Portadown became a prosperous linen centre. Among the peasants and weavers of County Armagh, sectarian violence was rife, with Protestant Peep o’ Day boys clashing with Catholic Defenders, in part over competition for land to rent, and for work. The Protestants were better armed. Catholics were not allowed guns, under the remnants of the Penal Laws, and some records show Protestant gentry lending arms to Catholics to protect them from ‘these fanatick madmen’, described by Lord Gosford as ‘a low set of fellows’.
The gentry smelt rebellion. The constabulary was ‘a jest rather than a terror to evil doers,’ wrote Colonel William Blacker of the situation prevailing in Portadown in 1795 (quoted in the Portadown Times, 18 July 1969). Blacker, a local squire, set about remedying this ‘dastardly state of affairs’, helping ‘our side’ to make bullets from the lead on the roof of his house. He relied upon the Bleary Boys, who were, by his own account, ‘stout Protestants of a character somewhat lawless’. In the crucial matter of loyalty, however, they could not be outdone.
The Battle of the Boyne was first commemorated at Drumcree in 1795, when a Reverend Devine of the Established Church preached what seems to have been a strong sermon, after which his congregation ‘gave full scope to the antipapistical zeal with which he had inspired them, falling upon every Catholic they met, beating and bruising them without provocation or distinction, breaking the doors and windows of their houses and actually murdering two Catholics in a bog’ (Francis Plowden, quoted in 200 Years in the Orange Citadel, p. 4).
Blacker witnessed the Battle of the Diamond, and he was one of the first of the gentry to join the new Orange Order. ‘A determination was expressed of driving from this quarter of the county the entire of its Roman Catholic population ... A written notice was thrown into or posted upon the door of a house warning the inmates, in the words of Oliver Cromwell, to betake themselves "to hell or to Connaught",’ he wrote (Bardon, p. 226). Potential informers about the activities of the Orangemen were warned to desist. Otherwise, to quote one threatening letter from the time, ‘I will blow your soul to the Low hils of hell And Burn the House you are in’ (Bardon, p. 226). Bardon notes that looms and webs were destroyed along with houses, reducing competition during a slump in the linen industry, and driving seven thousand Catholics out of County Armagh in a two-month period.
Lord Gosford, who declared himself ‘as true a Protestant as any in this room’, berated local magistrates for failing to uphold the law by dealing with the ‘lawless banditi’, as he dubbed the Orangemen, who were persecuting those whose only crime was to be Catholic. When the yeomanry were formed in 1796 to put down the United Irish movement, Orangemen from the Portadown area were among the first to join. Historian A.T.Q. Stewart has noted that United Irish societies ‘did not flourish in areas where Protestants had been massacred in 1641’.
There was also the ambivalent relationship between the gentry and the likes of the Bleary Boys. David Jones, the Portadown spokesman for the Orange Order, is one of the authors of a commemorative history of Orangeism in the area. He wrote that the Order depended on the support of the gentry, which had education and expertise, and, crucially, ‘considerable influence ... with the authorities’ and ‘considerable power to influence and encourage the tenants on their estates to follow in their footsteps and join the Order’ (Jones, et al, p. 3).
Irish Patriot leader Henry Grattan took a less benign view, deploring the fact that clergy were also part of this alliance. In the House of Commons in 1805 he referred to those who stirred up panic, so that ‘then walk forth the men of blood’, leading to ‘atrocities which he dare not commit in his own name’ (200 Years in the Orange Citadel, p. 7). Throughout the nineteenth century, attempts to ban the Orange Order were defied in Portadown. In answer to a request to make local Orangemen obey the law, Colonel Blacker replied: ‘It was a law made by the Whigs and they had made many laws as well as it, which ought not to be obeyed’ (quoted in Wright, 1996, p. 55).
In 1832 Orangemen defied the new Party Processions Act by marching along ‘the Walk’ (now the Garvaghy Road) to Drumcree. A parliamentary select committee of 1835 found that ‘the obvious tendency and effect of the Orange society is ... exciting one portion of the people against another ... to excite to breaches of the peace and bloodshed’ (200 Years in the Orange Citadel, p. 19).
Armagh magistrate William Hancock, a Protestant, told the committee that, ‘For some time past the peaceable inhabitants of the parish of Drumcree have been insulted and outraged by large bodies of Orangemen parading the highways, playing party tunes, firing shots and using the most opprobrious epithets they could invent.’ He added that the Orangemen had gone ‘a considerable distance out of their way to pass a Catholic chapel on their march to Drumcree church (200 Years in the Orange Citadel, p. 17).
A further Royal Commission after riots in Belfast in 1857 found that the ‘Orange system’ and its celebrations led to ‘violence, outrage, religious animosities, hatred between the classes and too often bloodshed and loss of life’ (200 Years in the Orange Citadel, p. 21). Jones and his co-authors took these findings in their stride, claiming that ‘nothing, of course, could have been further from the truth. The Orangemen were not out to provoke anyone, but rather to enjoy and celebrate their distinctive culture and heritage. Roman Catholics had often attended these parades and had not been offended by them. It was once again a heavy handed approach to a problem which did not really exist’ (Jones, et al, p. 21).
In 1863 the vehement Orange MP Sir William Verner was decrying the failure of ‘our so-called liberal rulers’ to ‘attach the popish faction to the throne or make them respect the law. The times are too perilous and the conspiracy too active for us to remain silent for, as our would be Parliamentary leaders say, "the sake of peace".’ He warned that ‘unless Protestants remain in an attitude of watchfulness, many Diamonds will have to be fought ere treason is trampled out of the land and they are permitted to enjoy the freedom and protection a Protestant paternal government should secure to them’ (quoted in the Ulster Gazette and Armagh Standard, 7 August 1942).
In 1873 Orangemen marched through the Tunnel. According to an account in the Portadown News, when they were en route they hoped ‘that the inhabitants of this unenviably notorious locality would manifest for once a forbearance peculiarly foreign to their training and inculcations’. However, they were attacked in a most ‘dastardly and despicably sneakish’ way. Crockery and stones were thrown ‘with a violence ... perfectly compatible with the skulking poltroonery that dictated such a plan for waylaying a number of peaceable men whose only crime was that they were Protestants and loyal subjects’ (Jones, et al, p. 24). When, later that year, the police cordoned off the Tunnel to prevent an Orange parade passing that way, an ‘indignation meeting’ was called at the town hall. The ‘sacred right’ to march was proclaimed, and Portadown was described as ‘a Protestant town’. The Portadown News declared that it was a ‘simple struggle for freedom’. The local Orange gentry opposed the banning of parades, claiming it diminished its ability to exercise ‘wholesome’ influence.
In 1881 Michael Davitt told a Land League meeting at Loughgall, County Armagh, that the landlords of Ireland ‘are all of one religion -their god is mammon and rack-rents, and evictions their only morality, while the toilers in the fields, whether Orangemen, Catholics, Presbyterians or Methodists, are the victims’ (quoted in For God and Ulster, p. 21). The Grand Lodge moved quickly, denouncing the league as a conspiracy against property rights, Protestantism, civil and religious liberty and the British constitution.
Portadown Orangemen traditionally drape a sash over the statue of Colonel Edward Saunderson in Portadown’s town centre every Twelfth of July. Saunderson was the Unionist MP for North Armagh during the home rule crises. During a Westminster debate of the 1893 bill, he stated that ‘Home Rule may pass this house, but it will never pass the bridge at Portadown’ (Jones, et al, p. 30).
Colonel Stewart Blacker, a descendant of the Orange founder, was given responsibility for raising the illegal anti-home rule Ulster Volunteer Force in 1912. Mrs Winter showed me a photograph of her husband’s father, Robert Winter, in the ranks of the UVF in front of Ardress House in County Armagh, presided over by Captain Charles Ensor, the landlord. Ensor would subsequently lead his force, many of them local Orangemen, to the Battle of the Somme, where he was injured and four hundred Portadown men were killed. Jones recorded that many of the Orangemen went ‘over the top’ with their sashes on.
The current editor of the Portadown Times, David Armstrong, showed me a framed scroll in his office, listing the ‘names of the fallen’ in the First World War. ‘That is a great commentary on Portadown,’ he said. He pointed to names which were obviously Catholic. ‘Look, Trooper Thomas Lavelle from Obins Street - the poppy wasn’t a political symbol to him, or to Private Patrick McVeigh of the Tunnel or Private Francis McCann. In 1914 these people paraded down to the railway station in Portadown never to be seen again. But Catholics wouldn’t be seen now at the war memorial.’
Mrs Winter had letters about the distribution of guns to UVF men, and a framed letter from the Unionist prime minister, James Craig, about the Special Constabulary. Craig recorded his appreciation of ‘the splendid bearing and discipline’ of the men, and praised ‘the loyal spirit animating the ranks’. The government of Northern Ireland, he wrote, ‘thoroughly understands its indebtedness to the constabulary forces’.
I drove out to Ardress one day, wondering if they would have other photographs. The big farmhouse, aggrandised in 1760 by the addition of a façade and fine interior plasterwork, is run by the National Trust. No sign of Captain Ensor with the UVF, nor for that matter of the B Specials, even though he was known as ‘the father of the force’. I asked the administrator. He said he’d have a look in the attic. There they were, in their dusty frames. He got them down. Captain Ensor with the troops. The administrator said the trust felt it best not to display them. They might cause trouble.
In Belfast, I called to see Ethel Ensor, a descendant by marriage of the captain. She opened up a wooden chest full of old pictures and papers from Ardess. The family had continued to work for the security forces. Mrs Ensor’s late husband had been in the B Specials and the army, and her daughter was in the UDR. Mrs Ensor gave me tea with a plate of her home-made shortbread, gingerbread and cakes. When she saw me writing down the words of a song entitled ‘The Fenians’ Defeat at Loughgall, August 1873’, she said, ‘Isn’t that rather provocative?’
According to Jones, after partition, Portadown Orangemen rescued Protestants from south of the border, ‘victims of ethnic cleansing... whose only crime had been loyalty to the Crown and the Protestant religion’ (Jones, et al, p. 34). Sir John Lavery painted the Twelfth in the town in 1928, noting ‘the austere passion’ of the occasion. He remarked upon the drummers, ‘whose lives seemed to depend on the noise they were able to make ... their wrists bleeding and a look in the eye that boded ill for any interference’. The Victorian novelist Thackeray had, on his travels, noted a similarly defiant look in the eyes of the men of these parts.
All the MPs who set up what was to become the Ulster Unionist Party were Orangemen, and the Order became ‘a central organisational link in the unionist political machine’. All of the North’s prime ministers were Orangemen. It was Lord Graigavon who stated in 1934, ‘I am an Orangeman first and a politician and member of this parliament afterwards’ (Bardon, p. 539).
Jones described the years after the Second World War as the golden age of Orangeism in Portadown. The Order was regarded as ‘noble and honourable’ and to be a member ‘elevated a man in sight of his peers’ (Jones, et al, p. 42). In the late sixties the Unionist Party was attempting to join Lurgan and Portadown into a new city, named Craigavon by William Craig after the North’s first prime minister. It would be a predominantly Protestant city in the predominantly Protestant east. The then minister of development, Brian Faulkner, opened Craigavon’s first private housing development. ‘I would like to take this opportunity of dispelling the gloom of the "Dismal Johnnies" who have recently denied progress with the new city,’ he said. ‘We have put our hand to the plough and there is no question of our turning back’ (quoted in the Portadown Times, 11 July 1969). Twenty-five years later, whole estates in the failed city were being demolished. Craigavon did not prosper.
The so-called ‘Portadown parliament’ of twelve Unionist met in February 1969 and called on Prime Minister Terence O’Neill to resign. In the subsequent general election, Paisley came within a thousand votes of taking O’Neill’s seat.
In July 1969 the cinema in Banbridge was showing Kirk Douglas in The Brotherhood, while Lurgan had Carroll Baker in Custer of the West and Portadown had Dean Martin in Rough Night in Jericho and Marlon Brando in One Eyed Jacks. At Drumcree church the Reverend Dermot Griffith told the Orangemen that it was a time of great danger and that they should remember Colonel Blacker’s injunction to uphold Protestantism but to be ‘charitable to Roman Catholics’. He said many Catholics were horrified by the ‘communism of Bernadette Devlin’ but that Protestants needed to present a more attractive image to encourage them to support the state. The North’s battles were now being filmed for television, and speeches from the period refer to ‘the eyes of the world’. There was an awareness that what was being seen was ugly.
There has been sporadic trouble over marches in Portadown throughout the Troubles. After the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, in 1985, Jones claimed that since Orangeism represented the antithesis of republicanism, Portadown was chosen by the British to face down unionist opposition to ‘the diktat’. During the fierce riots that followed the decision to reroute a parade away from the Tunnel, a DUP spokesperson said, ‘loyalists should not feel ashamed of confronting policemen who bowed to the demands of Dublin’ (quoted in Jones, et al, p. 50). Enthusiastic Orangemen in full regalia overturned a police Land Rover, an incident discreetly explained by Jones. ‘The unfortunate incident of the overturned landrover occurred because in the midst of what was a highly volatile situation a policeman had stepped over the parameters of his professionalism by seeking to taunt Orangemen by use of a physically obscene gesture’ (Jones, et al, p. 53).
It was at this time that the idea of Portadown as the Orange mecca, the place where Protestantism in Northern Ireland would make its last stand, really began to flourish. In 1986, during rioting, the RUC fired plastic bullets and killed twenty-year-old Keith White, the first Protestant to be so killed. Loyalists attacked the homes of policemen and women, and borrowed slogans from republicans for their anti-RUC graffiti, including, ‘Join the RUC and come home to a real fire.’
Despite Orange claims in the nineties that Opposition to the parades down the Garvaghy Road had been whipped up by the IRA, it was SDLP leader John Hume who in 1986 objected to the rerouting of parades from Obins Street and the Tunnel down the road. He said it represented capitulation by the authorities to Orange bullying, since the Garvaghy Road was predominantly Catholic. The reroutings went ahead, setting the stage for the first ‘siege at Drumcree’ in 1995. ‘We will die if necessary rather than surrender,’ boomed Paisley with his usual afflatus. ‘If we don’t win this battle, all is lost. It is a matter of Ulster or Irish Republic. It is a matter of freedom or slavery.’ Trimble’s staunch performance that year reasserted his radical roots in the hardline Vanguard movement, and played a big part in his winning of the UUP leadership.
In 1996 Billy Wright’s gang, defying orders from the UVF leadership in Belfast to keep away from Drumcree, murdered Michael McGoldrick at Aghalee (see p. 4). They also managed to bring a muck-spreader full of petrol, an armour-plated digger and other home-made weaponry to the church - unhindered, it seemed, by the loyal Orders. Spokesmen for the Order continued to speak of dignified and peaceful protest.
Wright was frequently to be seen at Drumcree with Portadown’s Orange district grand master, Harold Gracey. Ruth Dudley Edwards’s sentimental and blinkered account of the Order, The Faithful Tribe, has its revealing moments. She quotes an Orange friend who told her bitterly, ‘Billy Wright has filled the vacuum that is Harold’s head’ (Edwards, p. 343).
British journalist Peter Taylor noted that Trimble and Wnght had a meeting during this crisis (Taylor, 1999, p. 240). Trimble said his aim was to try to stop Wright - but in an interview with the Sunday Tribune on 28 July 1996, he said he had told the secretary of state what the paramilitary leader was threatening. Trimble remarked that it was shortly after this that the banned parade was pushed through the Garvaghy Road. The parade was again pushed through m 1997. The chief constable, Ronnie Flanagan, said he believed that, otherwise, loyalists would kill Catholics. They did so anyway. Before the month was out Bernadette Martin and James Morgan were dead. When it came to matters of life and death at Drumcree, death seemed to be dealt to Catholics.
Orange historians claim that Portadown has ‘almost a sacred status’ for loyalists. The Order has made a series of videos about Drumcree.
On one of them, Gracey described the siege at Drumcree as the siege of Ulster. ‘For twenty-seven years the bomb and the bullet have tried to destroy us, but now the tactics have changed. It is about the right of our community to exist.’ He said the Order would not yield to the Irish government or to Jesuit priests. The Church of Ireland rector at Drumcree, the Reverend John Pickering, spoke of ‘a great sense of God’s presence’ among the Orangemen there.
The Order refused to meet the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition. ‘As a matter of principle, we cannot be involved in talks with convicted terrorists because of what they have inflicted on our community,’ wrote County Grand Master Denis Watson and County Grand Chaplain William Bingham in an open letter of 1997. If the ‘community’ was taken to mean the whole population of Northern Ireland, there was a breathtaking hypocrisy about this position, for the Order, while it condemned violence, appeared quite comfortable with loyalist killers like Wright. Jones approvingly quoted the mid-Ulster UVF analysis of Drumcree in his book. Orange leaders were to be seen in close conversation with Pastor Kenny McClinton, who had murdered twice for the UDA, during rallies.
Sometimes, Orange leaders and Unionist politicians have said that they can talk to former loyalist paramilitaries because of the expression of ‘abject and true remorse’ in the loyalist ceasefire statement of 1994. However, Wright had rejected the ceasefire. Norman Coopey, one of those who brutally murdered young James Morgan in the poisonous summer of 1997, was a member of the Order, and no action has apparently been taken against him by the Order. The issue was highlighted in a cartoon by Ian Knox in the Irish News on 10 July 1998. One Orangeman says to another, ‘There’s no comparison between McClinton and Mac Cionnaith!’ The other responds, ‘You mean Mac Cionnaith never repented?’ ‘No,’ says the first. ‘He never murdered anyone.'
It was Gusty Spence who delivered the loyalist ceasefire statement in 1994. Back in 1967, after Spence had carried out one of the first sectarian murders in the recent Troubles and was in Crumlin Road jail, the Orange lodge to which he belonged stopped the Twelfth of July parade outside the prison in tribute to him. Spence was also in the Black preceptory and the Apprentice Boys. There are lodges in Belfast which commemorate on their banners members of the Shankill Butchers. But the Order’s position is not hypocritical. It is brazenly consistent with its sectarianism. An exclusively Protestant organisation, it is solely interested in what has been inflicted on the community it regards as its own. Catholics are not part of that community.
‘ORDINARY RESPECTABLE PEOPLE’
Respectability was the key to Orangeism, according to Malcolm, a tall, amiable-looking businessman. ‘Respectable means law abiding, not wanting to be in dispute with your neighbour,’ he said. I met him before the 1998 parade, and he had invited me to his home to talk. He lived in a fine big house surrounded by well-kept gardens. He was sorry he couldn’t offer any hospitality, his wife was away. His father was in the Order, and his father before him. He was also in the Masons and was an active member of the Methodist Church, which was once the predominant Church in Portadown. The family had a tradition of involvement in the UUP.
Malcolm described himself as ‘an ordinary, decent - dare I say it? -middle-class, respectable person’. He expressed mixed feelings about Drumcree. ‘I don’t even know if I’ll go to the service this year. Indeed, I’ll likely just go and play golf,’ he said. He glanced at up at a framed photograph on the wall. It showed an aerial view of a bungalow in a mountainy place, overlooking a beach. ‘We won’t stick around. We’ll probably head for Donegal.’
However, he supported the right to march. ‘It is said, "Why doesn’t the Order take the high moral ground?" It did so last year and what did they get in reciprocation? Look at who they send to speak to us, a convicted terrorist who carried out an atrocity.’ He was referring to the Order’s decision in 1996 to relinquish its demand to parade in Belfast and Derry on 12 July. Malcolm continued: ‘They still hark on about 1995 and the "triumphalism" of Paisley and Trimble. In reality, it was at the end of the parade and everyone was just so relieved. The Ulster people don’t like fighting. They like to work hard. These two men just wanted to get together and say thanks.’
I asked him about the role of paramilitary leader Billy Wright and his cohorts at Drumcree. He shook his head. ‘Terrible people. Of course, you can say nothing about them. You’d be afraid.’ He whispered one last word: ‘Vicious.’ For the same reason he did not want his real name used, or details of his family history. Here it was again, the refusal by middle-class Protestants to express moderate views, and the claim that it was the cause of fear as to how Protestant extremists might repay their treachery.
They had other fears. Malcolm said he felt he could speak for the silent majority. ‘This is their great fear, the erosion of assets they and their ancestors have worked hard for. They have paid their taxes. Lawbreakers should have been dealt with in a manner which wouldn’t have festered in the way it has. They could have nipped it in the bud.’ How? I asked. ‘I can’t answer that,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t in the security forces.’ This was one of the most widely held opinions among the Protestants. That there was a rising in 1968, a rising in a tradition of risings, and that the armed forces should have put it down, and defeated the enemy, once and for all.
‘The majority of Portadown Protestant people are similar to Protestant people all over Ulster. They want to live quietly in a respectable - dare I say? - Christian, no, they want to live as respectable citizens. They are aware that they are British and they want to keep it that way. We could turn the other cheek and we have done so many times.’ He characterised the Protestants as ‘hardworking people in jobs with their wives out working too. And young people starting on the ladder. Ordinary, respectable people.’ Malcolm supported David Trimble and had voted for the Belfast Agreement. ‘He is the leader of unionism and at least he is having a go. But there are things we don’t like in the agreement and we need the genuine hand of friendship from the other side, not this intransigence.
‘In this town, it is the Garvaghy Road that is the problem, not Drumcree. With regard to Portadown, people got on well and to some degree still do. People will tell you about times not long ago when they could walk freely down the Garvaghy Road. Portadown Rugby Club used to play behind Woodside Hill. It used to be a favourite walk on a Sunday afternoon. Sam McGredy’s rose gardens were along there. It is foreign and upsetting now.’ The roses again. ‘Both sides do enjoy different privileges within the town. Life goes on. People commute along the Garvaghy Road, and the Brownstown Road, which would be loyalist. There are Catholic churches in the town and there is no problem. Unfortunately, we had that awful incident with the young fellow Hamill ...'
In April 1997 Robert Hamill and friends were walking home from a club when they were set upon by youths. Robert Hamill was kicked in the head while his attackers shouted, ‘Die, fenian, die.’ He later died of his injuries. An RUC Land Rover was parked at the top of the street. Hamill’s friends said that the police inside it sat and watched the attack. The RUC issued conflicting press statements about the incident, claiming they had done what they could. I asked Malcolm what he thought had happened on the night of Robert Hamill’s murder: ‘I don’t know. I was in bed asleep,’ he replied.
‘Business is enjoyed by people from both communities,’ he went on. ‘There are professional people from the Reformed faith and the Roman Catholic faith in business and professional life in this town. There are good Roman Catholic people who enjoy good relations with Protestants. The Drumcree business hasn’t been good for Portadown. Both communities want it over so they can get on with business.’ He added that the anger and resentment felt about the bombing of the town by republicans in February 1998 was exacerbated because of delays in the payment of compensation. The town centre was badly damaged in the blast. The bomb was one of a number which were placed in predominantly Protestant towns by the breakaway Continuity IRA.
‘Protestant people feel a lot has been conceded to the Roman Catholics. The Fair Employment Commission has come in and virtually dictated who you employ. With regard to parades, eight or nine have already been conceded. The new administration is a concession of Unionist rule. Protestant people feel alienated. They have nothing left to give.’ This sentiment, that Protestants had passively responded to nationalist aggression by conceding and giving until they could give no more, was ubiquitous. Young middle-class Protestants were leaving Northern Ireland and not coming back, Malcolm said. His own children included.
'GIVE THEM GRACE'
The night before the 1998 Drumcree parade the Orange Order held a press conference at its hall in Carleton Street. Reporters were made to queue up for special press passes. ‘It’s for to make sure you can get access,’ said press officer David Jones. There were mutterings in the press pack as to why National Union of Journalists (NUJ) passes would not suffice. But we queued none the less, knowing that the argument that NUJ cards were recognised by British, Irish and international authorities would cut no ice with an Orangeman who had a mind to block your way. By the time I got to the desk they had run out. ‘Sorry dear.’
The Order is uncomfortable with journalists, its wariness tipping readily into hostility. In 1997 it decided this attitude was adversely affecting its image, and called a special press conference at Craigavon’s smart civic centre. Behind the platform, the Orangemen had propped up a banner showing the massacre of Protestants in the Bann at Portadown in 1641. The Order had laid on a buffet, a fine traditional spread such as might be enjoyed in Orange halls and marquees across the North on the Twelfth. There was something sorrowful about the way the gesture was made. As if the journalists were bad and ungrateful children being indulged by a pained but generous parent. But the women who served were smiling and gracious, proud of the spread, and the reporters and photographers cheerfully scoffed salad and lemon meringue pie and cakes with the ordinary opportunism of people caught in a place where decent food is hard to come by.
Now, a year later, we had been invited into the gloom of the Orange hall itself, with its portraits of the Queen and King Billy, and its ‘No segregation’ posters. The poster design was modelled on a road sign, showing a little Orange family with a bar through them. Mindful of the comparisons which were made between northern Protestants and the South African Boers, the Order had appropriated the anti-apartheid stance.
Jones, a small dark man in a suit, was a civil servant as well as the Order’s press officer. His father had been the caretaker of the hall so he had lived, as a child, in a fiat in its basement. He had sorrowful eyes, a lugubrious air, and a singsong voice. He told us that a statement would be read, and there were to be no questions. Denis Watson, sleek and prosperous-looking - an insurance executive before he became a politician - spoke of outrage, discredited quangos, iniquitous decisions, cultural apartheid and terrorist-controlled residents’ groups. Then Orange chaplain the Reverend William Bingham, his voice taut and strange, said, ‘Every year we hit a brick wall. Every year we hit Brendan McKenna.’ He said Mac Cionnaith had got everything he wanted and was holding Bingham’s community to ransom. The Order has persistently refused to accept that Mac Cionnaith, a local councillor since 1997, is the elected representative for his area, and has insisted that it has a right to demand that the nationalist community come up with a negotiator more acceptable to loyalists. Bingham concluded with an appeal to Orangemen ‘to act with dignity in a peaceful manner’ and to ‘follow the biblical prerogative - conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ’. We were left to the silence of ‘no questions allowed’. Above us the Saturday night dance was on, and ‘The Sash’ was being played roisterously on the accordion. It seemed people were dancing to it, stamping their feet on the floor.
On the Sunday the Orangemen massed on the hill, and surveyed the fortifications which had been erected to enforce the Parades Commission ruling. The road at the foot of the hill below the church was blocked by a double layer of concrete and steel, and there were barricades of barbed wire and double trenches stretching along the graveyard and across the fields. John was highly excited. I heard him say to a companion, ‘McKenna will get it. No doubt about it.’ The friend agreed. ‘Catholics won’t get into the town,’ he said. ‘They’ll be ambushed.’ Malcolm was at the church in his sash. He smiled a slight, nervous smile in my direction, as if abashed to be seen there, after saying he mightn’t bother.
They went to church, and then they paraded down the short hill to the barrier, where they stopped, rigid with indignation, chins up, shoulders back, chests puffed out almost to touch the barbed wire. The peculiarly distinctive stance known as ‘dignified’. Bending over backwards, but with no question of any bending of the knee. A commemorative video of Drumcree 1996 shows David Trimble in the stance, on the front line, his face inches from that of an RUC man blocking his way. In 1998 photographers scrambled under the coils of wire. Harold Gracey called forth an officer of the RUC to take from him a letter of protest. Nobody appeared from the fortifications. The Orangemen turned, and marched back up the hill again.
From the platform at the top of the hill, Imperial Grand Master Robert Saulters recounted how he’d been approached by a man who said he was meant to be flying out of Northern Ireland that night, but that if the Order wanted to close the airport, he didn’t mind. ‘I’ll abide by whatever you say,’ the man had said. Denis Watson described the scene as reminiscent of a war. ‘It reminds me of the Battle of the Somme,’ he said, ‘when many of our brethren died so that we could live in neighbourliness.’ Harold Gracey appealed for unity. ‘We are all one family,’ he said. ‘The only way we’ll win is by standing together.’ He assured the brethren that he knew for a fact that it was not the Portadown police who had decided there should be no one at the barrier to take a letter from the Order. The implication being that the Portadown police were loyal. Outsiders were to blame. The burger-and-chip vans started to roll in.
That night Paisley addressed a rally in the field below Hilda Winter’s cottage, the scene of the Battle of the Diamond. The field was surrounded by apple orchards. Paisley was the Big Man. Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church, leader of the DUP, and MEP, for whom Drumcree was a matter of life or death. Men in Sunday clothes drove their wives and children in big cars and jeeps into the field. They parked in lines, facing the trailer which was to be the platform, rolled down their windows and waited.
The trailer was hung with an Ulster flag and a Union Jack. Beside it stood a tall, oldish man wearing a grey stetson, a suit and a fluorescent vest with ‘Jesus Saves’ printed on it in big letters. ‘Hallelujah, praise the Lord,’ he began to call, offering tracts to the few souls who had ventured out of their cars. A group of men walked slowly past me. ‘Keep a cool head, Andy,’ said one. ‘Aye, or I’ll end up back where I started,’ Andy replied, smiling. Something was said about the UDA. ‘I can’t see them shooting at Drumcree,’ said one of the men. ‘They say the Scottish general said he wouldn’t fire on British citizens,’ said Andy. Someone mentioned civil war.
I recognised Andy, Andy Smith. I had interviewed him in Maghaberry prison in 1997. He was a former British soldier who had, while serving in the UDR, passed classified security information to the UFF, which murdered Loughlin Maginn at his home in County Down in 1989. The UFF claimed that the material Smith provided showed that Maginn was an IRA officer. His family denied this. Smith was convicted in 1992, became a born-again Christian in jail, and was released in 1997. He said he had left his past behind him. Hypocrisy about loyalist violence angered him. He told me that when he was out on parole, he had been approached by several RUC and RIR men who congratulated him on his crime. ‘At least you were able to do something for Ulster,’ they had said.
Smith was now a member of the Free Presbyterian Church. He invited me to join him on the field. The Reverend John Gray of Loughgall was on the platform. Smith said he knew him because he visited the prison. The Reverend Kenneth Elliott praised God for the ‘religious liberty which we still enjoy’, and prayed ‘the men may stand fast’ at Drumcree. ‘Give them grace and enablement,’ he prayed. ‘We pray that they may soon walk down that main arterial route into Portadown.’
A young woman, introduced as Sister Catherine Mitchell, sang in a strong, sweet voice. ‘There’s power in the blood, power in the blood... wonder-working power in the precious blood of the lamb.’ Andy nudged me. ‘There’s the doc,’ he said. Paisley, accompanied by young Paul Berry, the new DUP Assembly member for Newry and Armagh, mounted the trailer. Young Berry prayed ‘that we may stand for God and Ulster’. Then he sang, ‘It’s always darkest before the dawn.’ His voice too was sweet, like country tea. It was dusk. Midges and moths and daddy-longlegs flitted about the field. Elbows, which had been perched out of windows, were withdrawn. Paisley stood forward. ‘I’m delighted to be here this evening to celebrate the anniversary here in the famous battleground of the Diamond,’ he began. He raised his voice. ‘And of course the same battle has to be fought today as in the eighteenth century.’ The voice rose again. ‘The same enemy still would take our liberty. The same traitors are amongst us who would betray us and sell us out to popery.’ Popery was a shout full of contempt. He crushed the word as he uttered it, then let it fall to the ground. It was his thirty-third year to address this rally.
His preaching voice swung upwards. ‘We .have set over us a quango ...‘ he said, the new word hanging incongrously in the biblical cadence. He warned of great trouble if the men were not let down the road. He suggested that Stormont minister Adam Ingram should be given ‘another ride of the goat before he goes’. The reference was to an initiation ritual in the loyal Orders, described as ‘the most daunting of all the Orange ceremonies’ (Haddick-Flynn p. 437).
Then the thunder was back. There would be complete anarchy. We were living under a fascist administration. ‘Now they want to set the constabulary at the throats of the Protestant people,’ he roared. Mowlam was a republican; Blair was near enough a Catholic.
Paisley was screaming now. ‘You’d better let the Orangemen up the hill at Drumcree and down again. If you don’t, you’ll rue it. You’ll reap what you sow.’ His words hit the earth on the sloping orchards like missiles, their echoes springing back. It was the DUP’s favourite biblical threat. Paisley had warned Terence O’Neill in the sixties that he would reap the whirlwind. In 1997 the Reverend Willie McCrea had warned the voters of mid-Ulster that they would reap a bitter harvest, after they elected Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness to Westminster instead of him.
Paisley boomed on: Trimble would go, Mowlam would go, Blair would go. ‘But the Ulster people will not be going. We will still be here to fight the baffles and fly the flag ... What is the root of Ulster’s trouble? How did this province which was dreaded by its traditional enemies lose its strength? How was it robbed of its defiance? The blame lies in one place. The ecumenical movement. It was Milton who said, when God is going to destroy a nation for its sins it starts its leprosy in the churches.’ There were ‘papists’ and ‘apists’. Church of Ireland Archbishop Robin Eames was, he said, the latter. ‘If he loves Papa, he should go and join him,’ he sneered. ‘The ecumenical movement is out to tear the heart out of our Protestant faith ... the Bible says Rome is the mother of harlots and the abomination of the earth. The book says the Pope is the Antichrist,’ he boomed, and again the words ricocheted back from the hillsides. ‘I don’t believe any of these rascal priests. These paedophile priests are as rotten as hell itself.’
He spoke of the Protestant enclave at the end of the Garvaghy Road. They put it into the rebel area,’ he said. ‘They locked them up with the rebels ... Mr McKenna the IRA terrorist will have to be put in his place. It is time that terrorists realise that we as Protestants and law-abiding citizens will not stand for it. There will be a price to be paid.’ I looked at Andy. He was gazing at his leader, mesmerised. He turned to me smiling, whistled in admiration at the speech. ‘He’s good, isn’t he?’ he said.
There was more. Trimble had shaken the hand of Seamus Mallon, ‘the reviler of the UDR’. This was an insult to the memory of ‘those who gave their lives that Ulster might be free’. ‘There is a time of terrible need. There is a time of terrible catastrophe. There is a time of imminent disaster for our country,’ he roared. ‘But thank God’ - his voice sank to a theatrical whisper - ‘we can pray.’ He prayed that God would ‘cut out the cancer of ecumenism’ and ‘send us a great revival’.
In the silence of the field, swallows whistled and swooped. The Reverend Gray stepped forward. ‘Now we will all stand for the Queen,’ he said. There were sounds of car doors slamming as the people got out slowly for the anthem. Another minister urged the people to ‘go forth a band of prayer warriors’.
I walked down to the street preacher in the stetson and Jesus Saves vest. An elderly couple were standing with him. They had the look of people from another time, in old-fashioned Sunday clothes and hats, and the woman with her grey hair swept up in a bun. There was that feeling about the whole event. Despite the jeeps and the big modem cars, it seemed like an event that had taken place in some sort of time warp. The old people looked as if they were in a trance. ‘There is a conspiracy to take over the country,’ murmured the old man. ‘It’s a disaster.
The apocalyptic cast of mind, which flourishes at Drumcree, is fuelled by heavy doses of such fire-and-brimstone preaching. The message is essentially anti-historical - disaster is always imminent, and the rebels have always to be put down. We must look to our baleful God. In the fraught weeks leading up to Drumcree 1997 the Portadown Times published an article by the Reverend Gray, who wrote a regular ‘paper pulpit’ column. The article was a response to a contribution in early February from Father Eamon Stack, a young Jesuit priest who was then a leading figure in the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition. The Jesuits have run a community house in the area for many years. Stack’s article was headlined: ‘Jesuit cannot understand why Christians are divided’.
The Reverend Gray understood all too well. The Jesuits, he stated, had been formed with one explicit purpose: ‘to stamp out Bible-believing Protestantism’. He quoted from a document which he said was called ‘the Jesuitical oath’, and from another called ‘the Knights of Columbus Oath Fourth Degree’. The Jesuit swore that he would ‘wage relentless war, secretly and openly, against all heretics, Protestants and Masons ... to exterminate them from the face of the earth ... I will spare neither age, sex or condition, and that I will hang, burn, waste, boil, fry, strangle and bury alive these infamous heretics; rip up the stomachs and wombs of their women, and crush their infants’ heads against the walls in order to annihilate their execrable race ... I will secretly use the poisonous cup, the strangulation cord, the steel of the poniard, or the leaden bullet ...‘
I rang the Reverend Gray. I said I was writing a book. ‘Is it to blacken the name of Protestantism?’ he asked sternly. No, I said. It was not. It was to try to understand. He gave me directions to his home. ‘You’ll see a scriptural text at the bottom of the lane,’ he said. Ballymagerney Free Presbyterian church was a small, plain building in the middle of the orchards outside Loughgall, a few miles from Portadown.
The name of the village carried a potent charge. It was the site of Sloan’s parlour, where the Orange warrants were first handed out. The song I’d found in Ethel Ensor’s wooden box, ‘The Fenians’ Defeat at Loughgall’, was about how the crows at Drumilly were looking forward to feeding on the blood of ‘those rebly dogs, the fenian mobs’, a celebration of how the brave village boys determined that ‘no fenian crew’ would ever take Loughgall. It urged Protestants, ‘Be not beguiled by fenian smiles; be this the cry of all,/ No surrender, no home rule, long life to old Loughgall.’
The village was the scene of an ambush in 1987 when the SAS murdered an IRA gang on its way to bomb the RUC station. Nine men died including a passing motorist. Loyalists commemorated this event, described by republicans as a massacre, with victory songs. Tshirts celebrated the ‘SAS world tour’, which included Mogadishu and Gibraltar, along with places like Coagh and Carrickmore. Loughgall was presented as a score, 8-0, and held up by loyalists as an example of what the security forces could do if they ‘got their finger out’. The village was pretty, a winner of Best Kept Village awards, home to antique shops and hanging baskets of flowers.
The Reverend Gray was a craggy young man with black hair and bushy eyebrows, informal in his bedroom slippers. He said that Eamon Stack was one of the instigators of the trouble in Portadown, and had been sent there for that purpose. ‘Have the Jesuits suddenly changed? Look at the 1641 rebellion. The facts are that it was the RC Church and its priests who orchestrated it and sent out the rebels to murder innocent Protestants.'
Gray explained that the basic belief of evangelical Protestants was that Roman Catholicism was a ‘false religion’, which, among other things, promoted ‘Mary worship’, preaching that Christ’s mother was ‘born sinless and died a virgin, that she is the Queen of Heaven and that RCS can get to heaven through her’. He said the Bible contradicted this. ‘We say there is only one way. "Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the father but by me."’ He said, "He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber."’
I had listened to him preach in the little church, and wondered at the equanimity with which about fifty of his congregation got up and obediently left early after he said that only those who were saved could stay for the Lord’s table. This was communion. The rest were bound for hell and could not break bread with the saved. They had been banished, yet they seemed cheerful.
Gray told me that when God looked down at the earth he saw two types of people, the saved and the unsaved. Protestants needed to be saved as well as Roman Catholics. ‘But you see, that is where the Protestant has the privilege and maybe the advantage of coming into church and hearing the gospel preached to him, whereas the poor Roman Catholic doesn’t. He goes to chapel and he is taught his false religion and many of them never hear the truth.’ According to this version of things, the only hope for Catholics was to become Protestants.
He condemned ‘the Romeward trend’. ‘I believe many Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist ministers have turned away from what their forefathers believed. Their forefathers condemned the false religion of Rome.’ Free Presbyterians and other evangelical Protestants stressed that the Reformed Churches were all also based on theological ideas of Roman Catholicism as unscriptural.
Repentence was the way to be saved, and repentence came to the Reverend Gray when he was thirteen. His parents were Church of Ireland, but his grandmother had been saved at a mission barn at the Birches, a few miles from Portadown, by a preacher called Leonard Ravenhill. ‘Shortly after that, my grandfather was coming home in a drunken stupor. My grandmother and her friends were praying in a mission hall, and he walked in and they thought he was going to cause a row. But he was so much under conviction that he got down on his hands and knees and asked the Lord to forgive him and he got saved.’
His grandparents were a big influence on him. ‘I had a great fear of going to hell and being lost. I knew I was a sinner and needed to be saved. I went to the tent mission and the Lord spoke to me. The gospel says clearly that God sent his Son into the world to die on the cross and shed his blood and that if sinners yield to God and trust to Calvary, they will be saved.’
Despite the Portadown Times article, he was not, Gray said with a diffident air, particularly political. He did not preach politics. The editor had told him about complaints from Catholic readers about parts of his material, but he did not believe it. It wasn’t Catholics - it was priests, Gray said. ‘Well, there’s times you have to bring politics in. I did preach a sermon about why Christians should vote no in the agreement, but I was looking at it from a scriptural angle. That’s my responsibility as a preacher.’
He gave me a copy of this sermon. It described the Belfast Agreement as a surrender agreement to the IRA and the Dublin government ... deceptive and wicked ... a recipe for disaster’. There were three reasons to vote no. One, because the agreement gave a foreign government executive and law-making powers in Northern Ireland. Two, because it appeased terrorists, giving the IRA seats in government and dismantling the RUC: ‘The main function of a government is to punish evil and reward good, Romans 13:3-4.’ Three, because ‘there is going to be tolerance of sexual perversion ... this type of sexual activity is totally condemned in the Word of God. Sodomy is a sin - Leviticus 18:22, Deuteronomy 23:17-18.’ The sermon ended: ‘For a Christian to vote yes in this agreement means voting against God. Therefore a Christian must vote NO.’
He went to look for some books he said he’d lend me. I stood outside looking at the orchards. ‘The apples were destroyed by frost this year,’ he said. One book was called Catholic Terror in Ireland. Another, by Paisley, was called No Pope Here, the title printed in the style of a piece of graffiti. ‘Don’t mind the title,’ he smiled.
‘I’m just an ordinary person who potters about,’ said Lorraine, who ran her own business in Portadown. She was reserved with me initially, asking those hedging kind of questions familiar to all northerners, which are designed to find out ‘are you one of our own?’ I said I was from a Protestant family. She was evidently greatly relieved. ‘See that wee pup Brendan McKenna,’ she said. ‘I’m ready to go through the screen every time I see him. Jumped-up wee bastard with his wee wasp’s face. There he is sitting in one of those houses in Churchill Park surrounded by phones and wires and computers and if a sparrow flew past the window, he’d be on to some international observer about it. Us Prods are like big babies walking around with our nappies down to our knees beside these people.
‘We were in an expensive restaurant in Armagh the other night and we met this pair, and the first thing the man said to us was, "What are you?" Then he started on about Billy Wright and calling him a murderer and then it was all how much money they had, how much their car cost and how much they had sold a house for, and they had a flat in Dublin for the races. And, of course, dripping with Jacques Vert and gold jewellery. Jumped-up taigs. I was fit to be tied. Robert had to hold me back.’
I told her that I thought the Orangemen were uncomfortable with the female journalists. She was not surprised. The Orange Order, was, she said, very old-fashioned in its attitudes to women. Her late father would have disapproved of her, divorced, running her own business, speaking her mind. She agreed with me when I observed, mildly, that there were some rough Protestants about, and that some of them indeed seemed to be up at Drumcree. ‘Oh yes, there certainly are. And when a Prod is rough, he can be awesomely rough,’ she said.
‘But where would we be if it wasn’t for those people?’ she added. ‘It is them who are keeping the line really. The secretary of state and all the rest of them would be quite happy just to wash their hands of us. They aren’t going to pay attention to ordinary people like us. It is left to people like that, who probably don’t pay taxes, don’t pay their bills and maybe are of no fixed abode, and it’s them who are setting the agenda. I mean, look at Billy Wright. Some people say he was a psychopath, but he was intelligent, and at least he was our psychopath.
‘See these Garvaghy Road women, with their lank hair down round them ...‘ She dragged at her own hair and made an ugly, miserable face. ‘They are there shouting about the danger to their kids, when any decent mother would know not to bring her children within an owl’s hoot of the thing. And then they say they are under siege, but if you look into Dunnes any day of the week, it’s packed with them.’
Her partner, Robert, joined us. He said that things were better in the old days, when, if you went to the Twelfth, a Catholic neighbour would offer to do your milking for you and save your hay. ‘I don’t agree with burning chapels,’ he added. ‘Yes,’ said Lorraine, ‘but by the same token, Drumcree church has to be guarded 365 days a year. A thousand jobs there recently came into Portadown and not one of them went to a Protestant. Your name has to be Seamus or Eamon now. That Bob Cooper and his Fair Employment Agency was on TV and he was asked about that and he hummed and hawed and eventually he couldn’t deny it.’
She would not like it at all if any of her children wanted to marry a Catholic - ‘too messy’. She said they were ‘getting in everywhere’ now in Portadown. The tricolours extended further and further out from the Garvaghy Road every year. I mentioned big new houses which had been built near Drumcree church. ‘What are they?’ Lorraine asked her daughter. ‘Catholic,’ said the young woman, not taking her eyes off the television. ‘You see,’ said Lorraine.
'WAITING FOR ARMAGEDDON’
Things were getting nastier. A local journalist showed me a press release he had obtained. It was from someone claiming to represent the Portadown Action Command. It claimed that
As and from midnight on Friday 10th July 1998 any driver of any vehicle supplying any goods of any kind to the Gavaghy Road will be summarily executed.
This order also includes any driver of any vehicle supplying or maintaining services of any kind on the Garvaghy Road. Any such driver who chooses to disregard this order and proceeds onto the Garvaghy Road with a police or army escort would be well advised to keep such an escort with them for a very long time to come.
We in the PAC also give notice to Mr B. McKenna. It is a sad day when a convicted bomber can hold to ransom the good people of Portadown. You, Mr McKenna, have contaminated the ground on which you walk long enough. Your day is almost over. The PAC wishes to point out that it is in no way affiliated to the Orange Order but does share its view that any citizen should be free to walk any road anywhere at any time. END.
It was signed, ‘RJM, OC PAC’. A codeword was given, and would be used, the statement claimed, on further communications.
‘Ulster Scots’ was what it said on the woman’s placard. She had devised her own little parade within a parade, by pressing the button which controlled the pedestrian crossing in the town centre of Portadown. When the signal to cross flashed, she would march across the road, press the button on the other side, and march back again. A young policeman watched her, shaking his head in exasperation. ‘Flip sake,’ he muttered. I approached the woman. ‘I was just noticing your placard,’ I said. ‘Aye, Ulster Scots,’ she said belligerently. My pen was poised over my notebook, waiting. She stared. ‘What does that mean to you?’ I asked. ‘Ulster Scots,’ she said. ‘That’s my heritage.’ I wrote this down and waited. More silence. ‘Can you tell me a bit about it?’ I ventured. ‘It’s my heritage,’ she said. She pressed the button again and resumed her protest.
It was two days since the men had been stopped on the hill at Drumcree. The ‘womenfolk’ were parading in the town centre. Children in pushchairs waved flags and babies were wrapped in Union Jacks. ‘You are just waiting for Armageddon,’ said Connie Tedford, a young woman from the loyalist Rectory Park estate. ‘This town is totally divided. It is so fundamental to us, the right of our Orangemen to march. People are very angry and tense. All this talk about dialogue, dialogue. What is there to discuss?’ Her friend, Sandra Gamble, nodded. ‘There is so much bitterness in this town,’ she said. Her eyes, magnified behind big glasses, loomed out, glazed with the bitterness she described. Another young woman shouted at me. ‘We don’t get anything. Them ones gets it all. See if one of my young ones is sick, the doctor won’t come out. If one of theirs sneezes, the doctor’s out. The Housing Executive and everything. It’s McKenna. He rules with an iron fist.’
Many of the women came from big, working-class housing estates with little in the way of amenities. Even the children were taken up with the dispute at Drumcree. One day I saw little children playing in a garden. They had set up an arch made of sticks, and garden gnomes, painted red, white and blue, were parading through it. In the spring of 1997 I had met people involved in setting up a community house in one of the poorest estates. They were angry about the ‘appeasement’ of the IRA. They said they needed organisations like the LVF to protect them. The man who had brought me to the meeting said as he was leaving me at my car, ‘Don’t be landing me in any trouble now, over the LVF.’ I thought he meant I shouldn’t say that some of the people had said they supported its violence. It turned out he meant the opposite. ‘Make sure that’s clear,’ he said.
At the women’s demonstration, I met a man I’d spoken to before at Drumcree. He said he had been accused of withholding information on the murder of Adrian Lamph. He was cleared of any involvement in it. He said it had been a very frightening experience. Lamph, a young Catholic council worker whose family lived near the Garvaghy Road, was murdered in Portadown in April 1998. In the months that followed, Catholic binmen came under attack from loyalist youths throwing stones.
The parade did a circuit of the town centre. There were chants: ‘Mo must go.’ ‘Tony is a phoney.’ ‘McKenna won’t believe us - we’ll always walk Drumcree.’ They sang the first few lines of ‘The Sash’, then let it trail away. Someone started: ‘What do we want?’ ‘The right to march.’ ‘When?’ ‘Now.’ The women missed the rhythm of the original: ‘When do we want it? Now.’ Because of this, the chant didn't take hold.
We passed the Classic bar, from which Lavery had painted his Twelfth parade. Outside another bar, a woman pushing a baby in a buggy turned to her friend. ‘Isn’t it fenians owns that?’ she asked. ‘No, an ex-po1iceman,’ said her friend. The footpath on one side of the road was blocked by scaffolding - the damage done by the republican bomb was still evident. In front of us, three police Land Rovers swept to a halt, partially blocking the way. ‘Fucking black bastards,’ yelled a woman. ‘How durr you!’ ‘Youse are doing a great job in Portadown,’ shouted another with heavy sarcasm. ‘Youse’ll be on the brew next year anyway.’ She meant they’d be unemployed. Under the agreement a substantial downsizing of the RUC was anticipated. Beside me, Jim said quietly, ‘This is the way they treat British subjects.’ The handful of policemen who had got out of the Land Rovers seemed undecided about what they were to do. Several held batons, but did not use them. They did not block the footpath, so the parade simply moved sideways off the road, and resumed its route to St Mark’s church, at the centre of the town.
The marchers were furious. A middle-aged man in a belted raincoat over a suit stormed up to me. His face was scarlet with rage. ‘I witnessed the entire incident,’ he said in a refined accent, brandishing his furled umbrella. ‘The behaviour of the RUC would have been considered a disgrace if it happened in any totalitarian state in eastern Europe. The same police force protected an illegal Sinn Féin march in Belfast at the city hall. But here, they drew their batons! I suggest you print that.’ He stalked off.
The rage seemed disproportionate. The craving for victimhood. Righteous indignation gone hysterical. I had no doubt that this citizen had been entirely in approval when, during Drumcree 1997, the RUC drew their batons on nationalists who were protesting by sitting on the Garvaghy Road. In the early hours of Sunday morning, 6 July, the batons were put to use. Men and women from the RUC, wearing black flameproof riot gear including face masks, were lined up in double ranks with a solid line of Land Rovers forming a barrier right along the road. Solicitor Rosemary Nelson, inside the estate, demanded access to her clients on the road. She was ignored. The RUC created a sophisticated valve in their defences. The protesters were grabbed, beaten, lifted, carried through the first line of police, which then closed behind them. Then they were flung out through the second line. I had watched them land, bloody-headed and bruised. Ambulance personnel were attending to their wounds while the Orangemen passed down the road beyond the RUC lines, marching towards the thousands of loyalists who were lining the streets from Park Road to the town centre, ready to cheer their heroes home.
The 1998 decision to stop the march and, for the first time, to stick by that decision was, to the Drumcree supporters, a matter of betrayal and surrender. ‘I’m sixty years an Orangeman and I’m walking fifty-five years,’ said an elderly man. ‘Now there’s a dozen of these boys holding the entire country to ransom.’ Connie nodded. ‘McKenna has brought shame to this town,’ she said. ‘If they’d showed this much force dealing with the real enemy ... if they had put this much effort into defeating the IRA ...' ...‘
A young man of about twenty stood in a circle cleared by the incandescence of his anger. As he shouted, sparks of saliva flew from him so that he looked like a firework exploding. ‘They’re nothing but fucking animals them bastards on the Garvaghy Road,’ he roared. ‘If we are not down that road by Monday, we’ll wreck Drumcree and we’ll wreck the fucking peace process. If they don’t give us the Garvaghy Road, we’ll fucking take it by force. I’m telling you. You ain’t seen nothing yet.’ Then they sang, ‘The Lord is my shepherd’. The last time I had heard the beautiful psalm was at the funeral, in the summer of 1997, of James Morgan, murdered by an Orangeman.
‘IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN PROTESTANT AROUND HERE’
The young man spitting with rage and threatening mayhem was uncannily like Freddie, the ‘fuck politics’ character in the Gary Mitchell play As the Beast Sleeps. Mitchell had also written a radio play about Drumcree, in which two brothers, one an RUC man, the other an Orangeman, find themselves on opposite sides of the barbed wire during the standoff in 1996. It was a common enough situation in Portadown and at other marching flashpoints. Cheryl, a young farmer’s wife from the Portadown area, talked about it. She was from a family with long involvement in the security forces. When I rang her just before Drumcree in 1998 to say I was coming to Portadown, she urged me to stay away. ‘Oh flip, don’t come near this place,’ she said. It was dangerous. The Catholics had banners up on the Garvaghy Road saying, ‘No Protestants here’. She’d heard that, anyway. (It wasn’t true.) She was terrified, the way things were going. One lot was as bad as the other. ‘You’d be ashamed to be anything.’
She knew the strife Drumcree had caused in families. ‘There was one couple and the husband was in the police and his wife was in the reserve and he was beating into the Orange and she was on the other side getting held back. There were police studying the security videos with a view to making arrests and seeing their own relations. They feel they shouldn’t be made to go there. My brother is six foot seven and by the time he gets his helmet on, he stands out like the night. I ring him on his mobile and ask him where exactly he is and I bake. I bring them in tarts and scones and all to the Land Rover.'
As for the parade itself, she had a finely balanced view. ‘The way the Protestants go about it, they don’t deserve to go down, but the Catholics don’t have a right to stop them.’ Her house was on a hill, looking out over the pastures and orchards of her husband’s farm. It was bright and spotlessly clean, with a smell of fresh baking. ‘I couldn’t live without baking,’ she said, presenting a plate with apple pie and chocolate muffins. She worked at home while her husband worked the farm. ‘I get up about seven, get the kids to school for half eight, and when I get back I make James his breakfast. He has the milking done by then.
‘Then it’s the washing, the ironing, the dishes, the windows, the dusting and the cleaning. I make dinner at one, collect the kids, and make tea for six. During the afternoon James might send me a message to the vet’s to collect permits and things, or he might need me to chase calves or whatever.’ She had never thought of working outside of the home. ‘What’s the sense in having children if you are not there for them?’
Cheryl and James met at a youth group in Portadown in 1986. She was from a small town in another part of the North. ‘My father was in the security forces. The IRA blew up our house and loyalists tried to shoot Daddy. A lot of our family friends were shot and murdered. One man was helping Daddy in the house. He was to come back the next day and Mummy was baking tarts, but he never got back, he was killed. We used to offer our sweets to police and security people. We grew up with uniforms around us. I remember being caught up in bombs when I was about nine. We had to move from shop to shop and the shops kept exploding. It was the biggest bombing the town ever got.
She dreaded Drumcree every year. ‘There’s that many truck-headed Protestants around here. I honestly think they’d be disappointed if they get down this year. I go to a Catholic butcher in Portadown - he’s the best butcher by far. But you daren’t be seen going in to him at this time of year. You’d be liable to get a nail up the side of the car.’ She and James had stopped having anything to do with the Orange parades. ‘I remember as a child sitting at the side of the road on rugs, waving our wee flags. There are very few kids now.
‘James used to walk in the Orange. But it has turned into a drinking session now. They have a drink in the morning, a drink after the parade, and then they drink all night. I wouldn’t go near them. I like the Black on the Thirteenth of July in Bangor. It is straight as a die, white collars, white gloves, bowler hats. It is very dignified, everyone so clean-and-tidy-looking, walking up the main street. The pipe bands and accordion bands are fine, but as for the proud-to-be-a-Prod bibs, kick-the-Pope bands, "The Sash" and "The Billy Boys" ... no. No way.’ She voted against the Belfast Agreement. ‘I didn’t want Gerry Adams telling me what to do,’ she said. ‘If it wasn’t going to be Dublin rule, I’d have voted yes. Most people round here voted no.’
James came in for tea. He talked about the hard times farmers like him were facing, with the failed apple harvest, the aftermath of a TB outbreak, and of the only recently lifted ban on Ulster beef in the European Union because of BSE. They had thought of selling up and moving, but had not done so. One of the reasons, Cheryl explained frankly, was because they did not want to see their house fall into Catholic hands. ‘Everyone round here knows who is who,’ she said. ‘You’d be friendly, but you’d be careful.’ She said there were stories of one family of Catholic apple growers hiding explosives among the apples that were being exported to England. I asked her if it was true and she said she didn’t know. ‘This house was paid more for because there was a Catholic interested. My father-in-law bid more for it. James would want this house to stay in Protestant hands. We wouldn’t sell up because even if we sold it to a Protestant, they might sell it on to a Catholic.’ I asked her why they were so determined about this. ‘It’s just that it has always been Protestant around here,’ she said.
James employed casual labour in the apple orchards during harvest time. ‘We would have got Catholics pulling apples but they won’t come now,’ he said. In the past, though, he did employ them. He made an observation which seemed to puzzle him: ‘I’d rather Catholics as workers.’ Why? He shrugged. ‘They are more reliable. They are better workers.’
Religion was important to the couple. They were Baptists. ‘We are all saved. We go to church on Sunday morning and evening, and the children go to Sunday school,’ said Cheryl. ‘I feel that at the end of the day, God owns the future.’
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