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Portadown is the second largest town in County Armagh. It has an estimated population of 30,000 which is roughly two thirds unionist and one third nationalist. Portadown is situated on the River Bann, in the north of County Armagh. It is within of the Craigavon Borough Council area and the town of Craigavon is really a twin town or extension of Portadown.
Although the town can trace its origins to at least the 1600s, it was not until the Victorian era and the arrival of the railway that it became a major town. Portadown is known as “The Hub of the North”, the origin of this phrase coming from its central position in Northern Ireland and being a major railway junction in the past, where the Great Northern Railway (GNR) line.
Outside of Belfast and Derry, Portadown and Armagh in general suffered most from The Troubles. There is a long history of Catholic oppression in the north Armagh area and in particular Portadown. A huge amount of sectarian murders occurred in the during the 30-year span of The Troubles. This undoubtedly hindered progress commercially and industrially in the town and only now is peace beginning to bring an air of prosperity to the town. Portadown is located in an area known during The Troubles as the “murder triangle” because of the high number of killings carried out by paramilitary organisations.
The town is the site of an annual parade in July by an ex-serviceman’s lodge of the Orange Order, from St Mark’s Church in the town centre, where participants lay wreaths at the war memorial. Participants then marched to Drumcree Church (pictured above) through the mainly nationalist Obins. The residents objected to the march, claiming it to be triumphalist and arguing that it marked them as second-class citizens. The parade was rerouted in the mid 1980 s through the then lesser populated but nearby area of Garvaghy Road. In the interim fresh housing stock built on the former McCready’s Rose fields on the Garvaghy Road was occupied by a cross-section of families from both persuasions but slum clearance in Obins Street meant that many of the Catholic residents were relocated to the new housing and following sectarian intimidation between both communities in various estates in the town, the Garvaghy Road estates became almost 100% Catholic.
In the late 1990 s, the Drumcree March again raised its ugly head when there were five years of continual battles as the Orange Parade made its way down the Garvaghy Road. At a time when peace was breaking out throughout the North, this conflict caused huge tensions and caused rioting in Belfast, Derry and other major towns in July of each year as the Orangemen celebrated the Battle of the Boyne victory of 1690.
Little is known of the area now called Portadown prior to 1610 other than it was inhabited by Gaelic speaking peoples. The dominant local clan was the Clan Cana (McCanns) known as the “Masters of Clan-Breasil” (Clanbrasil) who were known to have been in the area since the 13th Century. The McCanns were vassals of the O’Neills. The fortress referred to in the Irish name Port an D n in was the stronghold of the McCann’s.
During the Plantation of Ulster in 1610 the modern history of the town began with a grant of land to a William Powell who sold it to a Reverend Richard Rolleston in 1611. Rolleston later sold the land in two portions to Richard Cope and Michael Obins. Obins built a large house with a bawn known as “Obin’s Castle” and settled 20 tenants on the land around it in the area now called Ballyoran. The former McGredy’s nursery was on the same land for some years and also the People’s Park which formed part of the land owned by Obins and which surrounded the Castle. Running off the town centre today is Castle Street which is named after Obins Castle. Nearby Obins Street is another reminder of the Obins dynasty.
Obins was awarded a licence for a “fair and market” in 1631 which led to the building of the first bridge across the River Bann.
Obins Castle was captured by a force of dispossessed Irish led by Magennises, the O’Neills and the McCanns during the Irish Rebellion of 1641, reports exist of various atrocities carried out against the townspeople including a massacre of between 100-200 people who were forced off the bridge over the River Bann and either shot or drowned.
Modern day Portadown is a busy town with good industry and retail areas attracting customers from the surrounding counties. There is a good supply of accommodation and some interesting features in the town.