Drumcree Church

Drumcree Parish Church
The Church of the Ascension

Drumcree Parish Church
Coordinates: 54°26′25″N 6°27′32″W / 54.4402°N 6.45893°W / 54.4402; -6.45893
Location Drumcree Road, Portadown
Country Northern Ireland
Denomination Church of Ireland
Website www.drumcree.org
Consecrated 28 October 1856
Groundbreaking 17 May 1855
Parish Drumcree
Rector Rev. Gary Galway
Drumcree Parish Church Logo

Drumcree Parish Church, officially The Church of the Ascension, is the parish church of Drumcree Church of Ireland parish. The church is within the townland of Drumcree, roughly 1.5 miles (2.3 km)[1] to the northeast of Portadown, County Armagh.

In recent times it has become noted for the Orange Order service held annually on the Sunday before 12 July. The service, or more precisely the Orangemen's parade both to and from the service and the reaction of the community on Garvaghy Road, has been the catalyst for sectarian unrest between the Protestant paraders and the Catholic residents of the area for more than 200 years.

The present church was consecrated by the Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore, Robert Bent Knox, on 28 October 1856. Its foundation stone was laid on 17 May 1855, which in that year was Ascension Day.

The current rector is the Reverend Gary Galway, previous curate of St. Marks Parish in Portadown.

The Church of Ireland parish of Drumcree has borders identical to the Roman Catholic parish of Drumcree.

History of the site

Drumcree (Irish language: Droim Crí) is the name of the townland in which the church and the surrounding area are located. Its name means "ridge of the boundary", most likely referring to the River Bann.[2] The site has been used for Christian worship since the time of the Celts. The parish of Drumcree was formed in 1110 comprising sixty-six townlands lying to the west of the Bann. Historical records list the first vicar as David Macralagen. He died in 1414. The parish remained a Catholic entity until the Reformation in the mid 16th century.

It is unclear what happened to the church during the time of the Reformation, but a map of 1609 shows the church in ruins within the churchyard. Following the Ulster Plantation in 1610 a new church was built. This was described as "a plain stone building rough cast and whitewashed".

In 1812 a tower was built and in 1814 a church bell was installed. In 1826 the rector, Charles Alexander, had a new rectory built. Almost thirty years later, in 1854, it was decided to build a new church. The church so built is the one that stands today and is now the oldest church in Portadown. It occupies a position roughly the same as the former church.

History of the present church

The Church of Ireland was disestablished in 1871 and as a result Drumcree lost most of its land, known as the Glebe Land.

In 1901 a new burial ground was established on the north side of the church. In the following year the Parochial Hall was built. A pipe organ was installed in the church in 1907 and a memorial to the Great War was built in 1921. A further burial ground known as the Terrace Burial Ground was created on the east side of the church in 1922.

In 1989 a war memorial to commemorate those lost in World War II was erected. Then in 1992 major renovation work was carried out to repair the fabric of the building.

Drumcree and the Orange Order

Main article: Drumcree conflict

The Orange Order was founded in and around the Co. Armagh town of Portadown in 1795. The first Orange service and 'church parade' from Drumcree was on 1 July 1795.[3] That parade was instigated by Protestant ministers in the Portadown area. One of them, a Reverend George Maunsell gave a sermon in June 1795. Maunsell called on his congregation: " to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in the true spirit of the institution" by attending a sermon to be given by a Rev. Devine of the Established Church at Drumcree on Sunday 1 July. And that 1st first Sunday church parade, like so many since, was celebrated with 'wrecking' and bloodletting in the parish of Drumcree. On page 17 of his "History of Ireland" (Vol. I), published in 1809, the historian Francis Plowden described the events that followed the Rev Devine's sermon:

This evangelical labourer in the vineyard of the Lord of peace so worked up the minds of his audience, that upon retiring from service, on the different roads leading to their respective homes, they 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 unoffending Catholics in a bog. This unprovoked atrocity of the Protestants revived and redoubled religious rancour. The flame spread and threatened a contest of extermination...[4]

Plowden tells of a similar assault on Catholics in Lurgan where influential Catholics and Protestants living east of the river Bann convened a meeting and succeeded in maintaining the peace in that area. But in Portadown the Catholic Defenders: "remained under arms for three days successively, challenging their opponents to fight it out fairly in the field rather that harass them with murderous nocturnal visits". Seven weeks later, on 21 September a party of Defenders was routed by a smaller but better armed coalition of 'wreckers' at the Diamond, 4 miles from Drumcree. The 'wreckers' were under the command of a Captain Giffard from Dublin. William Blacker, a member of the landed gentry and commander of the Seagoe Yeomanry, was later attributed a role in the affray. He is said to have stripped lead from the roof of his house to make ammunition in preparation for the ambush of Catholic Defenders at the Diamond. However, we could find nothing to support this and it may be no more than a piece of Orange legend that helped establish an affinity with the aristocracy in the minds of the Protestant peasantry. It was after the Diamond skirmish that the name 'Orange Boys' was adopted. This was changed to 'the Orange Order' as the ‘wreckers’ became more organised under the leadership of Blacker and James Verner, an attorney and agent for the Armagh estates of absentee landlord, Lord Charlemont.

Traditionally the Orangemen parade from the centre of Portadown, returning after the church service. The service and accompanying parades are now often represented by Orangemen as being held to commemorate the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division who died during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. All such claims should be seen in light of the long history of violent Orange parading to Drumcree and in general.

Portadown is a predominantly Protestant town. The small area surrounding the Garvaghy Road is a small Catholic community within Portadown. That community has long been subjected to sectarian discrimination, marginalisation, and abuse ([5] The Orange Order insist it is their right as citizens to march down the Garvaghy Road, a route they claim to hold traditional and communal value. The residents of Garvaghy Road insist it is their right not to be subjected to marches perceived by many as sectarian and intimidating. The stand-off between the Orangemen and the RUC Royal Ulster Constabulary, which previously colludded in facilitating the Orange demonstrations of strength, has become symbolic of the intractable sectarian divide that poisons relations between the two communities in Northern Ireland. And a local anthropologist, Peter Mulholland, has argued that Orange parades effectively deny the human rights and dignity of the minority community through annually reviving and fanning the flames of sectarian hatred[6]

The aforementioned Plowden report and many other instances of Orange parade-related violence during the two centuries since 1795 were documented by a small group of Portadown Nationalists in the early 1980s and circulated to journalists in 1996-7 under the title 'Two Hundred Years in the Orange Citadel'. Their research was also included in Nationalist submissions to the British government's 'North' commission of inquiry into sectarian parades.[7]

In 1998 the Northern Ireland Parades Commission banned the Orangeman's parade. Every year since then the parade has been prevented from parading down the Garvaghy Road. In an attempt to defuse the situation the General Synod of the Church of Ireland has requested the Reverend John Pickering, Rector of Drumcree Church, to refrain from holding the Orangemen's service. The Primate of the Church of Ireland, Dr. Robin Eames, stated that "It is a form of blasphemy if, following a religious service, those who have attended it engage in behaviour which makes a mockery of such a service." Pickering has, however, refused the request, maintaining that "the doors of my church are open to anyone, including Orangemen".

In 2007, following the Northern Ireland power sharing agreement, the Orange Order parade passed peacefully. The Order is still blocked from marching down the Garvaghy Road.


  1. Free Map Tools – Measure Distance
  2. http://www.ulsterplacenames.org/landscape_in_irish-language_names.htm
  3. Garvaghy: A Community Under Siege 1999. p.117
  4. Plowden, F. (1809) History of Ireland: Vol. 1.
  5. Mulholland, P. (1999) 'Drumcree: A Struggle For Recognition’ Irish Journal Of Sociology. Vol. 9
  6. (Mulholland, P. (1999) 'Drumcree: A Struggle For Recognition’ Irish Journal Of Sociology. Vol. 9
  7. A modified version of the Nationalist pamphlet entitled 'Two Hundred Years in the Citadel' can be viewed online at http://www.scribd.com/doc/26105917/Two-Hundred-Years-in-the-Citadel

External links

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