Portadown is a town in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. The town sits on the River Bann in the north of the county, about 23 miles (37 km) south-west of Belfast. It is in the Craigavon Borough Council area and had a population of about 22,000 at the 2001 Census.
Although Portadown can trace its origins to the early 17th century, 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", due to it being a major railway junction in the past; where the Great Northern Railway's line diverged for Belfast, Dublin, Armagh and Derry.
In the 1990s, Portadown was drawn to the attention of the world's media by the "Drumcree standoff". This is the latest part of a long-running dispute over parading that began in the 19th century and has led to numerous riots and deaths.
Early history and Plantation of Ulster
Little is known of the area now called Portadown before 1610 except that the area was sparsely populated by Irish Gaels. The dominant local clan were the McCanns (Mac Cana), known as the "Masters of Clanbrasil", who had been in the area since the 13th century. The McCanns were a sept of the O'Neills (Uí Néill). The name Clanbrasil comes . This was the name of the territory in which Portadown lay. The town's name comes from the Irish Port a' Dúnáin (or, more formally, Port an Dúnáin), meaning the port or landing place of the small stronghold or small fort. This was likely the stronghold or fort of the McCanns.
From 1594 until 1603, the O'Neills and an alliance of other clans fought in the Nine Years' War against the English conquest of Ireland. This ended in defeat for the Irish clans, and much of their land was seized by the English. In 1608, James I of England began the Plantation of Ulster – the organised colonisation of this land by settlers from Great Britain.
In 1610, as part of the Plantation, the lands of Portadown were granted to a William Powell. In 1611, he sold his grant of land to a Reverend Richard Rolleston, who in turn sold it in two portions to Richard Cope and Michael Obins. Obins built a large Elizabethan-style mansion for himself and his family, and a number of houses nearby for English tenants. This mansion was in the area of the present-day Woodside estate, and the People's Park was part of its grounds. Today this park is bounded on either side by Obins Street and Castle Street, both of which are references to "Obin's Castle".
In 1631, Obins was granted a licence for a "fair and market", which led to the building of the first bridge across the River Bann shortly thereafter.
Irish rebellion of 1641
During the Irish Rebellion of 1641, Obins Castle was captured by a force of dispossessed Irish led by the McCanns, the Magennises and the O'Neills. In one of the worst atrocities of the rebellion, in November 1641, Irish rebels forced between 100–300 captured English and Scottish settlers (or 'planters'), including women and children, off the Bann bridge and they either drowned or were shot. This became known as the "Portadown Massacre", and partly precipitated the revenge attacks carried out in Ireland several years later by the forces of Oliver Cromwell.
The Irish Confederate troops abandoned Obins Castle during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, and Hamlet Obins (who had survived its capture) repossessed it in 1652. It was then passed to his son Anthony Obins.
In 1741, Anthony Obins was involved with the development of the Newry Canal. He was succeeded by Michael Obins in 1750. It was he who set up a linen market in Portadown in 1762 and this laid the foundations of Portadown's major industry.
The Blacker family, descended from Danes who entered Ireland in the 9th century, founded an estate at Carrick, on the Portadown–Gilford road. The land had been bought by Colonel Valentine Blacker from Sir Anthony Cope of Loughgall. It became known as Carrickblacker, and is now the site of Portadown Golf Club. One of the notables in the Blacker family, Colonel William Blacker, High Sheriff of Armagh took part in the "Battle of the Diamond" and was a founding member of the Orange Order. This, and subsequent events like the setting up of a 'provisional' Grand Lodge in the town after the 'voluntary' dissolution of the Order in 1825, led to the town being known as 'The Orange Citadel' and becoming infamous as a center of sectarian strife for two centuries. Many of the Blacker family were soldiers or churchmen. The family estate was purchased in 1937 by Portadown Golf Club, who demolished Carrickblacker House in 1988 to make way for a new clubhouse.
World War II
A large prisoner-of-war camp or POW camp was built at Portadown during World War II. It was at the site of a former sports facility on what was then the western edge of town. This area is now covered by housing from Fitzroy Street and the Brownstown Estates. The camp housed (mostly) German POWs. For a time these POWs were guarded by Welsh servicemen who had been transferred from Germany (known as "Bluecaps") and who were billeted at St Patrick's Hall in Thomas Street. Many of the Welsh soldiers chose to be demobilised to Portadown as they had formed relationships there and this accounts for some of the Welsh surnames in the town.
In 2005, a public air raid shelter was uncovered during excavation works near the riverbank just outside the town centre. One of ten built by the council during World War II, it is the only one now remaining and a rare example of public air raid shelters in Northern Ireland.
In 1969, Northern Ireland was plunged into an ethno-political conflict known as the Troubles. This led to violence between Northern Ireland's nationalist/republican community (who mainly self-identified as Irish and/or Catholic) and its unionist/loyalist community (who mainly self-identified as British and/or Protestant). Portadown had long been a mainly unionist town and before the conflict began, the two communities had lived alongside one another. However, as the violence worsened, the town underwent major population shifts. The result was segregation – the northwestern part of the town became almost wholly Catholic and nationalist, while the rest of the town became almost wholly Protestant and unionist. A separation barrier (or "peace line") was built along Corcrain Road and it remains to this day.
The Troubles also intensified the long-running Drumcree parade dispute. There were 43 killings in Portadown in relation to this dispute and to the Troubles in general.
Community leaders in Portadown have been involved with the Ulster Project since it began in 1975. The project involves teenagers from both of Northern Ireland's main communities. The goal is to foster goodwill and friendship between them. Each year, a group of teenagers are chosen to travel to the United States, where they stay with an American family for a few weeks.