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County Armagh
St Mark's Church of Ireland, Portadown - geograph - 494290.jpg
St Mark's Church, Portadown
Grid reference: J008537
Location: 54°25’16"N, 6°27’30"W
Population: 22,000  (2001)
Post town: Craigavon
Postcode: BT62, BT63
Dialling code: 028
Local Government
Council: Armagh, Banbridge
and Craigavon
Website: Portadown Town

Portadown is a town in County Armagh. The town sits on the River Bann in the north of the county, about 23 miles south-west of Belfast.

The name of the town is from the Gaelic Port a' Dúnáin meaning "port of the small stronghold".

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 Londonderry.

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 and has led to numerous riots.


Portadown's main street
Portadown's main street

Early history and Plantation of Ulster

Little is known of the area now called Portadown before 1610 except that the area was sparsely populated.[1] The dominant local clann was the Mac Cana (McCanns),[1] known as the "Masters of Clann-Breasil" (Clanbrasil), who had been in the area since the 13th century. The Mac Cana were a sept of the Uí Néill (Ó Neills).[1] The stronghold referred to in the Irish name Port an Dúnáin was likely the stronghold of the Mac Cana.

From 1594 until 1603, the Uí Néill and an alliance of other clanns fought a Nine Years' War against the English reconquest of Ireland. This ended in defeat for the Irish clanns, 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, the lands of Portadown were granted to a William Powell.[1] 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.[1] Obins built a large tower house and bawn and settled about twenty English tenants on the land around it.[1] This was in the area of the present-day People's Park. Today this park is bounded on either side by Obins Street and Castle Street, both of which are reminders of "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.[1]

Irish rebellion of 1641

During the Irish Rebellion of 1641, Obins Castle was captured by a force of dispossessed Irish led by the McCanns (Mac Cana), the Magennises (Mac Aonghusa) and the Ó Neills.[1] 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 the tower house during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, and Hamlet Obins (who had survived its capture) repossessed it in 1652.[1] It was then passed to his son Anthony Obins.[1]


In 1741, Anthony Obins was involved with the development of the Newry Canal.[1] 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.[1]

Shillington's Quay

Michael Obins died in 1798 and left a son, Michael Eyre Obins, to succeed him. In 1814, Eyre Obins took holy orders and sold the estate to the Sparrow family of Tandragee.[1] George Montagu, 6th Duke of Manchester (known as Viscount Mandeville) married Millicent Sparrow in 1822 and came into possession of the estate.[1] This family's legacy to the town includes street names such as Montagu Street, Millicent Crescent and Mandeville Street, as well as buildings such as the Fergus Hall (formerly the Duke's School and Church Street PS), and the Carlton Home (the Duke's former townhouse, latterly a maternity hospital/nurses accommodation and now private apartments).

The Blacker family, descended from Danes who entered Ireland in the 9th century,[2] 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.[2] 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[3] took part in the "Battle of the Diamond" and was a founding member of the Orange Order.[4] 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.[5] Many of the Blacker family were soldiers or churchmen. The family estate was purchased in 1937 by Portadown Golf Club,[6] who demolished Carrickblacker House in 1988 to make way for a new clubhouse.

Second World War

A large prisoner-of-war camp was built at Portadown during Second World War. 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, and many of the 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 Second World War, it is the only one now remaining and a rare example of public air raid shelters in Northern Ireland.[7]

The Troubles

Permanent security barriers to Portadown town centre in 1982

In 1969, Northern Ireland was plunged into the conflict known as the Troubles. 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.[8] 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.[8] 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.[9]

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.


The Bann Bridge
The Northway bridge (foreground) and railway bridge (background), August 2005

Portadown sits in a relatively flat part of Ulster, near the southern shore of Lough Neagh. There are two small wetland areas on the outskirts of the town; one at Selshion in the west and another at Annagh in the south. The Ballybay River flows into the town from the west before joining the River Bann.

The River Bann

Most of the town is built on the western side of the River Bann, and owes much of its prosperity to the river. It was the construction of the Newry Canal (linking Carlingford Lough with Lough Neagh) in 1740, coupled with the growth of the railway in the 19th century, which put Portadown at the hub of transport routes.

There are three bridges across the river at Portadown. Bridge Street and Northway are both road bridges and there is a railway bridge beside the Northway. The 'Bann Bridge' on Bridge Street is the oldest. The story of this bridge is unusual in that it was built without a river running underneath it. After building was complete, the course of the River Bann was diverted by some 100 yards to straighten a meander. The old riverbed was then built upon. An archaeological dig in the area of the old riverbed uncovered the bones of some of those drowned in the Portadown Massacre during the 1641 rebellion. The current bridge has been widened twice since it was built.


The townlands of the Portadown area have names which mostly come from Gaelic. Over time, the surrounding townlands have been built upon and they have given their names to many roads and housing estates.

The townlands within Portadown's urban area, with their likely etymologies, are:

West bank of the River Bann (parish of Drumcree):
Annagh (Eanach: "marsh")
Ballyoran (Baile Uaráin: "townland of the spring")
Baltylum (Bailte Loma: "bare townlands")
Clounagh or Clownagh (Cluain Each: "horses meadow")
Corcrain (Corr Chrainn: "round hill of the tree")
Garvaghy (Garbh Achadh: "rough field")
Mahon or Maghon (Maigh Ghamhan: "plain of the calves")
Selshion (Soilseán: "brightness" – possibly referring to fires or fire beacons)
Tavanagh (Tamhnach: "grassland")
East bank of the River Bann (parish of Seagoe):
Ballyhannon (Baile Uí hAinchain: "Ó hAinchain's townland")
(formerly Bocomra)
Buaic Iomaire: "top of the ridge" or Both Chomair: "hut at the confluence")
Edenderry (Éadan Doire: "hill-brow of the oak grove")
(formerly Kerhanan)
(Caorthannan: "place of rowans")
Killycomain or Killicomain (Coill Uí Chomáin: "Ó Comáin's woodland")
Levaghery (Leathmhachaire: "half plain")
Lisnisky (Lios an Uisce: "ringfort of the water") - the fields in Lisnisky separate Portadown from Craigavon
Seagoe Upper (Suidhe Gabha: "sitting place of the smith")


Saint Mark's (Church of Ireland) in the middle of Portadown

Portadown sits on the boundary between two parishes. This boundary is the River Bann. The part of the town on the west of the Bann is in Drumcree parish, while the part of the town on the east of the Bann is in Seagoe parish.

Protestant churches

A Methodist Chapel was built in 1790. The site of this church has moved several times and it now stands in Thomas Street where it was rebuilt in 1860. There is also a Methodist chapel in the Edenderry area of the town and another smaller Epworth Methodist church.[10]

In 1826, Saint Martin's Church of Ireland was built, and later renamed Saint Mark's.[11] Before this, Church of Ireland members attended either Drumcree Parish Church or Seagoe Parish Church. This church has a tall clock tower and stands in a commanding position at the centre of the town. Another Church of Ireland church is Saint Columba's on the Loughgall Road which was built in 1970.

There are two Presbyterian churches, First Portadown (aka Edenderry) Presbyterian Church (1822) and Armagh Road Presbyterian Church (1859). These two churches hit the headlines in recent years, with Armagh Road appointing its first woman minister (the Rev Christina Bradley) and the Edenderry minister (the Rev Stafford Carson) refusing to allow her to occupy his pulpit for a sermon because she is a woman. The sermon in question was a yearly joint Christmas service between the two congregations, which dates back at least 60 years. The issue remains unresolved within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland's General Assembly. Mr Carson was Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, June 2009 – June 2010.

There are also Baptist meeting halls on Thomas Street and Killicomaine Road; an Elim Pentecostal Church on Clonavon Avenue; a Quaker meeting hall on Portmore Street; a Free Presbyterian church in Levaghery and meeting hall on Fitzroy Street.

Armagh Road Presbyterian Church  
Thomas Street Methodist Church  
Drumcree Parish Church (Church of Ireland)  
Independent Methodist Church  

Roman Catholic churches

Saint John the Baptist's Church was built in the townland of Ballyoran in 1783. The original church sat in the middle of what is now a large graveyard. A second Catholic church, Saint Patrick's, was built on William Street in 1835.

In the 1970s, Saint John's was taken down brick-by-brick, moved and rebuilt at the [[Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Cultra, County Down.[12] A new Saint John's church was built close to where the original stood; it sits where the Garvaghy Road meets the Dungannon Road.

Saint Patrick's Roman Catholic Church on William Street  
Saint John's Roman Catholic Church in the townland of Ballyoran  


Portadown has a manufacturing sector that has grown beyond its roots in linen production to include carpet-weaving, baking and engineering.

There are a number of companies that have been a major part of Portadown's history:

  • Irwin's Bakery was established in 1912 by William David Irwin, grandfather of the existing joint managing directors, as a grocery retailer. The town centre bakery at Woodhouse Street was moved to larger premises at Carn in 1994, and the High Street Mall shopping centre now stands in place of the old bakery. Today Irwin's bakery is the largest independent bakery in Northern Ireland.
  • Wade (Ireland) Ltd. Wade Ceramics had a substantial plant in Portadown[13] between 1946 and 1989 in Watson Street, Edenderry, adjacent to the Victorian Railway Station which was closed in the 1970s.
  • Ulster Carpets Ltd were established in the town in 1938 and was the major employer through most of the 1950s to the 1980s producing woolen Axminster.
  • Henry Denny & Sons (NI) Ltd. meat processors were originally established in Obins Street, but moved to Corcrain after being acquired by the Kerry Group[14] in 1982.

Other industries have vanished from the town such as; whisky distilling and brewing, cider making by Grews in Portmore Street, milling of animal feed by Clows and Calvins in Castle Street, iron and brass manufacturing from Portadown Foundry and other smaller firms, ham/bacon curing by McCammons and Sprotts. Several nurseries were established in the town, most notably Samuel McGredy & Son Ltd., and James Walsh Ltd., these too have gone. There were also a number of small industries related to farming and agriculture, like packing and distribution of eggs, butter, poultry and apples. But these firms have been replaced by large scale employers like Moypark, who process chickens on a modern industrial scale and employ around 600 in the town, as well as Almac, a pharmaceutical firm that employs around 1,000.

Linen manufacturing

Much of the town's industry in the 19th and 20th century was centred around the linen trade. The 1881 edition of Slater's Directory (a comprehensive listing of Irish towns) gives the following as manufacturing employers in Portadown at that time:[15]

  • Acheson J. & J. & Co. Bannview Weaving Factory
  • Bessbrook Spinning Co. Limited, Bridge Street & at Bessbrook
  • Castle Island Linen Co. Castle Island Factory; & at Belfast
  • Cowdy Anthony & Sons, Thomas Street
  • Gribbin Edward & Sons, Market Street & at Belfast
  • Harden Acheson, Limited, Meadow Lane & at Belfast
  • Lutton A. J. & Son, Edenderry & at Belfast
  • Moneypenny & Watson, Cornascrebe
  • Montgomery John, Derryvore
  • Reid Robert & Son, Tarson Hall
  • Robb Hamilton, Edenderry
  • Sefton J. R. & Co. Edenderry and at Belfast
  • Sinton Thomas, Thomas Street and at Laurelvale and Tanderagee
  • Turtle W. J. Bridge Street
  • Watson, Armstrong & Co. Edenderry Factory and at Belfast

Some of these linen mills survived as manufacturers and major employers into the 1960s, such as Robbs and Achesons but all eventually closed as the demand for Irish Linen fell due to the manufacture of cheaper, man made, fabrics.

Culture and community

Street nicknames

Many of Portadown's streets have widely used but unofficial nicknames, some of which date back from the town's early days. These are:

Official name Nickname Etymology
Watson Street Was known as Railway Street As the main station was at the bottom of the street.
Annagh Hill Bucket Row Water had to be drawn from a pump well into 1960s.
Lurgan Road Guinea Row The weekly rent was a guinea (twenty-one shillings)
Armagh Road Rheumatism Row The houses were always said to be damp due to flooding from a nearby river
Obin Street The Tunnel The pedestrian underpass leading to it and the fact that the road was excavated underneath a railway bridge.
Fowlers Entry The Orange Cage Strong association with Orangemen.
William Street Chapel Street Site of a Roman Catholic church
Charles Street Charlie's Walls Site of a boundary wall built by Charles Wakefield around his 'Corcrain Villa'.
Woodhouse Street Dungannon Street It led to Dungannon.
Garvaghy Road The Walk Formed part of the route Orangemen took on their annual walk to Drumcree Church.


Country Comes to Town[16] is a flagship festival held on the third week of September since 1998. Its future is uncertain due to funding difficulties.[17]


Portadown Town Hall on Edward Street (2007)
McConville's Pub

Portadown Town Hall, in Edward Street, was once the seat of the town's local government until reform of local government in 1972. It is an 1890 Victorian building that has been extensively refurbished and offers an in-house theatre and conference facilities.[18]

Millenium Court Arts Centre[19] contains two galleries allowing local artists to exhibit their work.

Ardress House is a 17th-century farmhouse that was remodelled in Georgian times and is today owned by the National Trust. It is open to the public offering guided tours, local walks, and recreations of farmyard life.[20][21]

The Newry Canal Way is a fully accessible restored canal towpath now usable as a bicycle route between Newry Town Hall and the Bann Bridge in Portadown. The Canal was the first summit level canal in Britain and Ireland and has 14 locks between its entrance at Carlingford Lough and Lough Neagh.[22] One of the attractions on the Newry Canal Way is Moneypenny's Lock, a site that includes an 18th-century lock-keeper's house, stables and bothy. This provided accommodation for workers on the canal and their horses in the days when the canal was part of the industrial transport network. Today it is administered jointly by the Museum Services and the Lough Neagh Discovery Centre at Oxford Island.[23]

McConville's Hotel/Public House on Mandeville/West Street dates back to 1865 but moved in 1900 to its current corner location. The pub is fully preserved with original wooden snugs inside, etched glass windows at ground floor level, original gas light fittings which now run on bottled gas and an iron door canopy and lantern. Local legend has it that some of the Russian Oak fittings in the bar were made to the same design as those used on the Titanic.

Located just outside the town off the Dungannon Road is the only fully restored Royal Observer Corps Cold War Nuclear Monitoring Bunker in Northern Ireland. Opened in 1958 it, plus a further 57 other bunkers spread throughout Northern Ireland, would have been used to monitor and report the effects of a Nuclear Attack. The bunker was restored and opened as a museum in 2010 by members of the Royal Observer Corps Association.[24][25]


Shamrock Park, home of Portadown FC
  • Cricket: Portadown Cricket Club
  • Football: Portadown FC
  • Rowing: Portadown Boat Club, located on the River Bann. It is the town's oldest sports club and holds an annual regatta as part of the Irish Rowing Union calendar.
  • Rugby: Portadown Rugby Club


  • Newspaper: Portadown Times

Between 2001 and 2005, Portadown resident Newton Emerson ran a controversial satirical online newspaper called the Portadown News. The website, which was updated biweekly, attracted media attention by poking fun at Northern Ireland politics and culture.[26]

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Portadown)


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 Lutton, SC. "The Rise and Development of Portadown". Review – Journal of the Craigavon Historical Society Vol. 5 No. 2. http://www.craigavonhistoricalsociety.org.uk/rev/luttonriseofportadown.html. Retrieved 9 April 2010. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Person Page 27400". thePeerage.com. http://www.thepeerage.com/p27400.htm. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  3. "thePeerage.com – A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain as well as the royal families of Europe". http://www.thepeerage.com/p3826.htm#i38258. 
  4. "[Col. William Blacker"]. http://www.pgil-eirdata.org/html/pgil_datasets/authors/b/Blacker,W/life.htm. 
  5. Mulholland, Dr. Peter (30 January 2010). "Two Hundred Years in the Citadel". http://www.scribd.com/doc/26105917/Two-Hundred-Years-in-the-Citadel. Retrieved 20 April 2010. 
  6. "Club history". http://www.portadowngolfclub.co.uk/history/. 
  7. "Battle on to preserve air raid shelter – imported". Belfasttelegraph.co.uk. 14 May 2005. http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/imported/battle-on-to-preserve-air-raid-shelter-13720236.html. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 McKay, Susan. Northern Protestants: An Unsettled People – Portadown. Blackstaff Press (2000).
  9. http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/cgi-bin/dyndeaths.pl
  10. "Internet Archive Wayback Machine". Web.archive.org. 27 October 2009. http://web.archive.org/web/20091027094112/http://geocities.com/craigavonhs/rev/luttonriseofportadown.html. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  11. http://www.stmarksportadown.armagh.anglican.org/home.html/
  12. "National Museums Northern Ireland". Uftm.org.uk. http://www.uftm.org.uk/collections_and_research/folk_collections/town_buildings/catholic_church/. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  13. "Iris Carryer/Wade Ireland the early years". Worldcollectorsnet.com. http://www.worldcollectorsnet.com/wade/irishwade.html. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  14. http://www.kerrygroup.com/page.asp?pid=107/
  15. Slater's Commercial Directory of Ireland, 1881, Ulster & Belfast Sections, ISBN 1-84630-038-X
  16. "Country Comes to Town". Country Comes to Town. http://www.countrycomestotown.co.uk/. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  17. "Groups join forces in attempt to save country festival". Portadown Times. 18 January 2008. http://www.portadowntimes.co.uk/news/Groups-join-forces-in-attempt.3685236.jp. Retrieved 16 April 2010. 
  18. "Portadown Town Hall". Discover Craigavon. http://www.discovercraigavon.com/section_specific.aspx?title=Conferencing&title2=Portadown%20Area&dataid=373385. Retrieved 19 April 2010. 
  19. http://www.millenniumcourt.org/
  20. "Ardress House". National Trust. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-ardresshouse. Retrieved 19 April 2010. 
  21. "Ardress House and Farmyard Portadown hotels, attraction and tourist information". What-to-do.org. 22 August 2005. http://www.what-to-do.org/attractions/index.php?attraction=137/. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  22. "Newry Canal". http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/product.aspx?ProductID=7091. Retrieved 19 April 2010. 
  23. "Moneypenny's Lock". Tourism Ireland. http://www.discoverireland.com/us/ireland-things-to-see-and-do/listings/product/?fid=NITB_2854. Retrieved 19 April 2010. 
  24. "Northern Ireland Secret bunker". http://www.nibunker.co.uk. Retrieved 24 August 2010. 
  25. "Portadown man restores Cold War nuclear bunker". BBC News. 8 July 2010. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/8802680.stm. Retrieved 24 August 2010. 
  26. Jonathan Duffy (29 August 2005). "That's all jokes". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4189048.stm. Retrieved 15 January 2008.