Portadown

Portadown

Portadown, town (1991 pop. 21,333), Craigavon dist., central Northern Ireland, on the Bann River. It is an important railroad and industrial center. Roses from Portadown nurseries are famous.
Portadown is a former market town in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. It has an estimated population around 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 part of the Craigavon Borough Council area.

Portadown has a manufacturing sector that has grown beyond its roots in linen production to include carpet-weaving, baking and engineering. These industries all thrive against a backdrop of the traditional rural economy. For decades it has been the home of the Portadown Festival, which brings in thousands of participants in amateur dance, theatre, music and song. At present, the title of Musician of the Year 2008 for the Portadown Music Fesitval belongs to Simon "Skippy" Neill, as he is known to close friends, ALCM(Th. Dip.), present pupil at Portadown College.

Although the town can trace its origins to at least the 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", 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's line diverged for Belfast, Dublin, Armagh and Derry.

History

Little is known of the area now called Portadown prior to 1610 other than it was inhabited by indigenous 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 Dúnáin 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.

Following the defeat by Oliver Cromwell's army of the Confederation of Kilkenny in 1650, Hamlet Obins who had survived the sacking of the town repossessed Obins Castle in 1652. From that point onwards a succession of children of this family continued to develop the town until Michael Eyre Obins sold the castle to the Sparrow family of Tandragee when he took holy orders in 1814.

The town came into the possession of Viscount Mandeville when he married Miss Millicent Sparrow in 1822 and started an association with the Dukes of Manchester which, although severely diluted, still exists today in a small way. The Manchesters legacy to the town includes street names such as Montagu Street, Millicent Crescent and Mandeville Street, in addition to proprties 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 are also associated with the town. The estate at Carrowbrack, Drumnacanvey, later known at the Blacker Estate (Carrickblacker) was first purchased by Colonel Valentine Blacker from Sir Anthony Cope of Loughgall in 1660 One of the notables in the family Colonel William Blacker, High Sheriff of Armagh fought at the Battle of the Diamond and was a founder member of the Orange Lodge. Many of the Blacker family, such as Valentine Blacker and more recently General Sir Cecil "Monkey" Blacker, KCB, GCB, OBE, MC, 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, 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, modern clubhouse.

Other prominent family names in the town are Curran, (Curran Street) Woodhouse, (Woodhouse Street) Workman, Pepper, Marley (Marley Street - now demolished) and Shillington (Shillington Street).

The affairs of the town were overseen by Portadown Borough Council until 1973 when it was amalgamated with Lurgan Borough Council to form Craigavon Borough Council. The new town of Craigavon being built between, and intended to link, both of the older boroughs to form a city. The seat of the old Borough Council still exists in the Town Hall, Edward Street.

The River Bann

The town is built across both sides of the Upper Bann and owes much of its prosperity to this as it was the construction of the Newry Canal linking the Bann with Lough Neagh in 1740 coupled with the later development of the railway lines to Belfast and Dublin, which put Portadown at the hub of transport routes in Northern Ireland.

There are three bridges across the Bann at Portadown. Bridge Street and Northway are both road bridges and there is a railway bridge adjacent to the Northway. The story of the present bridge is unusual in that it was built without a river running underneath it. After construction 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. In subsequent years an archeological dig on the site, on which had stood the GPO for many years, uncovered the bones of some of those drowned in the 1641 massacre were recovered for examination. The existing bridge was lately widened for the second time since it was built.

Religion

No permanent places of worship existed in the town itself until the building of a Methodist Chapel in 1790. The site of this church has moved several times and it now stands in Thomas Street where it was finally rebuilt in 1860 Prior to 1826 the Church of Ireland members attended Drumcree Parish Church or Seagoe Parish Church but the diocese built the new church of St Martin's, later renamed St Mark's in the town centre, which still stands today in its commanding position at the start of the High Street. There is also St Columba's Parish Church on the Loughgall Road which was built in 1970 in an area previously served by St Mark's. There are also two Presbyterian churches, Edenderry (1822) and Armagh Road (1867). The Roman Catholic faithful built two churches, St John the Baptist, Drumcree, (1783) and St Patrick's, William Street (1835). The original St John the Baptist Church was relocated to the Ulster Folk & Transport Museumin the 1970s and replaced with a more modern building on the Dungannon Road/Garvaghy Road crossroads. Other churches or meeting halls include Baptist, Thomas Street and Killicomaine Road; Elim, Clonavon Avenue; Society of Friends, Portmore Street; Free Presbyterians in Levaghery and the Christian Meeting Hall, Fitzroy Street.

Transport

A combination of road, canal and rail links all converging on Portadown gave it the nickname "Hub of the North" and this created employment through mass industry as well as benefitting the traditional agronomy of the area. In particular the Newry Canal opened up waterborne trade from Lough Neagh to the East coast at Newry and Belfast leaving Portadown ideally situated to take full advantage of the trading routes. With the establishment of the Great Northern Railway the overland trading routes were extended and delivery times shortened as well as creating further employment in the railway industry from 1852 when the first station opened in the town which increased when the repair yards were opened in 1925.

Industry

There are many companies that have been a part Portadown's history:

  • W.D. Irwin & Sons Ltd Irwin's Bakery. Irwin's was established in 1912 by the grandfather William David Irwin, grandfather of the existing joint managing directors, as a grocery retailer. Irwin's wife and sister-in-law were talented home-bakers, who baked cakes and bakery items for the shop. Soon additional bakers were employed to cope with the increasing trade, expanding the bakery out behind the shop. It moved to larger premises at Carn in 1994. 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. Its products are supplied to supermarket chains such as Sainsbury’s, Asda and Tesco, and other retail outlets, right down to small corner shops.
  • Wade (Ireland) Ltd. Wade Ceramics had a substantial plant in Portadown between 1946 and 1989 in Watson Street, Edenderry, adjacent to the Victorian Railway Station which was closed in the 1970s.
  • The Great Northern Railway. A large facility built by the GNR adjacent to West Street was the epicentre of rail travel in Northern Ireland. Intersected by lines which went from Belfast to Dublin, Armagh, Dungannon and Derry the facility also had maintenance facilities for engines, good wagons and carriages. The large concrete structures of the repair sheds dominated the skyline on the west of the town centre until their demolition in the mid 1970's.
  • Ulster Carpets Ltd established in the town since 1938 was the major employer through most of the 1950s to 1980's, engaged in the manufacture of fine woolen Axminster.
  • Henry Denny & Sons (NI) Ltd. Originally established in Obins Street, but moved to Corcrain. Acquired by Kerry Group in 1982.

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:

  • 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.

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, Castle Street, iron and brass from Portadown Foundry and other smaller firms, ham/bacon curing by McCammons and also Sprotts. There were also a number of small industries related to farming and agriculture, like packing and/or distribution of eggs, butter, poultry and apples. Several nurseries were established in the town, most notably Samuel McGredy & Son Ltd., and James Walsh Ltd., these too have gone.

World War 2, Prisoners of War and the Welsh Connection

A large POW Camp was constructed during World War 2 at a former sports facility on what was then the western edge of town, now covered by housing from Fitzroy Street and the Brownstown Estates. This accommodated (mostly) German POW's. In the post VE Day era these POW's 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 in accommodation vacated by US servicemen who had left prior to the D Day landings. Many of the Welsh soldiers chose to be demobbed to Portadown as they had formed relationships locally and this accounts for a fairly large proportion of Welsh surnames in the town.

In 2005 a public air raid shelter was discovered during excavation works near the riverbank just outside the town centre. One of ten built by the council during World War 2 it is the only one now remaining and a rare example of public air raid facilities in Northern Ireland.

Street Nicknames

Many of these are still in use today:

  • Wilson Street - Jam Row, because a jam making factory used to be located there.
  • Annagh Hill - Bucket Row, because water had to be drawn from a pump well into 1960's.
  • Watson Street - Railway Street, because the railway station was accessed from here.
  • Lurgan Road - Guinea Row, because the weekly rent was twenty one shillings.
  • Armagh Road - Rheumatism Row, because the houses were always damp due to flooding from a nearby river
  • Obins Street - The Tunnel, because of the pedestrian underpass leading to it and the fact that the road was ecavated underneath a railway bridge.
  • Fowlers Entry - The Orange Cage, because of its strong association with Orangemen.
  • William Street - Chapel Street, because of the Roman Catholic church there.
  • Charles Street - Charlie's Walls, because of the boundary wall built by Charles Wakefield around his 'Corcrain Villa'.
  • Woodhouse Street - Dungannon Street, because it led to Dungannon.
  • Garvaghy Road - The Walk, because it formed part of the route Orangemen took on their annual "walk" to Drumcree Church.

The Troubles

Places of interest

  • Millenium Court Arts Centre
  • Country Comes to Town a flagship festival on the third week of September since 1998. It's future is uncertain due to funding difficulties.
  • Ardress House
  • Moneypenny's Lock
  • McConville's Hotel/Public House, Mandeville/West Street. dates back to 1865 but moved in 1900 to its current corner location. The pub is in a superb state of preservation 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.
  • The Newry Canal Way

People

Education

Portadown boasts a large selection of academic institutions, past and present. There are many primary and secondary schools in the area, and the town is home to one of the top Grammar Schools in Northern Ireland, Portadown College, which was opened in 1924.

Health care

  • Portadown Health Centre (recently rebuilt).
  • Craigavon Area Hospital, built 1972 on the outskirts of town. Replaced Lurgan Hospital and the Carleton Maternity Hospital in Church Street as the primary source of care for the town. It serves approximately 125,000 people from Mid Ulster and is one of the main cancer treatment centres outside Belfast.

Sport

References

See also

External links

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