Garvarghy Road: A community's heroic resistance

Issue 

Garvaghy: A Community Under Siege
By the Garvaghy Road Residents
Beyond the Pale Publications
Belfast, 120pp.
Send £8.99 to 5-7 Conway St, Belfast, BT13 2DE
E-mail <info@btpale.ie> for postage rates

Review by Stuart Ross

On July 4, the British government issued a statement stressing its support for the Parades Commission's ruling banning the Orange Order's controversial annual Drumcree parade in Portadown, Northern Ireland.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he had "made every effort to reach a satisfactory resolution on the parade". It was "regrettable that there was insufficient time to reach an accommodation" over what has become an annual crisis in the north of Ireland.

The government's statement concluded by commending the "dignity and restraint" shown so far by Portadown Orangemen in the wake of the commission's decision; "dignity and restraint", indeed!

As noted in the introduction to Garvaghy: A Community Under Siege, "The Orange Order remains one of the central pillars of institutionalised sectarianism in the North of Ireland". Nobody knows that better than those who "eat, sleep and breathe in Garvaghy Road every day of the year". This new book is their story.

Garvaghy: A Community Under Siege was a communal effort by the residents. It provides contemporary accounts in words and pictures of what it is like to live in the Garvaghy area during the 'marching season'. It also provides insight into what it is like for nationalists living in Portadown (as one disgruntled resident put it, "They don't report what it's like to live here").

The first and most interesting part of this two-part book is a collection of personal testimonies from Garvaghy residents. Some of the testimonies — most focus on the events surrounding the July 1998 Drumcree crisis — appear in diary form, others as short essays. Transcripts from Radio Equality, the pirate radio station set up by local residents in the midst of last year's siege of the Garvaghy, are also included.

Those who tell their stories have remained anonymous; to name names would jeopardise jobs, careers or physical safety. This anonymity adds to the sense that these stories could be those of almost any Garvaghy area resident.

Readers will be particularly struck by physical and psychological effects that the crisis at Drumcree has had on residents — particularly the young. While the world looks on each July, the problem remains year round. The recent wave of teen suicides in the area bears tragic witness to this.

Part two of the book is based on an edited and updated version of a submission made by the Garvaghy Road Residents' Coalition (GRRC) to the Parades Commission in November 1996. It provides a historical overview of Orange marches in Portadown from a nationalist perspective.

For more than two centuries, Orange parades in Portadown have been the source of conflict. The GRRC's submission refutes many of the Orange myths regarding these triumphalist displays in and around the Obins Street and Garvaghy Road areas.

It also documents the many efforts local activists have made to try to resolve the annual crisis — as the book says, "Silence is Orange".

While Garvaghy: A Community Under Siege is meant to educate readers, it will undoubtedly make them run the gamut of human emotion as well. Those who pick up this book will feel the fear, anger and frustration so often felt by Portadown nationalists.

More importantly, however, most readers will be filled with a tremendous sense of pride for, as "Joe" puts it: "Whatever fears and apprehension we felt as individuals, as a community we displayed the best qualities of calmness and discipline in the face of adversity".

There is nothing more heroic than that.

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