Allison Morris visits Drumcree Church and Portadown’s Garvaghy Road to examine the legacy of former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Trimble
Once an ancient Druid site, there has been a place of worship on the hill where Drumcree Church stands since the fourth century.
On a beautiful summer’s day, children play in the football pitch at the back of the church, while in two marquees they engage in arts and crafts.
The laughter of the little ones can be heard on the walk up to the church.
But it wasn’t always so. In the 1990s, the area was regularly under siege, with up to 10,000 Orangemen marching through the nationalist Garvaghy area, an annual event that resulted in a stand-off with the church at the centre of it.
The sounds then were of Army helicopters overhead. On the ground, soldiers in riot gear filled the rolling fields.
Loyalist paramilitaries such as Billy Wright exploited the protest to increase support for their cause.
Drumcree Sunday still takes place, the parade long since banned by the Parades Commission. The dwindling numbers speak of the advanced years of those who once made Drumcree their Alamo.
Former Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble was at the centre of the dispute, regularly pictured with senior Orange Order members.
His death on Monday following a short illness prompted many obituaries lauding him as the man who risked everything for peace, including his own political career, the Nobel peace prize winner, the staunch unionist and member of the Orange Order. As a former MP for Upper Bann, his involvement in the Drumcree dispute forms part of his story.
The 1995 picture of Mr Trimble and the Rev Ian Paisley posing triumphantly and holding each other’s arm aloft outside Carlton Orange Hall after the parade was given the go-ahead is many people’s abiding memory of that time.
In 2019, previously classified files revealed the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) had a series of talks, including with Mr Trimble, in the run-up to the 1996 marching season.
The meetings, held in an effort to avert violence, were triggered by a directive from John Major, then prime minister.
An official stated that Mr Trimble should be reminded of the need for compromise, given that the UUP leader “is personally associated with the most dangerous parade — that at Drumcree on July 7”.
At a meeting with NIO minister Sir John Wheeler, Mr Trimble was said to have recognised the need for compromise but “had shown little instinct to compromise himself”.
As the Ulster Unionist Party prepares to bury Mr Trimble on Monday, what of his legacy in the Portadown area?
At Drumcree Church, Rev Gary Galway, a gentle giant of a man, says he purposely stays away from politics.
His daughter Laura runs the church’s summer school, which has up to 70 children participating, many of them from the nationalist Garvaghy Road.
“We’ve a youth club and an after-school club, and we get a mixture of children at that as well,” says Laura.
“If you listen to their conversations, they talk about football, they talk about Gaelic. They don’t care about anything else. The friendships that are formed here are lovely.”
Rev Galway adds: “I came here at the end of all that. I’ve stayed away from politics.
“Things have changed in our society to a certain extent. It has opened up doors for us so we can do things. It’s a completely different atmosphere.
“I would take a walk down the Garvaghy Road, and I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘I’m praying for you. Keep up the good work’.
“I want to reach all the community, not just a select group. That was a big challenge”.
The small church that stood at the centre of the dispute, with its oak pews and ornate ceilings, is now a place of sanctuary rather than conflict.
“At the end of the day, it’s only a building. It’s the people who make it”, says Rev Galway.
“At the start, there were a lot of tensions, a lot of issues and a lot of difficulties.
“Some people thought I should have kept going with what was.
“Before Covid, there was a fella from Garvaghy who used to come up here. He said, ‘Gary, will you pray with me?’ And I said, ‘There’s a team here. You can pray with them’.
“There was a male and female doing a prayer ministry, and he started walking down towards them. I just remembered [then that] the fella would have been one of the people who led the charge [against protesters], and the fella from Garvaghy was a staunch nationalist.
“They stopped and looked at each other. I thought, ‘What have I done here?’ But they put their hands on each other’s back and started praying. About 10 minutes later, they put their arms around each other.”
A short distance away on the Garvaghy Road, people are rushing about running errands ahead of the weekend.
One lady says the area is very different today.
“There are people who still need to change their mindset, but life is better now,” she adds.
“You wouldn’t have heard too many positive comments about David Trimble back then, but you have to accept that things are better as a result what people like him did for the peace process. We’ve long memories — we don’t forget — but we also want better for the younger generation”.
Mr Trimble was widely praised for his work on the peace process and in bringing Unionism along with him, but it came at a high price.
He would eventually watch as his party went into decline, with the DUP in the ascendancy and eventually becoming the main unionist party.
He was also threatened and required a security detail as a result of hostility from people within his own community who objected to the deal and aspects such as prisoner releases.
But his legacy among the people in Portadown town centre is a positive one.
Bleary man Graham Moore said: “I think he was a good man. I am proud of him. I don’t think we’d have got to where we are today without the likes of David Trimble.
“He didn’t get an easy ride, that’s for sure. You have to look back and say he was the man who brought peace for all of us.
“I remember there being bomb scares, having to rush out of work waiting on the bomb going off and having to go back and sweep up afterwards. We don’t want to go back to those days, definitely not.”
Samuel McCullough says Mr Trimble will “be remembered for everything that he did for peace”.
“He mixed with everyone and got the things going rather than sitting back,” he adds.
“At the time of Paisley, they didn’t really work together, so he did what he could do.
“It’s all change now, and not all for the better. I would have voted for the Ulster Unionists. I was always Ulster Unionist, but then things changed. It was all for the DUP after that, but I don’t know if it was for the best”.
Marilyn Reid hopes Mr Trimble will be “remembered favourably”. “He was a good man and he was prepared to try things that other people probably weren’t at that time,” she says.
“I always supported the Ulster Unionists, but at that time I would have been thinking, ‘I don’t know if this is wise or not’.
“But someone had to do something, and he was the one that was prepared to stick his head above the parapet.
“So, with a lot of things back then I would have thought, ‘I don’t know if this is right or not’, but he did do it and therefore he should have a favourable legacy.”