Category Archives: Christian heritage

The Catch

The Catch

Portadown has two buildings formerly used in connection with the once flourishing temperance movement.  One of these was the Temperance Hall, mainly used by the Rechabite movement which recruited children and young people.  The other building, now part of Sprotts Ltd Portadown in Edward Street, was the home of the ‘Catch-my-pal’ movement, which existed in the early 1900’s.

It closed in the 1930’s to become the Savoy Cinema, but the link with the past persisted, and the cinema was referred to by local filmgoers as ‘The Catch’, and that was the case until the closure of the cinema in the late 1950s.

The Catch-my-Pall organisation former a few years before the 1st World War by an Armagh Road Presbyterian minister, the Rev.Robert J Patterson, later to be known as ‘Catch-my-Pal’ Patterson, founder of the Protestant Total Abstinence Union.  The new organisation spread like wildfire throughout County Armagh and further afield.  Portadown was one of the liveliest in the province, and by 1910, it had 1,127 members.

Its president was prominent Portadown Orangeman, Mr William Henry Wright, solicitor, chairman of Portadown Urban District Council.  The treasurer was Mr George Gregory, another member of the Urban Council.  The big demand was to provide recreation and games for the pals, and a top floor flat in a building in Woodhouse Street was secured for reading rooms, darts, snooker and other amusements.  The flat was not big enough to meet the expectations of the growing membership.

The branch secured its own premises in Edward Street, which was later converted into Portadown’s second cinema, The savoy.  The Temperance work was carried out at the same time as the films were being shown on the screen in the cinema.  The branch also had its own band- the first ro be formed by any branch, trained by Mr Tom Montgomery.

The Pals branch also held shooting competitions, and hey even and an unemployment bureau, for the benefit of employers needing workers, before the state established theirs.  The Pals paid a weekly subscription of 1 penny for these facilities.  Those joining the Temperance organisation were asked to give an undertaking that they would not drink alcohol, and would do their best to promote the Temperance movement,


Temperance Hall

Temperance Hall

The building now occupied by shops in West Street, near the junction of Mandeville Street, was formerly called The Temperance Hall.  It’s name was a link with the once flourishing temperance movement which existed in Northern Ireland until the late 1950’s and early 60’s.  In the aftermath of the great religious revival in the North of Ireland in 1859, many temperance societies were formed.  It was a time when the industrial revolution was taking place, and many people were moving from the Ulster Countryside to Belfast and the big linen towns like Portadown and Lurgan.

Heavy drinking was a feature of life in the British Isles at the time, alcohol being comparatively cheap, it was a means whereby people living in poor and often overcrowded streets could escape from the harsh realities of life, through excess drinking.

The Churches, were well aware of the need to counteract this outbreak of heavy drinking and they formed organisations aimed at providing not only an alternative to this, but as a means of educating young people about the perils of indulging in excess drinking.

The Temperance Hall in West Street was home to an organisation called The Independent Order of Good Templers, and its junior movement, the Independent Order of Rechabites.  Hundreds of young Portadown people belonged to the Rechabites which met in the Temperance Hall, and in the year 1911 it had a membership of 700, a figure to grow within a few years to over 1,000.

The Rechabites was an organisation along the lines of the Lifeboy branch of the Boys Brigade or the Junior Orange Lodges.  Children were taught Bible stories, they painted scenes from the Bible, and their weekly meetings were often visited by men-it was mostly male speakers-who told of how they had been converted to Christianity, and in doing so had ceased drinking alcohol.

The years after the 2nd World War saw a big decline in membership of the Temperance societies, due in large measure to the creation of the welfare state, and the greater prosperity, allied to the provision of better housing for the working class people, and the growing popularity of sporting and recreational activities which provided the alternative to the public house and excess drinking.  But even as late as the 1950’s, the Rechabites in the Temperance Hall still had a large membership.

Temperance movement


Old Primary Schools

Old Primary Schools

Most of Portadown’s central primary schools have disappeared, due to the redevelopment of the 1960’s and 70’s, and the great movement of population.  Two of these schools, Church Street Primary and Thomas Street Primary, were replaced by the new Millington Primary School.

Church Street and Thomas Street schools are now incorporated into the religious fabric of the town, Thomas Street being part of the large Thomas Street Methodist Halls complex, and Church Street now renamed the Fergus Hall.  Fergus Hall honours the name of Mr Sam Fergus, a man who played a noble part in his long service to St Mark’s Parish Church, and its organisations.  But the former school name has not been entirely obliterated from the famous building.  Above the doorway in Fergus Hall is still engraved the title ‘Church Street Public Elementary School’ dated 1889.  It also reveals that this was the date on which the rebuilt National School was opened, so the ‘Duke’s School’ as it was known, had played an important role in educational affairs from an earlier date.

The name of the school before 1889, had been the Duke of Manchester School, and in 1882, the National Education Commissioners appointed the Rev. Augustine Fitzgerald, rector of St Mark’s Parish Church, Patron of the Duke of Manchester School.

From the 1930’s, Church Street P.E.S also shared classes with in the Academy School, a short distance away, beside Armagh Road Presbyterian Church.  The former Academy School building is now part of the church halls belonging to Armagh Road Presbyterian Church.

Thomas Street Primary School in the pre-State school days had been a mainly Methodist School.  Before the three main Protestant denominations transferred their schools in the late 1920’s to state control, the majority, but not all pupils in Church Street PES belonged to the Church of Ireland.  There were a minority of Methodist, Presbyterian, and other faith pupils enrol led in the school, and many of them came from the small, tightly knit community of streets along West Street, which stretched  from Fowlers Entry to Irwin Street.

The Roman Catholic Church, unlike the three main Protestant denominations, declined to hand over control of their schools to the state.  In Portadown, this included the Presentation Convent School in Thomas Street and the St Columba’s Boys SCarleton Street.



The Academy Public Elementary School

The Academy Public Elementary School

The Academy Public Elementary School was situated in Church street in Portadown.  The School belonged to the First Presbyterian Church and was located next door.  it is now used by the Church youth groups and Sunday Schools.

Don Stevenson was the headmaster of the School when it closed in 1935.  It’s pupils transferred to Church Street Primary School and Sir Robert Hart Memorial Primary School.

When Don Stevenson was headmaster he formed a boys football team.  One of Portadowns most famous footballers, Davy Cochrane, played for the school team.  He went on to play full time professional football at Leeds United and was also a Northern Ireland International.

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