The Twelfth of July 1922: Portadown
On the Twelfth the Orangemen of Portadown District celebrated the Boyne Anniversary at Derryhale. There was a ‘monster demonstration’ held in a field kindly placed at the disposal of the brethren by Mr James Wright. There was a record turnout of the members of the various Lodges.
After the procession had reached the field, the ceremony of opening the new hall, which would be home to LOL 81, was performed. The hall was officially opened by Mrs Best, wife of the Attorney General for Northern Ireland. Mrs Best was presented with a silver key by the Worshipful Master Brother Richard Preston.
In declaring the hall open, Mrs Best said she hoped it would be a ‘centre of loyalty in the District’.
It was after 2:00pm when the meeting in the field commenced. The meeting was led by Worshipful District Master Brother W H Wright. Others on the platform included; Richard Best Attorney General for Northern Ireland, Mrs Best, Miss Best, Rev Canon Moeran, Rev J Heney, Rev Dr Johnston, J Callender, D Moore, William Gough, David Rock, J Sandford and R H Bell.
Colonel Sir William Allen in a letter of apology said:
“These are strange and dangerous times through which we are passing…. Today we should thank God that in our area, little of the trouble and crimes that have characterised other districts have taken place”.
Portadown and the Partition Years
Portadown had become refuge for scores of Protestants in 1921 as republican violence and intimidation, in the aftermath of the setting up of the Irish Free State, reached its height. The Orange Order took a leading role in helping to resettle these families from the border counties of Cavan, Monaghan, Leitrim and other areas of the South. They were helped by members of Portadown District to get housing and obtain employment.
Portadown earned the enviable reputation of being the largest town in Ireland to escape the worst horrors of 1920-22. While the rest of Ireland experienced murders, bombings, shootings and rioting, the town of Portadown remained relatively unaffected. This situation was due to the efforts of leading Portadown Orangeman Brother David Rock who worked very hard to keep the peace.
David Rock is renowned for his service to the Orange and Black Institutions. He was District Commandant of the Ulster Special Constabulary in Portadown during the 1920’s. It was his leadership combined with the discipline and dedication of his men which maintained peace in the town.
One incident that caused intense feeling throughout the town was the murder of a young Portadown Orangeman serving with the ‘A’ special Constabulary. Brother William McKnight from Mary Street in the town, was wounded in an IRA ambush in County Tyrone in 1922 and died a few days later.
“He was a popular member of Seagoe LOL 26 and had served with distinction in the Great War with the Inniskillings. Naturally, his murder caused outrage throughout the town”.
In spite of efforts to prevent retaliation, a young Roman Catholic man was shot by gunmen a few miles from the town. There were real fears of rioting in the town, but prompt action by Brother David Rock and the specials maintained the peace.
Tributes to David Rock
Joe Devlin, MP for West Belfast, spoke at a Nationalist Function in Portadown a number of years later, he was eminently fair in paying tribute to the people of the town for their tolerance and good sense during this period. David Rock was one of the prime reasons for this and he was a man who commanded admiration and respect.
Although David Rock was never District Master, his legacy lives on to this day. As a mark of respect to his actions during the partition years a Lodge Room in Carleton Street Orange Hall is named after him. All the other Lodge Rooms within the hall are named after past District Masters, with the exception being the Bell Room which is a designated room for the local Royal Black Chapter.
The Twelfth Concludes
A number of speeches followed, and the resolutions were read by Reverend Canon Moeran. Their thoughts were with members of the Orange Institution in Southern Ireland during the period of unrest. The platform proceedings closed with the singing of the National Anthem.