Drumcree loomed large in the memory of former Portadown Times editor David Armstrong when he contributed to a new book on ‘The Troubles’.
Compiled by former Portadown Times and UTV reporter Ivan Little and former Ireland editor of the Press Association Deric Henderson, ‘Reporting the Troubles’ is a compilation of stories by journalists who worked in NI during that 40 years.
David’s moving piece, entitled ‘How Drumcree changed my home town’, encapsulates life from a sleepy Portadown to how changing demographics and the powder keg of the Troubles ignited tensions across the town.
Having been editor of the Portadown Times for more than 40 years, David was regularly asked for his ‘take’ on events and during Drumcree, journalists throughout the world traipsed into his office to try and gain some understanding of the situation.
“Portadown had its fair share of trouble - the murders, the bombings and Drumcree. They all changed the dynamics of editing a local paper. And they were all a far cry from my early days in the papers...” David wrote.
He also pays tribute to previous journalists who had worked for him in the Portadown Times, including Brian Courtney, a young Ivan Little, Niall Crozier, Mairead Holland, Gail Bell and photographer Tony Hendron as well as the late Victor Gordon who was Deputy Editor.
Victor is mentioned several times in this new book. Indeed Ivan Little dedicated the book to him, saying: “For Victor Gordon, my friend and mentor from the Portadown Times, who sadly died before he could contribute to this book.”
Ken Reid, Political Editor at UTV recalls in his piece ‘David Trimble - the unlikely peacemaker’ that Victor Gordon was one of the few reporters the former Upper Bann MP would speak to.
The book has stories by 68 renowned reporters - recalling victims and events that are seared in their memory.
Former BBC journalist Noreen Erskine’s article ‘A birthday present for Billy Wright’ recalls the ‘especially poignant’ funeral of Lurgan native Michael McGoldrick who, aged 31, was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries. By his graveside Michael’s father, also called Michael, forgave his son’s killers. His murder was apparently a birthday present for Portadown loyalist Billy Wright.
Acclaimed journalist Trevor Birney in his article ‘George Mitchell - the man who lit up the peace process’ recalls, in 1996, interviewing President Bill Clinton in North Carolina, USA on a potential IRA cease-fire and the stand-off at Drumcree.
Portadown also features strongly in a piece by Susan McKay and again the horrific events surrounding Drumcree.
Steven McCaffrey recalls Rosemary Nelson’s last interview. The Lurgan lawyer had represented the family of Robbie Hamill after he was murdered in Portadown and also the residents of the Garvaghy Road during the Drumcree crisis.
Ivan, who recalls living in the ‘much sought after’ Aldervale flats in Craigavon when working at the Portadown Times, recounts his time in UTV covering the horrific massacre at Sean Graham Bookmakers in Belfast where five Catholics were killed by loyalist paramilitaries in 1992.
In his introduction to Reporting The Troubles, former peace envoy Senator George Mitchell notes that little has been said or written about “a small group of courageous men and women” – the reporters who through their work made an enormous contribution to the peace effort.
He says this book will leave a lasting a lasting impression and as Mitchell says, “contains accounts of death and life, of loss and survival, of heroism and cowardice, all of which in the aggregate convey the swirl of emotions experienced by those who lived through the Troubles”.
He spoke of his admiration for his mentor Victor and how he had wished some of the late journalist’s stories could have been published in this book.
‘Reporting the Troubles’ is priced £14.99 is published by Blackstaff Press Colourpoint House, Jubilee Business Park, 21 Jubilee Road, Newtownards, BT23 4YH e: email@example.com
You can buy a copy online at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Reporting-Troubles-Journalists-Northern-conflict/dp/1780731795