Thursday 14th June 2018. Cloudy. Occasional rain.
Dungannon (population 17,000) is 68 kilometres (41 miles) from Belfast. I live roughly mid-way between Dungannon and Belfast.
I lived for three years in Dungannon from 1979 until 1982. For part of this time I worked in Belfast and for part of the time I worked in Portadown.
Today I took the bus from Belfast at 3.15pm. I wanted to replicate my old journey “home” more than thirty nine years ago. The bus travelled along the M1 motorway.
The bus arrived in Dungannon about 4.10pm.
My history with Dungannon actually goes back further. To around 1960. An aunt lived near the railway station and worked in a newspaper/refreshment kiosk at the station. The station was closed in the mid 1960s and the area was derelict when I lived there. The old railway bridge is still there. And nice to see that the old track lines have been landscaped and there is a new public walkway.
Demoraphically…and this always matters in “Northern Ireland” …the town is now about 60% Catholic-nationalist and 30% Protestant unionists. There is a large population of European Union migrants, especially Portuguese (themselves second generation from Portugal’s former African colonies) who work in the food processing industry.
My earliest recollections of Dungannon are of a divided society. The first Civil Rights march in 1968 was from Coalisland to Dungannon and discrimination in housing, jobs and opportunities was the norm. There are still echoes of this. The Square divides Scotch Street and Irish Street.
The trappings in the Town Square are “British”.
The “old” police station looks like a military fortress. Indeed the urban myth persists that the design was mistakenly sent to Ireland by the British Government in Victorian times. It is widely believed that it was intended for the North West Frontier of British India.
To some extent, Dungannon is still a frontier town but unlike the City of Derry, there is still an exaggerated place for British symbolism. Thru the Troubles, whether thru violence or electoral change or simply demographics, there is an ongoing process called the “Greening of the West”, a process where unionist power and influence have declined while nationalist power and influence have increased.
Ranfurly House, also in the Square is now a heritage centre telling the story of Dungannon. Dungannon (originally “Gannons Fort” was a stronghold of the O’Neill clan (the most powerful in Ulster) in the middle ages. They lost power and wtih most Gaelic chiefs left Ireland in 1607.
The O’Neills ruled the Castle from about 1300 until their departure. The Castle then went to Arthur Chichester, the English architect of the Plantation of Ulster. At the end of the 17th century, the Castle passed to the Earl of Ranfurly (Knox) who built a new towered structure. The ruin can still be seen behind Ranfurly House.
I stayed in Dungannon for about an hour. The walk downhill from the Square to the Bus Station is a lot easier than the uphill walk.
I took the 5.10pm bus to Portadown (via Moy, Charlemont and Loughgall). This is a route I travelled on a daily basis when I lived in Dungannon and worked near Portadown. It takes about 50 minutes. I arrived in Portadown before 6pm and was home by 6.20pm