With Halloween approaching News Letter reporter GRAEME COUSINS got more than he bargained for on an Orange Order-led ghost tour of Portadown
If you’d said to me 20 years ago there would be tourists in Portadown town centre I’d have laughed at you. In fact if you’d said to me 20 days ago there would be tourists in Portadown town centre I’d still have laughed.
However, last week I was one of nearly 20 tourists walking the streets of the Co Armagh town as part of a ghost tour organised by Portadown Heritage Tours, a branch of the local Orange Order.
And it was to be a ghost tour with a rather appropriate ending ... when a ghostly apparition joined the touring party for a final snap.
As the tour came to an end our guide Lisa Partridge gathered us together for a group photo close to the site of the 1641 massacre at the Bann bridge. She remarked that it was the site in Portadown where a ghost sighting was most likely.
She took the snap and I thought nothing more of it until Lisa shared the photo the next day.
As I scanned the image my eyes were drawn to a figure just behind me in the image that hadn’t been there when the photo was being taken.
In the space between the two ladies positioned fifth and sixth from the right, what looks to be a lady in profile view, with her hair pulled back, can be seen lurking in the background.
I don’t believe in ghosts and my explanation would be that it’s a coincidental arrangement of leaves at the fence behind us, but all the same it did send a few chills up my spine the first time I saw it.
Others in the office agreed that it did look a lot like a human form, and was certainly a lot sharper than some of the blurred images often attached to ghost stories.
Lisa said: “It wouldn’t be the first time a ghost has shown up in a picture taken in that area.
“We took a picture last year under the bridge down at the Bann river and we picked out what looked like the outline of a mother holding the hand of her child.
“It fits in with the 1641 rebellion stories and the massacre that took place at the bridge here.
“We tell people that this area is where they’re most likely to get a sighting.”
The 27-year-old explained how she got involved in historical tours of Portadown: “I’ve always had an interest in history, but was a bit wary of finding work after a history degree, so I did business studies instead.
“I came to the heritage tours from a retail background. The idea of heritage tours is we want to move the Orange Order forward.”
Portadown Heritage Tours was set up with the help of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Lisa, a member of WLOL No 101 in Edenderry, said: “It’s about community tourism. It’s local people telling local stories about places people walk past every day but don’t realise the significance of them.
“Our normal three tours are a town tour, a Drumcree tour and then the tours of (Carleton Street) hall.
“Through the history we were gathering from the other tours, ghost stories started appearing. The majority surrounded the 1641 massacre at the Bann bridge during the 1641 rebellion.
“For that there was actual documentation from witnesses about the apparitions.
“When you start looking for something it’s everywhere. People started coming forward with ghost stories.
“We ran a ghost tour last year as a pilot and it keeps growing.
“We’ve started getting into more of the stories this year.
“Anyone can claim they’ve seen a ghost, so we try to see if there’s an historical event that can be linked to the sighting or if there’s been any documentation of sightings in that area, in newspapers or from other sources.”
She added: “Whenever I go on holidays I always try to do a ghost tour. You get different ones where people get into character, but for this tour I just wanted to strip it all back and focus on the stories.
“There won’t be people jumping out at you or we won’t be embellishing the stories to make them more scary.
“It’s suitable for all ages, though there’s some walking involved to get to the locations around the town.”
The 10-stop tour begins at Carleton Street Orange Hall and finishes at the site of the 1641 massacre at the River Bann.
Asked if she had ever seen a ghost herself, Lisa said: “There’s one in Carleton Street Orange Hall. I haven’t seen it personally but I’ve heard it.
“It’s the ghost of William John Locke (an Orangeman involved in the building of the hall). There’s times it’s just been me and another girl in the office and 100% we’ve heard footsteps going up and down the stairs.
“There’s times you feel like someone is watching you.
“That said, I wouldn’t say it’s a scary place to work.”
Asked if there had been any objections within the local order to running a ghost tour, she said: “Everyone involved with the heritage tours are members of the loyal order.
“Our ethos was that the Orange Order needs to move forward, and put out the hand of friendship.
“To do this we’ve opened up the doors of the hall and invited people in to come and see. It’s not an Orange museum but it’s living history.
“There’s been no objection from the Orange Order to the ghost tours, in fact some of them link back to the Orange Order. As well as Locke, the last man hanged in Portadown was an Orangeman. The 1641 rebellion also has big links to the Protestant culture, there are memorials at the site.
“While there are Orange links this tour is very much cross community. The people who are coming have been 50/50 from both sides of the community.
“We’ve had a lot of people coming from the west – Tyrone, Dungannon.
“We don’t have a set cost yet, we just ask for donation only. Things are still at an early stage and we want to add more stories as well.”
Portadown Heritage Tours which is attached to the Orange Order have been running tours of the town for the past 18 months.
They began running tours of Carleton Street Orange Hall as well as tours of the town and Drumcree. The ghost tour came about as a result of information uncovered on their other tours.
The final ghost tour of the month takes place on Tuesday at 7pm from Carleton Street Orange Hall. Call 02838332010 for availablity.