One of the most potentially explosive situations regarding a serious outbreak of public disorder ever to have occurred in County Leitrim took place on Monday, 12th July 1931 in the village of Newtowngore. On that day local Orangemen from Leitrim and adjoining counties had planned a massive 12th of July celebration in Newtowngore. It was to have been the first Orange demonstration in Connaught since 1897 and thousands of Orangemen with their bands were expected to descend on the village. From the outset, Nationalists in Leitrim were determined to prevent the march going ahead, and in a show of unity the bitterest of political rivals in 26 county politics – Cumman na nGaelheal and Fianna Fail – buried their differences to form an united front to stop the Orangemen coming to Newtowngore.
The authorities were so worried about the threat to public disorder that 100 Guards and a large detachment of military were moved into the village to keep the rival factions apart. However as the 12th of July dawned matters looked very serious indeed. Hundreds of Nationalists from all over south Leitrim and further afield assembled in Newtowngore determined to stop the Orange demonstration going ahead.
The ‘Observer’ newspaper reported that “Newtowngore was for several hours on Monday a beleaguered hamlet”, as Orangemen from Cavan and Leitrim had intended a 12th of July meeting to be held there. The last of its kind in Connaught had taken place 34 years earlier and Nationalists were determined to stop it. While the Orangemen of Cavan and Leitrim were preparing to descend on Newtowngore, the nationalist Cumann na nGaelheal and Fianna Fail amalgamated for the time being, and were consulting as to the easiest method of preventing the meeting being held. The Orangemen had erected a platform in a typical triangular field opposite the Protestant Church, the platform being in the dip with the rising ground around it, providing a natural stadium for the thousands expected.
The platform stood bravely in the field at 10am. A quarter of an hour later the first nationalists from the surrounding districts of Drumreily, Aughavas, Fenagh and Gorvagh arrived and demolished it, erecting a pole to which a tricolour was affixed. Anticipating a collision between the two parties, 100 members of the Civic Guard drawn from stations in Longford, Roscommon and Leitrim had been drafted in to supplement the local force. Most were stationed in the village, while others were put out on scouting duty. A few hours before the meeting was due to be held, all the roads into the village were patrolled by motor cars with Guards. At 12:30 Newtowngore hummed with military and police activity, with the village transformed from a place of peace to one with warlike action. Nationalists drawn from all over the place were in possession of the roads leading to the field where the meeting was due to be held and where the tricolour floated over a wrecked platform. Guards formed cordons on the roads approaching it and the village itself was drawn up with two military vehicles and 50 members of the Irish speaking battalion from Finner Camp under the command of two officers.
On the outskirts of the village Orangemen assembled, but when informed of the waiting opposition and not wanting confrontation or to cause any offence, withdrew from the area. Later the military withdrew to Ballinamore and the Guards took over. No attempt was made to hold the meeting, which would have been impossible without bloodshed in view of the attitude of the Nationalists, who were armed with every form of weapon such as hefty branches, motor car levers, while other had hurleys. They marched up to the front of the field and effectively prevented any meeting taking place. The Killeshandra Orange Band, in a lorry, was held up outside the village and quietly returned when informed the meeting couldn’t be held in Newtowngore. Cavan contingents returned the same way. Ironically elsewhere, the first Orange parade to be held in Donegal since the Treaty took place peacefully.
written by Bro. Greg Hopkins (Risings Sons of Killegar LOL NO. 404, Co. Leitrim)