The Collen family have their roots firmly in the building, construction and development of Portadown.
The Collen family have been involved in the building trade since 1810. Collen Brothers opened their doors for business in 1867 in Carleton Street, Portadown. John Collen took the lead in establishing the new family company along with his brothers Richard, Joseph and David. Collen brothers managed to secure a wide variety of contracts not only in Portadown but also throughout Ulster.
The Collen Brothers built Carleton Street Orange Hall. The outside facade of the hall holds a strong resemblance to the Blacker family residence that was Carrickblacker House. The firm became the main contractor for public works in the town. The company expanded well beyond its native region, extending its reach to Dublin in the early 1870’s.
Strong Unionist Links
John Collen acquired a local residence at Killycomain House which became the family home. He was an important figure in the town and a prominent Methodist. He was appointed Justice of the Peace for Portadown and emerged as a leading member of the local Unionist Party. He was a member of the General Committee of the North Armagh Unionist Association during the first decade of the twentieth century.
He was selected to represent Portadown Urban District Council as a member of Armagh County Council. He remained a member of the Council for over two decades until his retirement due to ill health in 1920. John Collen was also appointed as Deputy Lieutenant for the County in December 1906, retaining the post until his death in 1921. He also served as high sheriff of Armagh in 1911, attending the coronation of King George V.
The Collen woman and Orangeism in Portadown
Perhaps it was the influence of their father’s strong unionist views, but it was two of John Collen’s Daughters that paved the way for the Women’s Loyal Orange Institution in Portadown. Louisa and Jessie Collen were prominent Orangewomen of Portadown. The Association of Loyal Orange Women of Ireland, Armagh No.3 District, Portadown was formed on 21st May 1923. There were three District Lodges functioning at this time.
The Officers were:
- District Mistress Sister Mrs. McDonald
- Deputy District Mistress Sister Jessie Collen
- District Chaplain Sister Miss McDonald
- District Secretary Sister Mrs J Logan
- District Treasurer Sister Miss Dougan
Louisa Shillington (nee Collen)
Louisa Collen married David Graham Shillington in 1895. The Shillington family were also very important in the development of Portadown. David Graham Shillington was a proud Unionist, Methodist and Military man. He served as District Master of Portadown LOL No.1 from 1926 until 1944.
Louisa was influential in the development of Women’s Orangeism and Unionism in Portadown. Sister Shillington held office in WLOL 62, a lodge based in Carleton Street Orange Hall and still going strong to this day. The Lodge was the first to be formed in Portadown on 21st May 1921. Louisa was also President of the Women’s Unionist Association Portadown Branch.
Jessie Collen was the youngest daughter of John and Mary Collen. Sister Collen was the first Worshipful Mistress of WLOL 101, based at Edenderry Orange Hall in the town. According to newspaper records it was her Sister Louisa Shillington that officially opened Edenderry Orange Hall. The Lodge was formed on 8th May 1923. Sister Collen was also the first Deputy District Mistress of Armagh No.3 District, Portadown.
Records show that Jessie was influential in representing Women’s Orangeism at many different parades and events. One notable event that Sister Collen attended was the visit of their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of York to Northern Ireland in 1924 along with Sisters Mrs McDonald and Miss Shaw. There is no mention of representation from the men of Portadown District LOL No.1. But both organisations of the Orange Institution of Portadown worked very closely together, so it is thought that the Sisters in attendance were a representation of the Portadown Orange Institution as a whole.
Through obvious family links a strong working relationship was developed between both the men’s orange institution and the women’s orange institution in Portadown. The District Officers of the Women’s Association would have paraded at the front along with the District Officers of Portadown District LOL No.1. According to Newspaper records they shared out attendances at events and often would have had joint church services and parades. The effects of this strong relationship built in the 1920’s is still present today.
A lasting Memorial to Jessie Collen
Jessie Collen died on New Year’s Eve in 1931. She had been living at 5 Deramore Park , Belfast located in the Malone area in the South of the city. But she passed away at the residence of her eldest brother, Thomas John Collen esquire, at 20 Bethia Road Bournemouth, England. It is thought that she was only in her late fifties when she died.
In 1937, six years after Sister Collen’s death, Edenderry Women’s LOL 101 was officially renamed ‘The Jessie Collen Memorial Women’s LOL 101’ as a lasting tribute to the memory of its first Worshipful Mistress. Under the auspices of the lodge, a small function took place in Edenderry Orange Hall on 14th April 1937 to mark the occasion. There were a number of visitor’s present including D.M. Bro Major David Graham Shillington, Sister Louisa Shillington (nee Collen) D.M of WLOL 62 and Br R.J Magowan W.M of Edenderry Temperance and Benefit LOL No.322.
Jessie Collen is buried in the Collen family plot at Seagoe Cemetery.
Collen 200 years of Building and Civil Engineering in Ireland, John Walsh
Portadown Times articles 1923-1937
Portadown District LOL No.1 2005 County Demonstration booklet
NAI, Census of Ireland 1901 and 1911, Household return for John Collen