Category: Archive

In Derry’s Bogside, echoes of 1969

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

DERRY — At one o’clock on August 12 1969, the Apprentice Boys of Derry set off on their annual parade around the walls of the city, as they had done many times previously, but before they returned home that year, they had lit a flame which created the modern IRA.

The "Battle of the Bogside" resulted from that annual parade, and the irony that cannot have escaped many people’s notice — however different the rioting — is that it was on the very same place that last weekend’s violence erupted.

Thirty years previously, as the Apprentice Boys arrived in Waterloo Place, two middle-aged women danced about singing "The Sash." Catholics were behind crash barriers watching.

At 2.30 p.m., protesters fired nails, stones and bricks at the RUC. One man fired marbles and ball-bearings at the Apprentice Boys and the riot that followed lasted two days and nights until it was controlled by the arrival of the British Army at approximately 4 p.m. on August 14 1969.

Before that, however, the Battle of the Bogside took place as the RUC forced the rioters back into that nationalist stronghold, where they had prepared defenses. As the police advanced, they met with a hail of stone, bricks, rocks, bottles and petrol bombs.

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Of the 59 police officers on the scene in William Street, forty-three had to be treated for injuries. Another barricade preventing their path into the Bogside, at Sackville Street, was destroyed and the police then decided to advance on the main barricade, at Rossville Street.

It was a high wall of metal, wood and concrete slabs and it took six attempts to breach it. The police poured through, closely followed by a 200-strong mob of loyalists. The incursion was the last straw and over the next two days, it was full scale revolt.

The police withdrew and were caught between the loyalists, trying to get into the Bogside, and the Catholics attacking the RUC. CS gas was used for the first time in the city, causing a stalemate.

Taoiseach Jack Lynch said the Republic would "not stand idly by" and the news put heart into the fighters. The RUC were exhausted and the B-Specials were sent in carrying pick-ax handles and batons.

The British Army by then had been ordered in and before long had taken up positions in Waterloo Place. The Bogsiders, to the great anger of some republicans, welcomed them.

It took another year before the IRA had a competent organization in Derry city, but a pool of potential recruits had been formed.

Thirty years on, many of the youths who fought the Battle of the Bogside are now involved in the peace process. Others believe the process is a dud, so full of inherent contradictions and fallacies that it’s doomed to fail.

Both sides, however, must hope that in 30 years time no-one looks back to the events of summer 1999 with such a sense of needless suffering and waste.

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