Republican News · Thursday 17 July 1997

[An Phoblacht]

United against British occupation

Manuel Molloy remembers the British occupation of Lenadoon in West Belfast 25 years ago this week

On Thursday 13 July 1972 six hundred troops from three Battalions flooded the Lenadoon area of Belfast at 9.00pm. I remember the night very well; everybody was taken by surprise, including the IRA.

Morning noon and night the IRA had engaged the Brits in every part of the district, patrolled the area on foot patrol, heavily armed and in strength.

The curfew had been broken in Lenadoon days earlier and gun battles seemed to be the order of the day.

Two days before the takeover the IRA had attempted to blow up the post in Lenadoon Avenue, using a mechanical digger loaded with a massive bomb in its bucket. A Volunteer drove the machine into the billet and his comrades surrounded the billet and fired thousands of shots to cover him. During the many exchanges that week one soldier, who had only arrived three days earlier, was shot dead.

The British Army stated that their object was to take back the area which the IRA controlled. But in my eyes the massive operation was to help the besieged troops who occupied the army post and patrolled the area.

The IRA engaged the Brits in many battles. That night gun battles could be heard all around Lenadoon. Next morning people could not believe their eyes. At every corner, every street, every opening there were jeeps, Saracens, whippets, armoured personnel carriers and lorries.

The Brits had dug themselves in, with sentry posts everywhere. People were searched, stopped, harassed and searched again. Meanwhile over the next four days representatives of the Residents Association led by Father Jack Fitzsimmons met Paul Channon, the Minister of State for the Six Counties, in Trench House. Their main objective was to get the British to withdraw, but he refused even to scale down the number of troops in the battle scarred area. Many meetings took place over the next few days and even Whitelaw appealed to the Association to ask the Republican Movement to suspend operations.

On the Sunday around midday the residents attended a massive rally outside Lenadoon shops addressed by Father Jack, everyone agreed to vacate the district leaving the area fo the Brits. The people had endured enough hardship and with the IRA taking on the Brits at every level it became quite clear every resident was in danger. One man, Mr McKeown, was shot dead by the Brits as he removed an obstacle from the road which was in the way of his van on the Shaws Road.

At 2.00pm a mass exodus of Catholic families (around 4000) from Lenadoon moved to Casement Park. Residents carrying suitcases, blankets and food were surrounded by children who carried banners giving the names of the streets which they had left.

After Casement the people were moved to schools, church halls and many went to the homes of relatives. Many more went down south. Father Jack emphasised that the people who had moved out would not return under any circumstances until the demands of the Residents Committee had been met.

In Trench House Mr Whitelaw had asked the Committee to go to the Republican Movement to ask for all activities to be suspended. The IRA agreed to this if the British Army would withdraw from the area and also from the schools and the flats.

By Friday 21 July hopes were rising for the people after the troops vacated the school and some homes. Strong debate raged in the British House of Commons on the methods deployed in Lenadoon, Dr Patrick Hillery then Minister for External Affairs had a meeting in Downing Street with Whitelaw.

When we did finally move back nearly 200 residents didn't get their homes back as the Brits still occupied flats at Corrib Avenue and Lenadoon Avenue. As always the Brits went back on their word. They had been allocated homes in Horn Drive but the British Army refused to let them enter. This was the reason why the ceasefire had broken down weeks before.

I did not believe something like this could happen again, that people could be so united and opposed to the Brits, but a generation later Drumcree changed my mind and proved I was wrong.

Contents Page for this Issue
Reply to: Republican News