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
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
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
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.