Republican News · Thursday 19 August 1999

[An Phoblacht]

Unprovoked slaughter

Ardoyne relives 1969 RUC attack

By Mick McNaughton

Fr Des Wilson; Monsignor Raymond Murray; Mark Thompson, chairperson of Relatives for Justice; solicitor Peter Madden; and Claire O'Reilly, chairperson of the Campaign Against Plastic Bullets at the people's tribunal in Ardoyne. The McLarnons' wedding day photo is visible behind O'Reilly

In Ardoyne community centre in north Belfast on Monday night, 16 August, grief mixed with vivid memory as, Anne McLarnon, the widow of the first nationalist fatality from the area gave her testimony - almost 30 years to the day of her husband's murder - to a specially convened people's tribunal.

Fifteen people were shot between 14 and 15 August 1969 in the Ardoyne area. No one has ever been held to account for that orgy of gunfire directed into Ardoyne over a 48-hour period by the RUC and `B' Specials', which they claimed was unleashed in response to nationalist gunfire.

The `Irish News' report on Monday 16 August 1969 said the `B' Specials had ``gone on the rampage in the Ardoyne district, where houses in Butler Street and Brookfield Street were ablaze.'' Samuel Graham of Hooker Street, Gerald Gillespie, Etna Drive, and Eddie Campbell of Brookfield Street'' were among those wounded.

Michael Lynch of Strathroy Park and Sammy McLarnon of Herbert Street were killed. On Monday, 16 August, we heard how, from those who survived.

Chaired by human rights activitists Father Des Wilson and Monsingor Raymond Murray, accompanied by representatives from the Relatives For Justice group; the citizens of Ardoyne were asked to testify as to what they witnessed 30 years ago.

Extracts from the British government's Scarman Tribunal were read, providing a glimpse into the official account of the RUC/'B' Specials attack on Ardoyne as Paisleyite loyalists continued to burn out Catholic homes in Hooker Street. On 7 August, the loyalist mobs had already forced Catholics to flee from their homes in Leopold, Palmer, Oregon, Ottowa, Colombia and Chief Streets.

Significantly, the official RUC report on 17 December 1969, particularly that compiled by District Inspector (DI) Sean Montgomery (the RUC member in charge of operations in Ardoyne during the entire period) did not mention any RUC or `B' men coming under `automatic gunfire' attack from nationalists. However, by the time of the Scarman Tribunal, ten months after the fatal shootings, DI Montgomery had changed his account. The Scarman Tribunal heard he was taking cover behind a ``Humber barrier breaker'' armoured vehicle alongside another senior RUC member named Patterson, as they came under fire.

Patterson, who would later become notorious figure in the RUC over the next 25 years, was reported as describing how his men had ``returned fire'' into Herbert Street. Nine millimetre bullets were used, standard issue for the Sterling sub-machine guns provided for the `B' men and RUC.

It emerged that five Sterling sub-machine guns were in RUC hands that evening, one of which was fired from beside the Humber, yet RUC control were not informed for almost an hour that this squad was under fire, nor indeed that any gunfire had been aimed down Herbert Street, despite an `RT' facility in the Humber.

These were the first recorded shots of 1969 in the RUC's `C' District.

Between this Humber RUC vehicle and a garden wall at the corner of Herbert Street and the Crumlin Road, more gunfire was let loose, leaving the civilian population of `old' Ardoyne fleeing into Glenard.

Sammy McLarnon was found dead by his wife and neighbours lying with his head on the fireplace hearth. Stanley Corbert was to later take his children to safety as RUC bullets continued to pour down the street.

Further into his statement to the Scarman Tribunal, DI Montgomery revealed that he had never asked his men to open fire nor indeed, did he ask what they were shooting at.

The account of the mythical `gun battle' falls down on the lack of bullet casings or holes found either on the far side of the Crumlin Road or in armoured vehicles. Furthermore, no RUC member was wounded. No account of any attack on the RUC or `B' men was carried by the media the next day.

Civilians noted that later RUC members were seen picking up bullet casings, directing flashlights from the firing positions they had earlier used.

Significantly, Mrs McLarnon also witnessed two Protestant men kneeling in front of her house shortly before her husband's murder, being spoken to by a uniformed RUC man, before all three moved away from what was to become the lethal target zone.

Over the next couple of days what was vented into Ardoyne became the template for RUC and later British army attacks leaving thousands of victims over the next 30 years.

Movingly, Anne McLarnon ended saying: ``I just want justice to be done.'' She has never received an apology for what happened and no one has ever been charged with her husband's killing.

d as if to remind Anne McLarnon of that terrible time in 1969 as she spoke in a quiet voice, many heads in the audience turned towards the open doors of the Ardoyne community centre as a grey armoured RUC `Hotspur' vehicle crawled slowly alongside into Herbert Street. After all, what has changed for the RUC? Or indeed for the citizens of Ardoyne? Just another ignored nationalist enclave in the killing grounds of north Belfast.

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