Burning of Bombay St remembered

Hundreds of members of the West Belfast community gathered on Sunday for a march and rally to mark the 40th anniversary of the pogroms of August 1969.

Four decades on from one of the seminal events of the Troubles, marchers walked through the streets of the lower Falls in west Belfast to remember the burning of Bombay Street.

The attack on Catholic homes and nearby Clonard Monastery by a loyalist mob in August 1969 led to the deployment of British troops in the city and signaled the rebirth of the IRA and ultimately the emergence of the Provisionals.

More than 2,000 people were left homeless as violence raged in west Belfast and many families who were affected attended a commemorative march yesterday.

The march assembled in the lower Falls area close to where nine-year-old Patrick Rooney, the first child victim of the Troubles, was shot dead by the RUC as he lay in his bed in the former Divis Flats complex.

After passing Clonard monastery, several hundred people gathered in Bombay Street which was razed to the ground 40 years ago.

Veteran republican Sean ‘Spike’ Murray, who had been on the streets of Clon-rd as a young man, recalled an area in a state of “shock, trepidation and disbelief”.

He recounted his memories of the time.

“We erected a small barricade cross the Kashmir Road, beside where I lived, at its junction with Bombay Street,’’ he said.

“Young and old, male and female were united in the quest to provide an adequate defence for our community.

“It proved to be a massive watershed for me and my generation.

“Never again - unlike our parents’ generation - would we accept discrimination and second class citizenship.

“The death knell was sounded for the Orange state.”

Mr Murray said the only “vehicle for change” at the time had been militant republicanism, namely Na Fianna Eireann or the IRA.

“As they say, the rest is history.”

The following are extracts from Mr Murray’s speech

First of all, I would like to thank the organisers of today’s event, the Clonard Martyrs Memorial Committee, for all the ongoing work involved in maintaining the garden, murals and numerous commemorative plaques around the area. They ensure through their dedication and hard work that our patriot dead are commemorated in a fitting manner.

The garden behind us incorporates three main commemorative plaques. The centre piece records all the Volunteers from ‘C’ Company on the Roll of Honour alongside civilians from the Clonard area who were killed over the years by British forces and their loyalist murder gangs.

On the right hand side of the garden the plaque perpetuates the memory of all deceased ex-pows from the area from 1916 until this present day, many of whom gave a life time of service to the Republican Movement.

Last, but not least, on the far side of the garden a plaque acknowledges the essential role in our struggle played by our ‘unsung heroes’ who, in their own quiet way, assisted over the years by opening their doors and their hearts to the IRA. Without your assistance the struggle would not have survived and we owe you everything.

Forty years ago, this area, like the Falls and Ardoyne, was in a state of shock, trepidation and disbelief, at what had unfolded before our very eyes over the previous 48 hours.

And of course, this was not the first time that this community had been subject to murder and terror.

In July 1920, eight local residents were murdered by the British army, including Brother Michael Morgan from Clonard Monastery. The rationale for the attacks in the 1920’s was to coerce, intimidate and terrorise Nationalists into tolerating partition and the establishment of the Orange state.

In 1969, the loyalist pogrom across Belfast was the Orange states response to our just demands for basic human and civil rights, for housing and the right to vote.

Eight died, 750 were injured and 133 were treated for gunshot wounds. 1,505 nationalist families were driven from their homes through burning and intimidation. 179 homes and buildings were completely destroyed and almost 400 were damaged.

But in 1969 a generation of young nationalists weren’t for lying down. Mindful of other inspirational events worldwide the pogroms were a major watershed in their lives.

No longer would they accept unionist discrimination and one party rule. The death knell was sounded for the Orange state.

When that generation looked around for leadership, direction and inspiration, local Republicans afforded it. The older heads like Volunteers Billy Hannaway and Proinsias McAirt, who were highly respected and experienced, provided both leadership and direction. The bravery of Fian Gerald McAuley, who fought with his bare hands against the guns of the unionist mob, was our source of inspiration.

Young and old, male and female were united in the quest to provide an adequate defence for our community. Within 10 months of the pogrom Oglaigh na hEireann had developed an effective defensive capacity as was evidenced in June 1970 at Mayo Street , Saint Matthews and Ardoyne.

This scenario motivated many young men and women to join the ranks of the IRA. They were all rational people who weighed up the obvious risks involved alongside the potential gains for their community. Republican tradition had taught them that there were only two possible destinations for active Republicans i.e. the prison cell or the grave, but their commitment to the struggle overcame their concerns and fears.

Many subsequently featured on the C Company Roll of Honour. We remember the youthful spirits of Fians McAuley and O’Riordan. The leadership of Volunteers Proinsias McAirt and Billy Hannaway. The executions of Volunteers Sean Gaynor, the Duffin brothers, Gerard O’Callaghan, Tom Williams, Dan McCann and Sean Savage.

The fearlessness of Volunteers Sean McCartney, Seamus Burns, Seamus Simpson, Danny O’Neill, Gerard Crossan, John Johnston, Tony Lewis, Tom McCann and Big Finbar McKenna.

We will never forget the quiet resolve and commitment of Volunteers Peter Blake, Tom McGoldrick, Joe McKenna, Martin McKenna, Brian Dempsey and Jim McKernan.

Many more were to experience the hospitality of her Majesty’s prisons, many of whom are in attendance today. Along with their fallen comrades they shared a common desire for justice and freedom and they were motivated by a vision for a better future for all in a democratic and united Ireland . They fought for a better quality of life for all of our people, not just a small elite.

After almost 30 years of armed struggle, in which we fought the British war machine relentlessly, resulting in military stalemate, despite our enemy using harassment, repression, imprisonment, collusion and execution, our resolve remains intact.

Republicans have made a long and painful journey over forty years of struggle from the pogroms of ‘69’. The sacrifices of so many Volunteers and members of our community have brought us to where we are today.

We must realise their dreams and aspirations, but those dreams will only become a reality if all Republicans apply themselves to the task at hand. There is clearly a role for anyone and everyone who buys into our vision for a united Ireland . Let us attempt to match their resolve by making our contribution count.

Let us collectively reflect on what we have achieved and the suffering we have ensured to deliver it. Let us all rise together to meet the challenges ahead. Let us build political strength nationally and bring about freedom.

Our commitment and cohesion have been forged over 40 years of struggle.

Together, we must continue to work for the Republic.

Beirigi Bua.

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© 2009 Irish Republican News