Statements issued by three republican parties to mark the anniversary of the Battle of the Bogside, when the cause of equality crystallised into a campaign for freedom.
Sinn Féin (Elisha McCallion MP)
To talk about the Battle of the Bogside and the intervening years it is necessary to set it in context. And although it was before my time I learned much about it through stories recited by those who were there and also through my own interest in learning about the causes of the conflict that followed. I read everything I could access about the formation of the Civil Rights Association and the events leading up to the Battle of the Bogside and its aftermath.
In the late 1960s, Civil Rights struggles in the US, and student protests in France and Germany inspired those campaigning for reform and social justice in the North of Ireland. The civil rights movement (NICRA) was formed in the mid-60s seeking to achieve reform and demand an end to gerrymandering, discrimination in employment and housing and repeal of the Special Powers Act. Unionists opposed reform believing that it would lead to a United Ireland and were and still are instinctively opposed to the very concept of equality. This opposition to equality may perhaps offer the best rationale for the conflict that was about to engulf the North for the next quarter of a century.
Following the RUC attack on the Duke Street Civil Rights march on October 5th 1968, the Burntollet ambush of the Peoples Democracy march in January 1969, the subsequent invasion by the RUC of the St. Columbs Well’s and in particular, the deaths of Francis McCloskey, in Dungiven, 14th July 1969 and Sammy Devenny 17th July 1969 in William Street, who were the first fatalities of the ‘Troubles’, batoned and beaten by the RUC, the scene was set for the Battle of the Bogside in August ’69,
The Battle of the Bogside will of course be seen first for the extensive use of the noxious CS Gas by the RUC and was the catalyst for the British Army deployment onto the streets of the North. As that year’s Apprentice Boys parade passed the bottom of William Street rioting erupted. In the ensuing battle the RUC accompanied by a unionist mob used armoured cars and water cannon to drive the rioters back into the Bogside.
After three days of fierce rioting the Bogside defenders eventually succeeded in forcing the RUC, who had been reinforced by the hated B-Specials and the loyalists out of the area. As it became obvious that the RUC could not contain the Bogside Defenders and that Stormont was losing control of the situation, as more nationalist areas around the North rose in support of Derry the British Government sent its Army onto the Streets of Derry.
In late afternoon,of August 14 the word spread that the British Army had been deployed at William Street and the rioting had stopped. Shortly after the British Army appeared the RUC and B-Specials were withdrawn. The British government propaganda machine was simultaneously deployed telling the world that it deployed troops to protect the ‘beleaguered’ civilian population. But one recurring question asked about that day, is that if, as was reported, the British Army were brought in to protect nationalists from unionist mobs and the sectarian RUC and B-Specials, why were their guns pointed into nationalist areas!
It was only later that people became aware of the price that Belfast and other areas had paid and continued to pay in the days and weeks that followed the Battle of the Bogside. At the height of the Battle, appeals had been made for other areas to come out and to draw the RUC away from Derry. Calls had also been issued by various spokespersons for the Bogside residents on the Irish Government to act.
The then Taoiseach, Jack Lynch made a television address announcing that ‘field hospitals’ would be set up in border areas. He went on to say that: “... the present situation is the inevitable outcome of the policies pursued for decades by successive Stormont governments. It is clear also that the Irish government can no longer stand by and see innocent people injured and perhaps worse.”
It’s a pity that successive Irish governments went on to not only stand by and watch, but to actively collaborate with British governments in attempting to criminalise the fight for Irish self-determination and freedom.
It should be remembered that in Derry, despite the intensity of the unrest and over a thousand casualties plus, the fact that the RUC had used live rounds, no-one had been killed. Unfortunately it was a different story in other areas that came out in support of Derry. In Armagh a local man, John Gallagher was shot dead by the B-Specials during a protest. He was the first fatality of August 1969 but in the following two days another seven people would die.
In Belfast, after nationalist protests about the RUC actions in Derry; vicious sectarian riots erupted and continued throughout the following day. In Divis Street the RUC opened fire from an armoured car with a heavy machine-gun on the Divis Flats and Towers killing a young Catholic boy (Patrick Rooney, 9 years old) while he lay in bed.
The next day (15th August) six people were killed and countless more injured during escalating sectarian pogroms in Belfast. Despite the heroic efforts of a small band of IRA volunteers, dozens of families were burned out or forced to move from their homes.
During the next quarter of a century, following the Battle of the Bogside and the introduction of British troops onto the streets of the North we witnessed an escalation of hostilities between Irish Republicans and British security services and unionist paramilitaries. Internment, Bloody Sunday, Operation Motorman where among the watershed moments.
After many years of struggle we have now created the basis for peaceful and democratic means to pursue our goal of National Self-Determination. No one can seriously deny that change has been delivered and that the Orange state of 1969 no longer exists.
But while we have progressed significantly in dismantling gerrymandering, discrimination in employment and housing and other areas, there is still a way to go to achieve full equality in all aspects of life and for all sections of society.
We have new battles to fight in the context of Brexit and of course the changing demographics and political atmosphere has put the debate on Irish reunification squarely on the table.
So there are interesting and challenging times ahead and I encourage as many people as possible to let their voices be heard on these important issues which will forge the future of this island for generations to come.
August 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the now infamous Battle of the Bogside; where the people of Derry and the Bogside rose up in open revolt against decades of blatant sectarian oppression and rampant sectarian murder by the Occupied Six County Statelet.
In never seen before heroics, the Republican community of the Bogside showed Stormont and the world that they would no longer bow down to them by defending their community in open defiance.
Community leaders, residents and the youth of the Bogside and surrounding areas, came together to defend the Bogside to ensure there would not be anymore Sammy Devenneys; beaten to death by the armed wing of the state, the RUC.
Little did the state know, that the open show of defiance and the hard fought for creation of Free Derry, would be the catalyst to the rebirth of the Republican Movement.
The young defenders of the Bogside, withstood wave after wave of attacks by the RUC and B-Specials. Armed only with stones and later petrol bombs, they repelled the armed might of the state.
Makeshift barricades were erected beside the Rosville Flats which were defended not only by the youth on the ground but, also from above. From the top of the Rosville flats debris, stones, rocks, petrol bombs and even a sink and bath were thrown to back up their young comrades on the ground.
Not only were the flats a good vantage point to defend the Bogside from, they were also a fantastic asset in seeing the sectarian hoards of RUC and B-Specials launching attacks on the community.
In photos and news footage which were printed and broadcast all over the world, the people of the Bogside showed not only Stormont but, the watching world that, never again would the state send in its armed oppressors to terrorise and murder the local catholic community.
There are numerous tales of heroics by the young defenders over the ensuing battle that took place and numerous iconic images, none more so than the photo of a young boy wearing a gas mask and having a petrol bomb in his hand. In this one iconic image, the state knew, as did the world, that the Bogside and Free Derry would no longer tolerate or cow down to the state. In fact, the state would learn that the risen people were to be feared. They would not compromise. They would defend their community at all costs.
From the Battle of the Bogside, a new militant Republicanism was born. Many of those who were members of the Official IRA would break away to form, what would be viewed as dissidents, the Provisional IRA. Many of those who fought in the battle but weren’t members of the Official IRA would go on and join the Provisional Alliance.
The state, through the RUC and B-Specials, fired countless rubber bullets, countless tear gas canisters and countless live rounds at those brave boys and girls, men and women, who not only manned the barricades but also beat the armed wing of the state back from attacking the Bogside and put them into full retreat.
After a hard fought victory, Free Derry was born and operated unhindered by the state, though the state would periodically attempt to break through the lines and invade the Bogside. It wasnt until August 1971 that Free Derry was finally breached and that was by the British Army during operation Motorman; the introduction of Internment without trial.
Today as a monument to those who fought against the state in the Battle of the Bogside, Free Derry Corner stands. Not only is Free Derry Corner the pride of the Bogside, it is a reminder to the Six County Statelet that the Republican community will never bow down to British rule, sectarianism or the enforced border in our country.
This week marks 50 years since British soldiers were deployed in the north as part of ‘Operation Banner’. The troops were sent to Ireland as Derry’s Battle of the Bogside and sectarian pogroms in Belfast and elsewhere gathered pace.
The activities of the British Army in the six counties from 1969 included the Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday massacres, torture of young internees, repression of a whole section of the community and collusion with loyalist paramilitaries that involved countless murders.
Thankfully, since the late 1990s there have been positive developments for peace, including the withdrawal of thousands of British troops and the end of ‘Operation Banner’. The drastic reduction in violence has afforded young people opportunities that never existed for the previous generation and has fostered positive cross-community relations.
For long-term peace, community cohesion and safety, demilitarisation is essential. With the British Army’s ‘Operation Helvetic’ and British secret service organisations continuing to be active in the north, demilitarisation remains to be completed.
In the current climate, the British government’s rhetoric and actions have renewed widespread concern across Irish society for relations on this island and relations between Ireland and Britain. In recent times, British politicians have displayed contempt for Ireland, our history and the suffering of people. Karen Bradley, as Secretary of State for the north, recently claimed that killings by British soldiers involved in ‘Operation Banner’ were ‘not crimes’ and that British soldiers had acted in a ‘dignified and appropriate way’. Boris Johnson and others have expressed opposition to the prospect of British soldiers being prosecuted for killings such as the Bloody Sunday massacre.
With such automatic support for the British military in-grained in powerful sections of the British political class, it is reasonable to ask questions of the British government’s claim to be a neutral force where Ireland is concerned.
Furthermore, as a no-deal Brexit becomes an increasingly likely possibility, the British government has taken no constructive steps to ensure that the north of Ireland and the border region will never again be militarised. The British government’s position, given all of the lessons from recent history, is beyond reckless.