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HISTORY – BATTLE OF THE BOGSIDE

For 3 days in August 1969 the district of Derry known as the Bogside was catapulted onto the world stage as local people resisted attempts by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) to breach barricades that had been erected in defence of the area. In the previous 11 months the RUC had clashed with local residents on numerous occasions as the Nationalist residents of the Bogside aligned themselves behind the Civil Rights Movement and in opposition to the Northern Ireland Government and its agents.

In January and April 1969 the RUC had 'invaded' the Bogside and carried out acts of wanton destruction on property and persons. Sammy Devenny died as a result of a beating administered by the RUC in his own home in April 1969 and as the annual August Apprentice Boys parade approached tensions rose.


RUC in the Bogside, January 1969.

This march by thousands of Apprentice Boys and their supporters through Derry city centre and past the edge of the Bogside was considered highly provocative by the Nationalists of the city. Plans were prepared in the Bogside to try to prevent confrontation between local people, the RUC and marchers but if this failed defence plans were also drawn up.

On August 10th, the Derry Citizens Defence Association (DCDA), which had been established in July 1969 to plan for the defence of the Bogside in August, and which included senior republicans, met senior figures in the Apprentice Boys Association. The DCDA asked the Apprentice Boys to cancel or reroute the march. This request was refused.

On the same day the DCDA held a public meeting in Celtic Park which was addressed by Republican, Nationalist and Labour leaders in the city. The mood at the meeting has been described as defiant and speakers made clear their intentions- if the RUC or loyalists sought to enter the Bogside resistance would be offered. That evening women and children in areas that were considered vulnerable were evacuated to safer areas of the city. That night the erection of barricades on the edge of the Bogside began.


Erection of barricade at junction of William Street, Rossville Street, 12th August.

On August 12, as the Apprentice Boys began their parade tension filled the air and reports of the day speak of a great sense of foreboding throughout the city. As thousands of Apprentice Boys and their supporters marched past Waterloo Place on the edge of the Bogside, lines of RUC men faced Nationalist youths. Stewards and Nationalist leaders, including John Hume and Eddie McAteer, attempted to control the crowd but their efforts ended in failure; inevitably, it appears with hindsight, confrontation began with jeering and cat calling and within a short space of time the first stones were thrown at the RUC.


Apprentice Boys march in Waterloo Place. 12th August.

The RUC remained in their positions at Waterloo Place for some hours without responding but serious rioting also broke out at Sackville Street, further along the Strand Road between the RUC, supported by Unionists, and Nationalists. After approximately three hours the order was given for the RUC to charge from Little James Street and Waterloo Place towards Rossville Street, with the intention of driving the Nationalists back into the Bogside. This initial onslaught was repulsed at a barricade at the mouth of William Street and a stand off commenced.


RUC advance up William Street, 12th August.

This stalemate is broken at 7.00p.m. that evening when the RUC, supported by Unionists, breach the barricade and rampage up Rossville Street breaking house windows as they go. The Bogsiders retreat, then turn, and drive the RUC back down to the mouth of Rossville Street.


RUC and Unionist supporters advance up Rossville Street, 12th August.

Under pressure to contain the situation the RUC begin using CS gas, the first occasion such an indiscriminate weapon has been used in the United Kingdom jurisdiction. Prior to authorising the use of CS gas the Stormont Minister of Home Affairs, Robert Porter, is alleged to have administered a dose to himself.

Over the next 2 days 1,091 canisters, and 14 grenades of gas were fired into the Bogside. Local people responded, after receiving advice from Red Mole in London, by soaking handkerchiefs in vinegar & water. Reports are divided as to the effectiveness of this antidote. The RUC also use stones, and on occasion petrol bombs.

Within the Bogside first-aid posts are set up by Drs Donal McDermott and Raymond McClean. They are staffed by Knights of Malta volunteers. During the Battle of the Bogside local first aid facilities dealt with almost 1,000 casualties. Local doctors, nurses, first aid volunteers and the Knights of Malta based themselves at the Candy Corner shop in Westland Street. This shop, which lacked running water and the most basic medical supplies, served as the medical headquarters for the Bogside until it was evacuated in the early hours of 14th August as CS gas began to make the centre intolerable.

Staff at this centre coped with injuries including; exposure to CS gas, lacerations, impact injuries from gas canisters and gun shot injuries.

Many of the more seriously injured, refused to visit Altnagelvin Hospital through fear of the RUC and were transferred across the border for further treatment.
That night over 500 women and children are evacuated from the Bogside to Donegal.

During the night young men and women knock on doors in the Bogside, Brandywell and Creggan areas asking for empty bottles, washing powder and sugar to help make petrol bombs.

The next morning nationalist youths, girls and children have taken up position on top of the Rossville Street flats, thus ensuring that any further RUC advance into the Bogside will be met with an aerial bombardment of petrol bombs and other missiles. The Irish Tricolour and Starry Plough are hoisted on top of the flats.


The scene in Rossville Street, 13th August.

A news-sheet, the Barricade Bulletin, appeared and kept people up to date on developments from the front line and instructions on how to throw petrol bombs to best effect and minimise the effects of CS gas.

The DCDA held a press conference at which Paddy Doherty and Dr McDermott appeal for 'able-bodied men' to come to Derry to assist in the fighting. Appeals were also made for protests to be organized in other cities and towns across the north. In response demonstrations were held in Belfast, Newry, Armagh, Lurgan, strabane, Dungiven and other towns and violence erupted throughout the north.

An Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, addressed the people of Ireland. He calls on the British government to request an UN Peacekeeping Force, announces the setting up of field hospitals on the border and declares that the Irish government will 'no longer stand by and see innocent people injured or even worse'.

The reaction to this announcement was mixed. Within the Bogside the news that Irish troops were moving towards the border was greeted with delight. It is clear from the rumours that swept the Bogside, as well as Unionist areas of the city, that not everyone expected them to stop there.

According to Eamon McCann this speech, " Put new heart into the fight."

Raymond McClean wrote of the speech, " It made a great impact at the time. I have no doubt that this speech came at exactly the right time for the people of the Bogside that evening. Weary, battered and blood stained, Jack Lynch's statement gave an added impetus to everyone, and we all set about our work in the knowledge that we were not entirely alone."
In response to the rumours regarding the Irish Army several hundred unionists from the city and surrounding district gathered behind RUC lines in Great James Street. Many wore crash helmets and carried wooden staves. This combined force then marched up Great James Street towards St Eugene's Roman Catholic Cathedral. Rumours spread like wildfire that they intended burning the Cathedral and uncommitted nationalists now came out in defence of their area.

During this confrontation the RUC wound three nationalists with live rounds. This was the first occasion that live ammunition has been used and angry nationalists in the Bogside demanded that Republicans should respond in kind. The DCDA, however, insisted that no guns were to be used at that stage, not least because there were no weapons at their disposal.

Later that night Unionist rioters, frustrated by their inability to force their way into the Bogside, withdrew and attempted to burn the City Hotel on their way through the city centre.

On the morning of the next day, 14th August, the B-Specials were mobilised in the Fountain, a predominately Unionist area that was situated on a hill above the Bogside. Fearing the incursion of the B Specials into the Bogside from the Fountain Nationalists also gather in this area and serious rioting erupted.

The B-Specials were established in December 1920 as part of the restructuring of policing in the north of Ireland, with a membership of approximately 12,000. As a force the B-Specials were provided with basic weapons training and were mobilised only when the Stormont Government felt under threat. The Specials were an almost exclusively Protestant body. Few Catholics ever applied for membership, since this was discouraged by both the B-Specials and the Nationalist community.

At its formation the B-Specials absorbed many UVF units en masse and this helped ensure that relations with the nationalist community were never good.

At 4.00 p.m. a public call went out for the general mobilisation of the B-Specials. Shortly afterwards B-Specials were seen at Waterloo Place, on the edge of the Fountain and on the city walls. Within the Bogside there was panic as rumours swept the area that 'the B-Specials are coming in'.

For their part the RUC, clearly exhausted and demoralised after 3 days of violence, were slowly being driven back down William Street and towards the city centre, where the B-Specials were gathered. Unknown to the people of the Bogside, however, the Unionist Government at Stormont had already requested that the British Government send in British troops 'to restore law and order'.

Shortly after 4.00 p.m., the British Army marched into Waterloo Place and the Battle of the Bogside had ended.


British troops erect a barricade in William Street, 14th August.

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