– 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
advance up William Street, 12th August.
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
RUC and Unionist supporters advance up Rossville Street,
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.
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
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
this centre coped with injuries including; exposure to CS gas,
lacerations, impact injuries from gas canisters and gun shot
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.
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.
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
The scene in Rossville Street, 13th August.
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.
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.
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'.
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.
to Eamon McCann this speech, " Put new heart into the fight."
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.
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.
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.
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
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'.
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'.
after 4.00 p.m., the British Army marched into Waterloo Place
and the Battle of the Bogside had ended.
troops erect a barricade in William Street, 14th August.