on New Years Day 1969 of approximately 40 People’s Democracy
supporters on the march to Derry was marked by a protest in
Belfast by loyalists under the direction of Major Ronald Bunting,
a close associate of Rev. Ian Paisley. It was the loyalist’s
intention to harass the march along its entire journey.
On the first
day of the march, after it’s colourful send off the march
made its way unhindered towards Antrim. Just outside Antrim
the marchers ran into a police barricade, behind which several
hundred loyalists were gathered, led by major Bunting The RUC
refused to remove the blockade and after a lengthy delay, and
minor scuffles, the marchers were driven in police tenders to
Whitehall Community Centre where they spent an unsettled night
interrupted by a bomb scare.
day, the marchers set off for Randalstown but again found their
way blocked by Major Bunting and a crowd of loyalists. Once
again the RUC refused to remove the loyalist protesters and
the marchers were eventually transported to Toome by car. The
marchers were welcomed at Toome and after taking lunch in the
village they set out for Maghera. After 30 minutes the march
was again halted and then rerouted away from the loyalist village
of Knockloughlin. After two miles loyalist protestors, led by
Major Bunting, again halted the march. Another stand off ensued
by as locals gathered to support the marchers the RUC’s
County Inspector Kerr asked the loyalists to stand aside, which
they did. The marchers then made their way towards Maghera,
where loyalists had gathered to wait their arrival. On hearing
of this ‘reception’ committee, which was armed with
clubs and sticks, the marchers decided to bypass the village
and spent the night at Brackaghreilly. That night Maghera witnessed
considerable violence from frustrated loyalists.
day the marchers set out for Dungiven and encountered little
opposition. After lunch in Dungiven they travelled on to Feeny.
A mile outside Dungiven the marchers were halted by the RUC
with reports of a loyalist protest further along the road. A
civil rights supporter then arrived along the road that was
allegedly blocked and reported no obstructions ahead. The marchers
decided to breach police lines and encountered no protest ahead.
After reaching Feeny the marchers moved on to Claudy, where
they received a friendly reception and settled down for the
night. That night a loyalist attack on the hall the marchers
were staying was repulsed by locals.
night in Derry a rally by Ian Paisley in the Guildhall led to
serious disorder. Whilst those inside the hall were listening
to Major Bunting call for loyalists to gather the next day at
Burntollet a crowd of nationalists gathered outside the building
in protest. During clashes as the rally dispersed Major Buntings
car was destroyed. Later that night stockpiles of bottles and
stones were left by loyalists in the fields at Burntollet.
morning the marchers, who now numbered approximately 500, set
out on the last league of their journey to Derry. Just before
Burntollet District Inspector Harrison stopped the march in
order to investigate reports of loyalists ahead. DI Harrison,
together with County Inspector Kerr, spoke of 50 loyalists ahead
and claimed to be confident that there was no danger. With the
RUC leading the way the marchers advanced. In the field overlooking
the road the marchers observed approximately 300 loyalists,
identified by white armbands, armed with cudgels and they came
under a bombardment of missiles. Marchers sought to escape the
bombardment by speeding up the road but there was to be no escape
as they immediately encountered a second contingent of loyalists
blocking their escape.
members and loyalist attackers (white armbands), Burntollet,
marchers fled into the fields they were pursued by attackers
and the RUC made no attempt to intervene. Others were thrown
into the nearby River Faughan.
was left of the marchers continued on to Derry they were also
attacked twice in Derry’s Waterside before receiving a
rousing welcome in Guildhall Square.
clashes occurred between the RUC and local people and the first
Free Derry was born. At 2.00am members of the RUC attacked the
Bogside, running amok in the Lecky Rd, St Columbs Wells districts.
Windows were broken, residents were assaulted and sectarian
abuse was directed at the people of the Bogside. The reaction
to this ‘invasion’ ranged from the painting of the
Free Derry legend to the formation of vigilante squads in the
area, based at the Foyle Harps Hall in the Brandywell and Rossville
Hall in the Bogside. The barricades remained up for a number
of days and relations between the community in the Bogside and
the RUC, which had never been particularly good, grew steadily
together with the steady increase of conflict between local
youths and the RUC as the year progressed, was to lay the foundations
for the resistance that was to take place during the Battle
of the Bogside.