– DUKE STREET
Poster advertising the first Civil rights march in Derry
City, October 1968.
The date that is most commonly referred to as the beginning
of the ‘Troubles’ is October 5th 1968. On this day
the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association had intended to
march from Duke Street in Derry’s Waterside to the city
centre. As the march assembled the Royal Ulster Constabulary
attacked the demonstrators in full view of the world’s
media. Within hours of the event pictures of police brutality
were transmitted around the globe.
of the Duke Street march lay in an invitation that was issued
to the NICRA by the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC). The
DHAC was established in March 1968 by members of the Derry Labour
Party and the James Connolly Republican Club. This group immediately
embarked on a series of direct action protests to highlight
the housing problems in Derry that was the human cost of political
gerrymandering. The meetings of Derry Corporation were disrupted
from March onwards and other actions included house squatting
and road blockages, with the DHAC gradually earning themselves
a reputation for colourful and effective protests. Following
the first Civil Rights march from Coalisland to Dungannon on
the 24th August 1968, which several members of the DHAC attended,
the DHAC decided to invite the NICRA to march in Derry City.
the invitation to the NICRA the proposed march was banned by
William Craig, the Northern Ireland Minister of Home affairs,
on the 3rd October. When the ban was announced, as a result
of the Apprentice Boys of Derry’s stated intention to
hold a march along the route at the same time, representatives
of NICRA visited Derry on the 4th October in an attempt to have
the march called off. The DHAC refused and plans for the march
on the numbers who gathered in Duke Street to participate in
the march vary from 400 to 3,000 but there exists no confusion
as to the events on the day. As the assembled crowd set off
along Duke Street, led by the march organisers and joined by
Eddie McAteer, Nationalist MP for Derry, Gerry Fitt, the Republican
Labour MP for West Belfast and three British Labour MPs they
encountered a RUC blockade. The head of the march clashed with
the RUC and a number of injuries were inflicted by the RUC.
As the demonstrators
held an impromptu public meeting the RUC moved into position
behind them, blocking the only other exit from Duke Street.
Then, as Betty Sinclair, a NICRA organiser from Belfast, addressed
the crowd and advised them to go home, the RUC launched the
Duke Street was the scene of unrestrained violence as the RUC
cleared the street with the use of boots and batons. The demonstrators
were unprepared for this assault and with the RUC in control
of both exits from Duke Street there was no chance of escaping
unscathed. Two water cannons were introduced to finish the job
of clearing the street and drove the demonstrators across Craigavon
Bridge. It is estimated that 90-100 demonstrators had to be
treated for their injuries. There are no reports of RUC injuries.
A demonstrator is arrested following the NICRA demonstration,
attempt by the NICRA, and their local supporters, to mobilise
support in Derry City had been brutally suppressed but the reaction
to events in Duke Street was unlike that of previous RUC actions.
Whereas in 1951 and 1952, when St Patrick Day parades in Derry
City were batoned off the streets by the RUC and quickly forgotten
the events on Duke Street on Saturday 5th October were recorded
by the international media. Pictures of RUC brutality were flashed
around the world but the real impact was made by the footage
recorded by an enterprising RTE cameraman, who vividly recorded
the panic and fear that the actions of the RUC provoked in Derry.
later the same day there were clashes between the RUC and nationalist
youths on the edge of the Bogside that continued into the small
hours. The following day an estimated 1,000 people were involved
in daylong clashes with the RUC in and around the Bogside and
the first petrol bombs were thrown in Derry. Similar scenes,
although involving smaller numbers, were also recorded on the
7th October and more petrol bombs were thrown.
reaction to events in Duke Street amongst the student population
of Queens University Belfast saw 2,000-3,000 people march on
the 9th October in protest against RUC brutality in Derry. Following
the protest at a meeting in Queen’s the People’s
Democracy, a small, radical but soon to be influential collection
of students and their supporters was established.
following the violence that marked the weekend a public meeting
was held on the 9th October at which the Derry Citizens Action
Committee (DCAC) was formed. A steering committee of 11 were
elected, with Ivan Cooper as Chair and John Hume as the Vice
Chair. Other members included Paddy Doherty, Michael Canavan,
Claude Wilton and Campbell Austin.
It is generally
believed that the DCAC were a moderating influence on the Civil
Rights campaign in Derry City and it also, with the inclusion
of such respectable and well known figures as John Hume and
Ivan Cooper, helped to widen the Civil rights campaign in Derry.
On the 19th
October 1968 5,000 people attended a peaceful sit down protest
organised by the DCAC in Guildhall Square.
protest in Guildhall Square, October 1968.
On the 16th
November 15,000 people participated in a re-enactment of the
5th October march. The march was blocked by the RUC at the cityside
end of Craigavon bridge but unlike October the demonstrators
had an unblocked alternative which they used, John Street. As
the demonstrators moved along John Street there were clashes
with loyalists who had gathered to protest at the march. Following
a brief clash the loyalists withdrew and the demonstrators gathered
in the Diamond. The Committee of the DCAC led the demonstration
across Craigavon Bridge, 16th November 1968.
On the 23rd
November 1968 the Government at Stormont announced the abolition
of the Derry Corporation and the appointment of a special commission
to replace it. This, together with other reforms announced the
previous day, governing housing and local government reforms
and an appeal by the Northern Ireland Prime Minister Terence
O’Neill for calm, led both the NICRA and the DCAC to announce
a ban on marches.
ban on marches was to end when the People’s Democracy
set out on a march from Belfast to Derry on New Year’s