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    Battle of the Bogside

    Following on from the Peoples Democracy march of 1st January 1969 from Belfast to Derry and the subsequent rioting in the Bogside and other towns in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and its supporters were openly condemned by the Government of Northern Ireland as being manipulated by communists, republicans and socialists.

    The sectarian police force

    The government openly supported the so called loyal institutions when they demanded the right to parade through towns and villages where the population was overwhelmingly Catholic whilst at the same time it ordered the  Royal Ulster Constabulary to robustly put an end to demonstrations for civil rights and social reform. This sectarian police force needed no prompting and in April of 1969 some of its members entered the home of Derryman Sammy Devenny, trashing it and savagely beating Devenny and his daughters so badly that Devenny never recovered from his injuries and died on 17th July.

    Again in July, the Orange Order decided to walk through the Catholic village of Dungiven and during the inevitable rioting the RUC brutally beat Francis McCloskey, a 67 year old Catholic resident of the village so badly that he too died of his injuries. Francis would become the first Catholic civilian killed in Northern Ireland’s troubles. The people of Derry had had enough. They were not only in a different camp from the government; they also despised the local city council which was controlled by the unionists due to the worst case of gerrymandering of electoral wards ever experienced in the northern statelet.

    The stand against sectarianism

    A youth armed with molotov cocktails keeps guard on top of a highrise flat in Derry.

    A youth armed with molotov cocktails keeps guard on top of a highrise flat in Derry.

    The nationalist people were well aware of the fact that on 12th August, the Apprentice Boys of Derry, a loyal order, would demand and receive permission to walk through the city. Part of their route would take them along the western wall of the city directly overlooking the Catholic Bogside.

    In anticipation of a confrontation taking place, local republicans decided to form the Derry Citizens Defence Association (DCDA) with the intention of maintaining peace and defending the Catholic areas of the city, particularly the Bogside which was the usual target of the RUC.

    Many people and activist groups immediately joined the new association. The inevitable did happen when loyalists and nationalist youths exchanged insults and then stones at Waterloo Place. The RUC advanced with many loyalists coming behind them, pushing nationalists up William Street towards the Bogside. However, this time things were different.

    The people of the Bogside, with their brothers and sisters from the rest of the city, and further afield, where there to stop them. The Catholics were armed with stones and petrol bombs, they raised barricades, the rooftops of the “high flats” were commandeered by the Bogside youths and from this advantage point they rained petrol bombs and missiles upon the RUC invaders.

    Poorly equipped police force

    For their part the RUC were using CS gas canisters which they used to flood the district but a soft wind would blow the gas back towards them. The police were poorly equipped with shields that were much too small and their uniforms were not flame proof causing many of them to suffer severe burns from the Molotov cocktails.