The Northern Ireland riots of August 1969 mark the beginning of the Troubles. In Belfast, Catholic Irish nationalists clash with Protestant Ulster loyalists and the mainly-Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), Northern Ireland’s police force. Hundreds of Catholic homes and businesses are burned and more than 1,000 families, mostly Catholics, are forced to flee. The rioting ends with Operation Banner, the deployment of British troops.
A week before the Falls Curfew, on Saturday, June 27, 1970, there is severe rioting in Belfast following marches by the Protestant/unionist Orange Order. At the Short Strand, a Catholic enclave in a Protestant part of the city, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) fights a five-hour gun battle with loyalists. Three people are killed and the loyalists withdraw. The Provisional IRA presents itself as having successfully defended a vulnerable Catholic enclave from armed loyalist mobs.
Meanwhile, the Official IRA arranges for a large number of weapons to be brought into the mainly nationalist and Catholic Lower Falls area for distribution. The area is a stronghold of the Official IRA.
The operation begins at about 4:30 PM on Friday, July 3, as a search for weapons in the staunchly Irish nationalist district. As the search ends, local youths attack the British soldiers with stones and petrol bombs and the soldiers respond with CS gas. This quickly develops into gun battles between British soldiers and the Irish Republican Army (IRA). After four hours of continuous clashes, the British commander seals off the area, which comprises 3,000 homes, and imposes a curfew which lasts 36 hours. Thousands of British troops move into the curfew zone and carry out house-to-house searches for weapons, while coming under intermittent attack from the IRA and rioters. The searches cause much destruction, and a large amount of CS gas is fired into the area. Many residents complain of suffering abuse at the hands of the soldiers. On July 5, the curfew is brought to an end when thousands of women and children from Andersonstown march into the curfew zone with food and groceries for the locals.
During the operation, four civilians are killed by the British Army, at least 78 people are wounded and 337 are arrested. Eighteen soldiers are also wounded. Large quantities of weapons and ammunition are captured. The British Army admits afterwards that some of its soldiers had been involved in looting.
The Falls Curfew is a turning point in the Troubles. It is seen as having turned many Catholics/Irish nationalists against the British Army and having boosted support for the IRA.
(Pictured: British soldiers on the Falls Road during the 1970 curfew)