seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Formation of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association

northern-ireland-civil-rights-associationThe Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), an organisation that campaigns for civil rights in Northern Ireland during the late 1960s and early 1970s, is formed in Belfast on April 9, 1967. The civil rights campaign attempts to achieve reform by publicising, documenting, and lobbying for an end to discrimination in areas such as elections (which are subject to gerrymandering and property requirements), discrimination in employment, in public housing and alleged abuses of the Special Powers Act.

Since Northern Ireland’s creation in 1922, the Catholic minority suffers from varying degrees of discrimination from the Protestant and Unionist majority. Many nationalist historians regard the ethos of Northern Ireland as unambiguously sectarian, however, academic and author Senia Paseta posits that discrimination was never as calculated as republicans maintained nor as fictional as unionists claimed. In fact, laws against religious discrimination are enshrined in the Government of Ireland Act 1920, Northern Ireland’s constitution. No government of Northern Ireland, even if they want to, can create laws which overtly discriminated against any religious body of peoples.

The genesis of NICRA lay in a meeting in Maghera in August 1966 between the Wolfe Tone Societies which is attended by Cathal Goulding, then chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). During its formation, NICRA’s membership extends to trade unionists, communists, liberals, socialists, with republicans eventually constituting five of the thirteen members of its executive council. The organisation initially also has some unionists, with Young Unionist Robin Cole taking a position on its executive council. Official Sinn Féin and Official Irish Republican Army influence over NICRA grows in later years, but only as the latter’s importance declines, when violence escalated between late 1969 until 1972, when NICRA ceased its work.

Events escalate in Northern Ireland until August 1969, when the annual Apprentice Boys of Derry march is attacked as it marches through the city’s walls and past a perimeter with the nationalist Bogside. Initially some loyalist supporters throw pennies down from the walls onto Catholics in the Bogside. Catholics then throw nails and stones at loyalists leading to an intense confrontation. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) intervenes, and a three-day riot known as the Battle of the Bogside ensues. Rioting quickly spreads throughout nationalist areas in Northern Ireland, where at least seven are killed and hundreds wounded. Thousands of Catholics are driven from their homes by loyalists. These events are often seen as the start of the Troubles.

In a subsequent official inquiry, Lord Leslie Scarman concludes, “We are satisfied that the spread of the disturbances [in Derry in August 1969] owed much to a deliberate decision of some minority groups to relieve police pressure on the rioters in Londonderry. Amongst these groups must be included NICRA, whose executive decided to organise demonstrators in the Province so as to prevent reinforcement of the police in Londonderry.” In December 1969 and January 1970, both Sinn Féin and the IRA split into “Official” and “Provisional” wings, with the “Official” wings retaining influence in NICRA.

The British government introduces internment on August 9, 1971 at the request of Northern Ireland Prime Minister Brian Faulkner. The British Army, in co-operation with the RUC, intern 342 people. One hundred sixteen of those interned are innocent of involvement with the IRA and are quickly released.

The introduction of internment is not a closely guarded secret, with newspaper editorials appearing and discussion on television. The IRA goes underground or flees across the border. As a result, fewer than 100 arrests are from the IRA. By this stage, support for NICRA begins to wane, however NICRA continues to organise anti-internment marches. In Derry on January 30, 1972 NICRA takes part in a mass anti-internment march which had also been banned. Fourteen unarmed demonstrators are shot and killed by British troops during the march which becomes known as Bloody Sunday.


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The Siege of Derry Begins

siege-of-derryThe Siege of Derry, the first major event in the Williamite War in Ireland, begins on April 18, 1689. The siege lasts nearly three and a half months, ending on July 30, 1689 when relief ships bringing the English Army sail down Lough Foyle.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 is a relatively bloodless revolution in which James II, King of England, Ireland and Scotland and a Roman Catholic convert, is ousted from power by the Parliament of England. The English throne is then offered to his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William III of England, also known as William of Orange. In Scotland, the privy council asks William III to assume responsibility for the government in January 1689, and he and Mary are formally offered the Scottish throne in March. The situation is different in Ireland where most of the population are Catholics. Irish Catholics are hoping that James will re-grant them lands, which had been seized from them after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland (1649–53). James thus looks to Ireland to muster support in regaining his kingdoms just as his father, Charles I, had done in the English Civil War of the 1640s.

On December 10, James flees London. He is caught but flees a second time on December 23 and makes his way to France. On March 12, James I lands in Kinsale with 6,000 French soldiers. He takes Dublin and marches north with an army of Irish and French Catholics.

In April 1689 reinforcements from England arrive under the command of Colonel John Cunningham, who is a native of the city. He is under instructions to take his orders from the Derry City Governor, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Lundy. Lundy advises Colonel Cunningham to leave as arrangements have been made for the city to be surrendered. Lundy calls a meeting with several of his most loyal supporters to discuss surrender. News of the meeting spread, angering many of the citizens. That night, Lundy and many others leave the city and board a ship to Scotland. The city’s defence is overseen by Major Henry Baker, Colonel Adam Murray, and Major George Walker, also an Anglican priest. Their slogan is “No Surrender.”

As the Jacobite army nears, all the buildings outside the city walls are set alight by the defenders to prevent them being used as cover by the besiegers.

The Jacobite army reaches Derry on April 18. James and his retinue ride to within 300 yards of Bishop’s Gate and demand the surrender of the city. He is rebuffed with shouts of “No surrender!” and some of the city’s defenders fire at him. James asks for surrender three more times but is refused each time. This marks the beginning of the siege. Cannon and mortar fire are exchanged and disease takes hold within the city. James returns to Dublin and leaves his forces under the command of Richard Hamilton.

Royal Navy warships under Admiral George Rooke arrive in Lough Foyle on June 11, but initially decline to ram through the heavily defended defensive boom across the River Foyle at Culmore.

On July 28, two armed merchant ships, Mountjoy and Phoenix, sail toward the boom, protected by the frigate HMS Dartmouth under Captain John Leake. Mountjoy rams and breaches the boom, and the ships move in, unloading many tons of food to relieve the siege. The city had endured 105 days of siege during which some 4,000 Protestants of a population of 8,000 are said to have died.

The siege is commemorated yearly by the Protestant Apprentice Boys of Derry who stage the week-long Maiden City Festival culminating in a parade around the walls of the city by local members, followed by a parade of the city by the full Association. Although violence has attended these parades in the past, those in recent years have been largely peaceful.

The song “Derry’s Walls” is written to commemorate the siege.