seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Peter Robinson, Northern Irish Politician

Peter David Robinson, retired Northern Irish politician, is born on December 29, 1948, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He serves as First Minister of Northern Ireland from 2008 until 2016 and Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from 2008 until 2015. Until his retirement in 2016, he is involved in Northern Irish politics for over 40 years, being a founding member of the DUP along with Ian Paisley.

Robinson is the son of Sheila and David McCrea Robinson. He is educated at Annadale Grammar School and Castlereagh College, now part of the Belfast Metropolitan College. In 1966 he first hears Ian Paisley speak at a rally at Ulster Hall and shortly afterwards leaves school to devote himself to the Protestant fundamentalist cause. He considers joining the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) but instead joins the Lagan Valley unit of the Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV), a paramilitary organisation tied to Ian Paisley’s Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. He also joins the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee. As a young man he embraces a populist anti-Catholic fundamentalism. A former classmate alleges Robinson and a friend harassed a pair of Catholics nuns in the street in Portrush, County Antrim, yelling “Popehead, Popehead.” He initially gains employment as an estate agent for R.J. McConnell & Co. and later with Alex, Murdoch & Deane in Belfast.

Robinson serves in the role of General Secretary of the DUP from 1975, a position he holds until 1979 and which affords him the opportunity to exert unprecedented influence within the fledgeling party. In 1977, he is elected as a councillor for the Castlereagh Borough Council in Dundonald, County Down, and in 1979, he becomes one of the youngest Members of Parliament (MP) when he is narrowly elected for Belfast East. He holds this seat until his defeat by Naomi Long in 2010, making him the longest-serving Belfast MP since the Acts of Union 1800.

In 1980, Robinson is elected as the deputy leader of the DUP. Following the re-establishment of devolved government in Northern Ireland as a result of the Good Friday Agreement, he is elected in 1998 as the Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Belfast East. He subsequently serves as Minister for Regional Development and Minister of Finance and Personnel in the Northern Ireland Executive. He is elected unopposed to succeed Ian Paisley as leader of the DUP on April 15, 2008, and is subsequently confirmed as First Minister of Northern Ireland on June 5, 2008.

In January 2010, following a scandal involving his wife Iris (née Collins), Robinson temporarily hands over his duties as First Minister to Arlene Foster under the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 2006. Following a police investigation, which recommends that he should not be prosecuted following allegations made by the BBC in relation to the scandal, he resumes his duties as First Minister. The Official Assembly Commissioner’s Investigation and Report clears Robinson of any wrongdoing.

In September 2015, Robinson again stands aside to allow Arlene Foster to become acting First Minister after his bid to adjourn the assembly is rejected. His action is a response to a murder for which a member of Sinn Féin, a party in the Northern Ireland Executive, had been questioned. He resumes his duties on October 20, 2015. On November 19, 2015, he announces that he will be stepping down as First Minister and as leader of the DUP. He subsequently steps down as First Minister on January 11, 2016 and is now fully retired from frontline politics.

Robinson is the author of a number of books and pamphlets on local politics and history including: Capital Punishment for Capital Crime (1974), Savagery and Suffering (1975), Ulster the Facts (1981), Self-Inflicted (1981), A War to be Won (1983), It’s Londonderry (1984), Carson – Man of Action (1984), Ulster in Peril (1984), Their Cry was no Surrender (1986), Hands Off the UDR (1990), Sinn Féin – A Case for Proscription (1993), The Union Under Fire (1995), Give Me Liberty (no date), Ulster—the Prey (no date).


Leave a comment

Hardline Unionists Reluctant to Support David Trimble’s Re-election

On Monday, October 29, 2001, hardline unionists seek to block David Trimble‘s re-election as First Minister of Northern Ireland.

As the hardline Ulster Unionists express reluctance to support the current stance of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leadership, Trimble is bidding to win over crucial support for his campaign to be re-elected as First Minister.

Although the meeting of the UUP’s executive over the previous weekend endorses Trimble’s return to office in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the re-election bid can be thwarted by a failure to win grassroots support.

At least two Assembly Members express grave reservations about supporting Trimble’s re-election as First Minister, and anti-agreement factions within the UUP call a meeting of the party’s ruling council to be held within the next three weeks.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster, Assembly Member Pauline Armitage says she remains unhappy about the direction the party is taking and the questions about decommissioning remains unanswered. Earlier North Down Assembly Member Peter Weir says that the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) move on decommissioning is a “one-off stunt.”

In order to be returned as First Minister, along with Deputy First Minister Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader-in-waiting Mark Durkan, Trimble must establish a majority amongst both unionist and nationalist Assembly Members.

While it is anticipated that the elections of the First and Deputy First Ministers will be held later in the week, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) calls on its members to prepare for Assembly elections. The anti-Good Friday Agreement DUP anticipate a collapse of the power-sharing Assembly if the re-elections of top ministerial posts fail to return a quorum of support from the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). The DUP says that meetings are to be held on October 29 to discuss the party’s strategy.

The Progressive Unionist Party’s (PUP) Billy Hutchinson says that too many concessions have been given to nationalists.

(From: “Trimble attempts to drum up re-election support,” 4NI.co.uk, October 29, 2001)


Leave a comment

Anne Letitia Dickson Elected UPNI Leader

Anne Letitia Dickson is elected leader of the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (UPNI) on September 15, 1976, becoming the first woman to lead a political party in Ireland.

Born in London on April 18, 1928, Dickson moves with her family to Northern Ireland at an early age and is educated at Holywood and Richmond Lodge School. After service as the Chair of the Northern Ireland Advisory Board of the Salvation Army she becomes actively involved in politics for the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). Elected as chair of the Carrick Division Unionist Association she later becomes a member of the Newtownabbey Urban District Council, serving as Vice-Chair from 1967 to 1969.

Dickson is then elected as an Ulster Unionist politician for the Carrick constituency in the Parliament of Northern Ireland at Stormont as a supporter of Prime Minister Terence O’Neill. After the dissolution of the Stormont Parliament, she is elected in the 1973 Assembly election for South Antrim as an Independent Unionist candidate having resigned from the Ulster Unionist Party in 1972.

After the Ulster Unionist party split in 1974 over the Sunningdale Agreement, Dickson joins the newly formed Unionist Party of Northern Ireland along with other supporters of former Northern Ireland prime minister Brian Faulkner. She retains her seat in South Antrim in the 1975 constitutional convention election. After the retirement of Brian Faulkner in 1976 she becomes leader of the Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, becoming the first woman to lead a major political party in Northern Ireland.

In 1979 Dickson contests the Belfast North constituency in the Westminster election, polling 10% of the vote, the best performance by a UPNI candidate in Northern Ireland, however her intervention is sufficient to split the moderate Unionist vote resulting in the seat being gained by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The Unionist Party of Northern Ireland disbands in 1981 after poor results in the local government elections and Dickson retires from active politics. Subsequently she is chair of the Northern Ireland Consumer Council from 1985 to 1990.

Dickson is appointed CBE in the 1990 Birthday Honours.


Leave a comment

The Provisional Irish Republican Army Ceasefire Announcement

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) announces a ceasefire on August 31, 1994, after a quarter century of what it calls its “armed struggle” to get the British out of Northern Ireland. The statement comes just after 11:00 a.m. BST and says there will be a “complete cessation of military operations” from midnight and that the organisation is willing to enter into inclusive talks on the political future of the Province.

The statement raises hopes for peace and an end to 25 years of bombing and shooting that led to the deaths of more than 3,000 people. There is scepticism from the loyalist community and celebration in the Catholic areas of Belfast and Derry.

The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dick Spring, says the statement is historic and meets his government’s demand for an unconditional end to IRA violence. The Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Albert Reynolds, calls on loyalist paramilitaries to follow suit.

But loyalists are suspicious of the declaration and fear it may lead to a sell-out in which Northern Ireland’s position within the United Kingdom is under threat. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) MP James Molyneaux says no moves towards talks should begin until the IRA has added the word “permanent” to the ceasefire declaration.

The announcement comes 18 months after secret talks began between the British Government and Irish republicans. It leads to the Anglo-Irish Downing Street Declaration in December 1993 which states that any change in the partition of Ireland can only come with the consent of those living north of the border. It also challenges republicans to renounce violence.

Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader John Hume MP, who has been negotiating with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, is “very pleased.” However, British Prime Minister John Major is cautious in his reaction to the IRA announcement. “We are beyond the beginning,” he says, “but we are not yet in sight of the end.”

Ian Paisley, leader of the hardline Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), rejects the wording of the declaration and says it is an “insult to the people [the IRA] has slaughtered because there was no expression of regret.”

Seven weeks later, on October 13, the loyalist terrorist groups announce their own ceasefire. On December 9, British officials meet Sinn Féin representatives for their first formal talks in 22 years.

The IRA ceasefire ends on February 9, 1996 when it plants a huge bomb in the London Docklands. It kills two, injures more than 100 and causes more than £85m of damage.

A new ceasefire is finally announced in July 1997.

(Pictured: (L to R) Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and Social Democratic and Labour Party leader John Hume)


Leave a comment

Loyalists Protest Sinn Féin Minister’s Refusal to Fly Union Flag

On Friday, August 4, 2000, Loyalists protest after Northern Ireland health minister Bairbre de Brún, a member of Sinn Féin, refuses to fly the Union flag outside her Belfast offices to mark the 100th birthday of Britain’s Queen Mother. First Minister David Trimble had written to the Northern Ireland secretary requesting that the Union Flag should be flown on all government buildings.

About 20 people take part in the picket organised by the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) as the minister leaves the Department of Health offices on Friday morning.

In Bangor, County Down, a group of loyalist protesters put up a Union Flag outside the offices of Sinn Féin education minister Martin McGuinness at his department’s Rathgael House headquarters. Another group of PUP protesters demonstrate at government buildings in Adelaide Street in Belfast city centre, where the Union Flag is flying above two of the government buildings in the street.

Protestors hold up posters showing the faces of de Brun and McGuinness printed on a Union Flag. The posters also show the face of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) agriculture minister Bríd Rodgers.

The PUP’s Billy Hutchinson criticises Sinn Féin ministers over their refusal to fly the Union Flag. “These people cannot even recognise that we have a monarch who’s 100 years old and they can’t even fly the flag, just because they think that everything that is British is no good,” he says. “These people forget that they have lived in Britain all their lives, most of them. They weren’t even born at Partition (of Ireland).” He adds that Sinn Féin’s ministers should accept that they are “British ministers in a British state.”

However, Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey condemns the protests as “intimidating and sectarian.” He says Sinn Féin’s position on the flying of flags is designed not to cause offence. “Where British cultural and political symbols are invoked in public life, equivalent Irish cultural and political symbols should be given equal prominence. Where this cannot be agreed, no such symbols should fly,” he says.

The issue of flags has been emotive and divisive in Northern Ireland. The Sinn Féin ministers anger unionists on May 2 by ordering their civil servants not to fly the flag as part of the Coronation Day celebrations. The row reaches a head when the anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) attempts to guarantee the flying of the Union Flag with an assembly motion in June. However, the party fails to win enough support for their motion to be passed.

There are about 13 days in the year when the Union Flag is flown on designated government offices in the United Kingdom. Government buildings across the UK – from Whitehall ministries to town council offices are expected to raise the Union Flag on these days.

It is the second time in a week that the health minister has run into controversy. On Wednesday, August 2, she is confronted by angry loyalist protesters during an official visit to a County Antrim hospital. Around 20 demonstrators picket the Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn, while she is on a visit to see a GP scheme as part of a programme to learn about aspects of the health service. The tyres on the minister’s car are let down and an egg is thrown. De Brun is forced to leave the complex by another door.

(From: “Trimble joins Union Flag row,” BBC News, news.bbc.co.uk, Friday, August 4, 2000 | Pictured: Protesters picket the Department of Health)


Leave a comment

Reverend Ian Paisley Elected MP for North Antrim

After having been in prison for unlawful assembly and breach of the peace, the “anti-popery” Reverend Ian Richard Kyle Paisley, loyalist politician and Protestant religious leader from Northern Ireland, is elected to Westminster on July 18, 1970, as an MP for North Antrim.

Paisley is born on April 6, 1926, in Armagh, County Antrim. He becomes a Protestant evangelical minister in 1946 and remains one for the rest of his life. In 1951, he co-founds the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster and is its leader until 2008. He becomes known for his fiery speeches and regularly preaches and protests against Catholicism, ecumenism and homosexuality. He gains a large group of followers who are referred to as “Paisleyites.”

Paisley becomes involved in Ulster unionist/loyalist politics in the late 1950s. In the mid-late 1960s he leads and instigates loyalist opposition to the Catholic civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. This leads to the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s, a conflict that engulfs Northern Ireland for the next thirty years. In 1970, he becomes Member of Parliament for North Antrim and the following year he founds the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which he leads for almost forty years. In 1979, he becomes a Member of the European Parliament.

Throughout the Troubles, Paisley is seen as a firebrand and the face of hard-line unionism. He opposes all attempts to resolve the conflict through power-sharing between unionists and Irish nationalists/republicans, and all attempts to involve the Republic of Ireland in Northern affairs. His efforts help bring down the Sunningdale Agreement of 1974. He also opposes the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, with less success. His attempts to create a paramilitary movement culminate in Ulster Resistance. He and his party also oppose the Northern Ireland peace process and Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

In 2005, Paisley’s DUP becomes the largest unionist party in Northern Ireland, displacing the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), which has dominated unionist politics since 1905. In 2007, following the St. Andrews Agreement, the DUP finally agrees to share power with republican party Sinn Féin and consent to all-Ireland governance in certain matters. He and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness become First Minister and deputy First Minister respectively in May 2007. He steps down as First Minister and DUP leader in May 2008 and leaves politics in 2011. He is made a life peer in 2010 as Baron Bannside.

In November 2011, Paisley announces to his congregation that he is retiring as a minister. He delivers his final sermon to a packed attendance at the Martyrs’ Memorial Hall on December 18, 2011, and finally retires from his religious ministry on January 27, 2012.

Paisley dies in Belfast on September 12, 2014. He is buried in Ballygowan, County Down on September 15 following a private funeral and a public memorial for 800 invited guests is held in the Ulster Hall on October 19. A New York Times obituary reports that late in life Paisley had moderated and softened his stances against Roman Catholics but that “the legacies of fighting and religious hatreds remained.”


Leave a comment

The Ebrington Barracks Bombing

On April 6, 2000, the Real Irish Republican Army lowers a device consisting of 5 lbs. of homemade explosives over the perimeter fence of Ebrington Barracks at Browning Drive in the Waterside area of Derry, County Derry, Northern Ireland, using ropes, and the bomb subsequently explodes damaging the fence and the guardhouse. The explosion takes place around 6:30 a.m.

There are no reports of any casualties and army technical experts are at the scene shortly after the blast.

Gregory Campbell, security spokesman for the anti-agreement Democratic Unionist Party, visits the scene and says the blast bears similarities to an incident at Ballykelly, twelve miles away, in February 2000. He adds, “In Ballykelly there was a breach of the security fence, with the bomb planted near sleeping quarters. Here it was beside a former guardhouse. It appears to have been outside the perimeter.”

Campbell also claims that in recent months the base’s watchtowers had not been manned. “I get the impression that security has become a bit lax since the ceasefire,” he says. “This is confirmation of what we all knew was coming, a determined effort by paramilitary groups.”

Campbell continues, “When you look at the past few months it is very obvious that these groups – if they are splinter groups, if they are people who are leaving the Provisional IRA to join these dissidents or if the Provisional IRA is giving a wink and a nod to these dissidents – it is as plain as the nose on your face these people are developing terrorist capabilities.”

“When there is a device at a security cordon and another device inside another camp 12 miles down the road from here it is very obvious they are working towards a major attack with loss of life. Within a few months we are going to be faced with a major onslaught,” Campbell adds.

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) leader David Trimble, speaking in advance of a House of Commons debate warning of damaging consequences if the government presses on with moves to rename the Royal Ulster Constabulary, says it appears that the blast at the barracks in Derry is part of a wider campaign of low level terrorist activity by dissident republicans. Speaking on BBC Radio Trimble says, “There have been a number of incidents recently which have been attributed to dissident republicans. This may be another one. And there is reason to believe that dissident republicans are trying to launch a sustained campaign.”

(From: “Explosion at army camp,” BBC News, http://www.news.bbc.co.uk/, Thursday, April 6, 2000)


Leave a comment

The Moira Car Bomb Attack

Eleven people are injured when a car bomb rocks the centre of Moira, County Down, on the evening of February 20, 1998. The injured include seven Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers, one a policewoman, and four civilians. The RUC Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan, who visits the scene the following morning, says that a warning was issued by a man with a “southern” accent in calls to the Maze and Maghaberry prisons. He adds that a vehicle, possibly the getaway car, was discovered on the southern route of the M1 motorway, suggesting that the attack may have come from south of the Border.

While unionist politicians blame the Irish Republican Army (IRA), this also suggests that the attack could have been the work of the Continuity IRA.

The car bomb, estimated at 500 lbs., is planted outside the local RUC station and explodes at approximately 11:40 PM, about ten minutes after the warnings are issued. Houses and pubs in the vicinity of the RUC station are evacuated. Local people described the explosion as “huge” and “massive.”

The attack comes just hours after Sinn Féin is expelled from the talks about the future of the province by the British Government because of recent IRA killings. By the following morning, no organisation has admitted responsibility for the bombing.

There are reports of the explosion being heard 20 miles away from Moira, which is a picturesque village about 20 miles west of Belfast.

The injured are rushed to Craigavon Area Hospital. None of the injuries are believed to be critical. Flanagan says the damage caused to the local RUC station is significant. A number of nearby houses are also extensively damaged. “One house was virtually demolished in the explosion,” says a police source.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) justice spokesman, Ian Paisley, Jr., who lives nearby, believes that the bomb is initially intended for a specific target in the nearby town of Lisburn, but because of heavy policing the bombers set off the device instead in Moira. “I lay the blame completely at the door of the Provisional IRA,” he says.

In December 2013, a 43-year-old man is arrested in Moy, County Tyrone, and questioned about the attack, but is later released unconditionally. A 47-year-old man is arrested in Dungannon, County Tyrone, on May 7, 2014. He is taken to Antrim police station for questioning but is also released unconditionally.

(From: “11 injured in bomb blast in Co Down,” by Gerry Moriarty, The Irish Times, http://www.irishtimes.com, February 21, 1998)


Leave a comment

The Teebane Bombing

The Teebane bombing takes place on January 17, 1992 at a rural crossroads between Omagh and Cookstown in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. A roadside bomb destroys a van carrying 14 construction workers who had been repairing a British Army base in Omagh. Eight of the men are killed and the rest are wounded. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) claims responsibility, saying that the workers were killed because they were “collaborating” with the “forces of occupation.”

Since the beginning of its campaign in 1969, the Provisional IRA has launched frequent attacks on British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) bases in Northern Ireland. In August 1985 it begins targeting civilians who offer services to the security forces, particularly those employed by the security forces to maintain and repair its bases. Between August 1985 and January 1992, the IRA kills 23 people who had been working for (or offering services to) the security forces. The IRA also alleges that some of those targeted had links with Ulster loyalist paramilitaries.

On the evening of January 17, 1992, the 14 construction workers leave work at Lisanelly British Army base in Omagh. They are employees of Karl Construction, based in Antrim. They travel eastward in a Ford Transit van towards Cookstown. When the van reaches the rural Teebane Crossroads, just after 5:00 PM, IRA volunteers detonate a roadside bomb containing an estimated 600 pounds (270 kg) of homemade explosives in two plastic barrels. Later estimates report a 1,500 pound (680 kg) device. The blast is heard from at least ten miles away. It rips through one side of the van, instantly killing the row of passengers seated there. The vehicle’s upper part is torn asunder, and its momentum keeps it tumbling along the road for 30 yards. Some of the bodies of the dead and injured are blown into the adjacent field and ditch. IRA volunteers had detonated the bomb from about 100 yards away using a command wire. A car travelling behind the van is damaged in the explosion but the driver is not seriously injured. Witnesses report hearing automatic fire immediately prior to the explosion.

Seven of the men are killed outright. They are William Gary Bleeks (25), Cecil James Caldwell (37), Robert Dunseath (25), David Harkness (23), John Richard McConnell (38), Nigel McKee (22) and Robert Irons (61). The van’s driver, Oswald Gilchrist (44), dies of his wounds in hospital four days later. Robert Dunseath is a British soldier serving with the Royal Irish Rangers. The other six workers are badly injured; two of them are members of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). It is the highest death toll from one incident in Northern Ireland since 1988.

The IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade claims responsibility for the bombing soon afterward. It argues that the men were legitimate targets because they were “collaborators engaged in rebuilding Lisanelly barracks” and vowed that attacks on “collaborators” would continue.

Both unionist and Irish nationalist politicians condemn the attack. Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, however, describes the bombing as “a horrific reminder of the failure of British policy in Ireland.” He adds that it highlights “the urgent need for an inclusive dialogue which can create a genuine peace process.” British Prime Minister John Major visits Northern Ireland within days and promises more troops, pledging that the IRA will not change government policy.

As all of those killed are Protestant, some interpret the bombing as a sectarian attack against their community. Less than three weeks later, the Ulster loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) launches a ‘retaliation’ for the bombing. On February 5, two masked men armed with an automatic rifle and revolver enter Sean Graham’s betting shop on Ormeau Road in an Irish nationalist area of Belfast. The shop is packed with customers at the time. The men fire indiscriminately at the customers, killing five Irish Catholic civilians, before fleeing to a getaway car. The UDA claims responsibility using the cover name “Ulster Freedom Fighters,” ending its statement with “Remember Teebane.” After the shootings, a cousin of one of those killed at Teebane visits the betting shop and says, “I just don’t know what to say but I know one thing – this is the best thing that’s happened for the Provos [Provisional IRA] in this area in years. This is the best recruitment campaign they could wish for.”

The Historical Enquiries Team (HET) conducts an investigation into the bombing and releases its report to the families of the victims. It finds that the IRA unit had initially planned to carry out the attack on the morning of January 17 as the workers made their way to work but, due to fog, it was put off until the afternoon. Although suspects were rounded up and there were arrests in the wake of the attack, nobody has ever been charged or convicted of the bombing.

Karl Construction erects a granite memorial at the site of the attack and a memorial service is held there each year. In January 2012, on the 20th anniversary of the attack, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MLA, Trevor Clarke, whose brother-in-law Nigel McKee at age 22 was the youngest person killed in the bombing, demands that republicans provide the names of the IRA bombers.


Leave a comment

People’s Democracy March Ambush at Burntollet Bridge

On January 4, 1969, during the first stages of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the civil rights group People’s Democracy is attacked at Burntollet Bridge on the final day of a four-day march from Belfast to Derry by 200 loyalists and off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers armed with iron bars, bricks, and bottles.

The People’s Democracy organizes the four-day march from Belfast to Derry, starting on January 1, 1969. The march is to be the acid test of the government’s intentions. Either the government will face up to the extreme right of its own Unionist Party and protect the march from the ‘harassing and hindering,’ or it will be exposed as impotent in the face of sectarian thuggery, and Westminster will be forced to intervene, re-opening the whole Irish question for the first time in 50 years. The march is modelled on the Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama in 1965, which had exposed the racist thuggery of America’s Deep South and forced the United States government into major reforms.

The departure on New Year’s Day 1969 of approximately 40 People’s Democracy supporters on the march to Derry is marked by a protest in Belfast by loyalists under the direction of Major Ronald Bunting, a close associate of Rev. Ian Paisley. It is the loyalist’s intention to harass the march along its entire journey.

On the first day of the march, the group makes its way unhindered towards Antrim. Just outside Antrim the marchers run into a police barricade, behind which several hundred loyalists are gathered, led by Major Bunting. The RUC refuses to remove the blockade and after a lengthy delay, and minor scuffles, the marchers are driven in police tenders to Whitehall Community Centre where they spend an unsettled night interrupted by a bomb threat.

The next day, the marchers set off for Randalstown but again find their way blocked by Major Bunting and a crowd of loyalists. Once again the RUC refuses to remove the loyalist protesters and the marchers are eventually transported to Toome by car. The marchers are welcomed at Toome and after taking lunch in the village they set out for Maghera. After 30 minutes the march is again halted and then rerouted away from the loyalist village of Knockloughlin. After two miles, loyalist protestors led by Major Bunting again halt the march. Another stand off ensues and, as locals gather to support the marchers, the RUC’s County Inspector Kerr asks the loyalists to stand aside, which they do. The marchers then make their way towards Maghera, where loyalists have gathered to await their arrival. On hearing of this ‘reception’ committee, which is armed with clubs and sticks, the marchers decide to bypass the village and spend the night at Bracaghreilly. That night Maghera witnesses considerable violence from frustrated loyalists.

On January 3, the third day of the march, the marchers set out for Dungiven and encounter little opposition. After lunch in Dungiven they travel on to Feeny. A mile outside Dungiven the marchers are halted by the RUC with reports of a loyalist protest further along the road. A civil rights supporter then arrives along the road that is allegedly blocked and reports no obstructions ahead. The marchers decide to breach police lines and encounter no protest ahead. After reaching Feeny the marchers move on to Claudy, where they receive a friendly reception and settle down for the night. That night a loyalist attack on the hall in which the marchers are staying is repulsed by locals.

The same night in Derry, a rally by Ian Paisley in the Guildhall leads to serious disorder. While those inside the hall are listening to Major Bunting call for loyalists to gather the next day at Burntollet, a crowd of nationalists gather outside the building in protest. During clashes as the rally disperses, Major Bunting’s car is destroyed. Later that night stockpiles of bottles and stones are left by loyalists in the fields at Burntollet.

On the morning of January 4, the marchers, who now number approximately 500, set out on the last league of their journey to Derry. Just before reaching Burntollet District Inspector Harrison stops the march in order to investigate reports of loyalists ahead. Harrison, together with County Inspector Kerr, speak of 50 loyalists ahead and claim to be confident that there is no danger. With the RUC leading the way the marchers advance. In the field overlooking the road the marchers observe approximately 300 loyalists, identified by white armbands and armed with cudgels. They come under a bombardment of missiles. Marchers seek to escape the bombardment by speeding up the road but there is to be no escape as they immediately encounter a second contingent of loyalists blocking their escape.

As many marchers flee into the fields they are pursued by attackers and the RUC makes no attempt to intervene. Others are thrown into the nearby River Faughan. As what is left of the marchers continue on to Derry, they are also attacked twice in Derry’s Waterside before receiving a rousing welcome in Guildhall Square.

That night clashes occur between the RUC and local people and the first “Free Derry” is born. At 2:00 AM members of the RUC attack the Bogside, running amok in the Lecky Road and St. Columbs Wells districts. Windows are broken, residents are assaulted and sectarian abuse is directed at the people of the Bogside. The reaction to this ‘invasion’ ranges 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 remain up for a number of days and relations between the community in the Bogside and the RUC, which has never been particularly good, grows steadily worse.

These events, together with the steady increase of conflict between local youths and the RUC as the year progress, is to lay the foundations for the resistance that is to take place during the Battle of the Bogside.

(From: “People’s Democracy march, January 4, 1969” by Jude Collins, http://www.judecollins.com, January 4, 2016)