Bernadette Devlin and Gerry Fitt effigies, Shankill Road, 1969

This photograph, from September 1969, shows effigies of Bernadette Devlin and Gerry Fitt on the Shankill Road. Fitt’s is hanging by the wall while Devlin’s has the placard behind it which reads “Would anyone who knows the whereabouts of this vampire please contact the UVF.” The photo was published in the Irish Press on 10 September 1969.

This was in the run up to the publication of the Cameron Report into the violence in Derry, Belfast and elsewhere in 1968 and 1969. The report was published on 12 September 1969. This was the immediate purpose of the erection of a formal ‘peace line’ on 10 September since it was anticipated that there would be further intense violence from unionists as a response to criticisms of the Unionist Party government, its policies, civil rights abuses and the RUC.

 

Revisiting 1969: Internment

The use of internment by the Unionist government is often associated with the 9th August 1971 when mass arrests took place across the north. However, internment had been used on a frequent basis by the Unionist government since 1922. Whilst hundreds of men and women were interned in 1938-1945 and 1957-1962, there were a number of other episodes in which smaller numbers were interned in 1925, 1935, 1950-1 and indeed, 1969. The use of internment in 1969 is another overlooked aspect of how the events of that year unfolded.

Following the deployment of British troops in the face of a UVF bombing campaign in April 1969, the unfolding crisis saw a recurring discussion in the Unionist government over ending the British Army’s role. Early proposals to withdraw the British Army in early June had been pushed out until after the Twelfth of July when a slower withdrawal was envisaged. During July, the British soldiers continued to be used in guarding key installations while B Specials, officially armed with batons, provided support to the RUC during street disturbances.

By the 3rd August, the British Labour government was being advised by the Unionists that further military assistance was likely to be needed and suggested that a Company of British soldiers be placed on stand-by in Musgrave Street Barracks. On 6th August the Home Secretary (Jim Callaghan) had stated that direct rule from London would have to be imposed  “…in the event that progress on the reforms discussed at previous Downing Street meetings was not satisfactory” or if there was “continuing use of troops to control riot situations.” The Home Office went as far as to say that failure to meaningful engage in civil rights reforms could lead to a “…review of the constitutional arrangements.” As far as London was concerned, use of the British Army meant that it would be “…difficult to separate the function of law and order, which H.M.G. might wish to control, from other functions of the Northern Ireland government and, therefore, his personal view was that it was a case of taking over all Northern Ireland’s affairs or none.” This point was reinforced by the Home Office stating that the “…Westminster Parliament would have to assert its authority.

The views of the British Home Office on 6th August seemed to be a response to Unionists attempts to build up the RUC Reserve, continue to escalate the deployment of the B Specials and push for less restrictions on the use of CS gas. On 4th August the Unionists had proposed to increase the RUC Reserve by 50% by mixing it with B Specials. By 5th August, the Unionist cabinet agreed “It was the general view of Ministers that the maximum prudent use should be made of U.S.C. forces.

The Unionist representatives told the Home Office that direct rule or a change in constitutional arrangements (arising from either the use of British army or a failure to engage in civil rights reforms) would lead to significant violence. A record of discussions made on 7th August reported that they had told the Home Office that, if Callaghan and the Labour government didn’t agree to deploying the British Army they would put “armed Specials on the streets – with all the implications that that might carry for a deepening of the sectarian conflict”. They went on to state that “…the United Kingdom authorities should consider the situation that might well arise if in fact they did decide to exercise direct rule from Whitehall. There would first of all be a frightening reaction by the Protestant community which could make anything that had happened up to now seem like child’s play; a provisional Government might be set up with extreme elements at its head and it was highly probable that wholesale sectarian strife would break out not only in the streets but in the factories.

A Unionist cabinet meeting on 11th August was advised of the recent discussion with the British Home Office and that the continued use of British troops could necessitate the imposition of direct rule. Throughout July and August, the Apprentice Boys parade in Derry on 12th August loomed large as a likely focus for significant violence. So it was no surprise when the Battle of the Bogside then erupted in Derry on 12th August. The next day protests in Belfast over the actions of the RUC and B Specials in Derry led to further violence including a couple of armed clashes between the RUC and IRA over the night of 13th/14th August. That afternoon, 14th August the Unionists requested further military assistance in Derry and to intern suspected IRA ‘agitators’ under the provisions of the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act.

The RUC then carried out a series of raids and arrested and interned at least twenty-four men. Those interned included Frank Campbell, Denis Cassidy, Denis Casson, M. Darity, J.J. Davey, Frank Donnelly, P. Duffy, R. Fitzpatrick, Jimmie Hargey, L. Johnston, D. Loy, H. Mallon, Prionsias MacAirt, Joe McCann, P.J. McCusker, John McEldowney, F. McGlennon, John McGuigan, Malachy McGurran, Liam McIlvenna, Billy McMillan, L. Savage, M. Toal and F. White. Not all were from Belfast. An Appeals Tribunal was to be constituted, under a Q.C., Frank Patton, to hear appeals against being interned.

Military assistance was also needed in Belfast and was requested the next day (15th August). In a public statement the next day the Unionist Prime Minister Chichester-Clarke said that “Well-disciplined and ruthless men, working to an evident plan, attacked the police at a number of points in the city.” Perhaps mindful that the use of the British Army could now trigger direct rule, Chichester-Clarke then tried to make it difficult for the British government to do so by saying the violence had been “…a deliberate conspiracy to subvert a democratically-elected Government.” By this he was implying that direct rule would be seen to be achieving the aims of the IRA. He also made reference to the use of internment, stating that “A considerable number of persons suspected of subversive activities are being held by the police for interrogation.

The violence had largely been instigated by Unionists as opposition to civil rights reforms, just as Unionist officials had alluded to in talks with the British Home Office at the start of August. But Chichester-Clarke carefully framed the context of the current security crisis and violence, citing both the handful of armed clashes between the IRA and RUC and the need to detain IRA members. Thus, Chichester-Clarke painted a scenario in which the IRA were to blame so as to make it difficult for Westminster to either ‘review constitutional arrangements’ as a consequence of the violent resistance by Unionists of civil rights reform (that they had signalled to Westminster in the talks of 3rd-6th August) or impose direct rule due to the deployment of the British Army.

Meanwhile, many of the twenty-four internees were released within a few weeks. Three, Billy McMillan (the Belfast IRA O/C) and two other senior IRA figures, Prionsias MacAirt and Malachy McGurran continued to be interned. When McMillan got out late in September he found significant hostility among the Belfast IRA to the IRA’s leadership in Dublin over events in August. MacAirt and McGurran, though, were to be interned until the end of year.

Despite the deployment of the British Army on 14th-15th August 1969, it was to be March 1972 before Westminster finally imposed direct rule.

Revisiting 1969: #peacewalls50

The peace line formally erected in 1969 is directly associated with the events of 14th and 15th August 1969. With the fiftieth anniversary of those days looming, I’m going to recap some previous posts on the peace line.

The course of the Shankill/Falls peaceline closely mirrors the path of the River Farset as it winds its way from Squire’s Hill down to the River Lagan. From around 1780 to 1800 Belfast saw a boom in cotton manufacturing leading to an unmanaged expansion of the town along the River Farset where there had been mills since at least the 1600s. Two of the main arterial routes into Belfast were the Falls Road between the Farset and Blackstaff, and the Shankill Road (then known as the Antrim Road) on the other side of the River Farset. The Farset actually crossed the Shankill Road at the site of the old church (the Sean Cill) from which the Shankill get its name.

 

Williamson’s map of Belfast, 1791, showing the course of the Farset and topography between the Falls and Shankill (then known as the Antrim Road). Belfast History Towns Atlas, Vol 1.

As Belfast developed along the Farset, Falls Road and Shankill Road, Catholics began to congregate on the south bank (Falls Road) of the Farset with Protestants on the north bank (Shankill Road). The light touch regulation by Belfast corporation saw little in the way of infrastructure provided and housing and working conditions and wages were equally poor. These conditions and pre-existing sectarian tensions led to sporadic outbreaks of violence through the nineteenth century. The extent of religious segregation in the Falls-Shankill was explored by F.W. Boal in a paper published in Irish Geography in 1969, before the major outbreak of violence that summer. It included the following illustration of the extent of segregation.

Boal

Figure 5 from Boal, Territoriality on the Shankill/Falls divide. Irish Geography, Vol 6, No.1, p30-50. His ‘CUPAR’ district matches the location of the peace line.

An immediate response to violence was often to deploy police or soldiers as a human barricade. In 1920 this often progressed to the use of knife-rests – wooden structures wrapped in barbed wire – and in some places, formal wire entanglements and blockhouses. In March 1922 formal timber barriers were erected in a number of streets and left there for a couple of years. These walls (see the example from Young’s Row below) completely blocked the view and were designed to prevent snipers and gunmen being able to fire into the street. This was repeated in 1935 although the move to introduce similar full barriers was made much quicker, in only four days (rather than the 21 months it took in 1920-1922). In both 1922 and 1935 the barriers were taken down within a couple of years. You can read more on events in 1920-1922 here and 1935 here.

Peace line, Young’s Row, 1922. From Seán Ó Coinn’s Defending the Ground.

The UVF, who had been active since 1966, carried out a campaign of bombing in 1969 that had led to the deployment of the British army in April 1969.  Photographs of soldiers on duty at key installations show the wire entanglements erected by a detachment of engineers that had arrived that April. Newspaper reports from 1969 show that it had been widely anticipated that British soldiers would be deployed if violence intensified. Despite recent evidence of how the violence might manifest itself, such as in 1964, didn’t seem to influence thinking on the types of tactics and training which may be required if the army were deployed. Therefore no meaningful training or tactics were developed in anticipation of the type of threat that might emerge.

When violence did intensify in mid-August in Derry and Belfast the initial expanded use of troops on 15th August in Belfast was as human barricades, often deploying knife-rests or even utilising the existing ad hoc barricades that had been erected during rioting. In the days after 15th August the emphasis was on removing the ad hoc barricades and replacing them with knife-rests and British soldiers replacing those guarding the barricades from (what were or later became) the ‘citizens defence committee’ on the Falls and ‘defence association’ on the Shankill. However, British soldiers were often reduced to onlookers, unable to intervene or use their weapons, as the glaring lack of tactical preparation became exposed.

By early September the imminent release of the Cameron Report (which was to recommend the disbandment of the B Specials) focused minds on a likely violent reaction. Despite the lessons of 1935, the initial response on 10th September was to involve Belfast city council in identifying a line on which the British army would re-use the materials it had available, mainly pickets and barbed wire, to create a ‘peace line’ between the Falls and Shankill. The route, from Springfield Road to Millfield, was teased out over a number of days and effectively mirrored the earlier course of the River Farset. Again lessons in using complete visual barriers, learned in 1922 and 1935, were not applied and gunfire and projectiles were fired across the barbed wire entanglements. It was quickly realised that, again, the British army still hadn’t trained or prepared troops or officers for the role. Wire entanglements could simply be pushed aside to attacks residents on the other side without any intervention from the soldiers present who had no clear instructions on how to react.

By the 25th-27th September these failures had become apparent and the wire entanglements began to be replaced with concertina-type barriers that were fixed in place and provided a complete visual barrier. It was also announced that there would be an immediate overhaul of the equipment and training supplied to British soldiers so that it was more suitable for their role.

You can read more about the initial development of the peace line here and the route of the River Farset here.

The development of the peace line is being document by Professor James O’Leary of UCL here at the Peace Wall Archive which will include a series of events in September to mark the fiftieth anniversary of its construction.

You can read more on the background to August 1969 in Michael Burns book Burnt Out and in the Belfast Battalion book.

Sean Murray will be showing a short film, The Wall, and giving a talk on the events that led up Shankill-Falls peace line on Tuesday 6th August evening as part of Féile an Pobail. I’ll be giving a talk at the exact same time in the Glenpark for Féile an Tuaiscirt which will include looking at the role of the IRA in August 1969.

Further events marking the fiftieth anniversaries of events in 1969 are planned in August and September by the Falls Commemoration Committee (see poster below). I’ve not seen any events marking the anniversary organised on the Shankill Road, but if anyone knows of any, let me know in the comments and I’ll add them here.

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Revisiting 1969: the deployment of the British Army, April 1969

This is another article revisiting 1969, this time looking at the initial deployment of the British Army.

In 1969, violence led to the deployment of the British Army in the north. Historically people usually associate this event with the aftermath of serious disorder in Derry and Belfast in the middle of August. However, the British Army was actually deployed in April 1969 following a bombing campaign by the UVF.

A British soldier on guard duty, April 1969 (Getty Images)

An explosion on 30th March at an electricity station in Castlereagh caused £500,000 in damage (equivalent of £8.5m today). The bombing came on the eve of an internal Unionist Party meeting that was to focus on the leadership of Terence O’Neill who was under pressure for trying to move the party towards accepting the introduction of universal suffrage in local elections. There was no claim of responsibility but the next day (31st March) the Belfast Telegraph reported both that the Republican movement had denied any responsibility and claims from an un-named ‘republican source’ that it was the work of ‘nationalist-minded people living in the Six Counties’ and another claim from un-named ‘republican source’ that attributed responsibility to ‘Saor Uladh’. The latter claim looked particularly spurious since Saor Uladh had been defunct for almost ten years. Various figures attributed the explosion to an un-named ‘subversive organisation’. 
The Unionist government’s immediate response was to call up a further 1,000 B Specials to full-time service. Given the widespread public criticism of the performance and behaviour of the 400 B Specials that had already been called up, the likes of Ivan Cooper and Austin Currie publicly questioned the wisdom of the move. Further explosions followed with a bomb attack at Dunadry on the Belfast water supply from Lough Neagh on 4th April (again on the eve an internal Unionist Party meeting about O’Neill’s leadership).
On the 19th April, amidst further intense rioting in Derry, the Home Office at Stormont asked for advice on “…what the attitude of the British Government would be towards the use of troops for law and order enforcement if the Government of Northern Ireland were to announce their acceptance in principle of universal adult suffrage for local government elections.” This was only minuted by Stormont’s Ministry of Home Affairs on 7th May, when it noted the response stated that “…It is not possible for Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom to give any secret pledges of military assistance…” (implying the Unionist government had requested a secret pledge). It goes on to state that “…At common law it is the duty of the military, at the request of the civil power, to take whatever steps the military judge necessary to maintain order, it being clearly understood that the judgement of the necessity for military forces and the degree of force used are entirely the responsibility of the military commander.” The British government claim that common law dictates that the degree of force is solely at the discretion of the responsible military commander is significant in light of later events involving the British army.

The night after that request was sent, there were further bomb attacks at Silent Valley reservoir and an electricity pylon in Kilmore in Armagh on 20th April. The Unionist government then made its request for the deployment of the army that day with Deputy Prime Minister John Andrews thanking the British government for permission to use the troops in the next day’s Belfast Telegraph (21/4/1969). The Press Association noted that contingency plans to deploy troops had been in place for some time. Initially, troops already based in the north were to be used but a number of additional detachments were transported from Britain over the next couple of days.

The photographs above and below are British troops being deployed, 22nd April 1969 (Getty Images)

That night the IRA, under pressure to draw some of the B Specials away from Derry, carried out a series of petrol bomb attacks on Post Offices in Belfast. The next day Belfast Telegraph had Brian Faulkner intimating that all the bombings were the work of the IRA and hinted at the use of internment. However, a leading member of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, Vincent McDowell, made a public statement explicitly blaming the bombings on the UVF. Henry McDonald and Jim Cusack’s book UVF – The Endgame recounts that, in the first months of 1969, there had been widespread graffiti threatening violence from the UVF against Catholics’ businesses and homes, both in flashpoint areas and in districts where Catholics were in a distinct minority. This was no idle threat, obviously, as the UVF had carried out a number of killings in 1966. McDonald and Cusack also state that some of those publicly blaming the IRA actually knew the bombings were the work of the UVF.

The deployment of the British Army did not deter further bombings, with attacks at the Lough Neagh water pipe on 24th April and one at the water pipe at Annalong on the next night. The British government decided to send further British troops by air to Aldergrove the following day (25th April) including The Prince Wales Own Regiment and a detachment of Royal Engineers. The bombings also followed in the wake of the Unionist Party’s narrow vote on 23rd April in favour of universal adult suffrage for local elections (the ‘one man, one vote’ demand of the civil rights campaigns). It didn’t save O’Neill’s premiership, though, as he finally resigned on 28th April and was replaced by Chichester-Clarke, who had resigned as Minister of Agriculture when universal adult suffrage had been passed. With O’Neill’s resignation, this phase of the UVF bombing campaign ended.

British troops awaiting deployment, Belfast Telegraph 26/4/1969
After arrival at Aldergrove, Sunday Independent, 27/4/1969

The 1969 bombing campaign is revealing on a number of levels. Since the 1930s, if the IRA had carried out a bomb attack, the RUC immediately responded with a wave of searches and arrests. A key (and revealing) signature of past unionist bombings was the clear absence of an RUC response. The 1969 bombings were little different, suggesting the RUC (and Unionist government) were aware from the very start that the bombings were being carried out by the UVF. By the end of April 1969, the UVF campaign had led to the British army being deployed to the north. The further deployment in mid-August is the one that subsequent histories have tended to stress and so the introduction of British soldiers is often associated with the later violence of mid-August. This overlooks the start of the British Army deployment and, by doing so, underplays the significance of the UVF bombing campaign and its purpose. That campaign had intended to stop Terence O’Neill initiating basic reforms such as introducing universal adult suffrage (if you need reminding of the range of civil rights abuses, you can read the Campaign for Social Justice’s The Plain Truth report published in mid-June 1969 here).

It is also worth noting that security and intelligence apparatus began to be put in place in April 1969 as part of the initial deployment (for more on that see here). And in advance of that initial deployment it is maybe worth pointing out it is possible that overall thinking around the use of troops and the degree of force permitted had already received the following guidance from the British government, “…that the judgement of the necessity for military forces and the degree of force used are entirely the responsibility of the military commander.” That kind of thinking clearly has had a long term influence.

Hundreds of pets killed in sectarian attack – Belfast, 1969

From The Irish Press, Tuesday 16th September, 1969: “The threat to the owner of a pet shop that his premises would be burned out if he did not sack his Catholic manager was carried out yesterday morning.

More than 100 birds, 170 mice, 20 parrots, 20 hamsters and scores of tropical fish died in the blaze at the Castle Aquatics, on the Castlereagh Road, Belfast.

Owner, Mr Robert Matthews (32) received the threat by telephone five days ago. “Of course, I did not sack my manager,” he said. Police and forensic experts yesterday searched among the burned out portion of the shop for clues as to the origin of the outbreak.

The pets died of suffocation, but Mr Matthews, who lives nearby, rescued three puppies and a rabbit.”

Other news reports provide some further details. Robert Matthews owned two adjoining shops on the Castlereagh Road where his manager was Jim Killen a Catholic from the Rathcoole estate in Newtownabbey. Thousands of tropical fish were killed in the fire including a piranha fish worth £60 (that’s just under half a teachers monthly salary in 1969). There were actually 25 parrots killed and several valuable peach-faced love birds. The fire appeared to have been started with petrol bombs.

 

 

Pets