Battle of the Bogside

The First Sight of British Soldiers on N.Ireland’s Streets

The Battle of the Bogside started on 12 August 1969, the day of the Apprentice Boys annual march around the Walls of Derry to commemorate the Siege of 1689.

Catholic youths, disaffected by the perceived discrimination of the Unionist Government and the Londonderry Corporation and growing in confidence through the civil rights movement, started throwing petrol bombs at the security forces which had saturated the area to protect the contentious Apprentice Boys parade.

The RUC responded with CS gas in the opening salvo’s of a confrontation that would last three days and change the face of Northern Ireland.

On the evening of the second day, Taoiseach Jack Lynch made a broadcast stating that the Dublin government ‘could not stand by’ while catholics were being brutalised by the security forces in the Bogside. Field hospitals were opened by the southern authorities in nearby County Donegal and Irish diplomats abroad attempted to exert some indirect pressure on the British government to bring an end to the rioting and address the wider issues in Northern Irish society.

As the situation deteriorated, nationalist leaders, including John Hume and Bernadette Devlin, called for the intervention of the British Army. The youth of the Bogside were joined by others from across the city in mounting what they viewed as a defence of their community from the protestant and Unionist forces of the State. Across Northern Ireland nationalist areas erupted in rioting designed to stretch police resources and provide respite for the rebels in the Bogside.

After three days, the Northern Ireland government finally requested military assistance. At 5pm on Thursday, 14 August 1969, a company of the Prince of Wales’ own Regiment took over security control from the RUC in the centre of Derry. Some of the residents of the Bogside were initially unsure as to whether they were British or Irish soldiers. The so-called ‘no-go’ areas [for the police] were established immediately. This was the first deployment of the British Army onto the streets of Northern Ireland of the modern conflict. It was arguably also the real starting point of the ‘troubles’ here.

Years later and British troops are still involved in the north ‘in support of the civil authority’, albeit in increasingly reduced numbers and in less prominent roles as the peace process has moved forward over the past decade.