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Dawn of the Troubles – August 1969: Northern Ireland History

Dawn of the Troubles – August 1969

Northern Ireland History

During 12–16 August 1969, there was an outbreak of political and sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, which is often seen as the beginning of the thirty-year conflict known as the Troubles. There had been sporadic violence throughout the year arising out of the civil rights campaign, which demanded an end to discrimination against Catholics and Irish nationalists.

– Disclaimer –

The views and opinions expressed in these blog posts/documentaries are solely intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors

Belfast 1969 : The Dawn of the Troubles ( Shankill / Falls RD)

Events leading up to the August riots

The first major confrontation between civil rights activists and the Royal Ulster Constabulary  occurred in Derry on 5 October 1968, when a NICRA ( Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement ) march was baton-charged by the RUC.

Disturbed by the prospect of major violence, the prime minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O’Neill, promised reforms in return for a “truce”, whereby no further demonstrations would be held.

Terence O;Neill

In spite of these promises, in January 1969 People’s Democracy, a radical left-wing group, staged an anti-government march from Belfast to Derry. Ulster loyalists, including off-duty USC members, attacked the marchers a number of times, most determinedly at Burntollet Bridge (about five miles  outside Derry). The RUC were present but failed to adequately protect the marchers. This action, and the RUC’s subsequent entry into the Bogside, led to serious rioting in Derry.

See: Burntollet Bridge incident

My thoughts?

Although 1969 is generally regarded as the beginning of the modern Troubles sectarian tensions had been bubbling for some time in the north and loyalist paramilitaries were responsible for the first politically motivated killings since the IRA’s 1950s campaign. The UVF were responsible for three civilian deaths in 1966 including Patrick Scullion who became the first victim of the Troubles. Peter Ward who was killed by Gusty Spences team and a protestant pensioner Matilda Gould who was severely burned in a fire started by the UVF and died a few weeks later.

In March 1966 Gerry Fitt took his place in Westminster giving a voice to a wide range of nationalist grievances. Plans by Republicans to mark the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising stirred up political  tensions even more and Unionists paranoia’s were  exasperated and stoked  by Ian Paisley , who called for a counter parade which led to his arrest  and conviction for unlawful assembly . This led to widespread social unrest and by August 1969 with the rise and protestant/loyalist suspicion of  the NICRA ( Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement ) Northern Ireland was on the brink of an abyss  that would plunge us all into a thirty year nightmare of never ending death and destruction and the stage was set for the beginning of the Troubles!

History Of Loyalism Part 1

In March and April 1969, there were six bomb attacks on electricity and water infrastructure targets, causing blackouts and water shortages. At first the attacks were blamed on the Irish Republican Army (IRA), but it later emerged that members of the loyalist Ulster Protestant Volunteers (UPV) and Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) had carried out the bombings in an attempt to implicate the IRA, destabilise the Northern Ireland Government and halt the reforms promised by Terence O’Neill.

There was some movement on reform in Northern Ireland in the first half of 1969.

On 23 April Ulster Unionist Party Members of the Northern Ireland Parliament voted by 28 to 22 to introduce universal adult suffrage in local government elections in Northern Ireland at their parliamentary party meeting. The call for “one man, one vote” had been one of the key demands of the civil rights movement.

James Chichester-Clark

Five days later, Terence O’Neill resigned as UUP leader and Northern Ireland Prime Minister and was replaced in both roles by James Chichester-Clark. Chichester-Clark, despite having resigned in protest over the introduction of universal suffrage in local government, announced that he would continue the reforms begun by O’Neill.

Street violence, however, continued to escalate. On 19 April there was serious rioting in the Bogside area of Derry following clashes between NICRA marchers against loyalists and the RUC. A Catholic, Samuel Devenny, was severely beaten by the RUC and later died of his injuries.

 On 12 July, during the Orange Order’s Twelfth of July marches, there was serious rioting in Londonderry, Belfast and Dungiven, causing many families in Belfast to flee from their homes.

See: Orange Order

Another Catholic civilian, Francis McCloskey (67), died one day after being hit on the head with batons by RUC officers during disturbances in Dungiven.

As a result of these events, residents of the Catholic Bogside area of Derry set up the Derry Citizens’ Defence Association to organise the defence of the neighbourhood, should the need arise.

Battle of the Bogside

This unrest culminated in a pitched battle in Derry from 12–14 August, known as the Battle of the Bogside. As the yearly march by the Protestant loyalist Apprentice Boys skirted the edge of the Catholic Bogside, stone-throwing broke out.

 The RUC—on foot and in armoured vehicles—drove back the Catholic crowd and attempted to force its way into the Bogside, followed by loyalists who smashed the windows of Catholic homes.

 Thousands of Bogside residents mobilised to defend the area, and beat back the RUC with a hail of stones and petrol bombs. Barricades were built, petrol bomb ‘factories’ and first aid posts were set up, and a radio transmitter (“Radio Free Derry”) broadcast messages and called on

 “every able-bodied man in Ireland who believes in freedom”

to come defend the Bogside.The overstretched police resorted to throwing stones back at the Bogsiders and were helped by loyalists. They received permission to fire CS gas into the Bogside – the first time it had been used by police in the UK. The Bogsiders believed that the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), the wholly Protestant police reserves, would be sent in and would massacre the Catholic residents. On 13 August, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association called for protests across Northern Ireland in support of the Bogside, to draw police away from the fighting there. That night it issued a statement:

A war of genocide is about to flare across the North. The CRA demands that all Irishmen recognise their common interdependence and calls upon the Government and people of the Twenty-six Counties to act now to prevent a great national disaster. We urgently request that the Government take immediate action to have a United Nations peace-keeping force sent to Derry.

See: Battle of The Bogside

Violence in Belfast

A loyalist mural in Belfast commemorating the 1969 riots

Belfast saw by far the most intense violence of the August 1969 riots. Unlike Londonderry, where Catholic nationalists were a majority, in Belfast they were a minority and were also geographically divided and surrounded by Protestants and loyalists. For this reason, whereas in Derry the fighting was largely between nationalists and the RUC, in Belfast it also involved fighting between Catholics and Protestants, including exchanges of gunfire and widespread burning of homes and businesses.

On the night of 12 August, bands of Apprentice Boys arrived back in Belfast after taking part in the Derry march. They were met by Protestant pipe bands and a large crowd of supporters. They then marched to the Shankill Road waving Union Flags and singing “The Sash My Father Wore” (a popular loyalist ballad).

The Sash

According to journalists Patrick Bishop and Eamonn Mallie,:

“Both communities were in the grip of a mounting paranoia about the other’s intentions. Catholics were convinced that they were about to become victims of a Protestant pogrom; Protestants that they were on the eve of an IRA insurrection”.

Wednesday 13 August

Eamonn McCann

The first disturbances in Northern Ireland’s capital took place on the night of 13 August. Derry activists Eamonn McCann and Sean Keenan contacted Frank Gogarty of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association to organise demonstrations in Belfast to draw off police from Derry. Independently, Belfast IRA leader Billy McMillen ordered republicans to organise demonstrations, “in support of Derry”.

In protest at the RUC’s actions in Derry, a group of 500 nationalists assembled at Divis flats and staged a rally outside Springfield Road RUC station, where they handed in a petition.

After handing in the petition, the crowd of now 1,000–2,000 people, including IRA members such as Joe McCann,  began a protest march along the Falls Road and Divis Street to the Hastings Street RUC police station. When they arrived, about 50 youths broke away from the march and attacked the RUC police station with stones and petrol bombs.

The RUC responded by sending out riot police and by driving Shorland armoured cars at the crowd.  Protesters pushed burning cars onto the road to stop the RUC from entering the nationalist area.

At Leeson Street, roughly halfway between the clashes at Springfield and Hastings Street RUC police stations, an RUC Humber armoured car was attacked with a hand grenade and rifle fire.

Billy McMillen

 At the time, it was not known who had launched the attack, but it has since emerged that it was IRA members, acting under the orders of Billy McMillen. McMillen also authorised members of the Fianna (IRA youth wing) to attack the Springfield Road RUC police station with petrol bombs. Shots were exchanged there between the IRA and RUC.

In addition to the attacks on the RUC, the car dealership of Protestant Isaac Agnew, on the Falls Road, was destroyed. The nationalist crowd also burnt a Catholic-owned pub and betting shop. At this stage, loyalist crowds gathered on the Shankill Road but did not join in the fighting.

That night, barricades went up at the interface areas between Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods.

A Shorland armoured car. The RUC used Shorlands mounted with Browning machine guns during the riots.

Thursday 14 August and early hours of Friday 15 August

On 14 August, many Catholics and Protestants living on the edge of their ghettos fled their homes for safety.

The loyalists viewed the nationalist attacks of Wednesday night as an organised attempt by the IRA

“to undermine the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom”.

The IRA, contrary to loyalist belief, was responding to events rather than orchestrating them. Billy McMillen called up all available IRA members for “defensive duties” and sent parties out to Cupar Street, Divis Street and St Comgall’s School on Dover Street. They amounted to 30 IRA volunteers, 12 women, 40 youths from the Fianna and 15–20 girls. Their arms consisted of one Thompson submachine gun, one Sten submachine gun, one Lee–Enfield rifle and six handguns.

A “wee factory” was also set up in Leeson Street to make petrol bombs. Their orders at the outset were to, “disperse people trying to burn houses, but under no circumstances to take life”.

What Is The Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Falls–Shankill interface near Divis Tower

That evening, a nationalist crowd marched to Hastings Street RUC station, which they began to attack with stones for a second night. Loyalist crowds (wielding petrol bombs, bricks, stones, sharpened poles and protective dustbin lids) gathered at neighbouring Dover and Percy Streets.

 They were confronted by nationalists, who had hastily blocked their streets with barricades. Fighting broke out between the rival factions at about 11:00 pm. The RUC concentrated their efforts on the nationalist rioters, who they scattered with armoured cars. Catholics claimed that USC officers had been seen giving guns to the loyalists, while journalists reported seeing pike-wielding loyalists standing among the RUC officers.

From the nearby rooftop of Divis Tower flats, a group of nationalists would spend the rest of the night raining missiles on the police below. A chain of people were passing stones and petrol bombs from the ground to the roof.

Loyalists began pushing into the Falls Road area along Percy Street, Beverly Street and Dover Street. The rioters contained a rowdy gang of loyalist football supporters who had returned from a match.

 On Dover Street, the loyalist crowd was led by Ulster Unionist Party MP John McQuade. On Percy Street, a loyalist opened fire with a shotgun and USC officers helped the loyalists to push back the nationalists. As they entered the nationalist ghetto, loyalists began burning Catholic homes and businesses on Percy Street, Beverly Street and Dover Street.

At the intersection of Dover and Divis Street, an IRA unit opened fire on the crowd of RUC police officers and loyalists, who were trying to enter the Catholic area. Protestant Herbert Roy (26) was killed and three officers were wounded.

 At this point, the RUC, believing they were facing an organised IRA uprising, deployed Shorland armoured cars mounted with Browning machine guns,  whose .30 calibre bullets “tore through walls as if they were cardboard”.

In response to the RUC coming under fire at Divis Street, three Shorland armoured cars were called to the scene. The Shorlands were immediately attacked with gunfire, an explosive device and petrol bombs. The RUC believed that the shots had come from nearby Divis Tower. Gunners inside the Shorlands returned fire with their heavy machine-guns. At least thirteen Divis Tower flats were hit by high-velocity gunfire.

Patrick Rooney

 A nine-year-old boy, Patrick Rooney, was killed by machine-gun fire as he lay in bed in one of the flats. He was the first child to be killed in the violence.

See: 14th August 1969

At about 01:00, not long after the shooting of Patrick Rooney, the RUC again opened fire on Divis Tower. The shots killed Hugh McCabe (20), a Catholic soldier who was ‘on leave’. He and another had been on the roof of the Whitehall building (which was part of the Divis complex) and were pulling a wounded man to safety. The RUC claimed he was armed at the time and that gunfire was coming from the roof, but this was denied by many witnesses.

The Republican Labour Party MP for Belfast Central, Paddy Kennedy, who was on the scene, phoned the RUC headquarters and appealed to Northern Ireland Minister for Home Affairs, Robert Porter, for the Shorlands to be withdrawn and the shooting to stop. Porter replied that this was impossible as,

“the whole town is in rebellion”.

Porter told Kennedy that Donegall Street police station was under heavy machine-gun fire. In fact, it was undisturbed throughout the riots.

Sometime after the killing of Hugh McCabe, some 200 loyalists attacked Catholic Divis Street and began burning houses there. A unit of six IRA volunteers in St Comgall’s School shot at them with a rifle, a Thompson submachine gun and some pistols; keeping the attackers back and wounding eight of them. An RUC Shorland then arrived and opened fire on the school. The IRA gunmen returned fire and managed to escape.

Falls–Shankill interface near Clonard Monastery

West of St Comgall’s, loyalists broke through the nationalist barricades on Conway Street and burned two-thirds of the houses. Catholics claimed that the RUC held them back so that the loyalists could burn their homes. The Scarman Report found that RUC officers were on Conway Street when its houses were set alight, but “failed to take effective action”. Journalist Max Hastings wrote that loyalists on Conway Street had been begging the RUC to give them their guns.


Rioting in Ardoyne, north of the city centre, began in the evening near Holy Cross Catholic church. Loyalists crossed over to the Catholic/nationalist side of Crumlin Road to attack Brookfield Street, Herbert Street, Butler Street and Hooker Street. These had been hastily blocked by nationalist barricades. Loyalists reportedly threw petrol bombs at Catholics “over the heads of RUC officers”,as RUC armoured cars were used to smash through the barricades.

IRA gunmen fired the first shots at the RUC, who responded by firing machine-guns down the streets, killing two Catholic civilians (Samuel McLarnon, 27, and Michael Lynch, 28) and wounding ten more.

Friday 15 August

The morning of 15 August saw many Catholic families in central Belfast flee to Andersonstown on the western fringes of the city, to escape the rioting. According to Bishop and Mallie,

“Each side’s perceptions of the other’s intentions had become so warped that the Protestants believed the Catholics were clearing the decks for a further attempt at insurrection in the evening”.

At 04:30 on Friday 15 August, the police commissioner for Belfast asked for military aid. From the early hours of Friday, the RUC had withdrawn to its bases to defend them. The interface areas were thus left unpoliced for half a day until the British Army arrived.

 The Deputy Police Commissioner had assumed that the British Army would be deployed by 10:00 or 11:00. At 12:25 that afternoon, the Northern Ireland cabinet finally sent a request for military aid to the Home Office in London. However, it would be another nine hours until the British Army arrived at the Falls/Shankill interface where it was needed.

Many Catholics and nationalists felt that they had been left at the mercy of the loyalists by the forces of the state who were meant to protect them.

The IRA, which had limited manpower and weaponry at the start of the riots, was also exhausted and low on ammunition. Its Belfast commander, Billy McMillen, and 19 other republicans were arrested by the RUC early on 15 August under the Special Powers Act.

There was fierce rioting in streets around Clonard Monastery , where hundreds of Catholic homes were burned

Falls–Shankill interface near Clonard Monastery

The Wall (Belfast Short documentary)

On 15 August, violence continued along the Falls/Shankill interface. Father PJ Egan of Clonard Monastery recalled that a large loyalist mob moved down Cupar Street at about 15:00 and was held back by nationalist youths. Shooting began at about 15:45. Egan claimed that himself and other priests at Clonard Monastery made at least four calls to the RUC for help, but none came.

A small IRA party under Billy McKee was present and had two .22 rifles at their disposal. They exchanged shots with a loyalist sniper who was firing from a house on Cupar Street, but failed to dislodge him, or to halt the burning of Catholic houses in the area.

 Almost all of the houses on Bombay Street were burned by the loyalists, and many others were burned on Kashmir Road and Cupar Street – the most extensive destruction of property during the riots.

A loyalist sniper shot dead Gerald McAuley (15), a member of the Fianna (IRA’s youth wing), as he helped people flee their homes on Bombay Street.

See: 15th August

At about 18:30 the British Army’s The Royal Regiment of Wales was deployed on the Falls Road, where they were greeted with subdued applause and cheering.

However, despite pleas from locals, they did not move into the streets that were being attacked. At about 21:35 that night, the soldiers finally took up positions at the blazing interface and blocked the streets with barbed-wire barricades. Father PJ Egan recalled that the soldiers called on the loyalists to surrender but they instead began shooting and throwing petrol bombs at the soldiers.

 The soldiers could only fire back on the orders of an officer when life was directly threatened. The loyalists continued shooting and burned more Catholic-owned houses on Bombay Street, but were stopped by soldiers using tear gas.


Soldiers were not deployed in Ardoyne, and violence continued there on Friday night. Nationalists hijacked 50 buses from the local bus depot, set them on fire and used them as makeshift barricades to block access to Ardoyne. A Protestant civilian, David Linton (48), was shot dead by IRA gunmen at the Palmer Street/Crumlin Road junction.

Several Catholic-owned houses were set alight on Brookfield Street. The Scarman Report found that an RUC armoured vehicle was nearby when Brookfield Street was set alight, but made no move.

Saturday 16 August

On the evening of 16 August the British Army was deployed on Crumlin Road. Thereafter, the violence died down into what the Scarman report called, “the quiet of exhaustion”.

Disturbances elsewhere

Towns and cities where major riots took place

In aid of the Bogsiders, the NICRA executive decided to launch protests in towns across Northern Ireland.  The Scarman Report concluded that the spread of the disturbances “owed much to a deliberate decision by some minority groups to relieve police pressure on the rioters in Londonderry”. It included the NICRA among these groups.

On the evening of 11 August a riot erupted in Dungannon after a meeting of the NICRA. This was quelled after the RUC baton charged nationalist rioters down Irish Street. There were claims of police brutality.

On 12 August, republicans attacked the RUC police stations in Coalisland, Strabane and Newry.

On 13 August there were further riots in Dungannon, Coalisland, Dungiven, Armagh and Newry. In Coalisland, USC officers opened fire on rioters without orders but were immediately ordered to stop.

On 14 August riots continued in Dungannon, Armagh and Newry. In Dungannon and Armagh, USC officers again opened fire on rioters. They fired 24 shots on Armagh’s Cathedral Road, killing Catholic civilian John Gallagher and wounding two others.

 In Newry, nationalist rioters surrounded the RUC station and attacked it with petrol bombs. In Crossmaglen on 17 August, the IRA attacked the local RUC station and withdrew after an exchange of fire.


On 13 August, Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Jack Lynch made a television address in which he stated that the Irish Defence Forces was setting up field hospitals along the border and called for United Nations intervention. He said:

It is evident that the Stormont Government is no longer in control of the situation. Indeed, the present situation is the inevitable outcome of the policies pursued for decades by successive Stormont Governments. It is clear, also, that the Irish Government can no longer stand by and see innocent people injured and perhaps worse. It is obvious that the R.U.C. is no longer accepted as an impartial police force. Neither would the employment of British troops be acceptable

The Irish Government have, therefore, requested the British Government to apply immediately to the United Nations for the urgent despatch of a Peace-keeping Force […] We have also asked the British Government to see to it that police attacks on the people of Derry should cease immediately.

When the Irish government met on 14 and 15 August, it decided to send troops to protect the field hospitals, and to call up the first line army reserves:

 “in readiness for participation in peace-keeping operations”.

This, along with Lynch’s statement, fuelled rumours that Irish troops were about to cross the border and intervene.  On 16 August, three Irish nationalist members of the Northern Ireland Parliament—Paddy Devlin, Paddy O’Hanlon and Paddy Kennedy—went to the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin. They demanded the Irish government send guns to protect Catholics in Northern Ireland, but this was refused.

The prime minister of Northern Ireland, James Chichester-Clark, responded:

 “In this grave situation, the behaviour of the Dublin Government has been deplorable, and tailor-made to inflame opinion on both sides”.

 On 14 August he stated in the Northern Ireland Parliament:

This is not the agitation of a minority seeking by lawful means the assertion of political rights. It is the conspiracy of forces seeking to overthrow a Government democratically elected by a large majority. What the teenage hooligans seek beyond cheap kicks I do not know. But of this I am quite certain – they are being manipulated and encouraged by those who seek to discredit and overthrow this Government”.

Chichester-Clark denied that his government was not doing enough to bring about the reforms sought by the civil rights movement, or that this was a cause of the violence. Instead, he said:

“The real cause of the disorder is to be found in the activities of extreme Republican elements and others determined to overthrow our State”.

On 23 August, Catholic Cardinal William Conway, together with the Bishops of Derry, Clogher, Dromore, Kilmore, and Down & Connor, issued a statement which included the following:

The fact is that on Thursday and Friday of last week the Catholic districts of Falls and Ardoyne were invaded by mobs equipped with machine-guns and other firearms. A community which was virtually defenceless was swept by gunfire and streets of Catholic homes were systematically set on fire. We entirely reject the hypothesis that the origin of last week’s tragedy was an armed insurrection.

The Irish republican party, Sinn Féin, issued a statement saying that

 “The present events in the Six Counties are the outcome of fifty years of British rule. The civil rights demands, moderate though they are, have shown us that Unionist rule is incompatible with democracy.  The question now is no longer civil rights, but the continuation of British rule in Ireland”.

Representatives of the British and Northern Ireland governments—including British prime minister Harold Wilson and Northern Irish prime minister Chichester-Clark—held a two-day meeting at 10 Downing Street, beginning on 19 August. A Communique and Declaration was issued at the end of the first day

It re-affirmed that Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom unless the people of Northern Ireland decided otherwise, and that the Northern Ireland and British governments are solely responsible for affairs in Northern Ireland.

 The Irish government failed to have a resolution on Northern Ireland put to a vote at the UN.

In late August, the Northern Ireland government announced the establishment of an inquiry into the riots, to be chaired by Justice Scarman (and known as the “Scarman Inquiry”).

A committee under Baron Hunt was also set up to consider reform of the Northern Ireland police, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and reserve Ulster Special Constabulary, which led to the latter being disbanded.


The rioting petered out by Sunday, 17 August. By the end of the riots:

8 people had been killed, including:

5 Catholics shot dead by the RUC

2 Protestants shot dead by nationalist gunmen

1 Fianna member shot dead by loyalist gunmen

750 + people had been injured  – 133 (72 Catholics and 61 Protestants) of those injured suffered gunshot wounds

150+ Catholic homes  and 275 + businesses had been destroyed – 83% of all buildings destroyed were owned by Catholics

During July, August and September 1969, 1,820+ families had been forced to flee their homes, including

1,505 Catholic families

315 Protestant families

Catholics generally fled across the border into the Republic of Ireland, while Protestants generally fled to east Belfast.

 The Irish Defence Forces set up refugee camps in the Republic – at one point the Gormanston refugee camp held 6,000 refugees from Northern Ireland.

Long-term effects

The modern “peace line” at Bombay Street in Belfast, seen from the Irish Catholic/nationalist side..

The August riots were the most sustained violence that Northern Ireland had seen since the early 1920s. Many Protestants, loyalists and unionists believed the violence showed the true face of the Northern Ireland Catholic civil rights movement – as a front for the IRA and armed insurrection.

They had mixed feelings regarding the deployment of British Army troops into Northern Ireland. Eddie Kinner, a resident of Dover Street who would later join the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), vividly recalled the troops marching down his street with fixed bayonets and steel helmets. He and his neighbours had felt at the time as if they were being invaded by their “own army”.

 Catholics and nationalists, on the other hand, saw the riots (particularly in Belfast) as an assault on their community by loyalists and the forces of the state. The disturbances, taken together with the Battle of the Bogside, are often cited as the beginning of the Troubles. Violence escalated sharply in Northern Ireland after these events, with the formation of new paramilitary groups on either side, most notably the Provisional Irish Republican Army in December of that year.

On the loyalist side, the UVF (formed in 1966) were galvanised by the August riots and in 1971, another paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association was founded out of a coalition of loyalist militants who had been active since August 1969. The largest of these were the Woodvale Defence Association, led by Charles Harding Smith, and the Shankill Defence Association, led by John McKeague, which had been responsible for what organisation there was of loyalist violence in the riots of August 1969. While the thousands of British Army troops sent to Northern Ireland were initially seen as a neutral force, they quickly got dragged into the street violence and by 1971 were devoting most of their attention to combatting republican paramilitaries.

The Irish Republican Army

The role of the IRA in the riots has long been disputed. At the time, the organisation was blamed by the Northern Ireland authorities for the violence. However, it was very badly prepared to defend nationalist areas of Belfast, having few weapons or fighters on the ground.

The Scarman Inquiry, set up by the British government to investigate the causes of the riots, concluded:

Undoubtedly there was an IRA influence at work in the DCDA (Derry Citizens’ Defence Association) in Londonderry, in the Ardoyne and Falls Road areas of Belfast, and in Newry. But they did not start the riots, or plan them: indeed, the evidence is that the IRA was taken by surprise and did less than many of their supporters thought they should have done.

In nationalist areas, the IRA was reportedly blamed for having failed to protect areas like Bombay Street and Ardoyne from being burned out. A Catholic priest, Fr Gillespie, reported that in Ardoyne the IRA was being derided in graffiti as:

 “I Ran Away”.

However, IRA veterans of the time, who spoke to authors Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, disputed this interpretation. One, Sean O’Hare, said:

 “I never saw it written on a wall. That wasn’t the attitude. People fell in behind the IRA, stood behind them 100%”. Another, Sean Curry, recalled, “some people were a bit angry but most praised the people who did defend the area. They knew that if the men weren’t there, the area wouldn’t have been defended.”

At the time, the IRA released a statement on 18 August, saying, it had been, “in action in Belfast and Derry” and “fully equipped units had been sent to the border”. It had been, “reluctantly compelled into action by Orange murder gangs” and warned the British Army that if it, “was used to supress [sic] the legitimate demands of the people they will have to take the consequences” and urged the Irish government to send the Irish Army over the border.

Cathal Goulding, the IRA Chief of Staff, sent small units from Dublin, Cork and Kerry to border counties of Donegal, Leitrim and Monaghan, with orders to attack RUC posts in Northern Ireland and draw off pressure from Belfast and Derry. A total of 96 weapons and 12,000 rounds of ammunition were also sent to the North.

Nevertheless, the poor state of IRA arms and military capability in August 1969 led to a bitter split in the IRA in Belfast. According to Hanley and Millar, “dissensions that pre-dated August [1969] had been given a powerful emotional focus”.

In September 1969, a group of IRA men led by Billy McKee and Joe Cahill stated that they would no longer be taking orders from the Dublin leadership of the IRA, or from Billy McMillen (their commander in Belfast) because they had not provided enough weapons or planning to defend nationalist areas. In December 1969, they broke away to form the Provisional IRA and vowed to defend areas from attack by loyalists and the RUC. The other wing of the IRA became known as the Official IRA. Shortly after its formation, the Provisional IRA launched an offensive campaign against the state of Northern Ireland.

The RUC and USC

The RUC: A Force Under Fire

The actions of the RUC in the August 1969 riots are perhaps the most contentious issue arising out of the disturbances. Nationalists argue that the RUC acted in a blatantly biased manner, helping loyalists who were assaulting Catholic neighbourhoods. There were also strong suggestions that police knew when loyalist attacks were to happen and seemed to disappear from some Catholic areas shortly before loyalist mobs attacked.

This perception discredited the police in the eyes of many nationalists and later allowed the IRA to effectively take over policing in nationalist areas. In his study, From Civil Rights to Armalites, nationalist author Niall Ó Dochartaigh argues that the actions of the RUC and USC were the key factor in the worsening of the conflict. He wrote:

From the outset, the response of the state and its forces of law and order to Catholic mobilisation was an issue capable of arousing far more anger and activism than the issues around which mobilisation had begun. Police behaviour and their interaction with loyalist protesters probably did more to politically mobilise large sections of the Catholic community than did any of the other grievances.

The Scarman Inquiry found that the RUC were “seriously at fault” on at least six occasions during the rioting. Specifically, they criticised the RUC’s use of Browning heavy machine-guns in built-up areas, their failure to stop Protestants from burning down Catholic homes, and their withdrawal from the streets long before the Army arrived. However, the Scarman Report concluded that, “Undoubtedly mistakes were made and certain individual officers acted wrongly on occasions.

But the general case of a partisan force co-operating with Protestant crowds to attack Catholic people is devoid of substance, and we reject it utterly”.

The report argued that the RUC were under-strength, poorly led and that their conduct in the riots was explained by their perception that they were dealing with a co-ordinated IRA uprising. They pointed to the RUC’s dispersal of loyalist rioters in Belfast on 2–4 August in support of the force’s impartiality.

Of the B-Specials (Ulster Special Constabulary or USC), the Scarman Report said:

There were grave objections, well understood by those in authority, to the use of the USC in communal disturbances. In 1969 the USC contained no Catholics but was a force drawn from the Protestant section of the community. Totally distrusted by the Catholics, who saw them as the strong arm of the Protestant ascendancy, they could not show themselves in a Catholic area without heightening tension. Moreover, they were neither trained nor equipped for riot control duty.

The report found that the Specials had fired on Catholic demonstrators in Dungiven, Coalisland, Dungannon and Armagh, causing casualties, which, “was a reckless and irresponsible thing to do”. It found that USC officers had, on occasion, sided with loyalist mobs. There were reports that USC officers were spotted hiding among loyalist mobs, using coats to hide their uniforms. Nevertheless, the Scarman Report concluded, “there are no grounds for singling out mobilised USC as being guilty of misconduct”.

See: The B Specials

Main Source : Wikipedia

See also

See: The Troubles

See: Operation Banner

See: : 1969 Northern Ireland riots

See: 1886 Belfast Riots between Catholics & Protestants


1st July – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles



Key Events & Deaths on this day in Northern Ireland Troubles

1st July


Wednesday 1 July 1970

Reginald Maudling, then Home Secretary, paid a visit to Northern Ireland.

As he boarded the flight out of Northern Ireland again he was reported to have said:

“For God’s sake bring me a large Scotch. What a bloody awful country!”.

The Criminal Justice (Temporary Provisions) Act was passed by the Stormont government introducing a mandatory prison sentence of six months for rioting.

Sunday 1 July 1973


William Whitelaw, then Secretary of State, travelled to Chequers for a meeting with at 8.00pm with Edward Heath, then British Prime Minster.

[Public Records 1972 – Released 1 January 2003: Note of meeting between William Whitelaw, then Secretary of State, and Edward Heath, then British Prime Minster. ]


Wednesday 1 July 1981

hungry strikes

See Hunger Strike

Thursday 1 July 1982

The Garda Síochána (the Irish police) found a large cache of bombs at Castlefin, County Donegal.

Wednesday 1 July 1992


Gregory Burns, John  Dignam & Aidan Starrs

The bodies of three Irish Republican Army (IRA) members were found in different parts of south Armagh.

The three men were shot dead by the IRA which alleged that the men had acted as informers for the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and MI5 (British Security Service).

In a significant shift in approach the Unionist parties agreed to talks with politicians from the Republic of Ireland under Strand Two of the political talks (later known as the Brooke / Mayhew talks).

The Royal Irish Regiment (RIR) came into being. The regiment was formed by the amalgamation of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) and the Royal Irish Rangers.

[The UDR had been the subject of sustained criticism from Nationalists since its formation in 1970. The merger meant that the former UDR battalions, a total of approximately 6,000 soldiers, would continue to operate in Northern Ireland while the two former Rangers battalions would be reduced to a single general service battalion, approximately 900 soldiers, that would serve abroad as well as in Northern Ireland.]

Thursday 1 July 1993

The annual report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights (SACHR) was published. SACHR called for a review of the legislation that covered the use of lethal force by the security forces.

The report also supported the use of video recording of Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) interviews of people suspected of paramilitary related offences.

Tuesday 1 July 1997

The offices of the Irish News were slightly damaged in an arson attack.

The Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition announced that they were organising a street festival for Sunday 6 July 1997.

This would coincide with the disputed Orange Parade.

Bertie Ahern, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), and his ministerial team held talks in Belfast with Marjorie (Mo) Mowlam, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, about the ‘marching season’. Ahern said that it would be a mistake to force the march along the Garvaghy Road.

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) said that they would only announce their decision on whether or not the march could proceed along the Garvaghy Road, two or three days in advance.

This was in spite of a promise by Mowlam to reveal the decision at lease six days in advance.

Wednesday 1 July 1998

First Meeting of ‘Shadow’ Assembly ‘First Minister Designate’ and ‘Deputy First Minister Designate’ Elected


All the political parties who had won seats during the Northern Ireland Assembly election took their places in the new Assembly chamber at Stormont. The Assembly met in ‘shadow’ form as powers had not yet been devolved. Those present included the parties, and candidates, who had opposed the Good Friday Agreement.


[The event was televised live in Northern Ireland and many people found it almost surreal to see Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), sitting in the same debating chamber as Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF).]

During the first session on the new Northern Ireland Assembly David Trimble, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), was elected ‘First Minister Designate’ of the new Assembly. Seamus Mallon, then deputy leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), was elected ‘Deputy First Minister Designate’.


John Alderdice, formerly the leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APNI), was appointed as the ‘Presiding Officer Designate’ (the Speaker) of the new Assembly.

Thursday 1 July 1999

Tony Blair, then British Prime Minister, claimed that the Stormont talks had brought about a “seismic shift” in the political landscape of Northern Ireland.

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) continued to insist that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) should decommission its weapons and explosives in parallel with the creation of the Northern Ireland Executive.

Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) sources believed a possible solution was emerging. (Blair’s attendance at the Stormont talks meant that he missed the opening of the Scottish Parliament.)

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) won a council by-election in Lisburn. Peter Robinson, then Deputy Leader of the DUP, said this victory in a Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) safe seat was a “final warning” to David Trimble  then leader of the UUP.

Those Loyalist paramilitary groups who were then on ceasefire issued a warning to “hooligans and looters” that pro-Drumcree rioting would not be tolerated.

drumcree church at night

See Drumcree Conflict

William Whitelaw, who had been appointed as the first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland following the imposition of Direct Rule in 1972, died in London aged 81.

Sunday 1 July 2001

Trimble Resigned As First Minister

The resignation of David Trimble, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), as First Minister took effect as of midnight on Saturday.

Trimble called on Tony Blair, then British Prime Minister, to suspend the Northern Ireland Assembly (NIA) and the other institutions established under the Good Friday agreement.

The procedures of the NIA allowed for a six-week period during which a new First Minister and Deputy First Minister would have to be elected otherwise new elections to the Assembly would have to be called.

Another option would be for the British government to suspend the Assembly and the institutions and reintroduce Direct Rule. The final option was for there to be a temporary suspension which would have the effect of extending the period in which to find agreement.

The Assembly was suspended for 24 hours beginning on Friday 10 August 2001.



Remembering all innocent victims of the Troubles

Today is the anniversary of the death of the following people killed as a results of the conflict in Northern Ireland

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die

– Thomas Campbell

To the innocent on the list – Your memory will live forever

– To the Paramilitaries –

There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for.

10 People lost their lives on the 1st July between 1972 – 1992


01 July 1972
Paul Jobling  (19)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: non-specific Loyalist group (LOY)
English visitor. Found shot on waste ground, Westway Drive, Glencairn, Belfast.


01 July 1972
Daniel Hayes  (40)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: non-specific Loyalist group (LOY)
Found shot in playground, Penrith Street, Shankill, Belfast.


01 July 1973
Reginald Roberts   (25)

Status: British Army (BA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Shot by sniper while on British Army (BA) foot patrol, Bull Ring, Ballymurphy, Belfast


01 July 1976
Brian Palmer   (39)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Shot while in Finaghy Roadhouse Bar, Finaghy Road North, Belfast. Alleged informer.


01 July 1980

Terence O’Neill   (26)

Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)
Shot while running away from Whiterock Community Centre, Ballymurphy, Belfast.


01 July 1986

Robert Hill  (22)

Status: Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Off duty. Killed by booby trap bomb attached to his car outside his home, Drumaness, near Ballynahinch, County Down.


01 July 1989

Norman Annett   (56)

Status: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Off duty. Shot while visiting his mother’s home, Carhill Road, Garvagh, County Derry


01 July 1992

Gregory Burns   (34)

Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Found shot Cullaville Road, near Crossmaglen, County Armagh. Alleged informer.


01 July 1992

John Dignam  (32)

Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Found shot at Mountain Road, Lislea, County Armagh. Alleged informer.


01 July 1992

Aidan Starrs  (29)

Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA), K

illed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Found shot at Dundalk Road, near Newtownhamilton, County Armagh. Alleged informer.


See: IRA Nutting Squad 


25th May – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

Key Events & Deaths on this day in Northern Ireland Troubles

25th May


Tuesday 25 May 1971

Michael Willets

A British soldier was killed in an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb attack on the joint Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) / British Army (BA) base on the Springfield Road in Belfast.

Saturday 25 May 1974

Day 11 of the UWC strike

Alfred Stilges (52), a Catholic civilian, was beaten to death by Loyalist paramilitaries in Forthriver Road, Glencairn, Belfast.

Harold Wilson, then British Prime Minister, made a broadcast [text of speech] on British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) television and radio at 10.15pm.

[The speech proved to be totally counter-productive. At one point in the speech Wilson referred to ‘spongers’ – meaning the Ulster Workers’ Council (UWC) and its supporters.

However most Protestants took the reference as a slight on them. Indeed some Protestants took to wearing small sponges in their lapels the following day as a gesture of support for the strike.]

[Public Records 1974 – Released 1 January 2005: Fax sent on behalf of Harold Wilson to Liam Cosgrave, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister). The fax contained the text of a statement that Wilson was due to give on British television later that day.] [ Sunningdale; Ulster Workers’ Council Strike. ]

Tuesday 25 May 1976

The Ulster Service Corps, a Loyalist paramilitary grouping, announced that it was going to mount ‘patrols’ because of the ‘deteriorating security situation’.

Wednesday 25 May 1977

James Callaghan, then British Prime Minister, announced that an all-party Speaker’s Conference was to be established to consider the merits of the argument for more Northern Ireland Members of Parliament.

Thursday 25 May 1978

Brian McKinney



Brian McKinney and John McClory, both Catholic civilians, were abducted by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and ‘dissapeared’.

John McClory
John McClory

Their bodies were recovered on 29 June 1999

See The Disappeared


Friday 25 May 1984 Security forces in Northern Ireland discovered large quantities of explosives in County Tyrone and County Down. In the United States of America (USA) both houses of Congress unanimously backed the Report of the New Ireland Forum.

Wednesday 25 May 1988

Government White Paper

A White Paper on fair employment was issued by the British government. Suggestions included the compulsory monitoring of the religious composition of workforces in companies in Northern Ireland. A new Fair Employment Commission (FEC) was proposed to replace the Fair Employment Agency (FEA).

[A Bill was brought forward on 15 December 1988.]

Saturday 25 May 1991

Eddie Fullerton, then a Sinn Féin (SF) councillor in Buncrana, County Donegal, Republic of Ireland, was shot dead by the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), a cover name (pseudonym) used by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).


[This killing took place despite a Loyalist ceasefire announced by the Combined Loyalist Military Command (CLMC) that began at midnight on 29 April 1991. The UDA stated that the ceasefire did not apply to the Republic of Ireland.]

Terence O’Neill

A British soldier was killed in an Irish Republican Army (IRA) attack in Belfast.

Thursday 25 May 1995

Bill Clinton, then President of the United States of America (USA), addressed the investment conference in Washington, USA. He called for an end to paramilitary violence, ‘punishment’ beatings, and intimidation, in Northern Ireland. Clinton also announced a number of economic initiatives.

Saturday 25 May 1996

Dessie McCleery, then a member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) ‘GHQ’ faction, was shot dead in central Belfast. The killing was part of a continuing INLA feud.

25 May 1998

Those responsible for the picket outside the Catholic church in Harryville, Ballymena, announced that they were calling a halt to the weekly Saturday evening protest.

The protest had begun in September 1996 and policing costs were estimated at £2 million.

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) named Billy Hutchinson, then a Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) councillor, as its contact with the arms decommissioning body.

According to British statistics more than 5,300 women with addresses in the Republic of Ireland had abortions in Britain during 1997. This is the highest figure on record; in 1987 the figure was 3,673.



Remembering all innocent victims of the Troubles

Today is the anniversary of the death of the following people killed as a results of the conflict in Northern Ireland

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die

– Thomas Campbell

To the innocent on the list – Your memory will live forever

– To the Paramilitaries –

There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for.

11  People lost their lives on the 25th May between 1971 – 1996


25 May 1971

Michael Willets   (27)

Status: British Army (BA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by time bomb left inside Springfield Road Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) / British Army (BA) base, Belfast.


25 May 1973

Joseph Matthews   (30)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Defence Association (UDA)
Found shot at Giant’s Ring, near Shaw’s Bridge, Belfast.


25 May 1974
Alfred Stilges   (52)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: non-specific Loyalist group (LOY)
Found beaten to death in partially-built house, Forthriver Road, Glencairn, Belfast.


25 May 1975
Albert Ballantine   (19)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Found shot at side of Lettercor Road, near Gortin, County Tyrone.


25 May 1978

Brian McKinney   (22)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Abducted on his way to work, Andersonstown, Belfast. Remains eventually found, on general instructions from the IRA, buried in bogland, Colgagh, near Inniskeen, County Monaghan, on 29 June 1999.


25 May 1978

John McClory   (18)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Abducted on his way to work, Andersonstown, Belfast. Remains eventually found, on general instructions from the IRA, buried in bogland, Colgagh, near Inniskeen, County Monaghan, on 29 June 1999.


25 May 1981
Thomas Ritchie   (28)

Status: Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Shot by sniper while on Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) mobile patrol, Gulladuff, near Maghera, County Derry.


25 May 1986
Francis Hegarty  (45)

Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Found shot, Cavan Road, near Castlederg, County Tyrone. Alleged informer.


25 May 1991

Eddie Fullerton   (56)

Status: Civilian Political Activist (CivPA),

Killed by: Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF)
Sinn Fein (SF) Councillor. Shot at his home, Cockhill Cottages, Buncrana, County Donegal.


25 May 1991

Terence O’Neill   (44)

Status: British Army (BA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by grenade, dropped into compound at British Army (BA) base, from adjoining derelict building, North Howard Street, Falls, Belfast.


25 May 1996

Dessie McCleery   (37)

Status: Irish National Liberation Army (INLA),

Killed by: Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)
Shot, while in pizza restaurant, Bankmore Street, off Dublin Road, Belfast. Internal Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) dispute.


20th May – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

Key Events & Deaths on this day in Northern Ireland Troubles

20th May

Monday 20 May 1968

Terence O’Neill



Terence O’Neill, then Northern Ireland Prime Minister, was showered with eggs, flour and stones after a meeting of the Woodvale Unionist Association.

Monday 20 May 1974

Day 6 of the UWC strike

Michael Mallon (20), a Catholic civilian, was shot dead by the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) a covername for the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), and left by the side of the road at Shaw’s Bridge, Belfast.

Many roads in Northern Ireland were closed because of barricades. Electricity generation dropped to about one-third of normal levels. People were asked only to use telephones in an emergency.

Five hundred additional troops arrived in Northern Ireland.

An advertisement in the News Letter (a Belfast newspaper), which had been placed by Unionist politicians, called for support of the strike.

Stanley Orme, then Minister of Sate at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), repeated the government’s position of not negotiating with the Ulster Workers’ Council (UWC) Strike Committee.

 [Public Records 1974 – Released 1 January 2005:

Note of a statement made by Stanley Orme, then Minister of Sate at the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), to the House of Commons. The statement sought to explain the circumstances surrounding the decision by Merlyn Rees, then Secretary of Sate for Northern Ireland, to announce a State of Emergency (Section 40, Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973) on 19 May 1974.]

Friday 20 May 1977

Daniel McCooey (20), a Catholic civilian, died three weeks after he had been severely beaten by members of a British Army foot patrol in Castle Street, Belfast.

A member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was shot dead by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in County Tyrone.

Tuesday 20 May 1980

Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, stated in the House of Commons:

“The future of the constitutional affairs of Northern Ireland is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland, this government and this parliament and no one else.”

This statement was made the day before Charles Haughey, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister), was due to arrive in London with talks with Thatcher.

Wednesday 20 May 1981

District Council Elections

Local government elections were held in Northern Ireland against the backdrop of the continuing hunger strike. In the increased tension in the region, ‘moderate’ parties all suffered a decline in support.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) achieved 26.6 per cent of the vote compared to the 26.5 per cent recorded by the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) obtained 17.5 per cent of the first preference votes compared to 20.6 per cent in 1977.

 See  1981 Hunger Strike

Monday 20 May 1985


RUC  Collage

Four Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers in a mobile patrol were killed when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded a bomb in a parked trailer at Killeen, County Down.

Tuesday 20 May 1986

Nicholas Scott, then a Northern Ireland Office (NIO) Minister, provided information in the House of Commons on the level of intimidation that Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers had faced from Loyalists during protests at the Anglo-Irish Agreement (AIA).

Scott said that there had been 368 cases of intimidation.

[Later information provided by the RUC indicated that the final number was over 500 homes attacked and 150 RUC families forced to move.]

Monday 20 May 1991

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) announced that it was leaving the political talks (later known as the Brooke / Mayhew talks) until such time as the procedures for the main talks were agreed by the other parties.

Thursday 20 May 1993

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded a bomb, estimated at 1,000 pounds, in Glengall Street, Belfast. Thirteen people were injured in the explosion. The bomb was placed outside the Grand Opera House and close to the Headquarters of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP).

[Later estimates put the cost of the damage at £6.5 million.]

Friday 20 May 1994

There was serious rioting in Protestant areas of Belfast following the appearance in Belfast Magistrates’ Court of a man accused of ‘directing the activities’ of the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), a cover name (pseudonym) used by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

Monday 20 May 1996

Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF), said that SF was prepared to accept the six ‘Mitchell Principles’ if the other parties agreed to them.

Tuesday 20 May 1997

John Hume, then leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), tabled a motion in the House of Commons calling on the British government to conduct a new inquiry into the events of ‘Bloody Sunday‘ in Derry on 30 January 1972.

Jack Straw, then British Home Secretary, announced that two Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners, Danny McNamee and Liam McCotter, would be transferred to prisons in Northern Ireland.

Wednesday 20 May 1998

Blair’s Pledges

Tony Blair, then British Prime Minister, delivered a speech at the Coleraine campus of the University of Ulster in which he unveiled a hand-written set of pledges to the people of Northern Ireland in advance of the Referendum on 22 May 1998. The text of the pledges was as follows: “I pledge to the people of Northern Ireland:

  • No change in the status of Northern Ireland without the express consent of the people of Northern Ireland.
  • Power to take decisions returned to a Northern Ireland Assembly, with accountable North/South co-operation.
  • Fairness and equality guaranteed for all.
  • Those who use or threaten violence excluded from the Government of Northern Ireland.
  • Prisoners kept in unless violence is given up for good.

Whatever the Referendum result, as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom I will continue to work for stability and prosperity for all the people of Northern Ireland

.” Bill Clinton, then President of the United States of America (USA), sent a personal message to the people of Northern Ireland calling on them to vote ‘Yes’ in the

forthcoming referendum.

In the final hours of campaigning David Trimble, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), and Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), took part in a live television debate.

The 10 minute encounter took place on the BBC’s ‘Newsline’ programme. The debate was heated with Paisley accusing Trimble of being prepared to “break the union”.

Thursday 20 May 1999

There were disturbances involving Loyalists and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in Portadown, County Armagh.

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) delegation did not arrive for a second day of talks at Downing Street. The UUP stated that it had not been informed of the continuation of the talks.

Sinn Féin (SF) accused the UUP of a deliberate snub of the Prime Minister.

garvaghy road residents coalition 2

The Garvaghy Road Residents Coalition (GRRC) called for the Parades Commission to re-route the part of the Drumcree parade which passed close to Obins Street and St John’s Catholic Church.

Paul Berry, then a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Assemblyman, responded in an interview on Radio Ulster and said Loyalists would not be stopped from getting down the Garvaghy Road,

“If it is a matter of taking the law into our own hands then we are going to have to do it. That is a threat.”

(Reported in ‘Fortnight’ magazine, September 1999, p6). Mr Berry later denied making a threat. Planners from the Department of the Environment (DOE) in Northern Ireland told a regional planning conference in Dublin that Derry would be developed as the growth hub of the north-west.



Remembering all innocent victims of the Troubles

Today is the anniversary of the death of the following people killed as a results of the conflict in Northern Ireland

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die

– Thomas Campbell

To the innocent on the list – Your memory will live forever

– To the Paramilitaries –

There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for.

10 People lost their lives on the 20th  May between 1972 – 1986


20 May 1972
Henry Gillespie  (32)

Status: Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Shot by sniper while on Ulster Defence Regiment mobile patrol, Killyliss, near Dungannon, County Tyrone.


20 May 1974
Miicahel Mallon   (20)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Defence Association (UDA)
Found shot by side of Milltown Road, Shaw’s Bridge, Belfast.


20 May 1977

Robert North  (52)

Status: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Off duty reservist. Shot while driving school bus along Drumlee Road, near Benburb, County Tyrone


20 May 1977

 Daniel McCooey  (20)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
Died three weeks after being badly beaten by British Army (BA) foot patrol, Castle Street, Belfast.


20 May 1979

Stanley Wray  (50)

Status: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Off duty. Shot shortly after leaving Claremont Presbyterian Church, Northland Road, Derry.


20 May 1985

William Wilson   (28)

Status: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by remote controlled bomb, hidden in parked trailer, detonated when Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) mobile patrol passed, Killeen, County Armagh.


20 May 1985

Stephen Rodgers   (19)

Status: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by remote controlled bomb, hidden in parked trailer, detonated when Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) mobile patrol passed, Killeen, County Armagh.


20 May 1985

David Baird   (22)

Status: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by remote controlled bomb, hidden in parked trailer, detonated when Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) mobile patrol passed, Killeen, County Armagh.


20 May 1985

Tracey Doak   (21)

Status: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by remote controlled bomb, hidden in parked trailer, detonated when Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) mobile patrol passed, Killeen, County Armagh.


20 May 1986
Colm McKevitt  (30)

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Shot shortly after being abducted from his sister’s home, Killeen, County Armagh. Alleged informer.