Derry in 1970 - A Place Apart

The early days of the Troubles affected the lives of thousands of Derry people as they attempted to get on with their daily routines in a society fast spiralling out of control, writes Sean McLaughlin.

To the outside world, Northern Ireland, in 1970, was quickly becoming known as a place that time had left behind. It represented all that was negative, unacceptable and contradictory.

Of course, this image was, in many respects, quite wrong.

As these photographs from the 1970 archives of the Derry Journal show, while confrontation was never far from the surface, life - for better or worse - still continued beyond the barricades.

As the 1960s bled into the 1970s, tensions between the two communities were running high and relations between nationalists and the security forces were deteriorating with every day.

The honeymoon period which the British Army had enjoyed since their arrival in the city in August 1969 was rapidly ending as, more and more, they came to be seen as an occupying force.

However, 1970 wasn’t all doom and gloom. It was, of course, the year in which a teenager from the Rossville Flats shot to stardom by winning the Eurovision Song Contest.

In March of that year, Rosemary Brown - or, Dana, as she was to become better known - wowed both judges and audience at the RAI Congrescentrum in Amsterdam with her rendition of ‘All Kinds of Everything’. The song became a million-seller and the singer an international star.

All in all, 1970 was a turning point in Northern Ireland.

Not only was the IRA splitting in two - into the Officials and the more militant Provisionals - Ian Paisley was elected to Westminster on a fundamentalist ticket, opposing the “soft” approach by Unionists like Terence O’Neill.

It was also the year in which the SDLP was formed out of the civil rights movement, spearheaded by charismatic young Derry man John Hume; 1970 also saw the notorious ‘B’ Specials replaced by the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR).

However, given the explosion of political violence about to erupt across the North - peaking in 1972 when nearly 500 people, just over half of them civilians, lost their lives - in retrospect, 1970 could be said to mark the calm before the storm.

As the photographs in this picture special testify, the story of Derry in 1970 really was ‘A Tale of Two Cities’: while the TV cameras focused on a society tearing itself apart, there was another world out there - one in which ordinary people lived their lives, albeit, in extraordinary circumstances.

These unique images bring Derry’s past to life in a way that written records alone cannot. You come face-to-face with people from the past and wonder where they came from, where they went and what their story is.

It is a fascinating and evocative journey through our recent past.