Derry Journal Archives: Four nights of Violence, October 1970

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Following four nights of violence in a row in Derry in October, 1970, the city’s MP John Hume forthrightly condemned those involved and said their actions were “totally discrediting” the case of the people of the area.

Mr Hume called on anyone with the “slightest shred of influence” to make their position clear on the question of violence. He said: “Are they for it or against this senseless rioting? I am against it.”

However, the “gross over use” of CS Gas by British troops during the rioting was condemned by the President of the Nationalist Party, Mr Eddie McAteer who told the ‘Journal’ that by all accounts and by the the “testimony of his own lungs”, the whole valley of the Bogside had become one huge gas chamber.

“Women, children, the sick and the elderly are of course the main sufferers. The new plan is apparently to bring us peace by poison,” he said.

As the ‘Journal’ went to press on the following Monday night, it was reported that “tension was again gripping the Bogside last night and riot troops had moved into Rossville Street.

“Between 150 and 200 youths gathered in William Street about 9.45pm. Stone throwing broke out and a group of about thirty of them taunted and shouted at riot equipped troops at a lane way behind Littlewoods stores. A squad of about 40 soldiers moved into William Street and the youths scattered. Some of them were then arrested.

“At one stage the shutters on the windows of a William Street store were removed by a gang of youths and its windows smashed. But, after appeals by Mr Eamonn McCann, chairman of the Derry Labour Party and by some young members of the crowd, the shutters were replaced.

“Earlier a bus passing up William Street was stoned and two RUC men on foot patrol were stoned by about twenty youths in the vicinity of Foxes Corner about 2.30pm yesterday afternoon. The constables made their way up Fahan Street to Butcher’s Gate and were not injured.

“Troops took up positions at the corner of Rossville Street at the maisonettes just inside the street and near the high flats farther along the street. A crowd of about 200 gathered at Free Derry Corner and there was sporadic stone throwing. Two boys were arrested but were later released after approaches had been made to the military and police by William Street residents.”

The ‘Journal’ reported that throughout the weekend 50 people were injured and some buildings had been gutted by fire.

“At the height of Saturday’s disturbances in Derry, which continued to 4am on Sunday morning, a four storey block of warehouses and stores, mostly unoccupied, was gutted by fire.

“Forty soldiers, six policemen and at least four civilians were injured, including one woman. One of the army casualties was caused when a terrific explosion rocked Chamberlain Street. A home made bomb, believed to have been made of gelignite landed about ten yards in front of a party of soldiers and Sgt Ken Meffan was struck on the face by debris thrown up by the blast.”

Figures released by the military claimed that on the Saturday the army used 60 CS Gas cartridges, 10 CS grenades and fired 171 rubber bullets. They said 60 petrol bombs had been thrown, 44 of which had ignited. The buildings that were gutted were the last of the remaining structures in Prince Arthur Street and firemen were delayed getting to the blaze by stone throwers and when they did reach the fire, holes were cut in the fire hoses by the rioters.

The ‘Journal’ continued: “Disturbances started during a meeting in the Diamond of the Derry City Branch of the Ulster Protestant Unionist Association (UPUA), attended by two hundred people in protest against summonses issued to six people alleged to have taken part in a sit down protest on Craigavon Bridge on July 25, regarding the banning of the Apprentice Boys parade on August 12.

“Crowds of youths from the Bogside area gathered on the fringes of the meeting and started to heckle and interrupt the meeting which ended prematurely with the singing of ‘God Save the Queen’. At one stage, Mr Gordon Hegarty, secretary of the UPUA branch complained that the police were not doing enough to protect the protesters.”

The ‘Journal’ also said that whilst there was heckling from Catholics, Mr Hegarty’s speech was at times “vitriolic” and at one stage the Protestants sang ‘We are the Billy Boys’ whilst the Catholics chanted ‘We are the Fenian Boys’.

“At this stage, the army moved in and several stones and at least one bottle was thrown. The meeting seemed to be over when the British national anthem was sung and after Mr Hegarty had declared ‘No Popery, No Surrender!’. However, tension remained low, except when one irate woman rapped a member of the crowd several times on the head with her umbrella,” the ‘Journal’ said.

The situation however began to deteriorate when after the end of the UPUA meeting the youths from the Bogside who had interrupted it began to gather at the bottom of William Street and a large scale bombardment of stones and bricks continued for around two hours.

“At first the missiles were directed at the top storey of a business premises where stone throwers claimed an army observation post had been set up some time before. Windows were smashed in the building.

“Stones were also thrown at an army post in Waterloo Place and one youth advanced to within a few yards of the post and threw a a heavy stone which smashed a window in the post. Around an hour and a half later an army riot squad arrived but remained at the corner of William Street and Waterloo Place. When a few of the more daring youths advanced within a few yards of them the army moved in.

“At 10pm, five hours after the trouble had flared, the soldiers were subjected to a barrage of stones at the foot of William Street. As missiles thudded against the soldiers’ riot shields the attacking youths cheered and sang ‘The Soldier’s Song’.

“Then the Prince Arthur Street stores went up in flames and the riots reached their most bitter pitch as troops tried to cross William Street and Chamberlain Street but were subjected to a continual hail of missiles, petrol bombs and long planks, metal pipes and steel netting from a Bogside building site.

“Snatch squads attempted to make their way up William Street but were beaten back again by a hail of missiles. Then a line of soldiers, behind full length riot shields made their way up William Street towards the junction with Rossville Street and used rubber bullets and after several warnings had been given CS Gas was poured into the crowd.

“The crowd numbered several hundred at this time, but general opinion is that only 60 or 70 people were active in the attacks.

“At 4am, the crowd of youths shouted at the British army, ‘We are away home now Tommy, we will see you tomorrow.’ “

The ‘Journal’ also said that just before the disturbances ended at 4am a group of youths moved towards the Long Tower district close to one of the entrances to the Fountain and attacked an army post, but troops were quickly deployed to the area and the youths dispersed.

However, the weekend ended with an explosion that wrecked the offices of the Derry Gaslight Company on Lecky Road.

The ‘Journal’ said: “The explosion rocked the Bogside and was heard over a wide area and completely wrecked the general office, cashier’s office and manager’s office. Windows on the second floor were also smashed. Doors in the office were blown in and windows in houses at nearby Stanley’s Walk were also smashed.

“Local residents reported hearing the sound of breaking glass a few minutes before the explosion. It is believed that a window in the office block facing Stanley’s Walk was smashed and a bomb placed inside. The explosion blew a two foot hole in the outer wall of the block.

“Manager of the Gaslight Company, Mr Alex Rankin said two gas holders, one hundred yards away from the explosion contained between them about 800,000 cubic feet of gas. The British Army later conducted a search of the premises, but no further devices were found.”