Battle of the Bogside: A Russian fleet in the Foyle! the late Dr. Edward Daly recalled odd speculation in Derry at the time

The late Dr. Edward Daly in the late 1960s.
The late Dr. Edward Daly in the late 1960s.

Where were you when the British Army entered Derry on the afternoon of August 14, 1969?

I have to admit that I was asleep! Like most people in Derry, I had not been able to get to bed or to get any sleep for the previous 48 hours, recalled Dr Edward Daly.

The previous days and nights had been spent with old and sick people in the Bogside, calming them and reassuring them in their homes during the riots and battles which had taken place incessantly since the Apprentice Boys march the previous Tuesday.

Like many people in Derry, I was exhausted that Thursday afternoon. I went up to lie down on my bed for a brief nap about 4pm and fell fast asleep. I woke up about 7pm and came downstairs to the kitchen to get a cup of tea before going back onto the streets again.

As always during those days, the parochial house at St Eugene’s Cathedral was full of people coming and going. ‘The army is in!’ That was the whole buzz and topic of excited conversation. When I first heard it, I thought they were talking about the Irish Army.

The Bogside had been swept by rumours in the previous 24 hours that the Irish Army was massed on the border and was about to enter Derry.

Another rumour which I had heard during those days was that a huge Russian fleet, led by two aircraft carriers, was on its way up the Foyle! I was shocked and surprised when I heard that it was the British Army who had arrived on our streets.

I had never anticipated that. But there they were in Waterloo Place, standing to attention behind neat and pathetic little barricades of barbed wire and wooden slats; their barricades were so insignificant compared with the mountainous piles of masonry and other assorted debris which had been erected across Rossville Street about one hundred yard away.

That evening, for the first time in 48 hours, there was no CS gas polluting the air or hanging like a cloud over the whole place; no din of battle; no stones being thrown; no huge fires blazing; no plans for mass evacuation.

There was an atmosphere of achievement and quiet satisfaction and calm in the Bogside. Older people came out of their homes for the first time in days. There were hundreds of people of all ages standing about, chatting animatedly in groups and travelling up and down Waterloo Place to view the somewhat nervous and detached new arrivals.

There were trips to the roof of Rossville Flats to view the famous catapult. Television crews and journalists and photographers were everywhere. There was news of disturbances in Belfast. And, of course, there were rumours which would challenge the most imaginative fiction writer.

Later that Thursday night, Derry went to bed for the first time in days. I lay in bed and recalled the incredible events of the previous few days. Nothing was happening. There was nobody about.

I went to sleep with an easy and relaxed mind. I thought to myself that the army would be gone in a week or two. I was convinced the army would have much more important, exciting and useful things to do than stand behind their pathetic little barricades at the foot of William Street.