Battle of the Bogside: August 1969 changed everything, reflected the late Martin McGuinness

Martin McGuinness.
Martin McGuinness.

Three pulsating days in August 1969 utterly changed everything and everybody in Derry, Martin McGuinness told the Derry Journal on the 25th anniversary of the Battle of the Bogside.

What happened, he said, was a “spiritual experience” for many nationalist people in Derry.

British troops arriving on the streets of Derry.

British troops arriving on the streets of Derry.

“A transformation had taken place. Decades of compliant servitude were over. We would never be the same again. Initially, some welcomed the soldiers, others viewed their arrival, and the motives of those who sent them, with a healthy cynicism. Uncertain, and with no political baggage, I abstained.”

However, any notion that the presence of British troops would herald the arrival of civil rights and justice for nationalists was, he said, soon dispelled.

“On the streets of Derry and Belfast, the failure of the British government to immediately move to redress the blatant injustices endured by Catholics proved beyond doubt that they were principally interested in a holding operation on behalf of Unionism in which they hoped the anger and resentment of the nationalist community would subside. It was a forlorn hope.”

Confrontation with the British Army, the military representatives of the British establishment, was, he said, inevitable. The deaths in Derry of Dessie Beattie and Seamus Cusack was the final straw for the teenager.

“Not willing to tolerate any longer the injustice and cruelty inflicted on our people, I and many others became republicans. The reality was that the British Army had successfully shot many of us off our own streets.

"For this, the British establishment feted and decorated them and what began as a struggle for civil rights became a struggle for nationalist rights and freedom from British rule.

“We gave up wondering when someone, anyone, would fight the British Army.”