Local man recalls living through Battle of the Bogside as a child

A digger is driven into William Street at the height of the July 12 riots.
A digger is driven into William Street at the height of the July 12 riots.

Frankie McMenamin was born in February 1964 and lived with his parents and siblings in Howard Street in the heart of the Bogside over the battle of the Bogside era.

Mr McMenamin said some of his earliest childhood memories emanate from those days 50 years ago when the streets they played in became the staging ground for events that changed the course of Irish history.

Describing conditions in the area at the time, the former community worker recalled: “At that time the streets there were extremely badly run down. They were very old houses, 80 or 90 years old, rat-infested and damp. I spent three or four years off and on in hospital because of the dampness in that house.

“It wasn’t just Catholics living on these conditions, there were Protestants in those conditions too. That is why you had people like Ivan Cooper and John Hume together and the marches that kicked off at that time were open to everybody. It was the political representatives who saw it as a threat.

“My memories are of living in a normal street, a very happy street. I remember when we were living in Howard Street sometimes people would have come down from parts of the Fountain and throw stones down the banking from beside the Walls. Then all of a sudden I remember my Granny Casey coming over and saying the rioting was starting to get very fierce. She lived in the Rossville Flats and her window would have been facing Butcher Street. She used to have to come over and stay in our house to get out of that part of the area during the Troubles.

“We used to go over to my granny’s sometimes to watch the rioting out the window in ’68-’69, even though I didn’t have a great understanding of what was happening at the time.

“Sometimes the B Specials would have come right into the flats. My granny’s door was more or less beside where everybody came in from Waterloo Street or from the town. The B Specials and the RUC used to come in and we used to have to stay in the back room.”

As tensions escalated on the ground, Mr McMenamin recalls the evacuation of residents.

“In the street I lived in a number of people knocked at the doors to let us know the street might be attacked and urged us to move out in the meantime to be in somewhere safe. We were very small children and to me it was like going on a holiday - we were moving down to Foyle Road. A family called the Pattersons leant us their prefab home. We were excited because it had proper heating and inside toilets. We had an outside toilet then in our house, everybody in those streets had outside toilets.

“We were out for a week and when we went back there was a big barricade right outside our front door. There was a big van and all bits of things. It turned out to be our playground, we used it to play in then. To me it was great.”

After the police withdrew from the Bogside, Mr McMenamin remembers the British army “walking down with no guns and handing children money and things, but everything changed within months”.

The family moved to Shantallow in the 1970s before relocating to Creggan, very close to where the Bloody Sunday civil rights march set off in 1972.

“I believe it was necessary to have marches for civil rights,” Mr McMenamin said. “I think everybody thought this was only going to last a short time. Little did we known our family, like many families, were going to be caught up in the Troubles because we ended up being hounded by the police and the British army like many, many families in that area.

“I remember everything turning from normal to something else, the atmosphere changing. I remember the march leaving and I remember after burning my Action Men. That day changed everything.”