50th anniversary of John Starrs to be marked by republicans tonight

Republicans will gather at the Lecky Road Republican Monument tonight to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IRA Volunteer John Starrs who was shot dead by the British army on May, 13, 1972.

By Kevin Mullan
Friday, 13th May 2022, 6:24 pm
Updated Friday, 13th May 2022, 6:29 pm
The remains of IRA Volunteer John Starrs being carried through the Bogside following his shooting in May, 1972.
The remains of IRA Volunteer John Starrs being carried through the Bogside following his shooting in May, 1972.

Mr. Starrs, from Hamilton Street in the Brandywell, was fatally wounded when he was hit at the corner of William Street and Chamberlain Street by shots believed to have been fired from a derelict building overlooking the area.

Another IRA Volunteer was hit in the arm but was not seriously injured.

According to the ‘Journal’, reporting on the incident at the time, the killing provoked fierce rioting while the four-storey building from which the army were said to have fired on the IRA men was set on fire.

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John Starrs was shot in the chest at the corner of William Street and Chamberlain Street on May 13, 1972. He died shortly afterwards in Altnagelvin

Gun battles raged across the city throughout the weekend on which Mr. Starrs was killed. The paper reported how the young republican, aged just 19, was shot in the chest and died an hour after admission to Altnagelvin.

The other injured volunteer received medical aid in the Bogside.

The British army initially claimed one of their mobile patrols had fired at two ‘identified gunmen’ in William Street though their statement was later amended to say the shots were fired from an observation post, the ‘Journal’ reported.

The Derry Command of the Provisional IRA said in a statement that a unit of the Brandywell section of the 1st Battalion Derry Command was engaged in an operation in the William Street area that Saturday afternoon and while in the process of engaging the British troops was ‘ambushed from behind and Volunteer Starrs was fatally wounded’.

Sean Keenan gives the oration at the graveside in the City Cemetery.

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The statement expressed sympathy with Mr. Starrs’ family and described him as a ‘very fine volunteer’.

“We hope that his death will inspire the people of Free Derry to continue the fight for Irish freedom and help to realise the dreams of the dead youth.”

A short time after the shooting the building in William Street was torched.

“People in the area said it was from this block that the shots which killed young Starrs and wounded his companion came. Two army armoured personnel carriers in William Street were the target for groups of stone-throwers as the flames swept through the building and burst through the roof,” the ‘Journal’ reported.

Several people were shot by the army that weekend and there were also a number of near misses. Earlier that Saturday an army patrol had reportedly fired at what again they described as ‘an identified gunman’ at the junction where Mr. Starrs and the other volunteer were hit but they did not claim any hit.

“Shortly afterwards a man aged about 40 was admitted to Altnagelvin Hospital with a bullet in each leg. His condition was said to be satisfactory. It is understood he received the wounds in the William Street area. Later troops fired at a man who, they said, was wearing a brown jacket and carrying a revolver near the remains of the former City Cinema. They did not claim a hit,” the ‘Journal’ noted.

There were several gun battles as the IRA engaged the army at several locations in the city over that weekend.

“Early on Saturday morning a total of 550 shots were fired at the Rosemount army-police station on the fringe of the Creggan estate.

“The army reported that in the first of two attacks on the station, which lasted about half an hour, 300 shots were fired by eight gunmen from the area of St. Joseph’s school and St. Eugene’s school.

“The army returned the fire and claimed to have hit three of the gunmen. In the second attack, which lasted over an hour, 250 shots were fired from the same locations. The army returned the fire but didn’t claim to have hit any of the six gunmen they said were involved.”

On the Saturday evening four shots were fired at an army post in the Brandywell. The gunfire was returned but there were no casualties.

“Late on Saturday night the army claimed a possible hit on a gunman in the Beechwood Avenue area. They said that between 10am and 11pm there were six attacks on the Bligh’s Lane post from that area.

“One hit and a possible hit on the gunman were claimed by the army in further shooting incidents early on Sunday morning. They said that both were claimed to have been shot in the Abercorn Road area, where nine shots were fired in one attack and 30 shots and a burst of automatic fire in a second attack on army posts in the area.

“Eleven high velocity shots were also fired at a police landrover on patrol in the Shantallow area early Sunday morning, but the position of the gunman was not known and the fire was not returned.

“Soldiers at the Bligh’s Lane post fired at a gunman seen in Beechwood Avenue but no hit was claimed. They also returned fire at a gunman who fired two rounds at the post from Beechwood Street but no hit was claimed.”

Following the killing of John Starrs the Patrick Pearse Sinn Féin cumann in the city accused the British army of ‘blatantly indiscriminate shooting’ from the city walls. The cumann claimed the army had fired five bullets into the window of a house in Columb’s Street.

“This kind of action by the occupation forces makes nonsense of peace claims made by Mr. Whitelaw [William, Secretary of State] and his supporters and completely justifies the present stand being adopted by the Provisional IRA,” the cumann said.