Battle of the Bogside: ‘A part of our family died when our home in the Bogside was bulldozed’

The McClintocks evacuate their home at Little James' Street.
The McClintocks evacuate their home at Little James' Street.

Bernie McClintock, who was 25 years old during the Battle of the Bogside, viewed the intensifying disturbances from the bedroom window of her besieged home at 15 Little James’ Street.

Little did she realise that August 12, 1969, was to be her family’s last night in their home. Bernie can vividly recall the events of that momentous night.

“I remember the trouble starting early that afternoon. Some hours later, the people in the Bogside were confronted by the police who were coming up Sackville Street. So, as you can imagine, our house in Little James’ Street was stuck somewhere in the middle of the two advancing crowds. There really was no escape.

“I remember we had to keep buckets of sand in each room just in case any petrol bombs were thrown through any of the windows. It was our own way of trying to safeguard our home. The situation got increasingly worse as the day went on and, later that evening, Brewsters Bakery - which was on the other side of the street - was set ablaze.

“Shortly afterwards, the police arrived at our door, telling us it would be better if we left the house. Everyone, except my mother, father and myself, left the house and went to stay with relatives. I think it was around 10pm, when the situation had reached boiling point, that the police again came to the door and told us we were to leave the house one at a time.

“My father was first to leave and he was whisked out of the house under a police shield and was taken to my sister’s house which was just round the corner but well out of harm’s way. My mother and myself remained in the house, sitting at the foot of the stairs in darkness. We were both shaking with fear as we didn’t know what was going to happen next.

“I recall trying to get my mother to concentrate on something else other than what was going on outside. It seemed an eternity since my father had left and I thought at one stage that the police weren’t coming back for my mother and myself.

“Not long after, however, there was a fierce banging on the door and a policeman shouted into us that, when he counted to three, we were to run as fast as our legs would carry us. The two of us linked onto one another and, under the cover of police shields and a bin lid of all things, we left our home in Little James’ Street for the very last time.”

When Bernie, accompanied by some of her family, returned to Little James’ Street the following morning, the scene which greeted them was one of devastation.

“The windows of our house had already been boarded up and it was then that we received the devastating news that the chances of us returning to our home were practically nil. My brother-in-law, who worked for Swilly Buses at the time, organised some lorries to come up and help us collect and move what furniture and personal belongings we could take with us. One of the strangest things about the entire episode was that my brother, who was working in Zimbabwe at the time, was sitting in his home watching the news and actually saw his family home being set ablaze. He said it was very disturbing to see this happen and realising that he could do nothing to help.”

The McClintocks were eventually rehoused in the Belmont estate which, in 1969, seemed an eternity away from the once-bustling-but-now-derelict Little James’ Street.

“I remember seeing my father crying that first Christmas in Belmont. He missed his old home and his friends so much. He had lived in that house for about 30 years and I think he always dreamed of moving back there. Sadly, it just wasn’t to be.

“They demolished the house about six months later. It was a very sad time for the family. A part of the McClintock family died that day.”