Battle of the Bogside: ‘I was 24 years old - ancient by rioters’ standards’: Nell

Nell McCafferty
Nell McCafferty

“I ran to Free Derry Corner where people had already deposited dozens of empty milk bottles. A car had been commandeered and petrol siphoned out of its tank. There was a handful of petrol bombs ready.

A horrified roar went up and I looked back. The police had advanced beyond the Rossville Flats and were charging towards us. A flaming petrol bomb arced through the air. It fell directly upon a cop who had advanced further than his colleagues. His uniform went up in flames. Everybody froze for a second - us and them - and stood in stunned silence at the sight of the burning body.
The silence broke. His colleagues came forward and doused him; they were showered with more petrol bombs and retreated. We chased after them. The riot resumed, but it felt like no other - this time, adults joined the young. As many of the houses off Rossville Street had been demolished, and the place was a veritable building site, there was more than enough material to use against the police, and some flashes of military genius in adopting the rough-and-ready ammunition. Wire fencing was deployed as a shield; iron bars were rammed into the radiators of the police vehicles; a digger was hot-wired and earthen barricades thrown up...
By now, windows were open in the high flats and people were chucking stones down on the police. On the roof of the high flats, a frieze of young people was outlined. Someone gave me a bin lid full of stones, and I carried them up the eight flights of stairs, behind a stream of similar slaves. I was all of 24, ancient by rioters’ standards, and feeling the strain by the time I got up there.
The roof was the length and breadth of a football field, with a tiny parapet running round its edge. From that commanding height, we could see people coming down from Creggan, coming over from the Brandywell. There were people standing in clusters at doors in the Bogside streets. The police, directly below us, were sitting ducks... I did not know, until I saw a photo of her in action in a magazine, that my sister, Carmel, spent her time bringing bin lids full of stones to the roof of the high flats.”