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6 August 2009 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

The Battle of the Bogside: Spirit of resistance

IT WAS Padraic Pearse who warned of “the risen people” and nowhere has there been a more apt description of the events of August 1969 in Derry.
It is 40 years since a community rose in revolt in what became known as ‘The Battle of the Bogside’, events which are surely unique in the annals of civil disturbance. Over three days, an entire community, young and old, male and female, united in opposition against the RUC, the armed wing of the Six-County state and fought with petrol bombs and stones a police force equipped with guns, riot gear, CS gas, water cannon, armoured cars and supported by the hatred and bigotry of Protestant civilians determine to teach the Bogsiders a lesson.
That it didn’t work was entirely due to a people who after years of discrimination and oppression knew that their time had come. The risen people of Derry and the North got off their knees and declared their intention to put an end to the Orange State and the RUC.
Many of those involved at the time didn’t realise that the spontaneous reaction of the community during the Battle of the Bogside would set the stage for the next 40 years of armed struggle and its political aftermath, still ongoing and progressing through the architecture of the all-Ireland institutions and the Good Friday Agreement.
Most people acknowledge that partition and the birth of the Orange state are the root causes of conflict. But in 1969 it was the attack by the RUC on the Civil Rights marches, the wrecking of the homes of nationalist residents in Derry, the beating to death in his own home of Sammy Devenny, and Frank McCloskey in Dungiven that contributed to a situation that made the Battle of the Bogside inevitable.
Many of the citizens whose courage and determination in those heady days  catapulted Derry onto the world stage gathered in Pilot’s Row last weekend for the launch of the Gasyard Wall Féile 40th anniversary exhibition of the Battle of the Bogside.
In his speech, Sinn Féin Councillor and Mayor Paul Fleming, said that the exhibition was a worthy tribute to that generation of Derry citizens who rebelled against the apartheid state and whose courage would change forever the face of politics in the North. He reminded those present of the price paid by the republican/nationalist community during that time and in the ensuing years of occupation by the British Army.
The exhibition covered in both pictorial and newsprint the history of the Bogside, the desperate housing conditions for its residents, the onset of the Civil Rights movement, the events around July and August and the intensity of the battle during which a community was shot, beaten with batons,  drenched by water cannons and gassed, but  never gave up. The most disturbing images of the exhibition were those that showed the extensive use of CS gas in this small, enclosed space that was the Bogside. Some 1,000 canisters were fired by the RUC in the space of 32 hours.
But it was from the citadel of the Rossville High Flats that the Battle of the Bogside was won by the young people of the city. Little did they realise the irony of the situation as they rained down petrol bombs on the RUC below, for it was from these flats, built by the unionist regime to maintain the gerrymandering of the voting system, that the RUC would eventually be beaten by the indomitable spirit of those young people and a community who aspired to a Free Derry.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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