1960-1969 | Northern Ireland



A view over Derry’s Catholic Bogside neighbourhood.
Jimmy Harris – CC License – via Wikimedia Commons.

[ 12 August 1969 ]

On 12 August 1969, one third of Northern Ireland’s police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), was deployed on the edge of Derry’s Catholic Bogside, to enforce a loyalist march, numbering some 20,000, through through the city. The Bogside was an area suffering from high unemployment and many of its residents had already experienced police violence the previous October when they had been baton charged after they had attempted to go ahead with a banned march demanding justice in housing and employment and fair representation in the city’s local elections.1

The residents’ fears, that the police brutality of October would be repeated, proved to be well founded. Clashes soon started after loyalists tossed coins in to the Bogisde from the city’s walls. RUC officers then joined a loyalist mob, armed with stones and catapults, in an attack on the area. The Scarman Tribunal, set up later that year to report on the violence across Northern Ireland, noted that some police officers encouraged stone throwing and that a few even threw stones themselves.2 A Guardian Journalist also noticed ‘three constables searching for stones and handing them to the [loyalist] youths who fired them from their catapults, while two policemen directed the mob towards that nationalist crowd. ‘3 The hatred of many officers for the Catholic community was also clearly evident according to the Sunday Times Insight Team, which reported that they were shouting ‘IRA scum’ and ‘Fenian bastards’ as they baton charged residents who had gathered in an attempt to defend their homes. RUC officers even assaulted several onlookers, including a uniformed medic.4

The incursion by the mob and RUC officers provoked a further escalation of clashes, with a number of residents resorting in retaliation to stone throwing and occasional petrol bombs. The RUC responded with what the Belfast Telegraph described as ‘a choking curtain of tear gas,’5 The first time CS gas had ever been deployed against civilians in the United Kingdom.6 Several canisters struck people directly, causing one resident severe facial injuries. An ITN reporter noted that ‘tear gas was fired, it seemed to me, at a person rather than into the crowd.’7 A total of 1091 cartridges were discharged during the following 48 hours, drenching the area in a toxic fog of gas, which permeated hundreds of homes and resulted in dozens of casualties, including a 14 month old baby with chest spasms, being rushed to local hospitals.8


  1. Michael McCann, Burnt Out: How ‘The Troubles’ Began, Mercier Press, Cork, 2019, p. 93 and 98.
  2. The Scarman Report p. 71 cited in Michael McCann, Op. cit., p. 100.
  3. Harold Jackson of The Guardian cited in Michael McCann, Op. cit., p. 101.
  4. Sunday Times Insight Team cited in Michael McCann, Op. cit. p. 101.
  5. ‘Curtain of Tear Gas Veils the Flying Bricks and Petrol Bombs,’ The Belfast Telegraph, 13 August 1969, p. 3.
  6. ‘Eire Sets up Hospitals,’ The Birmingham Post, 14 August 1969, p. 15.
  7. ITN reporter Bernard Hatfield cited in Micahel McCann, Op. cit. p 105.
  8. ‘Red Skies in Derry as the Flames of Hatred Burn Through the Night,’ The Belfast Telegraph, 14 August 1969, p. 5.

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