Archive for August 12th, 2009

Monitor’s Note

There has been a huge response on this blog to the items on Pastor McConnell, but monitoring them is taking a lot of time and diverting me from the other work I want to be doing here, so I have suspended that material, at least for a while. There are legal dangers for me in allowing some of the vitriolic comment too.

Clearly Whitewellers need their own blog. These are easily set up through wordpress.com

Go to it somebody.

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The Pogrom Myth

Many people will remember this week as the anniversary of a pogrom, an attack on Catholic homes by the massed ranks of the RUC, B Specials and Loyalist paramilitaries.
Two great lessons were assimilated by many Catholics from that experience, or that understanding of their experience. These were that the Northern Ireland state was hostile to them and that the IRA, which had failed to defend them, would have to be beefed up so that it could do a better job the next times the prods went doo lally and descended on them.
The flaw in this version of August 1969 is that it takes no account of the plain fact that it was rioters in Ardoyne and the Falls Road – Catholics – who started the Trouble in Belfast that week, and it was very big trouble they started.
Of course, violence had been building since October 68 when a Civil Rights march in Derry was broken up by the police wielding clubs and a succession of marches had turned into major riots since, particularly in Newry, Armagh and Derry.
The rioting in August was part of a plan to overstretch the police who had been drawn into a huge riot in Derry after the Apprentice Boys parade on August 12th. No shots had been fired in Derry.
I watched the Falls Road part of the operation on the second night of rioting, August 14th.
The plan there was, apparently, to burn down a redbrick police station at Hastings Street, situated just where the Westlink now comes off Divis Street.
The rioters would chuck stones and petrol bombs. The police fought with a combination of baton charges and ‘whippets’, Shoreland light armoured cars with mounted Browning machine guns, designed for use against an open field cross border attack.
As the rioters inched closer, the whippets would prance out of side streets to scatter them and then the baton charge would go forward and try to grab a couple of them. The other part of the rioters’ plan was a squad at the top of Divis Flats with petrol bombs. I saw them drop a milk crate of unlit bombs onto the road and when the police ran after the rioters, someone dashed a proper petrol bomb on to this to set the whole lot alight.
This was entirely a Catholic attack on the police. It was clever and it was dangerous.
The Minister of Home Affairs later shed tears on television for not having been able to cope with this without the use of guns.
There was an audience of about a dozen of us watching this. I had joined this group after leaving my girl friend to the bus station at Smithfield so that she could get the last bus home to Rathcoole.
I watched the B Specials arrive in a civilian commercial van and make their way along the wall of the station with their rifles.
An inspector came out and told us that things were getting very dangerous and we should disperse. I went down Durham Street and up the Grosvenor Road.
I was in front of the Royal Victoria Hospital when I heard the first machine gun shots. They were so loud, I thought they were close by me and I ran. A man grabbed me into his car and drove me home, where I listened to the shooting from my bed.
That night wee Patrick Rooney died in his bedroom in Divis.
I had never heard any shooting before in real life and the scale of the gunfire – as often afterwards – seemed such that dozens would die.
Next day I walked across the Falls to the Shankill and up Agnes Street to the bars my father managed on the Crumlin Road. There was wreckage on the Falls and the normally friendly customers were cold with us so we left. I walked back across the Shankill with my sister and watched the first contingent of Brighs soldiers march up Durham Street. That night the two bars were burnt out. My father kept Paris Match photographs of those burning bars for years.
That afternoon, Protestants rioters burnt Bombay Street, and that attack became the symbolic moment of the whole period, according as it did with the easy myth that innocent Catholics were swooped on by Protestant bigots and barbarians.
Indeed, for many who had stayed at home that night, that is exactly what their experience was.
They should not pass the story on to their children however, that it was a one sided fight. It was the Falls that started it.

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