August 1969 was the month that Northern Ireland erupted into violence. Sectarian tensions manifested on the streets in a bloody conflict that would become known as "the Troubles" and claim more than 3,500 lives over four decades.
Presented here are RTÉ radio and television recordings of some of the major events of 1969 in Northern Ireland.
August 1969 was the month that Northern Ireland erupted into violence. Sectarian tensions manifested on the streets in a bloody conflict that would become known as “the Troubles” and claim more than 3,500 lives over four decades.
In January 1969, Prime Minister Terence O'Neill called a general election in response to opposition from within his own party to his policies. Across the political divide, a new generation of politicians began to emerge in this campaign. Although O'Neill and his supporters within Stormont would win the election, he could not shake off those who were opposed to him within the Unionist Party. By April, O'Neill was forced to resign and James Chichester-Clark became the next Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.
Ivan Cooper, John Hume, and John Taylor were just some of the new political names to emerge in this period. However, it was the election of a 22-year-old woman, Bernadette Devlin, to Westminster that would attract world attention. Throughout the year, the sectarian tension increased until it eventually exploded in the violence of August.
It is interesting to hear both views of the divide as expressed by residents of Belfast's Falls Road and Shankill Road to RTÉ's Kevin O'Kelly in Northern Ireland A Film Special, broadcast in January 1969. The Shankill Road was a predominantly Protestant loyalist, working-class area, while the neighbouring Falls Road was a mainly Catholic republican area.
In August, intense rioting following the Apprentice Boys parade in Derry sparked conflict across Northern Ireland. For three days, the riots continued in what became known as the Battle of the Bogside. In Belfast there was further violence as Catholics and Protestants clashed with each other and the police.
On 13 August, Taoiseach Jack Lynch intervened in a broadcast to the nation. Lynch was highly critical of the Stormont government, stating that the RUC was no longer an impartial police force. He called for the UN to intervene and announced that the Irish army would establish field hospitals near the border. Unionists were angered by Lynch's speech; Chichester-Clark commented that it was inflammatory. As the rioting continued, Prime Minister Chichester-Clark requested the support of the British army. On 14 August, British soldiers were deployed in Derry and were on the streets of Belfast the following day.
By the end of 1969, 16 were dead as a result of the violence and the IRA had split into Official and Provisional wings. Members of the Provisional IRA saw themselves as republican traditionalists and were prepared to use military force.
The accompanying photograph shows a slogan painted on the gable end of a house in Derry, "You are now entering Free Derry".
© RTÉ Stills Library 0119/042