Today marks 50 years since the start of British Army operation in Northern Ireland.

It was the beginning of the lengthiest continuous campaign in British military history.

Operation Banner lasted from August 1969 to July 2007 and cost 722 soldiers' lives.

Northern Ireland's government at Stormont had urged the London government to deploy troops after sustained violence wore out police officers.


From the RTÉ Archives - August 1969


People living on either side of the divide in Northern Ireland have differing views on the impact of British troops.

Some of the victims of state killings are still seeking justice for the deaths of loved ones, while others say the army changed the atmosphere for the better.

A mother-of-eight who had served tea and sandwiches for British soldiers at her family home was shot dead by the army some 12 months later.

Joan Connolly welcomed soldiers into her home where she lived with her husband and children in a predominately Catholic area in Belfast.

She made them tea and food and soldiers gifted her with a present when the first regiment stationed in Ballymurphy left that part of west Belfast.

Her daughter, Briege Voyle, has fond memories of the army being in her home when they first arrived in Northern Ireland.

Briege Voyle

However, in August 1971, Joan was one of ten people shot dead by soldiers in what later became known as the Ballymurphy massacre.

"After the Troubles started, the army came into our estate (Ballymurphy) and we thought this was great, that they were our friends," she said.

"My mummy and our neighbour made them tea and sandwiches. They used to come every night and sit and have a yarn with us and we thought nothing of it, that they were here to protect us and it was great fun.

"They were all the best of friends and they were very nice and friendly.

However, Ms Voyle added: "The army just seemed to turn. One minute they were our friends, the next minute they weren't.

"They just saw everyone as the enemy. They thought every Catholic was an IRA person."

Martyn McCready said the arrival of British soldiers on the streets of Northern Ireland changed the atmosphere "for the better".

Martyn McCready

His father John was shot dead by the IRA as he walked home in north Belfast in 1976.

He said: "The army changed the atmosphere here for the better. They were sent here as a peace force to look after both sides.

"But one side thought they were looking after the other more.

"I never had any bother with the army, if you have nothing to fear, you have nothing to hide. I felt reassured by them being here.

"I just felt sorry for the army because they were put here and they didn't know the streets they were going to and how people would react to them.

"They just wanted to help people.

"The soldiers left their homes in England and thought they were coming over to keep the peace and the next thing they were being shot at and blown up and murdered."