June 5th, 1972
FROM THE ARCHIVES:The Army was less than prepared when faced for the first time by a small group of experienced Northern demonstrators at the Curragh Camp in 1972, as Dick Grogan reported. - JOE JOYCE
IRISH TROOPS with fixed bayonets held the Curragh Camp and six dry batteries by the skin of their teeth under a barrage of Northern sarcasm for two hours on Saturday, in the most bizarre civil-military confrontation yet seen on this side of the Border.
Curragh residents shouted encouragement to confused recruits, dogs gambolled and fought, Belfast children curiously fingered the machine-guns and rifles that covered them, and flustered officers bustled back and forth. But the 150 demonstrators successfully held a protest meeting within the precincts of the camp itself and only a hundred yards from the “glasshouse” where Republican prisoners are held by the Army.
At one point, as riot-equipped troops were rushed down to reinforce those with rifles and bayonets, a youthful Northern voice piped up: “If ye don’t surrender, we’ll charge.”
At another stage, a portly off-duty officer was seen to stroll on to the nearby pitch-and-putt course and practise his golf shots, oblivious of the commotion.
These incidents, indeed, convey the main tone of the demonstration, organised by the Peoples Democracy and the Northern Resistance Movement . . .
A few angry women scuffled with the heavily-armed soldiers, and the officer in charge, Commandant Denis Quinn, pressed by Mr. Michael Farrell of the Northern Resistance Movement, told him bluntly that his men were prepared to use their bayonets if necessary.
Earlier, the protest group – who arrived at Naas in buses – trudged the 12 miles along the road from Naas to the Curragh . . .
The strange caravanserai, flanked by cars, preceded by youthful motorcyclists and scores of joyous, shouting children, moved briskly over open country towards its target. Three or four officers, one with a megaphone, moved out rather uncertainly to meet them, but within seconds the marchers were past them and in the camp itself.
Then confusion erupted as young soldiers of the Cavalry Corps dashed out of their barracks with rifles to confront the protesters just inside the Kildare Gate. Orders were shouted, but drowned out. “Fix bayonets, is it? Fix bayonets?” a recruit inquired anxiously of his neighbour.
Fix bayonets it was, and the surging crowd came to a halt about 30 yards up the main camp road. There were shouts of “Why won’t you face the British army with your bayonets?” and “Go on. Shoot me dead.”
“We’ve held a great many demonstrations in the North against British imperialism,” roared Mr. Farrell into a loudhailer, “but never yet have we been faced with bayonets.” . . . Speakers said there was only one army in Ireland “prepared to fight the British army,” and that was the Provisional I.R.A.