June 29th, 1970
FROM THE ARCHIVES:As street violence escalated in the North, Nell McCafferty described an early morning scene in Derry during a weekend of serious rioting in the city and in Belfast which left five people dead. -
‘Who lost the World Cup?” is this year’s Bogside taunt to British soldiers, engaged in an exercise of containment, while within Bogside itself anarchy runs remorselessly amok. There are no demands for jobs or houses, no mention of reforms. If it’s dry, burn it; if it’s wet, drink it; if it moves, hit it; and every man for himself. A lunatic carnival, with free booze and fireworks, to the chant of “Easy, easy”, as the breeze blows the CS gas back into the forces of law and order.
At 6am on Saturday I sat in the early morning light on empty wooden crates at Free Derry corner among a crowd of 30 men. They were drinking looted beer, and having a wake for the man who had been roasted alive in a fiery holocaust in a council house in Creggan the previous night. A man raised his beer can. “He died for Ireland, boys.” They agreed. Then his face crumpled into tears.
“Come off it,” he said, “he’s just dead, and for what?”
An open lorry careens crazily towards us, loaded with drunken youths, piled high with crates of beer. They were singing Jailhouse Rock. Someone drove a small earth-mover round and round a building site, crashed it finally, and staggered off, a coil of copper wire around his shoulders. Two children came out of a builder’s wooden hut. Minutes later it went up in flames.
I walked into William Street, where soldiers lay sleeping; others played cricket with batons, shields and stones. They asked what was going on “inside”. What were they fighting for this time? They were bewildered, exhausted, exasperated. They hated the petrol bombs. They didn’t like the taunts about their wives and Irish labourers in England, while they were here protecting Orangemen and the RUC.
They didn’t like to be told they had been beaten off a Caribbean island by “wogs” with coconuts. “You tell them we’re just back from Malaya,” a soldier of the fifth light regiment, first light battery, said. “They call us the Blazers from the First World War, because we blasted off so many rounds before breakfast.” The coloured soldiers are the new Black Bastards of the Bogside.
John Hume and Sean Keenan, last year’s chairman of the Bogside Citizens’ Defence Committee, had an argument last night in the rock-strewn street near the Catholic Cathedral. The rioters gathered round as Hume negotiated grimly for a truce. Keenan, a republican, argued against cessation of hostilities.
One hundred yards away, Major Philip Olten, C company, Cheshire regiment, waited with his soldiers and two Saracen armoured cars. The arguments bounded futilely back and forth. “I want a better life for my children,” a woman screamed at John Hume. He looked at her and said, “Two children were burned to death in Creggan last night. If this keeps up your children may not be here to have a future.” She would not listen.