Latest `Troubles' Erupted in 1968 but N. Ireland's Division Dates to 17th Century

Article excerpt

Northern Ireland's "troubles" are rooted in nationalist conflict, religious bigotry and grudges nursed for generations. But the current violence dates to 1968.

On Oct. 5 of that year, about 400 Roman Catholic civil rights marchers were attacked by police as they tried to cross a bridge into the center of Londonderry. Television film of the melee, taken by a cameraman from Ireland's RTE network, was distributed to many countries.

Gerry Fitt, one of the leaders of the march and one of the first to be clubbed, later said that he said a prayer of thanks as he felt blood flow down his face. "I knew that at last Northern Ireland as she really was would be seen before the world."

Jonathan Bardon wrote in "Ulster," a history of the province: "At a stroke, the television coverage . . . destabilized Northern Ireland, and the sectarian dragon was fully reawakened."

The next month nearly 20,000 Catholics joined in a demonstration in Londonderry. But the Oct. 5 clubbing also aroused a backlash from the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland.

Violence exploded on Aug. 12, 1969, in Londonderry, during the annual march by the Apprentice Boys, a Protestant fraternal organization that celebrates the victory of Protestant forces over Catholic King James II in 1690.

Clashes between marchers and Catholic demonstrators degenerated into the so-called Battle of the Bogside, as Catholics from that district fought street battles with police officers.

Riots broke out in Catholic areas. In Belfast, police confronted Catholic youths, while Protestants gathered behind police lines. Someone fired a shot, more gunfire sounded, and Protestant mobs surged into Catholic neighborhoods, destroying more than 100 houses with gas bombs and damaging many more.

The next day, Britain ordered soldiers into the streets, where at first they got an enthusiastic welcome from Catholics. …

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