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West Belfast Remembers Pogroms of August 1969

17 August, 2009

Bombay StreetHundreds of members of the West Belfast community gathered today, Sunday 16th August, for a march and rally to mark the 40th anniversary of the pogroms of August 1969.

The march began at Divis, where Hugh McCabe and nine-year-old Patrick Rooney were murdered by the RUC on 15th August 1969.

It progressed up the Falls Road, passing Saint Comgall's Primary School which was attacked by unionist mobs and courageously defended by a poorly armed but courageous and determined IRA.

It made its way through Conway Street and Cupar Street where homes were burned out.

It moved up Clonard Street past Clonard Monastery which was targeted by petrol bombs and saved only by the tremendous bravery of the young people of Clonard and the members of the men's confraternity.

The march ended in Clonard Gardens and Bombay Street which was completely destroyed in the burnings and where Fian Gerard McAuley was shot dead by loyalists while defending the area.

Emotions were raw among participants as the memories came flooding back like it was yesterday.

The Orange state had sought to put an end to nationalist demands for basic civil rights, for decent housing and for one person, one vote.

The state inflicted massive violence and suffering upon the nationalist people, but this time they fought back like never before.

As West Belfast Sinn Fein MLA Fra McCann put it - 'We said never again and we meant it.'

Veteran Clonard Republican Sean 'Spike' Murray, who was involved in the defence of the area in 1969, was the speaker at the rally.

The following are extracts from Sean's speech:

'First of all, I would like to thank the organisers of today’s event, the Clonard Martyrs Memorial Committee, for all the ongoing work involved in maintaining the garden, murals and numerous commemorative plaques around the area. They ensure through their dedication and hard work that our patriot dead are commemorated in a fitting manner.

'The garden behind us incorporates three main commemorative plaques. The centre piece records all the Volunteers from ‘C’ Company on the Roll of Honour alongside civilians from the Clonard area who were killed over the years by British forces and their loyalist murder gangs.

'On the right hand side of the garden the plaque perpetuates the memory of all deceased ex-pows from the area from 1916 until this present day, many of whom gave a life time of service to the Republican Movement.

'Last, but not least, on the far side of the garden a plaque acknowledges the essential role in our struggle played by our ‘unsung heroes’ who, in their own quiet way, assisted over the years by opening their doors and their hearts to the IRA. Without your assistance the struggle would not have survived and we owe you everything.

'Forty years ago, this area, like the Falls and Ardoyne, was in a state of shock, trepidation and disbelief, at what had unfolded before our very eyes over the previous 48 hours.

'And of course, this was not the first time that this community had been subject to murder and terror.

'In July 1920, eight local residents were murdered by the British army, including Brother Michael Morgan from Clonard Monastery. The rationale for the attacks in the 1920’s was to coerce, intimidate and terrorise Nationalists into tolerating partition and the establishment of the Orange state.

'In 1969, the loyalist pogrom across Belfast was the Orange states response to our just demands for basic human and civil rights, for housing and the right to vote.

'8 died, 750 were injured and 133 were treated for gunshot wounds. 1,505 nationalist families were driven from their homes through burning and intimidation. 179 homes and buildings were completely destroyed and almost 400 were damaged.

'But in 1969 a generation of young nationalists weren’t for lying down. Mindful of other inspirational events worldwide the pogroms were a major watershed in their lives.

'No longer would they accept unionist discrimination and one party rule. The death knell was sounded for the Orange state.

'When that generation looked around for leadership, direction and inspiration, local Republicans afforded it. The older heads like Volunteers Billy Hannaway and Proinsias McAirt, who were highly respected and experienced, provided both leadership and direction. The bravery of Fian Gerald McAuley, who fought with his bare hands against the guns of the unionist mob, was our source of inspiration.

'Young and old, male and female were united in the quest to provide an adequate defence for our community. Within 10 months of the pogrom Oglaigh na hEireann had developed an effective defensive capacity as was evidenced in June 1970 at Mayo Street , Saint Matthews and Ardoyne.

'This scenario motivated many young men and women to join the ranks of the IRA. They were all rational people who weighed up the obvious risks involved alongside the potential gains for their community. Republican tradition had taught them that there were only two possible destinations for active Republicans i.e. the prison cell or the grave, but their commitment to the struggle overcame their concerns and fears.

'Many subsequently featured on the C Company Roll of Honour. We remember the youthful spirits of Fians McAuley and O’Riordan. The leadership of Volunteers Proinsias McAirt and Billy Hannaway. The executions of Volunteers Seán Gaynor, the Duffin brothers, Gerard O’Callaghan, Tom Williams, Dan McCann and Seán Savage.

'The fearlessness of Volunteers Sean McCartney, Seamus Burns, Seamus Simpson, Danny O’Neill, Gerard Crossan, John Johnston, Tony Lewis, Tom McCann and Big Finbar McKenna.

'We will never forget the quiet resolve and commitment of Volunteers Peter Blake, Tom McGoldrick, Joe McKenna, Martin McKenna, Brian Dempsey and Jim McKernan.

'Many more were to experience the hospitality of her Majesty’s prisons, many of whom are in attendance today. Along with their fallen comrades they shared a common desire for justice and freedom and they were motivated by a vision for a better future for all in a democratic and united Ireland . They fought for a better quality of life for all of our people, not just a small elite.

'After almost 30 years of armed struggle, in which we fought the British war machine relentlessly, resulting in military stalemate, despite our enemy using harassment, repression, imprisonment, collusion and execution, our resolve remains intact.

'Republicans have made a long and painful journey over forty years of struggle from the pogroms of ‘69’. The sacrifices of so many Volunteers and members of our community have brought us to where we are today.

'We must realise their dreams and aspirations, but those dreams will only become a reality if all Republicans apply themselves to the task at hand. There is clearly a role for anyone and everyone who buys into our vision for a united Ireland . Let us attempt to match their resolve by making our contribution count.

'Let us collectively reflect on what we have achieved and the suffering we have ensured to deliver it. Let us all rise together to meet the challenges ahead. Let us build political strength nationally and bring about freedom.

'Our commitment and cohesion have been forged over 40 years of struggle.

'Together, we must continue to work for the Republic.

'Beirigi Bua.' ENDS

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