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Wednesday, 14 August 2013

14/15 August 1969: The British Army was deployed on the streets of Derry and Belfast


14/15 August 1969: The British Army was deployed on the streets of Derry and Belfast to stave off the collapse of the Northern State. This was to try and stem the serious rioting in both cities and in other urban centres across the North and to stop the collapse of the State that could come about if the situation continued to spiral out of control. In response to the growing Crises the Taoiseach Jack Lynch had gone on the airwaves the previous day to announce the setting up of Field Hospitals near the Border and Refugee Camps further south to deal with the expected influx of people fleeing their homes. This gesture however seriously angered and worried moderate Unionists and inflamed the more hard line and paranoid Loyalists - while doing nothing of real material benefit to help the beleaguered Nationalists at that time.

The situation calmed down in Derry as the RUC were withdrawn from the Bogside & the British Army took up positions there. However the situation in Belfast slid out of control.  There was also serious rioting in Armagh, Newry & Omagh and other areas throughout the North. In Armagh a man was shot dead by the RUC. Five people were killed in overnight rioting in Belfast, one of them a nine year old boy. As the sectarian clashes worsened houses and business premises were set alight and hundreds were damaged or destroyed. It soon became clear that the discipline of a considerable number of the regular RUC and more particularly the B-Specials had collapsed. Numerous individuals from these organisations went on the rampage and became indistinguishable from the Loyalist mobs on the loose that night.

While the situation in the Six Counties had became much more dangerous over the Summer the multiple deaths in open sectarian clashes was a huge shock to the people of Ireland. For the first time in decades people had been killed in almost open warfare between the Orange and the Green. It was a watershed in Modern Irish Politics.