4 January 1969: The ‘Peoples Democracy’ March from Belfast to Derry was attacked at Burntollet Bridge by Loyalists on this day. The RUC flanking the procession failed to offer any meaningful procession to the marchers as they were assaulted and beaten. The original march had begun from Queens University in Belfast on 1 January and was undertaken to highlight the lack of Civil Rights in the North of Ireland.
Along the way to Derry the marchers had been continually heckled and occasionally attacked. However when they reached the narrow defile at Burntollet outside Derry City they were the victims of an organised ambush and viciously attacked by a Loyalist mob. The RUC who were in attendance made no serious attempt to intervene and thus encouraged the attackers that kept up their assault as the marchers ran the gauntlet through to the other side.
One eyewitness described what he saw:"The major portion of the C.R. procession was cut off and left at the mercy of the attackers. A fusillade of stones and bottles was followed by the full weight of the attack against the young men and women who had pledged themselves to a policy of non-violence.
"The attackers showed no mercy. Men were beaten senseless. Girls tore their way through the hedges screaming: 'No! No!' Shouting, club-waving, men pursued them."
Eventually the marchers got through, but not before many of them, incl. women and girls, had been attacked and beaten and some seriously injured. Those still able then made their went into Derry and the sanctuary of those of their own persuasion.
It was a watershed moment for the Catholics in the North as it became clear that their attempts to achieve civil and political parity with the Protestant population would trigger a violent reaction by ultra Loyalists - and that many members of the RUC would be very reluctant to protect them from those forces of Reaction.