Law (?) and Orders
Date:1970
Organisation:Central Citizens Defence Committee
Author:Seán Óg Ó Fearghail
View: View Document
Discuss:Comments on this document
Subjects: Falls Curfew, 1970 Belfast

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Commentary From The Cedar Lounge Revolution

3rd July 2010

Many thanks to the person who dontated this document and to Garibaldy for the following outline.

40 years ago today, at about 4.30pm, the RUC and British army raided 24 Balkan Street in the Falls, looking for arms. The incident was to spark what the United Irishman of August 1970 described as “the biggest military engagement since 1916 between units of the Irish Republican Army and British Crown forces”, and resulted in 3,000 British troops, backed by helicopters and armoured cars, placing an illegal curfew on around 60 streets in the lower Falls. The curfew lasted from 10pm on Friday July 3rd until 8am on Sunday morning, with a two hour break on the Saturday evening for people to buy essentials. Four men were killed, all of them by the British army, amid mass arrests and house searches. Three were shot dead, and one was deliberately run over. This document describes the deaths of Charles O’Neill, William Burns, Patrick Elliman, and Zbigniew Uglik. It also gives a detailed description of the hardships experienced by the civilian population as a result of the curfew itself, and as a result of the actions of the British troops, many of whom engaged in an orgy of destruction and looting. The British seized about 100 weapons, 25 lbs of explosives, 21,0000 rounds and some radio equipment and gas masks. In the weeks after the curfew, the Central Citizens’ Defence Committee conducted a survey of the residents within the area placed under curfew, and the pamphlet provides a invaluable insight into the experience of the local population. A sense of how intense the fighting was and the scale of the British army operation can be seen in its own statistics: its men fired 1,454 live rounds, and deployed 218 CS gas grenades and 1,355 gas canisters. Many of the latter were fired into the area from a large catapult attached to the back of an army jeep like a medieval siege engine. And no, I’m not making that up.

The Central Citizens’ Defence Committee was founded on August 16th 1969 on the initiative of Jim Sullivan, adjutant of the Belfast Command of the Irish Republican Army. Sullivan was its first Chair. It acted as the coordinating body for the various defence groups that had sprung up in the various areas in August 1969 and after. It rapidly expanded, and at one point, according to Paul Arthur, 95 delegates represented 75,000 people. The wide-ranging nature of the body can be seen in the fact that while Sullivan continued to play a leading role in it, it also included some of the local priests from St. Peter’s Cathedral and people connected to the Nationalist Party and to Gerry Fitt and Paddy Devlin, the Westminster and Stormont MPs for the area. It wasn’t a left organisation, but it included significant left-wing elements, and its account of the Falls curfew certainly deserves a place in our archive.

This document was produced in September 1970. It was written by Seán Óg Ó Fearghail, with a foreword from Mícheál Ó Dathlaoich (Michael Dolley, a Member of the Royal Irish Academy and lecturer at Queen’s). The British Army believed Ó Dathlaoich to be the real author. The British Army were concerned enough by it to rapidly produce a detailed response that was sent to media outlets. The document starts with a brief historical overview; gives a detailed account of the events that led to the curfew and the curfew itself (one, it must be said, that downplays the extent of the resistance to the British army); and the second part of the document is a breakdown of the result of the CCDC’s survey of the residents, which was conducted by teams of mainly students, with the curfewed areas being broken up into different zones, as explained in the document. Although in many respects, a largely factual and narrative account, it does have a clear analysis, and lays the blame for what happened squarely at the door of the British Army for its overreaction, and the document accuses the army of implementing a pre-planned strategy.

The historical overview describes the social, economic and living conditions within the area, and stresses the religiosity of the people, as well as the large number of ex-British servicemen in the area. The account is at pains to stress the respectability of the area, reflecting the extent to which the Catholic church and the local social elite had become involved in the CCDC. It also provides a quick description of the civil rights campaign, the outbreak of the Troubles, and the weekend before the curfew (June 27th/28th), when serious sectarian violence had led to six deaths in the Crumlin Road and the Short Strand, with the emerging Provisionals responsible for them all, including that of a Catholic accidentally shot dead while cooperating with the Provisionals in the Short Strand. As noted already, the account of the incidents that led to the curfew blames the British Army for not ignoring the hurling of a few stones, and instead choosing to respond with CS gas, and repeatedly failing to back away from confrontation instead of further provoking it. It also notes the recklessness of army actions that endangered civilians, but also describes the throwing of homemade hand grenades at the military by the Provisionals that escalated the situation, and which they admitted to the Irish Times of July 7th 1970 had been a mistake. It stresses the contempt with which both the hierarchy and the troops on the ground treated both the CCDC and elected politcians trying to bring things to a halt – Devlin was threatened with death by troops holding him – and the mistreatment of civilians, their homes, and their property. At the same time, however, there is a reluctance to smear the names of entire army units, and it goes out of its way in part II, the survey, to point out that many of the soldiers behaved well. Among the headings for Part II of the hardships faced by civilians are Shortage of Food, Loss of Liberty, Financial Hardship, Cruelty to Animals, and Brutality of Troops.

The Conclusion lays the blame for the Curfew squarely at the door of General Sir Ian Freeland, General Officer Commanding and Director of Operations for the British Army in Northern Ireland, and warns that the curfew may be seen by future historians as a significant step in the alienation of the non-unionist population. It also goes out of its way to point out that a formal curfew had been called, as the British had taken to denying this due to its illegality. It attacks the army for the deaths of the civilians, and its claims to have killed two snipers whose bodies were moved out of the area, while again downplaying the extent of the resistance. All in all, this is a superb insight into the curfew, and into how some important sections of public opinion felt about it.

Apart from the inherent interest of the document itself as a source, it is worth taking a minute to consider the wider significance of the curfew. In retrospect, we can see it as the first expression of a new and more hardline policy being introduced by the British military, the new Tory government (elected June 18th 1970) and the Stormont regime. The murders of the four civilians as a result of utterly reckless and dangerous firing by the military, and the false claims about killing snipers whose bodies have disappeared to justify the killing of innocent civilians are all too familiar, especially two weeks after the Saville report was published. Having said that, the claims that from the curfew on, the non-unionist population considered itself at war with the British are not accurate either.

There has been a lot of myth making about the curfew, and it has become the centre of disputes over what happened and how it is remembered. The area was a stronghold of the IRA, with the Provisionals numbering only about 12 to perhaps 150 members of the IRA, the Auxiliaries and the Fianna. The IRA (Official) version has always been that the Provisionals were ordered to throw the nail bombs at the soldiers, and then withdraw from the area to leave the IRA to fight it out with the British. A small number of Provisionals did stay behind – possibly against orders, as the Irish Times interview alluded to above says that the Provisionals as an organisation were not active in the area – including Brendan Hughes, who gave several accounts of his activities before his death. By his own account in Voices from the Grave, the Provisionals were involved in a five or six minute gun battle before hunkering down and sitting it out. The fighting lasted from around 8pm until 3 or 4am. The Provisionals have also always stressed the part played by their members in the march of the women that is claimed to have broken the curfew on the Sunday. For the 35th anniversary, the Provisionals produced a DVD about the curfew, and for the 40th, they centred a commemoration around the march of the women. As is clear from the CCDC document, the curfew was already finished, although that would not have been known to those marching.

The reason for the Provisional stress on the march was because they could not reasonably claim the credit for the fighting, although it seems that in recent years, since the DVD at least, there has been an attempt to annexe the military resistance to their cause, just as several members of the IRA (Official) killed as late as 1972 now appear on the Provisional roll of honour. The list of stories covered for the first edition of the new monthly An Phoblacht includes the following. “The Falls Curfew, the Defence of Ardoyne and the Battle of St Matthews”, which suggests an attempt to portray the curfew as part of a seamless whole in which the Provisionals stepped forward as the defenders of the oppressed catholic community, although I haven’t read the paper, and so could be wrong there, and will be happy to be corrected.

The IRA and Republican Clubs were quite clear in claiming credit for the fighting, and I think it is fair to say that the curfew is remembered as the set-piece battle of the IRA in its Belfast heartland, involving as it did large numbers of people and many important figures in the history and development of The Workers’ Party, including the likes of Jim Sullivan, Liam McMillen, and Joe McCann. And for the fortieth anniversary, a large group of Workers’ Party members who were involved in the curfew as members of D Company have produced a pamphlet (called The Story of the Falls Curfew) putting down their experience and analysis of the curfew, and combatting what they see as the attempts by others to write them out of the story of the curfew, or to misrepresent their motives for taking the actions they did. This is not just the Provisionals, but also those journalists and historians who have claimed they felt they had something to prove in competition with the Provisionals after the events of the previous weekend. They point out that a desire to defend their area was not the same as a desire to be seeing as the defenders of the Catholics. The pamphlet includes an account of another event alluded to by Brendan Hughes in Voices from the Grave, when IRA volunteers pulled guns to prevent a Catholic sectarian mob, of which Hughes was a member, burning Protestant homes as a way of stressing the differences between the two.

The media coverage of the 40th anniversary has reflected these ongoing issues about historical memory. Alan Murray, in the Belfast Telegraph on June 23rd, described the ongoing sense of injustice felt by the families of two Protestant men shot dead by the Provisionals during the violence at the Short Strand on 27th June. They feel that their relatives were innocent men, shot dead by sectarian gunmen, and that every year their memory is smeared to hide the truth. The Andersonstown News has for its past few editions been running stories about the curfew, including interviews with Workers’ Party members who were active that night and with some of those involved in the women’s march, detailing how they “broke” the curfew. Another story with another woman talks about the curfew being over before the march. A few of these stories have been among the small number from each edition that get posted on the website, and likewise some of the texts discussing them have been published online too. It’s interesting to note what stories and texts from the printed editions have been left offline. You can still find British soldiers who believe that the bodies of two snipers were successfully hidden, and that the shooting was by and large justified. The curfew remains a very good example of how during the Troubles, competing versions of history were fostered for political reasons, and how myths can take hold and become unshakeable truth in popular memory.


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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 06 Jul 2010 15:58:20

    Markets long memory, I wonder whether you were at Bodenstown in the 1980s like I was. It certainly wasn’t as small as you make out, and was evident from the organisation and attendance that this was a significant aspect of the party identity.

    I’ve never denied that there were competing and sometimes antagonistic currents or strands within the party, but to suggest that the party wasn’t ‘Republican’ is incorrect or is to use a very specific definition of Republicanism.

    It’s also a reductionist argument to suggest that Republicanism, even within OSF/WP could be boiled down to say McCann, etc… all of whom I have held and continue to hold in high regard. But the party wasn’t OSF of 1970, it was WP of 1984 or whatever and the party emphasis was simply not a focus on the Northern conflict (a problem I had with the party – and I think Gandhi is right that not to accept and know the roots only leads to greater problems), it was about organising in communities and as it did so more and more successfully the direction changed too.

    People like to think that it was in some sense a conspiracy by one clique or another, but I think that’s a further simplification – and I say that as one who then and now regards themselves as a Republican socialist (and who sees people in other formations such as SF who I would consider to be of a likemind). Yes such an aversion did exist with some in the party, and for varying reasons. The EH’s had one view of it, others a different one. But if, like myself, you were a member in Dublin or Cork or wherever, the activity was almost entirely focussed on what we were doing there. More than a sense of antagonism there was a sense of ‘we’re beyond all that ideologically’ (and in fairness on the ground in my experience the level of political development in PSF, for example, wasn’t exactly great at that time. It certainly improved radically as the 80s progressed – perhaps due to PD and others arriving on the scene). From which standpoint some of the most arrogant pronouncements of the party were generated.

    That can be a problem as much as a strength, and I think that was a mistake to downplay that aspect of party history and development, but it was to my mind much more a function of the ideological direction (on the left axis) than an aversion to Republicanism – or let’s cut to the chase, the Provisionals or the IRSP.

    I also wonder is it a little unreasonable to expect people to operate as entirely rational players in the circumstances say of ’82 or whatever. All these formations had been in shooting wars with each other within the previous ten years. People had been killed on all sides. The legacy of bitterness and resentment felt by everyone over those can’t be dismissed, and only time can really help there. There were also practical issues. I know that many inside the party felt that the IRSP split was in part a function of an influx of new people in the period from 72 onwards who had been politicised in part by the experience of McCann et al but had drawn the wrong conclusions as to what was possible on the military side. The analysis of that, was that it was safer to downplay that than to have yet another split. I’m not sure that even were that a correct analysis that it outweighed the small problem that it discredited us as a force by denying our history.

    But given all this perhaps the really amazing thing isn’t that there were wobbles on Republicanism, almost exclusively on a rhetorical rather than formal level, but that even today WP, of which again I’m no longer a member, remains one of the few all-island political entities underlining the reality that it is still a Republican entity.

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  • By: Jim Monaghan Tue, 06 Jul 2010 19:32:16

    Patricia McKay
    http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/PATRICIA-McKAY/293879058526?ref=ts

    George McDonald, Republican Clubs USA
    http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=100000526672393

    Almost everything is on Facebook

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  • By: Mark P Tue, 06 Jul 2010 20:08:35

    Some interesting points there WbS, but on the aside about all-Ireland organisation, it’s worth pointing out that it’s the norm on the socialist left (including the WP). Even the anarchist organiations are partitioned by accident rather than because either of them refuses to organise on the other side of the border.

    The Green are organised as one party either side of the border too, perhaps more surprisingly.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Tue, 06 Jul 2010 20:12:49

    Very fair point, I was thinking though of the big battalions, FF/FG/LP, etc and their rhetoric – well, that of FF to be honest!

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  • By: Workers’ Party Bodenstown Speech, 2010 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution Wed, 07 Jul 2010 07:17:16

    […] Politics, Northern Ireland, The Left. trackback This seems appropriate given the debate over here… thanks to those who forwarded it to the CLR. Here’s the SF Bodenstown speech on the […]

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  • By: Ciarán Wed, 07 Jul 2010 13:04:18

    The Lost Revolution goes into some detail on the hysterical reactions by the Stickies to people trying to raise the H-Block and Armagh issue. If you set aside the anti-republican (by which I mean Provisionals and Irps) sentiment of SFWP/WPRC at the time, an issue that doesn’t get much attention was the situation of their own prisoners. By 1981 the Stickies had been denying for some years that they had an armed wing, so their prisoners weren’t recognised and were put away as ordinary criminals. If anything different had been said about the conditions in the Blocks and the treatment being meted out to republican prisoners, it could well have created something of an internal dilemma.

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  • By: yourcousin Wed, 07 Jul 2010 22:59:07

    G,
    I believe the reason this debate keeps happening is that at the zenith of it’s power the WP had no qualms about dictating who was and wasn’t republican. G, I doubt that most WP officials in the past were as civil as you (and WBS in his due course) in disagreeing with others who may differ from their views. While the WP may be able to style itself as republican, so too can FF and FG with no real ideological back flipping. I believe a starting point for all endeavors ought to be the golden rule. Couple that belief with the idea that what goes around, comes around and one can see (though not always agree with) how this current debate appears and reappears with depressing regularity.

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  • By: Garibaldy Wed, 07 Jul 2010 23:11:34

    YC,

    It’s certainly true to say that the WP regards itself as the heir to the revolutionary republican tradition, due to its belief in what the development of republicanism since the C18th must mean politically in this day and age. And you’re certainly right to say that when these debates were had in times of more raised political temperature, all sides were much less civil than people are here.

    I take your point too about a sense of people wanting to draw attention to what they see about the mistakes or faults of the past or whatever. And fair enough. But people expecting an acknowledgement that the WP – despite what its constitution and policies said – became unrepublican and then returned to it will be disappointed.

    So with us all – or almost all of us – having reached a point where we can agree to differ (or stalemate if you prefer), I’m hoping we can avoid a repetition.

    So in short, I basically agree. 🙂

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  • By: yourcousin Thu, 08 Jul 2010 01:05:05

    G,
    I’m glad you agree, but the fact that you write the the WP is “the heir” to the UI as opposed to “an heir” and the fact that one interpretation is what republicanism “must mean” since the 18th century is a rather narrow prescription for a ideal that most certainly think “advances in diversity…”.

    I don’t think that perpetual disagreement automatically means stalemate so much as we keep each other on our toes and keeps us honest. Or at least forces us to be able to back up our claims.

    If the WP claimed to be one part of the Republican family as opposed to the paterfamilias then I doubt we would see these kind of debates, as often. But for once it is nice to see we agree, basically.

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  • By: Markets long memory Fri, 09 Jul 2010 11:53:29

    Maybe we are at cross purposes worldbystorm. I remember crowds of 200-300 at Bodenstown in the 1980s, with many of the party’s well known representatives not present. I could be wrong. But that is not my main point. Did the WP commemorate the curfew in 1980? in 1990? in 2000? I would guess there is not one mention of the Official IRA in the whole series of Workers Life magazine in the 1980s. My point about Smullen’s article is that saying Bobby Sands is comparable to Horst Wessell and suggesting that the provos always claim to be innocent when arrested was a very common attitude in the party and it cut us off from a lot of people. I remember a very sad letter in the Irish News from Sean Fox’s family asking his name not to be included in the party’s list of fallen comrades because they were ashamed of the WP’s support for the RUC. Very good website by the way.

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  • By: Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung Thu, 22 Jul 2010 13:41:31

    […] Central Citizens’ Defence Committee (CCDC): Law (?) and Orders: The Belfast ‘Curfew’ of 3-5 July 1970 (1970) * Revolutionary Marxist Group (RMG): Marxist Review, Frühjahr 1973 * David Bleakley: Crisis […]

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  • By: republican socalistn i ask Sat, 31 Jul 2010 12:57:38

    can i ask the wp supporters on this site a question , how come the workers party called fallen pira and inla volunteers terrorists , yet there own fallen as comrades seem very hypocritical to me . and ask your selves this , why do the vast majority of reublicans hate the sticks with a passion , were was the guns to defend the people in ardoyne bombay street , shorts strand in 69 70

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  • By: Budapestkick Sat, 31 Jul 2010 14:05:05

    Not a WP man myself but with regard to Ardoyne, Bombay street etc. I would highly recommend you read Brian Hanley’s article on the IRA and 1969 in History Ireland. Other than that, you seem to have resurrected a dead thread in order to childishly have a go at the handful of Sticks who regularly contribute here, though looking at your post it appears you were quite drunk when this was posted.

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  • By: SMURF Sat, 31 Jul 2010 18:16:09

    In response to 39. republican socialist I ask. It is true again here we go around the merrygo round of dead threading in order to revert back to the limited history which you claim to hold privy too. I wasnt going to respond to this – but I feel obliged. Heresay, smut journalistic reporting seems to be order of the day for you. How do you know for sure that vast of majority of republicans hate the sticks? A, You must be the infamous brigadeer Barns of the 1st and only true republican bat.. I always find it extremely funny that labelling, shaming techniques by individuals who basically know or more importantly want to know anything about what actually happened. If you are new to this history thing, please ignore my sarcarism but I would take a little time and read the above mentioned book, then official irish republicianism- sean swan and then the politics of illusion – henry patterson.

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  • By: WorldbyStorm Sun, 01 Aug 2010 09:05:54

    Fair responses SMURF and Budapestkick.

    republican socialist, having worked with and for people on both sides of that divide subsequently (and having been a member of the WP and disagreed profoundly with aspects of their approach on the North) I can’t see the point of attacking people on any side any longer.

    As far as I’m concerned terrible mistakes were made, often for the best of reasons, by all concerned. I’m not ignoring personal histories which I know bite deep (I personally knew one person who was very very badly affected by the murder of Seamus Costello).

    But either we let that drag us down, or we accept that there were and remain good people on all sides, and from my perspective more importantly good leftists. That we can work with and do something to change the here and now.

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  • By: HAL Sun, 01 Aug 2010 09:45:28

    Good point wbs the republican left is what needs to be united all republican left who accept the ceasefires and agree on the democratic process should make efforts to make peace.If we cant agree with each other how do we hope to gain the thrust of the general population.

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  • By: Mackers Mon, 29 Nov 2010 19:36:34

    For the record I was witness to the beginning of the curfew. I also took part in the rioting that followed and believe me when I tell you there were all sorts of people involved in the fighting. I witnessed all kinds of Republicans and non republicans in the shape of ordinary locals who just came to try to keep the Brits from disarming the area. And beieve me when I tell you it was all about saving the weapons of all the groups in the area. At this period of time from the events anyone who tries to spin some kind of quasi-political revisionist gunk to the situation is wrong dead wrong. It was about the guns for defence stupid.End of story. Oh and by the way respect to alll who faced down the British Army then or after.

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  • By: Dr.Nightdub Wed, 25 May 2011 21:34:14

    Only coming across this now, so apologies for the laste contribution.

    Just on the CCDC side of things and this comment:
    “It stresses the contempt with which both the hierarchy and the troops on the ground treated both the CCDC and elected politcians trying to bring things to a halt…”

    In relation to the Falls curfew, there was very little the CCDC could do other than point the finger at Freeland as the army’s role in the curfew and the resulting deaths could not be disputed. Any other conclusion would have been laughable.

    However Bishop Philbin, was still trying hard to cosy up to Lisburn as some kind of authentic but un-armed voice of nationalists, using the CCDC as a vehicle, seeing as it had by then come under the control of his trusted helpers Tom Conaty (much later named as the holder of an Ansbacher account) and Canon Padraig Murphy.

    Around the same time as the “Law & Order” pamphlet was published, another pamphlet dealing with the Battle of St. Matthew’s the week before was also contemplated by the CCDC. My father was working full-time for the CCDC at the time and was commissioned by Philbin to write it but it was never published precisely BECAUSE the conclusion lambasted General Freeland far more stridently than the one on the curfew did.

    Based on similar eye-witness interviews and quoting from the detailed written agreements regarding security measures which had been arrived at by the St. Matthew’s CDC and the local army commander and RUC District Inspector, the pamphlet clearly placed responsibility on the army for breaking those agreements on the night St. Matthew’s was attacked. The implication being that the army created the vacuum into which the IRA stepped.

    In the interests of critical objectivity, I should say that my father managed not to use the letters IRA in the entire pamphlet which was some feat – his defence was that what he didn’t ask about and didn’t find out about couldn’t subsequently be got out of him.

    Anyway, Conaty and Murphy were furious and wanted the pamphlet re-written. My father refused. His version of the story ends up with him calling to Philbin’s home one Sunday night when he knew Conaty and Murphy wouldn’t be around, a stand-up row ensued and his parting shot to Philbin was “The Italians have the mafia, the loyalists have the Orange Order but you have no need of either for you’re already up to your neck in corruption.” He was eased out of his job in the CCDC shortly afterwards.

    If anyone’s (still!) interested, the Linenhall Library in Belfast has a copy of the pamphlet, along with some of the research material my father had gathered.

    There you go, just a wee footnote to history.

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  • By: Alan Harpur Tue, 19 Mar 2013 18:50:27

    I am interested in the earlypart of the ‘troubles’ and went along to the Linenhall library to track down the pamphlet mentioned in post 43 on the Battle of st Matthews researched for the CCDC. Unfortunately although the pamphlet was indexed it couldn’t be found. I know it is a long shot since the pamphet was never published but does anyone have a copy of it?? Post 43 also refers to reseach material in connection with the pamphlet placed in the library but what name is this material filed under???Can anyone help!!

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  • By: Dr.Nightdub Tue, 19 Mar 2013 20:08:27

    Alan, when I was in the Linenhall two years ago, the original (consisting of approx 40 typewritten foolscap pages) was in an ordinary blue ring-binder, that might help them locate it if you go back there. The librarian said he’d add the other documents to the ring-binder as appendices to the main text – these consisted of:
    – Correspondence from Sept 1969 between the Ballymacarett Citizens’ Defence Committee and the local Army commander and the (very unfortunately-named) District Inspector Shute of Mountpottinger RUC barracks, culminating in a detailed agreement regarding the level of security / barricades / patrolling that the Army would provide to the area. Which they then failed to provide in June 1970.
    – A witness statement from Dickie Glenholmes, chairman of the local CDC about what happened on the night of the Battle
    – A witness statement from Paddy Kennedy (Republican Labour MP, and a member of the CCDC) about what happened
    – An anonymous witness statement

    There was a book published about two years ago called “Belfast and Derry in Revolt”, it has a chapter about St Matthew’s, which is worth reading as it includes excerpts from the Army radio log on the night, as well as referencing the pamphlet. However it was researched before I gave the additional material to the Linenhall – the author told me if he’d seen that material, he might well have reconsidered his conclusions.

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