My trip to Derry can’t be put into one post. There’s just too much to the city to compress it into one little tale and it is too special to me. It started when I bought a ticket to ‘Derry’ and the bus driver said he didn’t know where that was, but that he’d be happy to drive me to ‘Londonderry.’ This city is a complicated place, full of pride and controversy. Unlike it’s neighbors in the north, it has no towering, man-made “peace” walls, but it remains segregated and even its name is still hotly contested, as I learned that day. Its Loyalist population feels like its culture is under attack and being stripped away, just as they do in other parts of the region. This post is about their side of the river Foyle, in the town that many of them still call Londonderry.
45 years ago the Nationalist people in the Bogside area of Derry began a legendary fight with the British authorities that is widely regarded as one of the first events of the Troubles in the North of Ireland. The violence, rioting and battle began on August 12th, 1969 and was ignited by an ill-conceived decision to allow the Apprentice Boys to parade near the Nationalist and Catholic areas of Derry.
The authorities saw no reason to stop the oppressive parade that had been happening annually for years. What made this year different than others though was the political climate, which they were not in the habit of paying attention to. The Civil Rights movement was gaining traction all over the North and had led to many skirmishes in Derry already that year. The level of dissatisfaction in the Catholic and Nationalist areas including the Bogside, was already palpable and growing stronger every day. In 1969, Catholics made up more of the population than any others but the Protestant Minority still held all the key positions in government and power so they had no recourse for injustices they faced. Many flooded into the civil rights movement in order to have a voice – and those voices were getting stronger and stronger, despite being ignored by the leadership of the city.
It was under this kind of tension that the parade was not only allowed to happen, but it was going to happen right in their faces. It was the spark that sent the Bogside over the edge. In the days leading up to the parade, many attempts were made within the area to keep residents calm and a request was sent to the Apprentice Boys and the government to either cancel or to reroute the march. The plea was refused and the attempts for calm became plans for defensive maneuvers.