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Francis McCloskey and Sammy Devenney

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• FATAL INJURIES: Sammy Devenney pictured after the RUC beating

» Mícheál Mac Donncha

BY the high summer of 1969, the Six-County state was like a powder keg ready to explode. The events of a few weeks in July and August were to change the course of Irish history.
A peaceful protest campaign led by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association had begun only the previous summer but in October 1968 marchers had been banned and batoned on the streets of Derry by the RUC. In January 1969, the Belfast to Derry march led by the left-wing students’ organisation, People’s Democracy, was viciously attacked at Burntollet Bridge in County Derry, by ambushing loyalists who were aided by the RUC.
Following Burntollet, the RUC went on the rampage again in Derry, attacking nationalist citizens in their homes. The RUC was fulfilling the role it had been assigned since the establishment of the Orange state in 1922 – keeping nationalists in their place.
Local election boundaries and the franchise had been rigged to ensure unionist control of Derry City Council even though nationalists formed a majority of the city’s population. They were also discriminated against in the allocation of housing and employment. This system had been challenged before but the Civil Rights movement now had the support of a younger generation that was not prepared to go back to their sub-standard housing and dole queues after being beaten by the RUC.

Sammy Devenney

On Saturday 19 April 1969, a planned Civil Rights march from Claudy to Derry via Burntollet was called off. A large crowd gathered in Derry’s Guildhall Square and was attacked by stone-throwing loyalists. The RUC........

© An Phoblacht