The Battle of the Bogside

NEXT week, in the late afternoon of August 14, exactly 40 years will have elapsed since British troops entered the centre of this city, signalling the end of two days of heavy, sustained fighting between the RUC, loyalists and nationalists.

The 'Battle of the Bogside' as it subsequently became known, has entered the annals of history as one initial symbol of Northern Ireland's four decades long political conflict.

For some nationalists and republicans it is the event that encapsulates the outset of resistance against a monolithic unionist government at Stormont, predicated on 'a Protestant parliament for a Protestant people.'

For some Protestants, unionists and loyalists the 'battle' represented an open rebellion against the authority of the state and the launch of a sectarian campaign against them.

Since the Government of Ireland Act in 1920, that created the state of Northern Ireland, accusations of discrimination against Catholics in housing, education, employment and voting rights were often highly vocally trumpeted. Intermittently, violence from a periodically resurgent IRA attempted to over throw the state. The RUC and its auxiliary branches, the A, B and C Specials, were the force charged with attempting to quell any outbreak of civil disobedience. Accused by nationalists of being prejudiced because of an almost exclusively Protestant membership, they became figures of hatred. For the Protestant community the RUC held the border line against republican attack. For the Catholic community they were the incarnate ramrods of a state, which, while superficially placid, was silently but effectively oppressive via the use of extraordinary legislation such as the Special Powers Act.


Inspired by civil rights campaigns in the southern states of the USA, a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was formed in 1967. Demanding parity in housing, employment, votes for all and education within the state, the NICRA campaign embarked on a series of protests and agitation.

Having gained sufficient notice to attract large media coverage, a large demonstration was planned for Londonderry on October 5, 1968. The parade was attacked by the RUC and the images were beamed across the world.

It was perhaps then that the genie escaped from its bottle. In this city and across Northern Ireland, the winter months of 1968 saw increased tension. The early months of 1969 were no different with increased NICRA activity and local authority and government reaction to it.

As August 1969 approached, in Londonderry the focal point of tension became the annual Apprentice Boys of Derry parade. Generally regarded as the citadel of northern Protestantism, Londonderry was the geographical emblem of the defeat of King James II, the victory of William of Orange, and the epitome of the 'No Surrender' attitude that had seen the population of the Walled City prevail against siege and starvation in 1689.

The Apprentice Boys of Derry, formed to commemorate these feats. Then and to this day they parade every August to celebrate this period.

On Tuesday, August 12, 1969, as the parade approached the city centre, nationalist protestors began to throw stones at the parade. After the interjection of the RUC, the situation escalated rapidly into severe rioting. After two days of fighting, the Stormont Government asked Westminster to send troops to relieve a beleaguered police force.

With the situation here, in Belfast and elsewhere reaching critical mass it was feared that a total societal breakdown was hours away. The Irish Government responded saying the outbreak of violence was as a result of discriminatory policies against Catholics in Northern Ireland. In an often misquoted speech, Prime Minister, Jack Lynch said the Republic, could 'no longer stand by.' Rumours circulated that Irish troops had massed on the border and were about to 'invade the north'. In reality 'field hospitals' were set up at border areas and provide assistance to those displaced or injured in the rioting.

When the Queen's Own Regiment entered Waterloo Place at around 5pm on Tuesday, August 15 it was to the relief of the general population.

Gregory Campbell was 16-years-old in 1969. He had just joined the Apprentice Boys of Derry and August 12, was his first time on parade.

As part of this year's Gasyard Feile, he took part in a debate asking if, 40 years later, was the Civil Rights Campaign worth it?

Joining him on the platform was Bernadette Devlin, who played a central role in the events of 'The Battle of the Bogside' and veteran republican, Sinn Fein's Mitchel McLaughlin who lives in the Bogside to this day.

It's hardly a secret that Gregory Campbell is very much at odds with their interpretations and historical accounts of August 1969.

In addressing the audience at the Gasyard Centre, he told the Sentinel that he was "content" with how things had gone during the debate.


Giving his account of events of the 'Battle of the Bogside' he said: "The audience listened politely for the most part but seemed to take extreme umbrage when I gave my view on what the police had done. I said I had come there to give my first hand account of what I had seen, not what somebody had told me third hand, not what my father's cousin, two times removed had been told by a man in a bar, but what I saw.

"I told what I had seen from behind the police lines in 1969 as a teenager. I said whatever you might think of the old police force, there was no systematic exclusion on the grounds of religion. There was no legislation at Stormont which said 'a certain number of Catholics will be allowed into the police and after that there will be no additional Catholics allowed.'

"Contrast with that today when we have all the legislation which we had none of then. We have legislation now that is supposed to prevent people being discriminated against-but we also have a law that states if a certain number of Protestants apply to join the police, they will not be recruited. That's totally untenable and cannot be defended."

Gregory Campbell relayed that his assertions appeared to cause an "extreme amount of angst" amongst the Gasyard audience.

"So much so that the chairwoman had to intervene to restore calm so I could be heard. But, I wasn't going to miss this opportunity. So I said 'I don't know if you heard me or not, so I'll repeat it again for the hard of hearing, or the slow of learning.

"I was reasonably content that there were people there that would have been brought up with a particular perspective on the 'Battle of The Bogside.' I gave them another one. But, I knew from first hand experience that my account was an accurate one," he said.

Joining the Apprentice Boys

Recalling August 12, 1969, Mr Campbell said that as a "non politically involved teenager", he knew something was happening in the build up to the day, but had no great revelatory insight.

"For example, if you asked a 16-year-old now what their political viewpoint on certain issues are, you would get a blank look. That's what I was like then.

"I had a slight disadvantage that I had no remote interest in politics. I was from a non political family, but I was aware of what happened in October 1968, the rumblings through the winter and of course the build-up to August. But, I wasn't aware in the sense that this was going to be a momentous day.

"After that day, some people engaged in revisionism saying things like 'it was a day never to be forgotten.' It started as a day like another other day. It was only in the aftermath that you started to think, 'wow, what happened there,' and that's the way I viewed it," said Gregory.

Tension in the city was also increased according to Mr Campbell by the 'obligatory' cranking up of the 'rumour mill'. He said: "I mean, it was a tense time and the rumour mill was working with reports that this was happening and that was happening after the parade-that stones and petrol bombs had been thrown.

"Being interested and as I worked in the city centre, just 200 yards from William Street at Shipquay Street, inquisitiveness took me down. But, the tension was more like a 'buzz' tension. It wasn't tension heralding a great political moment. I didn't have a political antennae, even though I knew something was going on."

As a 16-year-old participating in his first parade, Gregory Campbell admits that it was strange to see the reaction to the Apprentice Boys.

"The club I was a member of then, walked towards the rear of the parade. I was going through Waterloo Place when some of the stones came over. Now, at that stage, it wasn't a fuselage of stones, bricks and petrol bombs.

"But, my understanding of it from talking to people afterwards that it was just about then that the trouble really broke out.

"I just didn't understand what this was about. I was a 16-year-old, I joined the Apprentice Boys because I had heard about the history and I knew it was part of what I was, and on my first day out a pile of stones were thrown at me.

"I had to ask myself, 'what was that about!'," he laughed.


Within a period of 48 hours, the state was in turmoil and a rapid course in political education followed for the young Apprentice Boy.

He said: "Thereafter I was in the business of bringing myself up to date on what was going on. What I wanted to know was 'why is it if I go out on a walk, in a cultural celebration, I and everybody else in the parade are the subjects of an unprovoked attack?' "

For many Catholics and nationalists, organisations such as the Apprentice Boys had come to represent the epitome of one sided unionist rule in Northern Ireland. Rather than cultural and religious organisations, Catholics and nationalists considered the loyal orders as umbrella movements and networking groups run by the elite of the political and businesses classes.

The Apprentice Boys, seemed too to be an extremely aggravating movement for many Catholics in Londonderry, particularly in the Bogside. Colloquial tales of triumphalism about the Apprentice Boys included claims that each year they gathered on the Walls, close to the Memorial Hall on the Eleventh Night and tossed coins into the Catholic area in a highly derogatory gesture.

But, Gregory Campbell believes there was no justification at all for using the Apprentice Boys parade on August 12, 1969, as the focal point of anger.

What could have been

"If you look back on the social and economic situation in that era, it affected virtually everyone. Only one or two per cent of the landed gentry or upper middles classes were in a good position. But, they were so miniscule they were representative of nobody.

"98 or 99 per cent of the wider community, Protestant and Catholics lived in deplorable housing conditions.

"Everybody was in the same position. Everybody you knew in the 1960s had no central heating or no inside toilet.

"If you wanted to look back and say what could have happened, you could have had a non political campaign in the constitutional sense to improve the infrastructure on both sides of the community. Idealistically, that is what you could have had.

"Some people, who have engaged in revisionism, have tried to dress the Civil Rights Campaign as that, when it wasn't," he said.

Why didn't unionists join the campaign?

Gregory Campbell contends that there were particular reasons why unionists did not join NICRA en masse.

"People ask us, if your position was so bad, why didn't you join us? I say, well look at the black and white footage and some of the banners that were carried. One of them, just as an example, said 'Smash the Orange State.'

"When I as a person from the Protestant community saw that, what was I supposed to think? There is a fair size of a clue there that shows that it was a sectarian campaign directed at me and my community.

"Now, if you look at it from that perspective, you don't have to ask why we didn't take part, you can see why."

It was obvious too that the unionist psyche still believed that republicans were always plotting the overthrow of the state. Only seven years before the 'Battle of The Bogside', in 1962, the IRA had ended its 'Border Campaign' which had run from 1956. Attacks in and around Londonderry had been fairly prevalent in that period. It had a severely unsettling effect on the political status quo.

"Remember, the Northern Ireland state was subjected to some kind of incursion or explosions or civil disobedience every few years or so.

"So the unionist mindset, being in some form of siege mentality, given the 40 years that had preceded that - when the Civil Rights movement came along saying 'Smash the Orange State', what were people supposed to think?

"For people now to re-write history and say it wasn't that, that it was a social movement to improve the lot of everyone - nobody in the Protestant community believes that."

Changing times

As a result of 1969, Gregory Campbell said that within two or three years he didn't exactly become a "hardened veteran", but appreciated the difference between a "few stones", being thrown on August 12, to the escalation into full scale rioting within 48 hours, and what that was subsequently to entail.

"It looked to me like a full scale rebellion, a concentrated effort to try and bring the Government to its knees. There were messages going out to Strabane, Newry and Belfast to 'keep the pressure on' and stretch the police lines by engaging in riots. When I saw that, and I was standing in Great James Street and saw attempts to attack the Presbyterian Church, I saw the flames behind the Church, which turned out to be some premises in William Street, and crowds of republicans at the top of Great James Street, burning tyres and rolling them down towards us, it all reinforced the fact that this was for real. It had escalated beyond all recognition in a couple of days."

So, for this 16-year-old Protestant, August 1969 was literally a baptism of fire. It also set a fledgling political career in motion.

The first foray into politics was with the Young Unionist Party, the youth branch of the Ulster Unionist Party, which Mr Campbell says was fairly active in that period.

"This was in 1969/70, just before the formation of the DUP. I joined at 17 or 18-years-old, just because I was young and here was a youth movement of a political party. I joined and for a year or so I became active in the way a young activist does, delivering leaflets and posters. Anything you could do to help, we did.

"But, shortly afterwards the DUP were formed. I looked at the youth movement of the party I was in and compared it with the DUP. In the whole scheme of things, the identification with me and my background, the youth movement I was in didn't cut it. The DUP did.

Objects of criticism

"I looked at my social class and the UUP looked as if they were the objects of criticism that republicans had attacked - the majors and the colonels and that sort of thing. I wasn't part of that.

"I was born in York Street, so the UUP had no bearing on me. On the hard core political stuff, the unionist regime or government was at sea and didn't seem able to cope with the violence. The DUP was just forming and was very radical in saying, 'look , this has to be confronted, has to be taken on - you've got to answer the criticism, you have to deploy whatever resources you have to defeat this.'

"That ticked the boxes for me, and I immediately joined the fledgling DUP."

Therefore, the youthful Gregory Campbell and his peers became political 'dissidents' - breaking away as they did from the political hegemony that had long dominated Northern Ireland. It was to prove a tag that would not be easy to shake.

So, what was it like in the 1970's and the 80's in the DUP, to be regarded as the 'extreme' face of unionism and 'beyond the pale' by both the then main unionist party and by nationalists?

Gregory Campbell said: "In the late 70's I continued my political activism with the DUP and stood for election to the council in 1977. I wasn't elected. I stood again in 1981, with Anna Hay, William Hay's mother and was elected. So the late 70s and early 80s was almost a period of preparation and became the bedrock or the foundation on which we were to build.

"But, the perspective we were laying out for our community was an accurate one and people reacted to it. Still, it took a long time for people to shift. There was a number of people who responded to us, but not the majority of the unionist community. But, as we moved into the 80s there were more and more people in our community who said, 'these guys have got it right, both on the social issues and the high profile constitutional issues.'

"What was frustrating was that as our community endorsed what we were saying it seemed the nationalist community was going the other way. I remember that in the 80s in local politics here, the SDLP were by and large in control, the 'Shinners' were just emerging at that stage, they were very small - but the SDLP has this big John Hume line about 'you can't eat a flag' and it was necessary for us all to work together - well, with everyone except the DUP.

"It seemed they preferred the 'old style' unionist, who in their view were 'easy worked with' because they could achieve a particular political outlook - 'these guys are pretty acquiescent,' would have been the view.

"We (the DUP) said, look, if you want to get into some sort of political partnership, we are content to do that, but you'll have to take us as we are. You are not going to change us. I remember putting Anna Hay forward for mayor, Willie Hay for mayor and so on, and they would never accept a DUP mayor, and this was the party saying; 'you bad unionists won't share power - if only you'd be like us in the nationalist community who want to share power.'

"They said, 'we will share power, if we get a unionist we like, but not with the DUP.' And, it took them about ten years, into the 90s before they changed on that."

In 1984, Gregory Campbell left the City Council for a period in protest at a move by the Conservative administration at Westminster to permanently change the name of the local authority to Derry City Council.

Officially, the name of the city remains Londonderry, but even in recent days there have been consultations ongoing about changing the name of the city to Derry. Mr Campbell asserts that this in itself is an abuse of civil rights.

He said: "It's extremely sad, unfortunate and deeply regrettable when I hear people, and I have heard Sinn Fein engage in revisionism on this. They now don't want to dress this up as a straightforward name change debate - this now about 'marketing' this city!

"This is the new brand of formulaic words. The suggestion is that we cannot market the city with so many different names. They don't seem to have learned the lesson that the unionist minority only want a degree of respect. Now, whether a number of nationalists like it or not, for unionists, the name of this city is Londonderry. That's the connection that we have between the place of our birth and the capital of or country, London-Derry.

'I don't have a problem'

"We don't have a problem with Derry, that's why I'm a member of the Apprentice Boys of Derry. I don't have a problem with going to First Derry Presbyterian Church, because in the days that these organisations or churches were formed there wasn't a problem. My parents and grandparents didn't have a problem using Derry or Londonderry. But, republicans seem to forget that they made it a problem when they said 'it will be Derry, whether you guys like it or not - it will be formally and officially known as Derry and you'd better get used to it'. That was effectively saying to us unionists, 'know your place, you are a minority - this is a majority view, like it or lump it.'

"That sticks in the craw and still sticks in the craw with unionists. If there is a genuine cross-community consensus then people should be allowed to use whatever formulation of words they like."

The DUP man has become a regular target of satire for his insistence on using Londonderry at every opportunity to describe his native city. But he explains: "I don't take offence if someone in everyday language, in a non-offensive way, refers to this city as Derry. That's their right to do that, but, I would hope they would extend the same right to use Londonderry.

"The official name of this city is Londonderry, which in my view reflects both traditions. It also allows people to use whatever name they want without giving offence or taking offence. If we get to that point then I think we will have overcome the problem. I think it was the singer Roy Arbuckle who said 'so good a city, they named it twice!"

Political fortitude

The name change debate as well as many other bastions of unionist identity in this city are pivotal to the thinking of Gregory Campbell. Love him or loathe him, you cannot detract from the fact that he is expert at defending his viewpoint in an articulate and obstinate way.

So, what does he think would happen if the unionist community suffered, for example, a 'defeat' on the name change issue?

"The outcome will be that unionists would say, 'well, Gregory, do you see for all your, sweat, work, toil and tears to try and represent us, it didn't matter,' And, the younger people in the unionist community would say, 'well, look at the work, the DUP have done, it hasn't worked has it?'

"Where does that lead them to, especially in a period of economic downturn? Somebody comes along with a more macho image, who doesn't care for democratic politics, and who may wear a mask, and some young people in the unionist community may say, 'this seems a more radical approach to me Gregory, and we may actually get somewhere if we can force these people into a position where they have to change.'"

Gregory Campbell admits that this possibility makes it extremely difficult for democratic politicians because it negates logic at one fell swoop.

"I don't want that and I hope that nationalist people don't want that either," he said.

Personal cost

Throughout his political career, like many of his counterparts, unionist and nationalist, Gregory Campbell spent the best part of two decades under continual threat from paramilitaries.

He said: "It became sadly normal. I suppose I was fortunate in that I effectively grew up with it. I don't know how it would have dealt with it had I had, what should have been a normal existence, had I been 20 or 30-years old and was then plunged into it. That would have been a much tougher situation. But, if you deal with it from your earlier days, it does become sadly normal.

"It was very sad, but you had to check under your car every day. But, there was one day - well a number of days - when I didn't check under the car and there was a device under it. Fortunately for me, with the grace of God, it fell off and was diffused. My wife and two eldest daughters were in the car, so there could have been four people dead."

Another 'affront' to the rights of the minority community in Londonderry, as far as Gregory Campbell is concerned, was the relocation of many thousands of Protestant people from the West Bank of the river.

"In some sections of the nationalist/republican community there are those who have an abject refusal to face up to this. They cannot accept that from within their own community there were people who were prepared to take action against people in the West Bank population who happened to be Protestant.

River Crossing

"I remember taking part in a BBC documentary called 'River Crossing' in the late 80s, and I vividly still recall the reaction, even of SDLP councillors, after it was shown. The anger and resentment was strong because they couldn't face up to what happened.

"Somebody was saying, 'there are bigots in your community,' and they were saying, 'no, there are no bigots in our community - this is not how it happened, they were not intimidated.'

"This was a liberal interpretation of the mass movement of about 10,000 people over a few years. There was a refusal to accept that it was as a result, not all by intimidation, but my relatives were intimidated out, as were many people I knew. Many people, who would have been neighbours of theirs, understandably would have moved out because if your neighbour or brother was in the UDR and got a bomb under his car, you are going to move. William King was kicked to death on the West Bank of the Foyle at the outset of the Troubles.

"There is still a refusal, there is still revisionism that says nothing was wrong, nobody had to leave - it doesn't relate to reality."

After a career that effectively began with 'The Battle of the Bogside', and has taken him on a journey of political vilification to now at least conducting a working relationship with formerly implacable enemies, Gregory Campbell does not see a return to darker days.

"I don't see the seeds or the recipe for a reversal back to 20, 30 or even 40 years ago. My hope is that in the next 20 years we make more progress than we did in the last few decades. But, that necessitates some people facing up to certain things. I think we have a way to go yet and I think recent events show that.

"I don't know how long it is going to take us to get there, but I don't really think there is anyway of us going back to what it was. I don't think there is an appetite in the wider community for either side to go back."