the man associated with Derrynane is Daniel O’Connell, referred to by many as The Liberator (or Emancipator) of Ireland. dedicated to gaining rights for the (mostly poor) Catholics of Ireland from the wealthy Protestant majority, O’Connell opposed the violence associated with armed revolts, such as that which occurred in 1798. he studied law in France during the Revolution, and returned to Ireland in time to witness the worst of the bloodshed for the ’98 Rebellion. consequently, he became a ardent supporter of non-violent direct action. basically, he inaugurated the first major non-violent, popular social movement in history. in 1823, he established the Catholic Association, which had a penny-per-month membership fee and championed electoral reform, tenants’ rights and economic development. in part because of his masterful oratorical skills, O’Connell cultivated a massive following. one of his “Monster Meetings” at the Hill of Tara drew 100,000 people.
as promised, a bit on the Siege of Derry.
ultimately, the Glorious Revolution in England ousted Catholic James II from power in favor of Protestant William of Orange and his wife Mary (James’ daughter), but in the meantime there was a bit of a “revolution” to determine who would gain power. when William & Mary took power, James fled but eventually returned by way of Ireland, hoping to reclaim his title through garnering support of Catholic Ireland. as he approached Derry, the city “fathers” dithered about what course of action to take … until a group of apprentice boys took it upon themselves to shut the gates of the city, closing the city off from advancing Jacobite forces attempting to take the city. the city was under siege for 105 days, during which time as much as half the population living within the walls died.
eventually, the forces of William of Orange were able to breach the blockade on the River Foyle and get supplies to the defenders of the Walled City of Derry, essentially defeating the Jacobite forces to the west. the conflict wasn’t over, but the remainder of the engagements between Jacobite and Orange troops did not go well for James, whose death knell came at the Battle of the Boyne, on the River Boyne north of Dublin and whose valley is home to many more monuments spanning millennium.
every year, the Protestants of Derry celebrate the efforts of the Apprentice Boys, who closed the gates of Derry to the adavancing Jacobite forces, with marches similar to those of the Orange Order elsewhere in the north of Ireland. these marches do not sit well with the Catholic community (and led to more than one confrontation during the Troubles); they go along the city walls and are highly visible from the Bogside and other Catholic areas to the west of the city walls. these marches were a threatening reminder of repression and centuries of abuse and disenfranchisement. as previously mentioned, the Apprentice Boys march in 1969 led directly to the Battle of the Bogside and establishment of Free Derry. the marches continue, though the scale of violence seen in 1969 went unrepeated (at least during the marching season). doesn’t mean the marches aren’t crass or designed to be threatening.
the other major, catalyzing event to occur in Derry was the Battle of the Bogside. i know i haven’t explained the nature of Bogside yet, but soon. tomorrow, maybe. for now, we’ll stick to this mural.
in August 1969, tensions were even higher than normal when the Apprentice Boys held their annual march, to commemorate the Protestant victory in the Siege of Derry (again, more on that in a later post). the Catholic community protested the march, confronting the Protestant gathering and ultimately throwing stones and what have you at one another. the police chased the Catholics into the Bogside, where they set up defenses and barricades.
in the mural, over the Rioter’s right shoulder you can see the Rossville Flats, which stood on Rossville Street. in a nutshell, they were shit flats, built to keep Catholics segregated in the Bogside and, because of insane property-owning-electoral laws, served to disenfranchise the Catholic population on a massive scale. during conflict with police, however, it became apparent that it was a pretty good location for launching attacks on police and troops down in the road. too high for their weaponry to reach and affording a good vantage point for lobbing stones and petrol bombs.
the rioting lasted for three days. in the end, British troops were called in to calm the situation; longstanding tensions between the Protestant-dominated Royal Ulster Constabulary meant that those defending Bogside would not let up if it meant letting up on the RUC. the B-Specials were called up to enter the fray, which would certainly only serve to escalate the situation. in comparison to facing down the RUC bolstered by the B-Specials, in late 1969 the British troops were seen as a neutral force, one that didnt’ necessarily have baggage or history with the Bogside community, and who might be reasonable in their policing, at least. as history attests, that attitude didn’t last. by this point, the Bogside was thoroughly mobilized; returning to the status quo, impossible. in fact, the previous month, the community set up the Derry Citizens’ Defence Association, to protect against oppression and aggression from the local police force. following the Battle of the Bogside, the DCDA took over control of the Bogside and, until Operation Motorman three years later, neither local police nor British troops were able to penetrate beyond the Free Derry wall.