Chapter 1: Journey to Derry City
The cold January Irish wind blew up the street as Sean Clarke cupped his hands around his cigarette to light it. Drawing a deep pull of the acrid smoke he inhaled, sucking the welcoming taste and sensation deep into his lungs. He paused and held the smoke in his lungs then slowly exhaled, flavouring very iota of that filter less Sweet Afton. He then took two more pulls in a hastier manner and looked up and down the Main Street of Glenbeg, a small town on the Tyrone and Derry Border nestled in the Sperrin Mountain foothills.
He turned to his young nephew who was standing huddled in the doorway beside him.
“So Stephen how did you get on in Cork” he asked the younger man.
Stephen Maguire who was Sean’s sister’s son, chuckled “Great craic in Cork boy” he replied in his best Cork accent. “They were all asking for you and your Da. Mrs Hearty said to tell you that you and all the boys are in her prayers”.
Sean nodded in agreement “Aye, they are a staunch crowd. How did Jackie and his Yankee contacts make out?”
Stephen replied excitedly “Frigging fantastic Sean, the gear was delivered, all safe and sound with no problems. Only a tight few lads know about it still”.
Stephen automatically glanced warily at the few other people that were gathering across the road, but they were well out of earshot and he knew that none would approach, unless beckoned over by Sean.
“Here’s the thing though Sean.” he continued. “Do you know the way that the Munster lads are fierce anxious to get stuck into the war here in the north? Well Jackie has two of his Cork lads and two of Johnny O’Neill’s lads down from Donegal, training with the sniper rifles. He says that they have first claim on them being used”.
Sean snorted and nearly gagged on the smoke of the fag. ”Fuck sake, that fucking bollix!” he spluttered.
He threw the butt of the cigarette onto the ground, angrily stepped on it and grounded it into the concrete step.
“What about the night vision and listening devices?” he asked, concerned at the potential answer.
“Right” says Stephen “There are four rifles, six night visions and four listening yokes. Two of the listening things are bugs that are left in a room, one that is attached to a jacket and one that you can use to listen to a conversation up to two hundred yards away. All of it straight from US Army Supplies. Top class gear. I stopped in Monaghan last night on the way back and I have all the listening devices and two of the night visions stashed away in our arms dump there.”
Sean had calmed down listening to the report.
He gave a low laugh “That fucking Jackie, he never lost it. Da will love to hear about that stunt.”
Sean paused, thinking for a minute and then said “We can bring the Cork Free Staters up next month and they can let loose a few rounds from the Monaghan side of the border, for a night or two. They shouldn’t get in the way or into trouble and we can get them back home safe and sound. Then we will keep the rifles and everyone will be happy.”
Stephen nodded in agreement “Aye, we can stash them in the local arms dump here in Glenbeg, so that they are handy to us, when we get them up here.”
Sean chuckled “Fucking Jackie Hearty and Johnny O’Neill, they’re a pair of rogues. But sound, I’ll give them that. Johnny’s lads will get plenty of opportunities to use those rifles shooting across the Donegal border, there will be nobody safe in Fermanagh and West Tyrone!”
Stephen joined in laughing “Knowing the Donegal lads, we’ll be lucky to get one shot out of those rifles!”
“Aye, that’s the truth.” said Sean “We better join the others, the bus will be here soon.”
Sean took Stephens arm before they crossed the road, “Listen, you will stick with the young lads and go to the protest in the Bogside, I’m heading to an IRA (Irish Republican Army) Brigade meeting. We are using this rally as a cover.”
Stephen nodded “No bother Sean.” he replied.
Sean continued “Another thing. This is important now. No matter what happens we are under strict orders not to respond to the Brits. The word from the top is that the pigs (Royal Ulster Constabulary-RUC) and Brits are going to try to draw us out into an open gun fight. We can expect that the Brits will riot or worse but we are to have no arms, no shorts (pistols) even, nothing with you or anyone else.”
Stephen gave Sean a fast glance “We never bring pieces (guns) to these protests, Sean. You know that.”
Sean agreed “I know that but these are the orders from above, I’m just passing on them on. So be careful. You and the Volunteers and the rest of the lads will go to the protest and chant and sing your lungs out! We will meet back at the bus afterwards and head home. I’ll fill you and the other Volunteers in on what is said at the meeting after we get home.”
It was getting close to 11:00 o’clock as they quickly crossed the road to the others waiting for the bus. Those waiting acknowledged them with nods of the heads and knowing winks. Stephen called the group together to tell them of the news regarding the threats and the no retaliation order while Sean called his father to one side.
Hugh Clarke was a legend in these parts of Tyrone and South Derry. 6 foot 3 inches tall, broad shoulders and a barrel of a chest. He was the opposite of Sean who, at 35 years of age was 5 foot 9, slim and as wiry as a lightweight boxer with a Jack Russell’s attitude. Hugh was born in 1905 and raised on the glorious history of lost battles and wars for Irish freedom.
He had joined the local Irish Republican Army youth wing, na Fianna Eireann, and fought in the Black and Tan war in 1918. He had fought for the Republican side, in the following counter revolution/civil war in 1923 and has been fighting for a 32 County Republic in every decade since.
Following the defeat of 1956-1962 Border/Resistance Campaign Hugh was dismissed from the Irish Republican Army because he had refused orders from the Army leadership to send the East Tyrone/South Derry Army weapons to the Free Wales Army.
In the meantime, the Civil Rights Movement momentum was building and flourishing. Their simple demands for equal treatment and for a one man, one vote election system fell on fertile ground and activists rushed to join and take part in this Civil Rights Movement, which drew much of its aspiration from the non-violent American Civil Rights Movement.
However, the Unionist Establishments response of this challenge to their Protestant State for a Protestant People, was one of heavy brutal assaults and attacks on the Civil Rights Movement and the Catholic population in general. This violent reaction to the protesters non-violent protests resulted in the people turning to the IRA for protection. With the continuing onslaught and brutalisation from the Government, Hugh reopened the arms dumps in 1970 that he had hidden from his Army leadership and brought them to the beleaguered people in the Bogside in Derry and to Belfast.
With the aid of these weapons the Irish Republican Army were able to defend their communities from the rioting Police and their loyalist allies. Hugh and other like-minded people regrouped under the name of the Provisional Republican Movement while the old leadership became the Official Republican Movement.
Now in 1972, aged 67 and still an army member, he was not officially on the Brigade Staff, although his advice and guidance was still valued by the Army volunteers and he still attended many Army meetings.
Sean quickly updated his Da and while Hugh burst into loud laughter on hearing of Jackie Hearty’s stunt, he was even more delighted to hear of the top class United States Army sniper rifles safe arrival into Ireland.
“Let them have a bit of fun” he told Sean “I think that you are spot on to bring them up for a couple of nights shooting. It will be good publicity for the Army when they go back home to Cork, telling their stories of shooting Brits”
Sean agreed with this valid point and replied “Spot on Da, that’s true and sure it will do no harm, there will be plenty of chances for us to use ’em.”
The bus pulled up and with much jousting and joking everyone got on board and settled into seats for the journey to Derry City. The bus, with its 45 passengers was leaving Glenbeg, a small town of 600 residents on the East Tyrone/South Derry border, to march in support of the Civil Rights and Anti-Internment Protest that day in Derry City.
There was a mixture of people on board the bus, of all ages both male and female. While everyone was in light-hearted spirits, as they were well used to going to protests, locally, in Derry and in Belfast everyone was also aware that the police and loyalists could very well riot and attack them in force again. This was January 1972 and the Government had introduced internment the previous year. The Civil Rights Movement had called for this anti-internment protest and the Northern Ireland government had banned it. The Civil Rights people were determined to proceed with the protest and the people were not backing down.
Their bus, along with buses from all of the areas surrounding Derry, arrived into the Bogside and parked up. Sean and Hugh slipped off to the IRA meeting while the rest of the group headed towards the starting point of the protest.
Before setting out Stephen called the Glenbeg Army Volunteers that had made the trip, together to talk to them
“Remember that the Organisers are expecting trouble. Try to keep the wee ones within sight.” He told them.
Then turning to the three Cumann Na mBan members (the IRA Women’s Auxiliary Branch) he continued “Remember our orders of no retaliation today.”
The girls laughed “Not today maybe” they replied as they turned and headed away to the protest.
Stephen shook his head “Those women are stone mad; God help the coppers that they met.” he thought to himself.
He gave his best mate Barry a poke into the arm “C’mon let’s be heading” he encouraged his pal.
Barry nodded his head, his long blonde hair blowing across his face and whispered “I wish we had brought pieces There’s a bad air here and the pigs are looking fierce aggressive”.
Stephen agreed while looking around him and replied “Let’s try and get as close to the front as we can. There’s where the action will be.”
“C’mon lads” he said pushing the group together “Hurry up and follow the girls to the front.”
As the protesters marched and wound their way through the Bogside, they chanted their Civil Rights chants.
“One Man, One Vote! One Man, One Vote!”
“What do we want? Civil Rights! When do we want it? NOW!”
The local residents were either marching or standing on the pavement alongside the protesters encouraging the marchers. The 30,000 strong peaceful demonstrators were in full voice chanting and waving their banners.
They sang enthusiastically,
“We shall overcome
We shall overcome
The first shots rang out and the confused marchers looked all around trying to figure out who was shooting.
”Look! Look up on the roof” Bernie one of the Cumann Na mBan girls shouted as she grabbed Barry’s arm. She pointed to where a group of British soldiers seemed to be directing the activities of the soldiers on the ground.
The firing continued and now the crowd ducked behind shelter or tried to run back the way they had just marched. The British Paratroopers on the ground, continued to aim and fire into the crowd of marchers. The crowd were screaming and running back up William Street, spilling out onto Glenfada Park and still the Para’s continued to fire.
A wounded man who lay on the ground, was trying to crawl into cover as bullets hit the ground around him. Another man broke from behind cover and ran, waving a white hankie in the air, running towards the wounded man. More shots rang out and the man with the hankie crumbled into a heap on the ground, not moving. More bullets had hit the wounded man and he too stopped trying to crawl. The smell of gun smoke was in the air. The paratroopers were now firing from several different locations.
Stephen led his group, running into an area behind a building, giving them some respite from the murderous shooting from the British soldiers.
“Is everyone ok?” he yelled over the frantic screaming and gunshots.
Barry and Bernie gave a quick head count.
“All here, thank God” Bernie shouted back.
Stephen looked around sizing up the situation, they had run for several hundred yards and their group were now cowering, with scores of others, hoping to stay out of the gun sights of the Para’s rifles.
“Best stay here for a few minutes to suss out what’s happening, the bastards are shooting at everyone that moves out on the streets” he advised the group.
He put his arms around his younger brother Dáithí, aged 15 and his 11 year old cousin Rory, while Bernie protectively hugged Rory’s 12 year old sister Áine. The others huddled into different groups trying to get behind as much cover as possible while the shooting still rang out.
Meanwhile the Brigade meeting was in full flow with much enthusiastic ideas and suggestions. It had been agreed that the Army battalions and companies outside of the city would need to become more active, to help relieve the pressure on both the Derry and Belfast battalions and Brigades.
However, the general belief in the room was that while the IRA goal of “Brits Out” was accepted by the majority of nationalist, the killing of anyone, British soldier or not still was not acceptable.
Suddenly the veteran, and comrade of Hugh’s, John Keane from Derry City stood up and said urgently
“Ciúnas agus éistigí” (“Quiet and listen”).
The room turned silent.
They ran to the windows crowding around them to try to look out. The gunshots still continued.
“Look” Liam from the Derry battalion pointed up the street.
The marchers that had been at the rear of the march and protest were running frantically up the street. People were tripping and stumbling, with others scrambling to either help them up or to continue to run, jumping over and past them. The IRA men ran down the stairs of the safe house as their look outs came running towards them, shouting that the Brits were shooting at the demonstrators. They stood there, grabbing people to try and find out what was happening at the front of the protest. Without guns, they moved cautiously down the street walking against the retreating crowd. The firing continued as the fleeing marchers thinned out and Sean and the others could see groups of people hiding behind walls, buildings and any shelter that they could get.
The firing slowed and then died, to be replaced by the wail of sirens from ambulances rushing to the scene. British soldiers now stood on edge, with guns ready as the people slowly emerged from hiding, some rushing to fallen victims, others continuing their flight away from the killing zone.
Stephen cautiously led his group back to the start of the march towards the buses. They were all in shock with the younger kids, some crying with fright and fear, clinging to the older people. Stephen, Barry, Bernie and the other adults surrounded the children to try and offer some protection in case the British soldier started shooting at them again, as they walked fearfully away from the smell of death and gun smoke.