Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Battle of the Bogside begins

Still sorting brain out from last night, so here's a bit I've been working on for POS instead of any more whining on my part.

It's 12 August 1969 and Brendan is 13. Every year, the Protestant Orange Order and Apprentice Boys would hold a loud, in-your-face parade to commemorated the Protestant victory in the Siege of Derry in 1689. To use a comment from Wikipedia, "Derry activist Eamonn McCann wrote that the march, 'was regarded as a calculated insult to the Derry Catholics'." It was stupid on the Protestant's part to hold it, but stupidity is usually the main force behind blind stubbornness.

You always hear the drums first. They echo through the whole town, even from across the Foyle. Then come the fifes. Then you see the banners and flags held high and proud and then you see the Apprentice Boys -- ugly men in their dark, plain, too-pressed suits, most sporting bowlers atop their heads and brightly fringed sashes crossing their breasts, marching along in a manner that confused military precision with a Sunday stroll in the park. Many even brought umbrellas to add to the “casual” attitude they tried so hard to show. Constables would be everywhere keeping an eye on the rabble surrounding the marching zone, rabble who usually let the bastards pass with little more than an exchange of words. But this time, what with all the happenings of the past year -- this time their passage would not be smooth. And they bloody well knew it and made sure double the number of constables were about.

Oh, they jaunted, still, but with wary eyes darting about and movements that were jerky and fearful. Constantly so. They held their heads high, of course, but there was such a tension to it, I thought a few of them would snap their necks if touched wrong. It was almost pathetic, how intent they were on showing us Papists they’d not be intimidated, even after near ten months of constant back and forth.

Now I wasn’t on Waterloo to heckle them, this year. Something about the attitudes of people and the words whispered about made me think this would not be the usual march, and I’d wanted to return a radio to McClatchy’s and be paid before it began. I only barely made it, the rumble of the drums beginning just as I handed it over to the Mrs..

I’d have been done and out except she insisted on checking every channel on the radio to make sure I’d truly fixed it, as if I’d never done good work for them before. Normally I shrugged this low-level insult off, but this time I watched her do it, more than a little put out. And she noticed because she then said, “Good job, as always,” as she handed me two sovereigns, thinking that would lessen the fact that she didn’t trust me. So right then I decided to let her have Tully Gorman fix her next appliance that needed it and find out how much he charged for half the quality as me.

So with that taking twice as long as needed, back I was headed when I was caught up in the crowd on Waterloo behind police barricades and the march came down the street. And I made little effort to shift away from it all. After what had happened to Eamonn and Terry and the forced politeness I was being handed by people I’d been doing work for since I could first hold a set of pliers, I felt an anger pour into my heart and an unwillingness to just send words the way of those bastards, this year.

So the jeers began, from both sides, and I felt the hair on my neck begin to rise because I could sense the fury building around me and it fed into me, and the constables who were there sensed it, as well. Scuffles broke out as constables went to beat the Catholics who’d dared breached this public insult against order. And they swung their batons and hit some lads and the crowd swore horrible things at them and stones flew across at the RUC. I’m not ashamed to say that some of them came from my hand.

And I mean it as truth -- I’d never thought to join in truly striking back against the bloody Proddies before this; but suddenly I was joining in like it’s a part of my nature. This one fat bastard struck a lad across the back a few times with his baton so I lugged a stone at him. Hit him in his fat arse, meaning for sure I didn’t hurt him, but he swung around and roared like a bull that’s about to have a run at you and I danced back. Others in the crowd backed up, too. So I looked about and saw the RUC was charging the crowd, sticks waving in the air.

It’s like we flowed up Waterloo back to the Bogside, grabbing stones and anything else we could find to toss. The so-called “redevelopment” had left us plenty to work with and we made full use of it. Older lads raced to the front of me and let fly with a thunderstorm of stones, and I caught a glimpse of Eamonn with them. I called out to him but the clattering of the stones raining down drowned out my voice.

Another lad grabbed me and said, “Stay to the back of us. Build up piles of stones for us to use.”

“I can throw as well as -- .”

“You can’t throw as far as us. Help us keep ‘em out of the Bogside!”

He was right, so I yanked off my coat and ran to a nearby lot and piled as many stones and bricks and bits of metal as I could carry in it then ran it back to where other lads were making piles, and saw Colm and Paidrig with them.

“Hey, me Chinas!” I cried to them. They looked around, grinning like madmen. “Is Danny about?”

“Tossing stones,” Colm yelled back.

That was perfect. Danny had the best arm of anyone in the Bogside and an aim that was dead on. It was good the anger in him was being put to use.

People were running about, now. Some came to help. Some scurried home. Some dragged off their young wains to be out of harm’s way. I knew Mam and Mairead were with Rhuari, Caera and Kieran so had no fear of that for them. But the rushing about seemed like chaos -- or it must have seemed so to the constables since they came roaring in, again, arrogant in the certainty they were dealing with cowards and fools simply because they were chasing a few lads...only to find themselves met by yet another hail of stones and bricks from some of our side lying in ambush.

During this phase, I tossed a few, myself, and we were answered with constables suddenly scurrying back and helping mates away who’d been hurt and acting like sheep caught in a storm even as they began tossing some of the stones right back at us. I laughed at the sight of it, because it meant for once the bloody bastards were outgunned, and a thrill ran down me from head to toe and I screamed to heavens with joy. For the first time, we were making them run and not the other way around.

It went on for three days and the only reason London finally sent in troops was because the Irish Republic was hinting they'd send in the army if need be (though neither side will admit to this). To learn more about it, check out since this is a pretty good explanation of the time and anger being felt by all.


Brad Rushing said...

I can't wait to read this book. Each installment is so interesting. Your characters are - as always - so real I feel I could meet them.

Thanks for sharing these two latest excerpts.

JamTheCat said...

Thanks, Brad. Your opinion is one I most treasure.