Background Friday 26 June 1970: Bernadette Devlin MP, was jailed for 6 months for riotous behaviour during the ‘Battle of the Bogside’. Rioting in Derry/Londonderry spread to Belfast
Saturday 27 June 1970: Rioting in Belfast involving Protestants and Catholics. Catholic Short Strand enclave of east Belfast attacked by Loyalist rioters. Members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) took up sniping positions in the grounds of St Matthew’s Catholic Church and engaged in a prolonged gun battle with the Loyalists.
5/7 people killed in Belfast were Protestants who were shot by the IRA.
Sunday 28 June 1970: Protestant employees at the Harland and Wolff shipyard forced about 500 Catholic workers to leave their work and lose their jobs. Serious rioting continued in Belfast.
Friday 3 July 1970: Falls Road Curfew
About 4.30pm, a convoy of a police car and light trucks containing soldiers pulled up outside the house. After finding arms. the soldiers began to move off, driving into Raglan Street. A couple of youths threw stones at the retreating soldiers. The soldiers replied with continued use CS Gas which aggravated the people.
A house to house survey some weeks after the Curfew recorded the following type of complaints: “There was no getting away from it, even into the house.” “gas affected baby of two weeks just out of hospital – ill”; “gas affected man of seventy nine – eyes, throat and loss of power in legs”; “serious effect of gas on children” “gas nearly killed me”; “eyes are weak and I am very afraid of going blind”; “asthmatic woman affected by gas” “food damaged by gas”; “two old ladies living on their own and fainting with gas through broken windows”.
7.18pm, Major General Dyball ordered his troops “to effect the security of the area and prevent movement in or out”. In other words“surround the Lower Falls and trap the population within”
Journalist Simon Winchester :
“No-one could escape the terror. Bullets whined around like furious bluebottles;the gas seeped everywhere. The shouts and screams of panic, especially from the children and the older women, were awful. Nothing seemed able to stop the nightmare, as it went on, screeching and crying and whining and belching its terror out into the fast-growing dusk”.
10pm The area was placed under a legal (?) curfew by the British Army. It lasted for 34 hours with movement of people heavily restricted. 3,000 troops, supported by armoured cars and helicopters, surrounded this small area and began to force their way into it
Four people were killed. Mr Charles O’Neill , a former RAF man, was deliberately run over by an Army vehicle. Women and children were evacuated.
July 9th British army intelligence summary: “By morning the operation was completed, the entire area was sealed off and the inhabitants confined to their houses by military order while an organised search for weapons began”
In the words of one British NCO “ I knew full well that a lot of the lads were taking this opportunity to vent their anger over things already done. Heads were being cracked and houses trashed from top to bottom… out of the blur, little sharp details still cut through: school photos;smiley family pictures (cracked); trinkets and crucifixes (snapped); kids crying; crunching on the glass of the Pope’s picture … This is when I did feel like we’d invaded.”
The manner in which the searches were conducted broke any remaining goodwill between the Catholic community and the British Army.
Saturday 4 July 1970 The Falls Road curfew continued throughout the day
5.00 pm A British Army officer announced by loudspeaker that people could come out for one hour to secure vital supplies . There were scuffles between British soldiers and locals during that hour and even children did not escape the brutality. An eight-year-old boy had his head split open by a British army baton and was then refused permission to be taken out of the area for badly needed medical attention. Saturday night was a nightmare for the people as drunken British soldiers roamed the streets shouting abuse at them.
337 people (possibly all male) were arrested, and 119 were later charged, though many were acquitted.
Sunday 5 July 1970 People were assaulted and subjected to vile sectarian abuse as they attempted to make their way to Mass and were forced back into their homes.
9.00 am Women break the curfew Thousands of women, many pushing prams loaded with bread, milk and eggs swept barriers aside, overwhelming British soldiers and their machine-gun posts, forcing British Army commanders to order their men back to barracks.
The IRA took out around 15 pramloads of weapons in an operation involving around two dozen women [It was later reported that two Unionist ministers, William Long and John Brooke, had been driven through the area in British Army vehicles.]
A sense of achievement
Andrew Walsh believes the curfew was illegal.
“In my opinion when it happened, the British government realised that Gen. [Ian] Freeman, who was in overall control of the army in Northern Ireland at the time, had overreacted. He’d overreacted to the situation, called a curfew without getting prior permission to do it, and when they were faced with that, they tried to bury it as quick as possible.”
In the British parliament questions were raised about the legality of the Fals Curfew, with many prominent MPs debating the issue.
The Irish government also expressed disdain for what they felt was a dubious decision. However, the ‘curfew’ was subsequently declared legal by a Belfast magistrate, under ‘Common Law’.
There has never been an independent inquest into what occurred.
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