Burntollet Bridge incident

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Burntollet Bridge was the setting for an attack during the first stages of the Troubles of Northern Ireland.[1] A People's Democracy march from Belfast to Derry was attacked whilst passing through Burntollet on 4 January 1969.

The march had been called in defiance of an appeal by Northern Ireland Prime Minister Terence O'Neill for a temporary end to protest; older and less radical members of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association also opposed the march as provocative and likely to cause violence.[citation needed] Supporters of Ian Paisley, led by Major Ronald Bunting, denounced the march as seditious and mounted counter-demonstrations along the route.[2]

At Burntollet an Ulster loyalist crowd, including 100 off-duty members of the Ulster Special Constabulary (all of the organisers of the attack were USC), numbering in the region of 300,[3][4][5][6][5][7][8] attacked the civil rights marchers from adjacent high ground. Stones transorted in bulk from William Leslie's quarry at Legahurry were used in the assault,[9] as well as iron bars and sticks spiked with nails. Nearby members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary did little to prevent the violence.[10][11] Many of the marchers described their assailants' lack of concern about the police presence. Numerous photographs of the violence appeared in the media and led to comparisons with attacks on black civil rights marchers by Southern white racists in the US.[citation needed]

The violence was followed by renewed riots in Derry City, while many Ulster Catholics were antagonised when O'Neill and other unionist politicians issued statements blaming the marchers for the violence, and again when the attackers largely evaded prosecution. Loyalists celebrated the attack as a victory. Many Irish nationalists and radicals saw the march as proving that the Northern Ireland polity could not be reformed by peaceful means, while others (including some former participants) later felt that the march had been an irresponsible gesture which helped to precipitate the Troubles by undermining attempts at cross-community compromise.[citation needed] The ambush at Burntollet was described by Paul Bew, an academic at Queen's University Belfast who as a student had participated in the march, as "the spark that lit the prairie fire".[12]


  1. ^ http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2001/oct/27/northernireland.northernireland and http://www.discovernorthernireland.com/downloads/DVCBHeritageTrail.pdf
  2. ^ "RTÉ Archives". rte.ie. Retrieved 2014-10-24. 
  3. ^ Joe McAllister. "History – Burntollet". museumoffreederry.org. Retrieved 2014-10-24. 
  4. ^ Northern Protestants, pg. 315, Susan McKay
  5. ^ a b "CAIN: Chronology of the Conflict 1969". cain.ulst.ac.uk. Retrieved 2014-10-24. 
  6. ^ McEvoy, J. (2008). The Politics of Northern Ireland. Edinburgh University Press. p. 34. ISBN 9780748625017. Retrieved 2014-10-24. 
  7. ^ "CAIN: Events; People's Democracy March, 1-4 January 1969 - Summary". cain.ulst.ac.uk. Retrieved 2014-10-24. 
  8. ^ Dillon, M. (2013). Stone Cold: The True Story of Michael Stone and the Milltown Massacre. Random House. ISBN 9781448185139. Retrieved 2014-10-24. 
  9. ^ Dr Martin Melaugh. "CAIN: Events: People's Democracy March: Egan, Bowes. and McCormack, Vincent. 'Burntollet'". cain.ulst.ac.uk. Retrieved 2014-10-24. 
  10. ^ http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/events/pdmarch/sum.htm and http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/events/pdmarch/egan7.htm#attack
  11. ^ "History Ireland". historyireland.com. Retrieved 2014-10-24. 
  12. ^ http://modoherty.wordpress.com/2008/08/08/lord-bew-on-burntollet/ Journalist Malachai O'Doherty interprets this statement as meaning the clash that started the Northern Ireland Troubles.