Burntollet Bridge incident

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Burntollet Bridge ambush
Part of the Troubles
Date4 January 1969
Burntollet, Derry, Northern Ireland

54°59′52″N 7°19′38″W / 54.99778°N 7.32722°W / 54.99778; -7.32722Coordinates: 54°59′52″N 7°19′38″W / 54.99778°N 7.32722°W / 54.99778; -7.32722
MethodsProtesting & Marching
Mob ambush
Resulted in
  • People's Democracy march ambushed by Loyalists
Parties to the civil conflict
People's Democracy & local protesters
Lead figures
At least 100 injured
small amount of injuries

Burntollet Bridge was the setting for an attack during the first stages of the Troubles of Northern Ireland.[1][2] 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. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and some Derry nationalists had advised against it.[3] Supporters of Ian Paisley, led by Major Ronald Bunting, denounced the march as seditious and mounted counter-demonstrations along the route.[4]

At Burntollet an Ulster loyalist crowd numbering in the region of 300, including 100 off-duty members of the Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), attacked the civil rights marchers from adjacent high ground.[5][6][7][8][7][9][10] Stones transported in bulk from William Leslie's quarry at Legahurry were used in the assault,[11] as well as iron bars and sticks spiked with nails. Nearby members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) did little to prevent the violence.[9][11][12] Many of the marchers described their assailants' lack of concern about the police presence.

The violence was followed by renewed riots in Derry City.[13] Terence O'Neill described the march as "a foolhardy and irresponsible undertaking" and said that some of the marchers and their supporters in Derry were "mere hooligans", outraging many, especially as the attackers had evaded prosecution.[14] Loyalists celebrated the attack as a victory over Catholic "rebels".[15]

The ambush at Burntollet irreparably damaged the credibility of the RUC.[16] Professor Lord Bew, an academic at Queen's University Belfast who as a student had participated in the march, described it as "the spark that lit the prairie fire" (i.e. led to the Troubles).[17]


  1. ^ Rosie Cowan and Nicholas Watt, End in sight after long march, The Guardian, 27 October 2001
  2. ^ Derry, the Walled City Archived 2007-10-26 at the Wayback Machine., Discover Northern Ireland, p. 7
  3. ^ Melaugh, Martin. "The People's Democracy March - Chronology of Main Events". CAIN. University of Ulster. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  4. ^ "RTÉ Archives". rte.ie. Retrieved 2014-10-24.
  5. ^ Joe McAllister. "History – Burntollet". museumoffreederry.org. Archived from the original on 2015-05-01. Retrieved 2014-10-24.
  6. ^ Susan McKay, Northern Protestants: An Unsettled People, Blackstaff Press, 2000, p. 315
  7. ^ a b Melaugh, Martin. "A Chronology of the Conflict 1969". CAIN. Retrieved 2014-10-24.
  8. ^ McEvoy, J. (2008). The Politics of Northern Ireland. Edinburgh University Press. p. 34. ISBN 9780748625017. Retrieved 2014-10-24.
  9. ^ a b "The People's Democracy March - Summary of Main Events". CAIN. Retrieved 2014-10-24.
  10. ^ Dillon, M. (2013). Stone Cold: The True Story of Michael Stone and the Milltown Massacre. Random House. ISBN 9781448185139. Retrieved 2014-10-24.
  11. ^ a b Egan, Bowes; McCormack, Vincent. "Burntollet: The Attack". CAIN. Retrieved 2014-10-24.
  12. ^ McCormack, Vincent. "Route '68: to Burntollet and back". History Ireland. Retrieved 2015-05-01.
  13. ^ "Civil Rights Rioting in Northern Ireland Leaves 117 Injured" (PDF). The New York Times. New York. April 19, 1969. Retrieved June 15, 2015.
  14. ^ Egan, Bowes; McCormack, Vincent. "Burntollet: Some Consequences". CAIN. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  15. ^ Moloney, Ed; Pollock, Andrew (1986). Paisley. Dublin: Poolbeg. p. 168. ISBN 0905169751. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  16. ^ Hayes, Mark; Norris, Paul. "Policing after the Peace Process in Northern Ireland: The Continuing Dialectics Of State Coercion And Popular Consent". The Pensive Quill. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  17. ^ Malachi O'Doherty, Lord Bew on Burntollet, Malachaiodoherty.com