'Burntollet' by Bowes Egan and Vincent McCormack
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Text: Bowes Egan and Vincent McCormack ... Page Compiled: Fionnuala McKenna
'For these ends . . . we are marching from Belfast to Derry'
NEXT morning, Major James Chichester-Clark, the man who has since become Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, set out along the route between Gulladuff and Maghera. Twelve hours before, this area had been peopled by an armed mob determined to attack the marchers. Chichester-Clark came to join the same people who were reassembling, in the belief that the People's Democracy might try to pass that way. Later, he wrote to one of the authors:
"I think I should state to you in quite clear terms that I did not agree to join with any person or group of persons to oppose the march in 'any uncertain manner' or indeed in any unlawful manner."But the precise degree of obstruction and resistance that Major Chichester-Clark would have tolerated was not resolved, and it is a matter for speculation whether his personal influence would have been more potent than the collective resolve of the mob. While the Minister and the rioters waited, the marchers set out by car from Brackaghreilly Hall intending to return to Gulladuff and recover their march. Almost immediately the road was blocked by police tenders. District Inspector Hood announced that the march was prohibited from passing through Maghera, apparently exercising the wide discretionary powers given to him by the Public Order Act. After discussion, and a token show of resistance, the marchers decided to proceed to Dungiven and to Claudy, the ultimate destination for that day. Even then, free progress was denied; Hood ordered the marchers off the main road, rerouting them by an obscure mountain roadway.
From there to Dungiven, progress was unimpeded over the bleak and sparsely-populated Glenshane Pass. There were a number of incidents which were not noticed by most marchers. A convoy of cars coming from Maghera collected at a strategic point, perhaps with the intention of making obstruction or attack. These people were recognised by men of the locality, a minor fracas occurred, and the convoy hastily retreated. And, in a press conference, given that afternoon at Stormont, the Rev. Dr. Ian Paisley spoke of the lawlessness of the Civil Rights marchers:
"Today, on the Glenshane Pass, a Protestant was removed by armed thugs from his car and he was told that he had to join the Civil Rights marchers. He refused.Asked for comment on this statement, one of the marchers said:
"I have heard rather divergent accounts of this incident, or perhaps of a number of similar incidents. It is quite clear to me that some Protestant people opposed to the march were attacked by car-loads of so-called Civil Rights supporters. It would be useless and dishonest to make any Pontius Pilate gesture, and say that the march was in no way responsible. Undoubtedly, its progress provided opportunity of paying some old scores based on sectarian quarrels. But I will say, most firmly, that such attitudes were most vigorously condemned and most clearly opposed by People's Democracy marchers, and by all speakers at the meetings held in course of the march."Perhaps one reason for the comparative quiet of the morning walk was that Major Bunting had an engagement elsewhere. Together with Dr. Ian Paisley, he was scheduled to meet the then Minister of Home Affairs, Captain William Long, in Belfast, to discuss the progress of the march, and to make some revelations about its subversive and republican nature. The reception given to the marchers in Dungiven was hospitable and enthusiastic. After lunch, before setting out towards the town of Feeney, Michael Farrell spoke to the townspeople. He set out, in detail, the objectives the People's Democracy and their reasons for setting out on the march:
"You know that the call 'one man, one vote' is a principal slogan of the Civil Rights movement. We demand this because we believe that every adult person should have equal say in the local government of his community, irrespective of his wealth or position. And when we say 'one man, one vote' we mean not only that every adult person must be allowed to vote. We mean each vote should be of equal worth. You all know exactly what that means. In towns and other local areas, the boundaries are so arranged that even if all people had votes, carefully built-in advantages would remain with political groups, which have managed to adjust boundaries to perpetuate their control. So 'one man, one vote' means universal adult suffrage and an immediate reorganisation of local electoral boundaries to give all votes equal weight.That night, Home Affairs Minister, Captain William Long, appeared in a television programme. He told how, during that afternoon, he had held conference with Dr. Paisley and with Major Ronald Bunting. These gentlemen had been most courteous. The meeting had been very congenial and neither had "either threatened or hinted that their followers would cause any trouble in Derry". The Minister of Home Affairs, relieved that militant Protestant leaders had not subjected him to the embarrassment of disclosing their plans in advance, continued by saying that the followers of the Rev. Ian Paisley had been wholly non-violent during the march. This statement brought amazed and outraged response from marchers, and from others who had suffered at the hands of mobs, or who had seen attacks on individuals and destruction of property.
The people of Maghera, surveying the boarded windows of dozens of smashed-up buildings, heard this statement with incredulity. The drivers of cars which had been battered looked at their shattered windscreens, and listened in astonishment. And the Dungannon Civil Rights Association issued a statement which incorporated the sentiments of most observers. The following account was published in the Belfast Telegraph:
"Dungannon Civil Rights committee says it was incredible that a Minister of Home Affairs could sit back and tell millions of viewers that the enemies of the People's Democracy march had not been violent to date, especially in view of the fact that the world had seen on television and in the press how the enemies of this march had wrought havoc on the property of Civil Rights supporters.The statement continued: "Whatever doubts a few faint-hearted might have had about the necessity of this march, Capt. Long most certainly must have dispelled them. His conduct on this programme was in keeping with the partisan conduct of the police along the route when they refused to clear a path for the marchers and allowed cudgel-waving extremists to roam the roads and streets."
The statement added that the People's Democracy members, who had been subject to the vilest resistance along the way by extremists, had proved to the world not only the need for this march but for many, many more marches in the future.
Some marchers, hearing report of this conference between the fanatics and the Minister, took the view that the harassment was now over, that Long must have received firm assurances before issuing so commendatory a statement. But others took a more cynical view: "They have been given full official backing now," said one man from Claudy, "and the police now know exactly whose side the government is on. . . ."
To heighten an impression of unreality, the Rev. Dr. Ian Paisley and Major Ronald Bunting held a press conference at the government buildings, Stormont, and gave their own account of what had been discussed. Asked about his call on loyal citizens to hinder and harry the progress of the march, Bunting replied:
"I have given a request to the Loyal Citizens of Ulster, and thank God they have responded, (pause), I thank you very much indeed, God (pause) to hinder and harry it. And I think they have hindered it, and I think to a certain extent they have harried it. . . ."In seeking precise verbal description of the activities of his followers Major Bunting laid claim to a form of activity that deserves its dictionary definition:
Harry: to strip; to pillage; to harass, to agitate.A journalist went on to suggest that it might have been better, from all points of view, if Bunting and his cohorts had chosen to ignore the march. Readers should understand that there was no element of conscious humour in the Major's retort: "You can't ignore the Devil, brother."
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