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The People's Democracy March - Chronology of Main Events

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Page Compiled: Martin Melaugh
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Chronology of main events surrounding the People's Democracy March from Belfast to Derry


Saturday 5 October 1968
Start date of the current 'Troubles'
A civil rights march in Derry, which had been organised by members of the Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) and supported by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), was stopped by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) before it had properly begun. The marchers had proposed to walk from Duke Street in the Waterside area of Derry to the Diamond in the centre of the City. Present at the march were three British Labour Party Members of Parliament (MP), Gerry Fitt, then Republican Labour MP, several Stormont MPs, and members of the media including a television crew from RTE. Estimates of the number of people taking part in the march differ. Eamonn McCann (one of the organisers of the march) estimated that about 400 people lined up on the street with a further 200 watching from the pavements. The RUC broke-up the march by baton-charging the crowd and leaving many people injured including a number of MPs. The incidents were filmed and there was world-wide television coverage. The incidents in Derry had a profound effect on many people around the world but particularly on the Catholic population of Northern Ireland. Immediately after the march there were two days of serious rioting in Derry between the Catholic residents of the city and the RUC.

Wednesday 9 October 1968
2,000 students from the Queen's University of Belfast (QUB) tried to march to Belfast City Hall to protest against 'police brutality' on the 5 October 1968 in Derry. The marched was blocked by a counter demonstration led by Ian Paisley. A three-hour sit-down demonstration followed the blocking of the march. [Following the events of the day the People's Democracy (PD) organisation was formed. PD became an important force in the civil rights movement and a number of those who were leading members in the organisation, for example Bernadette Devlin and Michael Farrell, became prominent political activists.]
The Derry Citizen's Action Committee (DCAC) was formed from five protest organisations which had been active in the city. Ivan Cooper was the first chairman and John Hume the first vice-chairman of the DCAC.

Wednesday 16 October 1968
The People's Democracy (PD) organised a march of 1,300 students from the Queen's University of Belfast to the City Hall in the centre of the city.

Thursday 24 October 1968
The People's Democracy (PD) organised a protest demonstration at Stormont Parliament buildings, Belfast. (?)

Sunday 17 November 1968
A policy of civil disobedience was adopted by the Nationalist Party at its annual conference.

Friday 22 November 1968
Terence O'Neill, then Northern Ireland Prime Minister, announced a package of reform measures which had resulted from meetings in London with Harold Wilson, then British Prime Minister, and James Callaghan, then British Home Secretary. The five point reform plan included:

  • a nine member 'Development Commission' to take over the powers of the Londonderry Corporation;
  • an ombudsman to investigate complaints against government departments;
  • the allocation of houses by local authorities to be based on need;
  • the Special Powers Act to be abolished as it was safe to do so; and
  • some reform of the local government franchise (the end of the company votes).

Friday 20 December 1968
The People's Democracy (PD) announced that its members would undertake a protest march from Belfast to Derry beginning on 1 January 1969.


January 1969

Wednesday 1 January 1969
Approximately 40 members of People's Democracy (PD) began a four-day march from Belfast across Northern Ireland to Derry. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) and some nationalists in Derry had advised against the march. The march was modelled on Martin Luther King's Selma to Montgomery march. The first day involved a walk from Belfast to Antrim. [Over the next four days the number of people on the march grew to a few hundred. The march was confronted and attacked by Loyalist crowds on a number of occasions the most serious attack occurring on 4 January 1969.]

Thursday 2 January 1969
The People's Democracy (PD) march continued, on day two, from Antrim to Maghera.

Friday 3 January 1969
The third day of the People's Democracy (PD) march took it from Maghera to Claudy.

Saturday 4 January 1969
The fourth, and final, day of the People's Democracy (PD) march took the marchers from Claudy to Derry. Seven miles from its destination, the People's Democracy (PD) march was ambushed and attacked by a loyalist mob at Burntollet Bridge. The ambush had been planned in advance and around 200 loyalists, including off-duty members of the 'B-Specials', used sticks, iron bars, bottles and stones to attack the marchers, 13 of whom received hospital treatment. The marchers believed that the 80 Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers, who accompanied the march, did little to protect them from the Loyalist crowd. As the march entered Derry it was again attacked at Irish Street, a mainly Protestant area of the city. Finally the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) broke up the rally that was held in the centre of the city as the march arrived. This action, and the subsequent entry of the RUC into the Bogside area of the city, led to serious rioting.

Sunday 5 January 1969
Terence O'Neill, then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, issued a statement on the events since 1 January 1969.

Saturday 11 January 1969
There was rioting in a number of areas of Northern Ireland particularly in Derry and Newry.

Wednesday 15 January 1969
Terence O'Neill, then Northern Ireland Prime Minister, announced the setting up of an official inquiry into the disturbances in Derry and elsewhere. The inquiry, under the chairmanship of Lord Cameron, a Scottish judge, was to look into the causes of the civil unrest.


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