50 years ago: PD March

Civil Rights Movement

One knows one is ageing fast when yesterday’s happenings are surreal, like a dream, quickly forgotten, yet events of 50 years ago shine brightly in one’s memory.

Today’s Irish News, ON THIS DAY column, recounts the events surrounding a Peoples Democracy protest in Armagh City on July 11 1969.  Despite the detail below, I remember it for two reasons :

 1. This was my first direct confrontation with the extremism and bitterness of loyalism, led of course by the great Satan himself, Ian Paisley – and I was shocked and very scared, knowing that these counter-demonstrators would like nothing better than to attack and severely injure – if not kill – us, for demanding One Man One Vote and equal rights and treatment.  There was no doubt whatsoever that the police – RUC – were on their side and, but for the TV cameras, would also like such a result.

2.  One of our number, my school colleague and friend from Derrybeg Estate Newry, Gerry Ruddy, was accompanied by a young Queens student, Briege, from The Bone, Ardoyne, North Belfast, and the two were inseparable and very much in love.  As always, the human story was more meaningful to me. 

I am happy to report that they married soon after, reared a family and are together to this day.  Briege was a lovely girl, is a fine lady and occasionally makes the headlines this time of year, representing the interests of the much beleaguered residents of the Holy Land.  Anyway, the story from the newspaper follows …

Four members of Armagh Civil Rights Committee, including Senator Garry Lennon, leader of the Nationalist Party in the Senate, staged an all-night sit-in at Armagh City Hall.

This followed clashes in the streets between members of Peoples Democracy and the police.  About 200 PD supporters staged an impromptu march. 

When they reached the top of Scotch Street, which leads to a Protestant area (sic!) they were confronted by 30 policemen And three Land Rovers. 

Scuffles broke out and stones and bottles were thrown. 

Two PD members were reported to have been slightly injured.

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