Was the August pogrom planned?

  • 1 October 1969
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BELFAST has had many organised pogroms bcfore August 1969 whose main aim has been to dispossess Catholics of their houses and jobs and to intimidate them to a point which will encourage emigration. The political advantages of a successful pogrom are obvious, one of the main fears of Protestants being the Catholic birthrate. Of course there are other political advantages for those who rally the people from the street corners by organising campaigns of looting, burning and intimidation. These local, small-time, shopkeeper politicians-such a one is John McKeague, chairman of the Shankill Defence Committee and owner of a pet-shop-gain much popular support by distributing among their minions the houses and jobs wrested from the Catholics.

However the most important advantage to be gained from successful pogroms in the past has been the strengthening of the Unionist hegemony by the regeneration of the feuds upon which it is based. In previous pogroms there has never been any question of a split within the Unionist camp such as now exists. The ascendancy who have always ruled the party and who have agreed to concede reforms as the only realistic way of remaining in power, are viciously opposed by two powerful factions. These are the careerists and opportunists, such as Faulkner, on the one hand, and the solid block of right-wing anti-reformists, such as Craig, on the other. The so-called moderates have been strengthened by the North's reliance on British subsidy and foreign . capital, which demand at least the semblances of moderation and harmony in the province. This demand is further reinforced by the presence of a Labour government in Britain which, unlike many of its Conservative predecessors, cannot be seen to tolerate the bashing of rebellious Fenians.
Whereas the pogroms of 1922, 1935 and 1949 helped and sustained the  Unionist Party and its aris.tocratic leadership, the recent campaign of terror has, ironically, weakened the party and precipitated the overthrow of the ascendancy. While the " moderates" remain the only faction that will satisfy Westminster, popular support, which now sees them as Lundies of the lowest order, has swung behind the right-wing within the party and the fascist rabble-rousers without. Local overlords have never had it so good.

History of Pogroms
In the nineteenth century Belfast suffered from the same kind of vicious, sectarian rioting which characterised most of the new industrial cities of Great Britain. Since 1886, howevcr, this rioting has become political in function if not in content, and Belfast has remained since then a city admirably suited for pogroms. Unionist gerrymandering has kept the old electoral areas stable so that Belfast does not have the huge working-class housing estates that usually surround a city of its size. The few housing estates that were built were tagged on to "safe" areas so that they would not upset the political balance.Thus a predominantly Catholic housing estate built in the Ardoyne area was situated right beside a traditionally Catholic area which includes Hooker Street, Herbert Street and an extensive part of the Crumlin Road.

In the centre of the city old working class areas, which would have been knocked down ages ago in any other city, still stand. These contain ghettoes of different denominations situated unnervingly near each other and retain vivid memories of earlier sectarian rioting. Thus the Shankill Road area runs parallel to the Divis Street/Falls Road arca and Duncairn Gardens parallels New Lodge Road. These hot-beds of enmity are broken only by shops and public houses which are often the first targets, while peripheral streets such as Dover Street, Townsend Street and Percy Street constitute the main battlegrounds for the mob fighting. Successivc generations of pogroms serve to solidify the already existing sectarian divisions.

August pogroms carefully planned?
The pattern of the August rioting in Belfast points to the possibility that there were in fact carefully drawn up plans for a political pogrom. Earlier this year the city was comparatively peaceful. During a troubled period in April, the hand of the U.V.F. was seen by many observers in the destruction of the Kilkeel pipelines which provide Belfast with its water supply. These were destroyed in the heart of militant Paisleyite territory where no Catholic body, least of all the I.R.A., could have found cover or have avoided the police road blocks which were immediately erected. Besides, the I.R.A., which in recent years has always claimed responsibility for its exploits, denied that they were responsible.

The evidence pointed to a co-ordinated effort by Protestant extremists. A possible plan might have been to raise tempers in Belfast by creating an atmosphere of suspicion reminiscent of the border campaign era, and, by depriving the city of its water supply, to pave the way for the uncontrollable burning of Catholic areas.

If this was the plan it did not work, possibly for two reasons. Firstly the co-ordination between the rural Paisleyites, who presumably blew up the pipe-lines, and their urban counterparts may not have been adequate. Secondly, the people of Belfast had not been riled or terrified by previous incidents to a pitch which would allow them be led on an invasion of Catholic areas.

In the Belfast rioting which broke our at the beginning of August there was little evidence of organisation. On August 2nd a rumour spread that the Catholic inhabitants of Unity Walk Flats had stoned a Junior Orange Parade. The mob that instantly descended on the buildings found itself in open confrontation with the RUC who were attempting to give some protection to the flats. When the occupants came to the assistance of the police they found themselves at the receiving end of a vicious baton charge which penetrated the courtyards of the flats. Meanwhile a large Protestant mob took advantage of the preoccupation of the police by setting off along the Shankill Road on a rampage of looting.

The charge that the whole thing had begun by the stoning of an Orange Parade was later denied by the head of the parade himself. The geographical position of Unity Walk Flats, which are perched at the end of the Shankill Road and are totally defenceless, makes it more likely that trouble began with some of the callous rumour-mongering which characterises Belfast. The subsequent unco-ordinated behaviour of the RUC especially in the Ardoyne area did little to help an already explosive situation.

When a crowd of about a thousand assembled later that night in the predominantly Protestant Disraeli Street facing across the Crumlin Road into Hooker Street, the police, despite massive provocation, simply formed a human chain in an abortive effort to hold them back. They showed less restraint in dealing with the Hooker Street mob whom they attacked viciously with considerable help from Disraeli Street. The most serious casualty of this attack was an eighteen-year-old Neil Summers of Dunblayne Avenue who sustained injuries leading to amputation as result of being mowed down by a land-rover which then backed over him.

Later on that night fighting broke out in Disraeli Street between Protestants and the RUC. This prompted John McKeague to tell Major Chichester-Clark, in " an informative meeting" between the Prime Minister, Major Bunting and the Chairman of the Shankill Defence Association, that although he considered the ordinary RUC to be a great force the Riot Squad had" ten black sheep to everyone white sheep."

The complete absence of a strictly co-ordinated fascist plan was revealed during the day by the reaction of the Protestant leaders to the looting of Protestant shops on the Shankill Road. Major Bunting and Ian Paisley had disagreed bitterly with John McKeague who supported the looting. McKeague clearly saw that it would consolidate the militancy of the area, while Paisley and Bunting saw that it would hinder the fundamental aims of the Protestant right-wing in the province as a whole. At 2 a.m. McKeague showed the extent of his support in the area by persuading about 900 Protestants out of a crowd of a thousand to go home, shortly before they had stoned and boohed Bunting when he appealed to them by raising his hands in the air and pleading" in the name of God stop this and go home."

Split between McKeague and Paisley
The split between the militant, lumpen working-class mob element and the more political Protestant extremists representing the petty-bourgeoisie emerged fully two days later when Paisley issued a statement on behalf of the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee and the Ulster Protestant Volunteers, stating "that the Shankill Defence Association is in no way connected with them and John McKeague, Chairman, in no way represents either the views or politics of the movement." This statement (which establishes a clear connection between the U.C.D.C. and the U.P.V. or U.V.F.), shows that the' looting and rioting had been to a large extent spontaneous. This was not the case later in the month when prior organisation prevented such a split.
If at this stage the rioting appeared spontaneous there immediately appeared signs that organisation for a pogrom was beginning in earnest.
Catholics of Hooker Street had been very badly attacked. Few houses were left with windows intact. The people had been sufficiently frightened to send the children away for the first week in August. A public-house at the end of the road and a bookmakers on the Crumlin Road opposite Hooker Street had been burnt down. The R.U.C. had shown that they were capable of behaving as viciously East of the Bann as West of it. It was in this tense atmosphere that small time terrorisation against Protestants in Hooker Street began.

Skinny Lizzy burnt out
Most of the early terrorisation was drunken bloody-mindedness consisting mainly of throwing stones through windows. The Protestants believed that this was escalated by two militant Catholic families, the Faulkners and the McGuinnesses, who had only recently moved into the area. At the same time a well known Protestant lady, Elizabeth Gilmore, locally known as "Skinny Lizzie," was burnt out of her house at the corner of Hooker Street and Chatham Street. She had flown a Union Jack from her parlour window since July 12 and had been threatened before the beginning of August. This had prompted her to declare to a press gathering" they will have to burn me out bcfore I leave. No surrender."

They burnt her out and she surrendered. The Protestants in Hooker Street, in all seventeen families, moved out between the third and the tenth of August. One of these was the Beatty family of 35 Hooker Street. Mrs. Beatty, whose husband and daughter are both suffering from the after-effects of serious opcrations, told us that she and her family had been increasingly terrorised by the local population. Stones were thrown through her front window and a person had to be restrained from throwing a petrol bomb through her front window, but she received no specific or organised threat. Nevertheless, after a number of sleepless nights, listening to cat-calls and threatening sounds from the street Mrs. Beatty petitioned her Protestant friends to arrange a swop with a Catholic family in the Disraeli Street area.

About the same time a Mr. J. Kelly whom we intcrviewed and who lived in 39 Palmer Streer was visited by a mob led by John McKeague claiming that two I.R.A. men were known to be hiding in the house. This was an inaccurate description of Kelly's brother and a Protestant friend who were visiting him at the time. The R.U.C. later advised Kelly to do what he was told because" in this area what McKeague says goes." McKeague visited Kelly in his house a second time and advised him to get out. An easy swop was arranged with the Beatty family of Hooker Street.

An interesting factor in this case was that the Hooker Street house was a rented one while the Palmer Street house was Kelly's own. At the moment the Kelly's live in a rented house un certain as whether or not the landlord intends to sell.Meanwhile Kelly's solicitor advises him not to take legal action to regain his own house in Palmer Street until things have cooled down. The solicitor's caution is founded on the case of a man who had been similarly driven from Columbia Street and whose solicitors had served a possession order on the Protestants occupying his house. The family had moved out all right, but that night the house was destroyed by fire. This pattern was repeated, and the tenure of Protestants in dispossessed Catholic houses was ensured by the use of the petrol bomb. It appears that in the vast majority of cases the houses the Catholics left were their own while those vacated by the Protestants were rented.

Another objective of the evictions was to arrange it so that Catholic streets would be attacked without danger to Protestants. The R.U.C. frequcntly claimed as in the case of Mr. Kelly, that they could not help the victimised families. Yet on August 6, when on a single day up to sixty Catholic families were forced to move, Harold Wolsey, the Commissioner of Police in Belfast, blandly stated that "the police have full knowledge of reports that families are leaving their homes because of intimidation. It is absolute nonsense for people to say they are frightened."

Rapid organisation by Protestants
The tragic events of the pogrom in Belfast, which followed the victory of the Bogsiders in Derry, showed how wcll the Protestant militia had becn organised in the period bctween August 6 and August 15. On this occasion the Catholics once more initiated the violencc. On Thursday 14 in suicidal attempt to divert attention of the R. U.C. from the Bogside they attacked two Belfast police stations in Catholic areas. They were careful to avoid any dierct provocation of the Protestant population. Howevcr, Protestant fears had been greatly exacerbated by the mounting tcnsion throughout the province.
Paisley had played on Protestant fcars by harping on the terrorisation of the Protestants in Hooker Strcet in virtually every speech hc made. Furthermore the Bogsiders had dcfeated the R.U.C.inamosthumiliating manner. And thc Protestant proletariat saw thcir world collapse in the face of a Fenian uprising. The amazing treatment of the Bogside riot by the Belfast Telegraph which mirrored ChichesterClarke's inane rantings about I.R.A. and Communist plots helped the Protestant extremist politicians to exploit these fears.

When the Protestant mobs moved on this occasion they knew what they were doing. They did not attack Protcstant shops. They attacked not in large spontaneous mobs but systematically on several fronts at the same time. In one night Protestants marched on the Clonard area in Springfield, on the Hooker Street area off the Crumlin Road and along about twelve fronts in the streets connecting the Shankill Road and Divis Street. On Hooker Street they burned out about fifteen houses. On more mixed streets they did not burn houses but drove Catholics to the end of the street and fought with them. Only Catholic houses were attacked. Leaders of the mobs carried maps denoting the religion of each householder, which were probably obtained from the electoral lists of Belfast Councillors. John McQuade M.P. and at least four Councillors led the advance while, the U.V.F. undoubtedly co-ordinated it.
Two other significant factors can be cited to distinguish this pogrom from the spontaneous rioting earlier in the month. During the course of the pogrom the R.U.C. were nowhere to be seen despite the fact that there were an estimated 1,000 policemen in the city. On the night of the killings a few policemen who accidentally came into contact with mobs quickly took themselves off. That the R.U.C. have ways of knowing what the Protestant rightwing is up to on occasions such as this has been well cstablished by investigations into their role in the infamous Burntollet affair.

On the night of August 15th the troops moved into Divis Street and the Falls Road Some pcople fought with them on Boundary Road while others continued the sniping which had bcen going on all day from houses around Clonard Monastery. In the chaotic fighting which took place in thesc arcas the main weapons were petrol-bombs and shotguns. One soldier was shot in the face. Whilc this fighting showed few signs of planning or order a mob that converged on the unprotected Crumlin Road were quite systematic in their burning of Catholic shops and houses. Two people were killed.
The mobilisation of the Specials the previous day meant that weapons could be carried openly. However, the crowds were organised by non-uniformed people, presumably U.V.F. leaders. These issued instructions to all including the Specials, who were placed at the head of the crowd to provide some kind of visible leadership.

After the first night it was clear that clashes with the troops were being carefully avoided. Instead two new strategies were adopted. The first was a firm consolidation of material gains made in the previous days. All streets which had been cleared of Catholics were filled up with homeless Protestant families.The confrontation with the troops which resulted in the use of tear-gas on an angry Protestant crowd, was sparked off when a Catholic family tried to reclaim their furniture from an occupied house. The second strategy was the erection of barricades to ensure that the new borders and the re-allocation of houses would not be upset by troop intervention. These " symbolic" barricades were also, of course, a challenge to the Government and an effort to maintain a high level of tension in Protestant areas.

Job Victimisation
Job victimisation was not as widespread as in previous pogroms. The shipyards were not affected after the management had callcd a meeting of all workcrs and informed them that a pogrom would mean the end of British subsidy and the probable closure of the yards. However, two large concerns, a brew cry and a clothing factory, expelled all their Catholic employees en masse. There were numerous other instances of intimidation among British controlled factories. Instructions werc given to Protestant managers to condone intimidation rather than allow a breakdown in production.

Victimisation took many different forms. Catholic factory girls who had to pass through Sandy Row on their way to work were jeered and threatened. They were given an escort of B Specia Is who simply added to the jecring and threatening. This not surprisingly resulted in the girls absenting themselves from work. In other places hostile crowds assembled outside factory gates. In one instance they gave a hundred Catholic employees a choice between getting out or being thrown out. So while unemployment has increased in Catholic areas it has decreased in Protestant areas.

An invidious instance of intimidation was the use of Radio Orange or Radio Ulster, run, it is claimed, by the Spence family of the Shankill Area, a member of which was involved in the U.V.F. murder of Peter Ward in 1966. The names and addresses of certain shop stewards were broadcast and Protestants were warned not to heed them since they had opposed victimisation. It does seem that very many Protestant shop stewards behaved in a highly couragcous manner despite threats on their families and houses.

Pet Shop Burnt
A pet shop owner on the Shankill Road area who employed a Catholic manager was instructed by Radio Orange to sack him. His failure to do resulted in his shop being burnt to the ground and the roasting alive of 4,000 budgerigars and £600 worth of man-eating piranha fish. Only a crocodile survived the conflagration.

Rather than attack British troops the Protestant extremists attempted to spread the disturbances to other, less well protected areas. John McKeague himself paid a visit to the Short Strand Road, near the Paisleyite Ballymacarret area. in the hope of stirring up some action on the other side of the Lagan. Despite the militancy of the neighbouring Newtownards Road McKeague was not very successful.In Duncairn Gardens the disseminators of disorder met with some success, though they had to wait till they were asked.

Evidence of the source of the trouble in Duncairn was revealed late in September as a result of a dispute between a Catholic householder and a Protestant householder in the area. The original argument, which was of little importance as regards content, culminated in a threat that experienced arsonists from the Shankill Road would be brought in to burn the Catholic house. The next night the Catholic house in question was attacked by a mob of "outsiders" and burned to the ground while the buck was being passed from the Public Protection Authority to the R.U.C. and from the R.U.C. to the British Army.
Since there is very little ideological difference between one working-class area and the next it would appear that trouble spots are those that have an organised leadership in the form of the V.C.D.C. and the U.P.V. Whereas the Shankill Road and Sandy Row are well organised other areas have less efficient, indigenous leadership and have consequently succumbed to the comforts provided by high employment and the Welfare State.

" English Teague-lovers out"
The presence of troops is certainly Ii source of annoyance to the trouble makers. In Sandy Row this annoyance verges on hatred. Here the troops who collaborated with the Orange militia for fifty years, are seen as turncoats who are ousting the R.U.C. and threatening the Protestant right to economic privilege. The slogans in this area read" English and Teagues keep out" and "English Teague-Lovers Out."
These slogans are significant since the people as well as their leaders know that the English connection can artificially impose a spurious liberalism, even if the province is in a state of wholesale fascist reaction. As a result coalition between the constitutional right-wing MPs and the leaders of the street militia is now an imminent possibility.

As a consequence a Unilateral Declaration of Independence is still very much a live issue. Militant opposition to O'Neillism is veering towards a point of view which sees U.D.I. as the only way of preserving" Protestant Ulster." The term "Loyalist" does not figure as strongly in the Paisleyite jargon as it used to.

The increased enlistment and training of the U.V.F. makes little sense except in the context of U.D.I. Since they were banned as a result of the Malvern Street murder in 1966 and changed their name from the Ulster Volunteed Force to the Ulster Protestant Volunteers, they have never involved such numbers as they do now. Through the Ulster Constitution Defence Committee they are controlled by Paisley, who undoubtedly commands more popular support than any of the official politicians or clergy.

Nor can there be much doubt that the Ulster Special Constabulary, most of whom are members of the U.V.F. are providing the weapons and knowhow for training new recruits. It is known that there are 67,000 guns going the rounds in the province, since there are that many licences issued to individual "sportsmen" and members of gun-clubs. The number of unlicensed guns in circulation is anybody's guess. Rumours that arms were coming in from the Continent through Belfast docks have not been verified. However, given the widespread support for the U.V.F. which exists both among