Google Inishowen News & Business Directory
Drop Down Menu

Invasion of Derry “never a possibility” 10.09.09

Events of 40 years ago recalled

by Dónal Campbell, Inishowen Independent

THE recent RTÉ documentary 'If Lynch Had Invaded' provoked much debate as locals recalled the tumultuous events on both sides of the border 40 years ago. When Taoiseach Jack Lynch addressed the nation on August 13, 1969 his speech contained words interpreted as a promise and a threat: “The Irish Government can no longer stand by and see innocent people injured and perhaps worse.” Many decoded that to mean the Irish army would cross the border to help the beleagured Catholic population of Derry who were under near constant attack from the RUC, B-Specials and Loyalist mobs.
Well-known Tooban man Barney McLaughlin was serving in the Signal Corps of the Irish Army Reserves in August/September 1969. He rejects the presumption that the Irish army would have crossed the border: “We [in the army] knew that was never a possibility. In 1969 the army was not organised as a fighting force – there was neither the training nor equipment for that. It was a civilian army with waistbands that reflected that fact! The British army would have wiped them out.”
In Barney’s opinion, Lynch would have been well aware of that probability when making his famous speech: “Jack Lynch would have known the Irish army were not capable of undertaking such a mission but may have hoped that by using strong language attention might be brought to focus on the plight of people in Derry and West Belfast who were enduring grim times.Put it this way, if he had sent the army in, it would have been to create an incident rather than to fight.”
Barney spent four days based at Grianan while the Battle of the Bogside raged a few miles away to the east. “We manned a relay-station on Grianan to forward messages from border-patrols – out looking for refugees – to a temporary army base, known as Camp Arrow,
Barney McLaughlin
located outside Letterkenny. Following that we were stationed at Dunree.”
For civilians it was a time of nervous anticipation. One Burt resident who worked in Derry at the time, recalls: “There were lines of traffic with people streaming down from Letterkenny and beyond on their way to the border. Respected community leaders from Derry – such as Finbar O’Doherty – had spoken at open air meetings in Letterkenny appealing for Donegal men and Irish soldiers to come and support the people of the Bogside and Derry.
Former Taoiseach, Jack Lynch. After Lynch’s speech there was an anticipation that the army might go into Derry – after all people were being batoned, shot at and tear-gassed.”
“There was disappointment, on both sides of the border, when they didn’t but in hindsight, it was probably the right thing. Everyone knew the British army would have been too experienced and too strong.” As it happened, British troops did arrive on the streets of Derry on August 14, and with the withdrawl of the police and B-Specials tensions eased somewhat.
The Irish Government did deliver on the establishment of field hospitals along the border – most notably at Tooban, Muff and Carrigans. 400 people were accomodated, fed and given medical attention in St Mary’s Hall, Buncrana and the Plaza Ballroom. Around 40 people were accomodated and given medical attention at the Fowler Hall by the Red Cross under the guidance of Dr Boyle-Kelly. These facilities were used extensively due to concerns about possible breaches of confidentiality at Altnagelvin Hospital.
Dances were held all over Donegal in aid of the 'Six County Refugee Fund'. Even the proceeds of weekly bingo sessions were diverted to the relief effort. It was a tumultuous time in Inishowen with rumour and counter-rumour
the order of the day. Allegations were made that “ex-Unionists” from various parts of the peninsula were active in the infamous B-Specials – although this was later rejected.
Add to Favorites :: Return to > Features    > News    > Home