Socialist Worker


Derry: Fighting under the flag of the Citizens’ Army

(SW, 21 August 1969)

An interview with EAMONN McCANN and RAY BURNETT on the barricades


“No one comes into Bogside”

McCann: When the Derry Defence Committee was discussing its conditions for taking down the barricades we agreed that we won’t let them down until there is a complete amnesty, that the B-Specials are disarmed and disbanded and that the Special Powers Act, which they are now making a lot of use of, is repealed.

But when it came to a programme for power here in the North there was disagreement about how far we are able to press for secession, or a redrawing of the boundary or the Workers’ Republic over the 32 counties. [1] The question of the partition is now raised.

What is happening in Belfast?

McCann: It’s much worse than the British papers are saying. The B-men have gone wild. They’re just chasing down Catholics and the firepower’s overwhelmingly on their side.

That’s why we have never pushed the question of guns, though it looks as though we can’t avoid it now. The British Army is poorly deployed especially around Hooker street – it might have been deliberate.

Last night there was a big crowd of RUC. B-men and Paisleyites, 600 strong, and in the Catholic houses the women had all been sent away and the men were just crouching inside their windows, scared stiff. But they didn’t come, they must have been afraid of the silence.


Most of the women are in refugee centres. As we see it in Derry, the ball’s at everyone’s foot except ours. What matters above all is what happens in the South.

Burnett: We’re fighting under the tricolour and the Starry Plough. The real politics have been on the barricades, where politics and action are welded together.

And the politics tend to be far more radical on the barricades than back in the estates where the political activity is negligible. A bloke said to me just now, “Well we’ve smashed Stormont, now let’s hope they smash the Free State, too.”

What really was the reaction to the British troops?

Burnett: When they arrived it was marvellous. I mean they are a 1ot better than the bastards of the RUC and the B-men.

When they arrived Eddie McAteer (Nationalist party leader) popped out with a nice clean suit on, with tears in his nationalist eyes and said that we had won a great yictory and it was all over. Since he’s so emotional and such a grand old man, everyone agreed and chaired him down the bill.

But I asked him directly whether the constitution had been suspended and whether the B-men were disbanded and he said Yes to both. I think he would have said yes to anything.

We’re staying put and no one comes into Bogside or goes out without our say so.

What is going through the minds of the Orangemen?

Burnett: They are furious. so angry that reporters don’t dare talk to them for fear of being beaten up. It’s impossible to realise how deep their extremism goes and how deep and rotten their involvement is in personal power over the Catholics.

It’s like the Deep South of America. They don’t just want to be on top, they need to grind the people’s faces in the ground. In fact the situation here is like the change from the civil rights movement to the black power stage in the American movement.


How was the fighting arranged?

Burnett: Very spontaneously. There were about 200 folk who scarcely left the barricades in the 50 hours we operated.

The main weapons weren’t stones but petrol bombs. We must have thrown about 8,000 of them. The kids used to make them. They’re playing cops versus civil rights instead of cops and robbers in the streets and they all sing We Shall Overcome, not as a pacifist song but as a victory song.

Bernadette Devlin was truly marvellous and it’s a great tribute that the British press hate her so much. John Hume (moderate Civil Rights spokesman) did an awful thing up near the Rosemont Barracks. Our lads did a really fine attack and had every door except one of the barracks burning and the RUC Inside. But Hume talked the local people into a truce

* Radio Free Derry is being run in Bogside by Derry Young Socialists, who are broadcasting news, comment and music. Top pop record on Bogside is the Rolling Stones’ Street Figbting Man.



1. The printed text says “36 counties” here.


Last updated on 7.3.2002