Civil rights veteran calls for plaque at Burntollet Bridge

Posted By: February 03, 2019

Seamus McKinney. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, February 2, 2019

The People’s Democracy march was attacked at Burntollet Bridge in January 1969

Civil rights veteran Fionnbarra O Dochartaigh has called for a commemorative plaque to be placed on a new Burntollet Bridge. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

CIVIL rights veteran Fionnbarra O Dochartaigh has called for a commemorative plaque to be placed at the site of the 1969 “Burntollet Ambush.”

Mr. O Dochartaigh was responding to news that Burntollet Bridge – between Claudy and Drumahoe in Co Derry – is to be demolished as part of the planned A6 road upgrade.

In what is recognized as a pivotal event around the outbreak of the Troubles, students and civil rights campaigners were attacked by loyalists as they marched from Belfast to Derry on January 4, 1969.

The People’s Democracy “long march” was constantly diverted and attacked.

However, the most serious attack took place at Burntollet where loyalists on high ground had gathered stones and armed themselves with sticks and other weapons.

Later that night, ‘B Specials’ invaded the Bogside before they were forced out.

This led to the creation of ‘Free Derry’ when Eamonn McCann coined the phrase “You Are Now Entering Free Derry,” which was then painted on a gable wall.

It has now emerged that the bridge where the attack took place, and a much older arched bridge beside it, are to be demolished to make way for a new structure as part of an upgrade of the main Derry to Belfast road.

Mr. McCann, who took part on the 1969 march, said he found it difficult to get sentimental about the bridge.

“Anyone who looks at the period will know the word Burntollet because it was somewhat significant, but it hadn’t occurred to me that there would be a sentimental attachment to that particular incident,” he said.

“I’ve no strong feelings about it one way or the other, but I will not be out there with a placard protesting about the demolition of Burntollet Bridge.”

Mr. O Dochartaigh said he had vivid memories of the ambush as he was on the bridge when it took place.

“I think the event should be marked when the new bridge is built. A plaque should be put up as it was such a pivotal event in the campaign for civil rights. They have commemorated places for much less reason,” he said.

“Mind you, the plaque might not stay up very long.”

Plans to demolish the much older stone arched-bridge at Burntollet have also been criticized, with Claudy woman Monica Fee saying it is one of the most beautiful in the area and should be retained.