Events to remember 50th anniversary of first person killed in Troubles in 1969

Posted By: July 13, 2019
Francie McCloskey was the first person to be killed in the Troubles in 1969

Connla Young. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, July 13, 2019

THE death 50 years ago of Francie McCloskey – the first victim of the Troubles that broke out in 1969 – is to be marked by a series of events in Dungiven, Co Derry this weekend.

Francis ‘Pól Beag’ McCloskey died a day after he was caught up in an RUC baton charge on July 13 that year.

The 66-year-old retired farmer, who lived with his unmarried sister on the outskirts of the mountain town, was taken to Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry with serious head injuries but did not survive.

Two days later another Catholic man, Samuel Devenney (42), died after being beaten by RUC officers in his Derry home.

During Mr. McCloskey’s funeral, which attracted thousands of mourners, a tricolor was placed on his coffin which was carried by a republican guard of honor.

An inquest in 1970 heard that he died from a fractured skull and torn artery.

Two witnesses said they saw police hitting a man in the doorway of a shop where the victim was later found.

The RUC claimed he was already lying on the ground before the baton charge and may have been hit by a stone.

Although some consider the first of more than 3,500 killings of what became known as ‘the Troubles’ to be the UVF murder of John Scullion in west Belfast in 1966, Mr. McCloskey was the first victim of the violence that erupted across Northern Ireland in 1969.

It is known that he had traveled into Dungiven from his home in the Benedy area sometime on July 13.

An Orange Order parade through the town a day earlier had sparked rioting that lasted almost two days.

RUC officers had been positioned at Dungiven Orange Hall, which was in the middle of the town after it came under a barrage of missiles and petrol bombs from nationalist protesters on the evening of the 13th.

As the night wore on police launched several baton charges in an effort to disperse the rioters.

It was during one of these baton charges that Mr. McCloskey, who was standing in the doorway of a drapery store, suffered serious head injuries.

His former neighbor Paul O’Kane remembers him well.

“It was a big shock, he said.

“Because he was a down to earth man and there never was no trouble from Francie. He kept himself to himself.”

Mr. O’Kane said he brought the victim’s sister Rose Ellen to Altnagelvin.

“She called to our house at about four in the morning, and I took her into the hospital,” he said.

“We went to Limavady first, and then we went to Altnagelvin.

“He was just lying there.

“Poor Rose Ellen took it bad. We stayed for three or four hours and went back (to the hospital) in the evening.

“When we went back she had to get out (to Dungiven) to get the hens locked up.

“And when we got to Dungiven we got the message he was dead.”

A memorial stone is dedicated to Francie McCloskey at Main Street in Dungiven.

Mr. McCloskey’s death was examined by the Scarman tribunal in 1970.

It said he was a “bystander” and that his death “became a cause celebre in Northern Ireland.”

“It was widely alleged that he had been batoned by police and that he was an inoffensive, elderly man, who had been the victim of police brutality.

“It, therefore, had its place in the development of Catholic attitudes towards the police.”

On the first anniversary of his death, the Civil Rights Association held a vigil and laid a wreath at the local RUC station.

In a statement at the time, it said: “Until the case is finally resolved, local doubts, fears, and suspicions regarding the application of justice, law and order, will not be allayed.”

Mr. McCloskey was not included on the official RUC list of Troubles victims until it was updated in 1995.

A series of events have been arranged to mark his 50th anniversary including a wreath-laying ceremony at a monument erected near his former home, while a wreath will also be placed at his grave.

A short presentation on his life will also be given at Halla Glór, Main Street, Dungiven tomorrow evening followed by a panel discussion on civil rights.

This will be followed by a candle-lit procession to a memorial stone in Dungiven.