By Garrett Hargan
Marie Coyle was 15-years-old when violence erupted in the Bogside in the summer of 1969.
She was acutely aware of civil rights issues which precipitated the Battle of the Bogside. Marie recalls growing up in a house at Walker’s Place where her family lived in the top two rooms while another family lived in the bottom two rooms.
“I saw that as discrimination and people being deprived of basic rights. I also would've collected newspaper clippings at the time and was interested in documenting what was happening in the city.”
Those houses were demolished and the family moved into Rossville Flats, also known as the High Flats, in 1966.
"The people were great and we would've hung about Marlborough shops, it was my teenage years and the craic was good, they were innocent times, happy times."
Her first memory of violence was being unwittingly thrust into the middle of the Battle of the Bogside. The overwhelming effects of large amounts of CS gas being shot into such a confined area is something that has stayed with Marie fifty years on.
"Over a thousand gas cannisters were fired into the Bogside. There were a lot of young children and elderly people in the area who suffered with the horrific effects of the gas. Fifty years later, I can still clearly visualise and remember the details of the gas because it was the most horrific part of it for me, and I believe for many others.
"People from the surrounding area were kind enough to help in whatever way they could. Bringing out water with vinegar in it so that young men and boys could soak their rags to help with the effects of the CS gas.
"After a while you could tell the difference in sounds between the CS gas being fired and rubber bullets being fired, because with the gas you could hear a loud bang followed by a hissing sound and clouds of white smoke. But with the rubber bullets it was a thud and you could see everybody running to collect them for souvenirs.”
She continued: "We lived in the middle block and as you walked towards the lift there was a big window looking out so we were able stand and see the riots from there, gas coming in and petrol bombs smashing."
"At the beginning we weren't that afraid, it was only when the gas came in and the horrific effects of that on your skin, your eyes, your nose, your throat, you couldn't breathe, you were coughing and the water was running out of your eyes - it was absolutely awful."
It was a fearful time in the Bogside and the threat of the B-Specials being deployed further heightened tensions.
Marie vividly remembers on one of the nights, the RUC coming in through the top floor of the flats and using batons to smash out all the lights. "That was very frightening because we thought they were going to enter the flats.
"And I think as time went on people did become very frightened living there and wondering whether it was going to stop or how bad it was going to get," she explained.
As the violence unfolded on the streets Marie would've been outside watching like many of the young people in the area. "I have to acknowledge the young boys and men who kept the people of the Bogside safe from the RUC and the B-Specials. At times there were people in plain clothes standing beside the police throwing missiles into the Bogside.
"Young people would've used the roof of the flats to throw stones at the police and when there were baton charges most of the people would've run into the high flats.
"It's important that we remember all the people who protected the residents of the Bogside, but I believe a special mention has to go to Bernadette Devlin, who although not from the city, she courageously defended the people and stood with the people of the Bogside as a young girl."
Eventually the rioting abated and British troops were deployed on the streets of Derry. At first they were welcomed but it didn’t last long.
"It was very peaceful afterwards and we felt reassured at first when the army came in but I think it all changed when Seamus Cusack and Dessie Beattie were killed."
Some of the worst violence in the town for three years flared up on the afternoon of July 8, 1971, when a crowd of 200 gathered at Lecky Road at the news of an army shooting earlier in the day.
Welder and former boxer Seamus Cusack, 28, died in Letterkenny District Hospital of a gunshot wound. Troops opened fire, initially with rubber bullets and CS gas, but they failed to disperse the crowd.
The rioters retaliated by throwing three nail bombs and the army returned fire. One man was shot in the stomach.
The man was dead on arrival at hospital and was identified as 19-year-old Dessie Beattie of Donegal Street in the Bogside.
Five decades later Marie views the Battle of the Bogside as a "very important" part of the city's history and she gave particular credit to the Bogside artists for ensuring "the people's story will never be forgotten."
CAPTION: Marie Coyle (nee Hutton) pictured as a teenager with her best friend Anne Cullen.
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