By Eamon Sweeney
In 1969, Tom Kelly was ten years old and living in the family home at Meenan Square in the heart of the Bogside.
In the black and white image seen here, Tom is on the right-hand side. To his left is his cousin Manus Deery who was aged around 12 at the time. Both boys are tearing strips of cloth to make wicks for petrol bombs at the height of the Battle of the Bogside.
Today, at the spot where the image of Tom Kelly and Manus Deery was taken 50 years ago stands an internationally known mural of perhaps the most iconic image taken in August 1969. It depicts Patrick Coyle, then a 13-year-old boy carrying a petrol bomb, wearing a WWII gas mask, clad in a leather jacket to which is pinned a colourful sticker of a map of Ireland.
That mural and the others in the People’s Gallery in the Bogside was created by Tom Kelly, his late brother William and Kevin Hasson-collectively known of course as the Bogside Artists.
Tom Kelly told the Derry News that at the junction of Westland Street and the Lecky Road where the mural stands was a spot where a lot of the petrol bombs were manufactured in 1969-the other main spot being Nelson Street, now no longer there.
“We made petrol bombs throughout the entire battle. We were always trying to get involved in the fighting in the front lines, but the older boys kept chasing Manus and me away because we were too young.
“We put the petrol bombs in metal crates from the Leckpatrick Dairy and carried them up to the front where they were taken off us. We also made a few attempts to get up to the top of the Rossville flats but the older guys chased away from there too.
“I think I was cramping Manus’ style, so he broke ranks and went on his on own. He was a bit older than me, so he had a better chance of getting up there. As far I know he did make it up to the top of the flats,” Tom said.
Just over two-and-half years after the Battle of the Bogside, in May 1972 then 15-year-old Manus Deery was shot dead after a British soldier fired a shot from an observation post on the city’s walls.
The spot where he was killed is just yards away from where he and Tom Kelly had been pictured in August 1969.
An initial inquest into the teenager’s death in the 1970s recorded an open verdict-meaning there was a lingering doubt placed over his innocence. The British Army maintained for over 40 years that the soldier who fired the fatal round, Private William Glasgow, was aiming at a gunman.
In April 2017, the conclusions of a fresh inquest into Manus Deery’s death declared that the 15-year-old was completely innocent of any wrongdoing and was posing a threat to no one when he was killed.
Tom Kelly also said that his own area at Meenan Square was also a hive of activity before the beginning of the fighting in the summer of 1969. He recalls that even as a 10-year-old the atmosphere in the area during the run up to the rioting was intense.
“The build-up was serious. Meenan Square was where it was all happening. There was a first aid post set up there. I remember Bernadette Devlin and Eamonn McCann being in there all the time and Bernadette typing up barricade bulletins that we then delivered through the letter boxes of the area. Later on, that was used as base by the Stickies (Official IRA).”
One of Tom’s abiding memories of the conditions in the Bogside between August 12th and 14th, 1969 was the saturation of the district with CS gas.
“It hung over the place for days and days. There were a lot of older people and young children in the area and everyone struggled with it in one way or another.”
But, what are Tom’s other thoughts on what took place in the Bogside prior to that August half-a-century ago?
“I was too young to realise how serious it was. But, I do remember the B Specials and I vividly remember them walking up our street. We lived in the corner house and I remember looking out the window one night and seeing them breaking bottles up against the wall.
“They were blutered. I am from the Bogside, so I knew what blutered meant-they were steaming drunk and breaking their wine bottles against the wall.
“I also remember seeing one B Special in Drumcliffe Avenue casually walking backwards along the street smashing in windows with his baton and hearing the screams of those inside the houses. He was really enjoying himself.
“Something that really stood out was that there was a local character in the area who had the nickname ‘The Marshal’. He hung about the bookies in Meenan Square most days and always bought the Ireland’s Saturday Night so he had a list of horses to bet on come Monday. I remember three of four B Specials circling around him outside the shop and giving him a bad lacing. I was only a child but I remember it caused pandemonium.”
“I think the civil rights movement was the fifteenth victim of Bloody Sunday. Up until then what I saw was thousands of people at marches all protesting against oppression.
“There were concessions such as voting rights, but there were still more issues such as internment to protest against. But, British aggression led to open armed conflict and the Bogside became a very different place after that.”
The Derry News also asked the Bogside Artist what he thought about the overall situation in his native city as the years have progressed onwards from 1969?
He said: “I don’t see much progress. Derry has become sort of capital for festivals. I know it’s an attempt to get tourists to come in but it’s just a historical tourist destination, but in terms of work, unemployment, poverty and austerity the Bogside is much the same. There’s been no great deal of progress in that respect.
“Derry is still the second city-it’s consistently, continually overlooked, and I feel we have been let down by all of the political apparatchiks.
“Obviously there’s been progress in some form. There are no major bombing campaigns or gun battles, but people are still be lifted from their houses, there’s still oppression and real signs of discrimination.
“The people who suffered the most are still left in the same place. I mean the ordinary working-class people who weren’t involved in the IRA. They are still unemployed, there’s still a housing shortage. It seems the more that you were involved in conflict the more you advance.
“There’s counselling for former combatants and prisoners and that’s quite right because there should be. But, there’s none of that for the ordinary everyday people who were traumatised too.
“As far as the Bogside Artists are concerned, we’ve stayed independent and refused to be taken in under anyone’s wing. The twelve murals in the People’s Gallery tell people’s stories as much as they cover the key events. They show a sense of achievement in that people stood up and refused to stay under the status quo. For me, that’s what the Battle of the Bogside was all about.
“We painted the murals not just out of research or photographic evidence but from experience as well. We consulted the people in the area before we began to make sure that it was in the spirit of 1969. It’s an authentic lived experience.”
CAPTION: Pictured on the left is Manus Deery with his cousin Tom Kelly on the right, tearing up strips of cloth to make wicks for petrol bombs during the Battle of the Bogside in August 1969. In May 1972, Manus Deery was shot dead by a British soldier. His innocence from any wrong doing was finally declared in 2017.
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