Associated Press

August 31, 1994

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) -- Northern Ireland's "troubles" are rooted in nationalist conflict, religious bigotry and grudges nursed through the generations. But the current cycle of violence dates to a single event in 1968.

On Oct. 5 of that year, about 400 Catholic civil rights marchers were attacked by police as they tried to cross a bridge into the center of Londonderry.

Television film of the melee, taken by a cameraman from Ireland's RTE network, was distributed to many countries.

Gerry Fitt, one of the leaders of the march and one of the first to be clubbed, later said that he said a prayer of thanks as he felt blood flow down his face.

Jonathan Bardon wrote in "Ulster," a history of the province.

That incident energized the Catholic civil rights movement -- the next month nearly 20,000 joined in a demonstration in Londonderry. But it also aroused a backlash from the Protestant majority.

Violence exploded on Aug. 12, 1969, in Londonderry, during the annual march by the Apprentice Boys, a Protestant fraternal organization that celebrates the victory of Protestant forces over the Catholic King James II in 1690.

Clashes between marchers and Catholic demonstrators degenerated into the so-called Battle of the Bogside, as Catholics from that district fought street battles with police.

Riots broke out in Catholic areas around Northern Ireland. In Belfast, gunfire erupted as police confronted Catholic youths, while Protestants gathered behind police lines. Someone fired a shot, gunfire erupted and Protestant mobs surged into Catholic neighborhoods, destroying more than 100 houses with gas bombs and damaging many more.

The next day, the British government put troops on the streets, where at first they got an enthusiastic welcome from Catholics. The IRA was moribund, and some graffiti writers painted "I Ran Away" on walls to reproach the organization for not defending Catholics.

Hard-liners in the old IRA broke away to form a new "provisional" wing that began organizing in Belfast, and launched a bombing campaign in Belfast in the summer of 1970.

The troubles, of course, did not stem from a single incident. The Catholic marchers were protesting discrimination in jobs, housing and voting.

[ever seen any mass media concern for rights of non RC's in S.Ireland ? .... JP ]

The police reaction reflected a Protestant ethic of "no surrender," and the old fear of domination by the Catholic majority in Ireland.

Belfast academic A.T.Q. Stewart wrote in "The Narrow Ground," a history of the conflict.

Outsiders, including British officials, often find Northern Ireland's politics incomprehensible.

"For God's sake bring me a large Scotch. What a bloody awful country!" British Home Secretary Reginald Maudling exclaimed after his first visit in 1970.

People in Northern Ireland often point far back in history for the roots of their conflict, sometimes all the way to the Norman invasion in the 12th century.

But it was the "plantation of Ulster" by Scottish and English farmers in the 17th century that began the division which now characterizes Northern Ireland.

The settlement was intended to secure English control of Ireland, and the Protestant newcomers from Scotland and England displaced the native Irish from some of the best lands.

Planters were killed or run out of their homes by Irish rebels in 1641, and in the 18th century there was openly sectarian fighting between the Protestant Peep O'Day Boys and the Defenders on the Catholic side.

The campaign for "home rule" in Ireland in the 19th century sharpened divisions in Northern Ireland, where Protestants feared being subservient to an Irish Parliament dominated by Catholics. Protestants organized as the Ulster Volunteer Force smuggled guns into the north in 1914.

The Government of Ireland Act of 1920, which granted a degree of independence to Ireland, provided for a separate Parliament for Northern Ireland.

The border, which embraced only six of the historic nine counties of Ulster, was drawn to ensure a Protestant majority.