Art as Resistance: A Brief Look Back at Falls Curfew, Northern Ireland (1970)

Wala (@MadeInNablus), a Palestinian traveling in Northern Ireland, took this photo of a mural located at Falls Road in Belfast. Her photo is the inspiration for this post.

This chapter in Irish resistance against the British occupation of Northern Ireland began with a weapons search a week after major rioting in the northern part of Belfast ended. The British army was looking for paramilitary weapons. According to the account:

The search began at about 3 pm on 3 July, under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Ian Freeland. An informer had tipped them off that they would find an arms dump belonging to the Official IRA in a house on Balkan Street. A column of five or six armored vehicles arrived at the house and sealed-off the street. The search uncovered 19 weapons.

The army concluded their search for paramilitary weapons and began to leave Falls Street, only to be met by children pelting stones at their armored vehicles. The military decided to escalate:

The troops replied by launching CS (tear) gas at the crowd. The youths continued to throw stones and the soldiers responded with more CS gas…At about 6pm, however, the rival Provisional IRA attacked the troops with improvised hand grenades. A number of soldiers suffered leg injuries. Some of the Official IRA members also allegedly fired shots at the troops. By this time, the stone-throwing had evolved into a full-scale riot. Many streets were hastily barricaded to prevent the British soldiers from entering.

The British commander on the scene called in 3,000 reinforcements, and declared a curfew. But the violence continued and escalated into a running gun battle, and for the next two nights rioting and gunfire continued, including children throwing stones and petrol bombs. The British army continued using CS gas to conduct weapons searches, using over 1600 canisters (an “excessive” amount for such a small area) and even firing them into homes.

Something remarkable happened the following morning, however. On Sunday, July 5th, 3,000 women bravely marched from the Andersontown area of Belfast to lower Falls, where the violence had taken place, tensions were still very heated, and where the curfew was still in effect. This large group of women, staring down armored vehicles and heavily armed British soldiers, carried with them groceries and other much needed supplies to the besieged area of Belfast. The unprepared soldiers tried to hold back the defiant women initially, but then relented by allowing them to continue into the city.

The curfew was broken. Nonviolent confrontation succeeded in deescalating a very tense situation.

Falls Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland (1981)

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