Forty years ago the sectarian pogroms in August 1969 in Belfast triggered of the biggest forced mass movement of people since the 2nd World War.
Gerry Collins was witness to the immediate aftermath of these events. He was a founding member of the Christian Brothers Camera Club.
He went to Bombay Street where his aunt lived, the morning after it was burned out. Gerry grabbed his camera and three rolls of film. He took thirty photographs. Later that week he went into other areas in the Falls and took more snaps.
Frankie Quinn is a well known and acclaimed photographer from Belfast. He saw Gerry Collins photos which had never been published. Frankie realised the significance of Gerry’s work and he has worked closely with him to have the photographs exhibited and now published in this remarkable book.
The photographs graphically capture the devastation and trauma of that hard time in our history.
For those who watched the news reports of the events forty years ago as they unfolded on their television screens, or especially those who lived in the areas affected, these photos will spark very painful memories.
For those too young to remember, Gerry Collins’s pictures give a real sense of the chaos, confusion and shock that the community endured that terrible summer.
The northern state was born out of the partition of Ireland. It was one of two conservative states carved out by the British government in 1920. In the north the unionists reigned supreme. They imposed a system of structured political and economic apartheid against nationalists.
Unionism was determined onto hold what it had at any cost and was implacably opposed to change and to equality. Unionists controlled the local parliament; controlled the Cabinet; the state police force; the justice system. They dominated business and jobs and controlled local government and dictated housing policy and allocation
The Civil Rights struggle sought to achieve peaceful change, to undo the sectarianism of the Orange State; and to secure the right to vote, the right to a decent home, to a job, and an end to institutionalised discrimination and the Special Powers Act
The old Stormont regime resisted all demands for serious reform.
August 1969 was a turning point.
The attacks by loyalist mobs, the paramilitary B Specials and the RUC on nationalist areas of west and north and east Belfast were a replay of similar pogroms that had been a feature of life in Belfast for over 100 years. Over a dozen citizens were killed in the first weeks, hundreds of homes were destroyed, tens of thousands became refugees and the social geography of Belfast changed forever with new emerging ghettoes and separation walls.
The pogroms sparked an unprecedented mass community uprising as nationalists asserted their humanity and demanded their rights. The British government cracked down on us. They militarised the situation. Out of that came a renewed and reinvigorated IRA and decades of conflict.
There is other television and photographic images of this defining period but Gerry Collins’ pictures reveal, in a very graphic way, the devastation of families who have lost their homes and whose few belongings litter the footpaths and roads in front of gutted houses.
The British soldiers on the streets, the barricades, ‘Free Belfast’, the burnt out mills which once dominated the Falls landscape, are all there in Gerry Collins stark black and white images.
This collection of photographs is an extraordinary record of an extraordinary time in our history.
Gerry Collins has done an enormous public service by taking the photographs and now allowing them to be seen. I commend him.
I want to thank him and Frankie Quinn for publishing this book and for asking me to do the foreword.
I also want to pay tribute to the men and women who rebuilt Bombay Street which was destroyed in the pogrom. It also arose out of the ashes, a very powerful symbol of the resilience and resourcefulness of a risen people.
Forty years on we remain indebted to you all.
Tá éacht thar barr déanta don phobal seo leis na grianghraif glactha ag Gerry Collins. Agus éacht eile iad a chur ar taispeáint. Molaim dó.
Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a thabhairt dó agus do Frankie Quinn as an leabhar seo a fhoilsiú agus as iarraidh orm an réamhrá a scríobh.
Ba mhaith liom an seans seo a ghlacadh fosta moladh a thabhairt do gach pobail a chuir a gcuid staire ar thaifead.
Caithfidh mé m’ómós a thaispeáint do na fir agus na mná siúd as atógáil Sráid Bombay nuair a scriosadh é sna pograim. D’éirigh sé aníos ó na luatha mar shiombail chumhachtach athléimneachta agus seiftiúlachta an phobail aiséirithe.
Tá muid i bhfiacha daoibh go fóill daichead bliain ina dhiaidh.
Gerry Adams MP MLA
Sinn Féin President
21 Iuil 2009
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