The Divis Street Riots Of 1964

By Paul G Methven

(This is an academic paper written by Cardiff based historian, Paul Methven )

The 1964 West Belfast ‘Tricolour Riots’

Although nowadays less remarked upon than ‘Bloody Sunday’ in January 1972 or the riots that formed the ‘Battle of the Bogside’ in the summer of 1969, the disturbances that took place in the Divis Street/Falls Road area of West Belfast over four nights in September/October 1964 were notable in that they were the worst in the province for 30 years. These incidents therefore could be said to have been the first of several serious confrontations that would occur in Northern Ireland over the next decade. Aside from their immediate impact, the riots were pivotal within the careers and attitudes of two men who, as extreme sectarian opposites within the Ulster political scene, would wield increasing influence as time passed.

For the Reverend Dr. Ian Paisley, leader of the Free Presbyterian Church, the occasion would stimulate a new level of political prominence as his tactics and threats appeared to provoke action by the authorities against republican election activities. For many years afterwards Paisley, although outwardly frowned upon by many fellow Loyalists for his stridency and unrestrained bigotry, would enjoy both tacit and public support from like-minded Unionist politicians and would consistently succeed in the various elections that he fought. And Gerry Adams, within his autobiography, asserts that the apparent injustices of the tricolour disturbances stimulated his political interests so that ‘within a few weeks of the Divis Street riots, I joined Sinn Fein’.

This research paper investigates the context of the Divis Street troubles and addresses some relevant issues highlighted by those events. It explores the amalgam of religion and sectarian politics, eloquently considered by Dervla Murphy (‘clergymen are the officers in Northern Ireland’s mental and emotional war’)as a factor which, when exploited by extremists, proved to be so acrimonious and alarming.7The paper also reviews the concept of ‘identity’ made visible by the battles and, since the whole affair started with a nationalist banner, notes the great significance of flags within Northern Ireland politics.The paper draws upon historiography as well as primary sources –contemporary newspapers, eyewitness reports and personal memoirs. Since, aside from TV, newspapers were the principal vehicles for communicating information about the riot.

The 1964 West Belfast ‘Tricolour Riots’ differing traditional loyalties are compared and contrasted.In addition,the vox populi in the form of ‘letters to the editor’ are examined so as to reflect some of the immediate reactions of people who felt themselves sufficiently concerned to express an opinion in writing.First of all some background to the Divis Street riots; in March 1963, following Lord Brookeborough’s retirement from ill-health after a 20-year tenure, Terence O’Neill was appointed Prime Minister of Northern Ireland by the Governor, Lord Wakehurst.

O’Neill also became leader of the Ulster Unionist party. Under Brookeborough’s lengthy premiership, the Unionists had appeared continuously ill-disposed towards the Catholic population; years previously Brookeborough had helped to create the quasi-military part-time reserve police force, the controversial Ulster Special Constabulary (USC), more widely-known as the B Specials,9and had remarked in 1961,‘Ulster has only room for one party’.

Later, in a press interview he would assert, in a reply to a question concerning Catholic rights to equal treatment from the state:-‘surely nobody is going to put an enemy where he can destroy you?’. There seemed to be, therefore, much scope for Brookeborough’s political successor to restore some harmony within a severely divided community. O’Neill, who had previously served as Finance Minister, seemed determined to revamp the economy of the province by encouraging external investment and replacing much of the infrastructure. He believed that this would result in reduced unemployment (running at c.10% at the time of his appointment) and that the improved economy would particularly benefit Catholics who were experiencing unemployment rates running at twice those of Protestants. O’Neill felt that such reforms would encourage greater Catholic participation within the state.

Perhaps most significantly, in order to encourage overseas investors, O’Neill sought to begin the repair of the sectarian divisions that had so beset the province since its foundation. He urged that ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’ issues within a modern, revitalised economy should be irrelevant and that the mass of people should be more concerned with family economics than sectarian issues. O’Neill, whilst recognising that dissimilarities between the communities would continue, wanted sectarian antipathy to be eventually alleviated by (as he himself said):-‘the occupation of a broad area of middle ground by reasonable men and its steady widening in the course of time’.

Although generally supported at first, O’Neill’s liberal program was soon to be bitterly attacked by extremist Unionist politicians who were concerned about his efforts towards economic and trade cooperation with the Republic of Ireland and his gestures of comradeship towards the Ulster Catholic community. Motivated by a spirit of religious and constitutional affront, Dr.Paisley took particular exception to O’Neill’s message, on behalf of the Northern Ireland Government, of condolence to Cardinal Conway, the Catholic Primate of all Ireland, upon the death, in June 1963,of the 81-year old Pope John 23rd-together with the respectful lowering of the Union Flag that flew over Belfast City Hall -correspondence and actions which Paisley described as ‘eulogies now being paid to the Roman antichrist by non-Romanist leaders in defiance of their own historic creeds’. O’Neill’s letter to the Cardinal had been worded: ‘Please accept from the Government of Northern Ireland our sympathy on the great loss which your Church sustained on the death of your Spiritual Leader’.

He had won wide acclaim throughout the world because of his qualities of kindness and humanity. O’Neill’s visits to nunneries, Catholic schools and hospitals, the prospect of serious North-South economic co-operation together with ecumenical initiatives undertaken by various Protestant ministers similarly provoked the wrath of Paisley and many, perhaps less vocal,members of the Orange Order. O’Neill’s and church leaders’ efforts at promoting harmony between the two traditions came to be seen by many Protestants as ‘opening the gates to their political enemies’.

Paisleyites, in particular, saw O’Neill as a liberal weakling and believed that ‘his policies of reform and reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants were destroying the Protestant ascendancy’. The extremist warnings issued by Paisley as a curtain-raiser to the Divis Street clashes were thus as much of a challenge to O’Neill and the forces of reconciliation, as they were provocations to Catholics within their own domestic territory of West Belfast. During 1963 and 1964, previously inhibited sectarian strains within the province began to surface. The Campaign for Social Justice (CSJ), created to protest at anti-Catholic housing allocation and other inequalities – thus abhorred by extremist Loyalists as a front for republicanism – was starting to become prominent. The CSJ campaigns against sectarian discrimination seemed to be gaining support in the wider Catholic community and had been endorsed by the leader of the British Labour Party (shortly to become Prime Minister), Harold Wilson.

The prospect of O’Neill’s liberal reforms, and a rapprochement with the Republic represented the potential for erosion of their presumed supremacy.As Murphy notes, many had always felt it necessary to discriminate against Catholics ‘lest Romish authoritarianism might demolish Protestant freedom’. For that reason, ‘a liberal and tolerant society … has never existed in Northern Ireland’22; a pessimistic view perhaps,but one which seems appropriate to the 1964 tricolour dispute in West Belfast. So to the events of Divis Street. A general election had been called by Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the British Prime Minister, for the 15th October 1964.

In the marginal constituency of West Belfast, the incumbent Ulster Unionist MP, James Kilfedder was being challenged by candidates from the Northern Ireland Labour party (NILP), Republican Labour and Sinn Fein (campaigning under an‘Irish Republican’ designation since Sinn Fein had been proscribed in Northern Ireland). Kilfedder was sufficiently extreme in his Loyalism to be supported by Paisley – in other seats, Unionists who were supportive of O’Neill’s liberal reforms were opposed by Paisley’s ‘Protestant Unionists’.

Trouble began when Paisley objected to the Irish tricolour being flown in the window of the Divis Street offices of the Sinn Fein local campaign headquarters. However, this was within a staunchly Nationalist area and the RUC had hitherto turned a blind eye to such displays in spite of their illegality as determined by the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland, (1954).

Peter Berresford Ellis, the respected Celtic historian and novelist, as a young journalist at the time was an eyewitness to the events: ‘The first piece of trouble was that an Irish flag had been placed in the window of the republican campaign office in Divis Street. [I] soon learnt that the display of an Irish flag or symbol was illegal under legislation adopted in 1954 by the Stormont regime… On the Sunday, 27 September… Paisley had called a meeting at the Ulster Hall, having heard of the flag in the window of the Sinn Féin campaign headquarters. He declared that if the RUC did not remove the flag he would lead his followers in an attack on the election office. The Stormont minister of home affairs, R W McConnell, actually went in person to see Paisley to placate him and assure him that the RUC would go in. The day after I arrived ‘wide eyed’ in Belfast, district inspector Frank Lagan and fifty RUC men – the first time I had seen such heavily armed police in what was supposed to be part of the United Kingdom – smashed in the door of the election office, confiscated the flag and generally destroyed everything they could lay their hands on. A few days later the flag was displayed again in defiance and the RUC were soon back with pick axes. This time the office was destroyed beyond salvage…What struck me at the time was the young lads who, unafraid in the face of the grim paramilitary phalanxes of the RUC, were busy sticking tricolour stickers on anything they could reach while the uniformed and armoured lines advanced like stormtroopers. That night protests turned to rioting in West Belfast. The RUC then astounded the world by going into action with armoured cars, mounted with guns and water cannons lines advanced like storm troopers.’

Michael Farrell believes that the Government decision to placate Paisley by sending in the RUC was taken for electoral reasons since the seat was considered vulnerable and this was no time ‘to alienate their Loyalist supporters. Others, for example, Kevin Kelley, believe that the Government hostility, inflamed in reaction to Dr. Paisley, was due to Sinn Fein overtly displaying its ‘united Ireland sympathies’ (the tricolour was a symbol for republicanism as well as the Irish national flag) within a sensitive period such as a hotly-contested election campaign. Farrell’s practical explanation seems more credible; there was a real risk that Labour candidates could attract traditionally-Unionist voters from the Protestant working-class so that the injection of sectarian and National identity issues into a campaign previously dominated by economics and living standards would serve to consolidate the Protestant electorate around the Unionist candidate. From Paisley and the extremists’ viewpoint, the overt challenge to O’Neill and his liberal policies would also be meaningful. As Kelley has written, they could show themselves as, ‘true patriots.

Whipping up a frenzy of working-class hatred was a proven way ofpressurising timid Unionist politicians to revert to the old methods of governing the North.’ Back to the Divis Street position. Over the next two days the situation worsened after a further tricolour replaced the confiscated flag in the Sinn Fein office in front of a cheering crowd which sang the Republican Anthem, ‘A Soldier’s Song.’ This action provoked further attacks by the RUC this time with the help of an armoured car. On the Wednesday evening at around 11pm, several thousand Republican sympathisers gathered in the area and a pitched battle against the RUC, the protestors using rotten vegetables and ‘stones, bottles, chunks of metal and petrol bombs’, took place in full view of international TV crews. Several people from both sides were hospitalised, many were arrested, fortunately there were no deaths.

During a brief respite, O’Neill and church leaders from both traditions appealed for calm. On October 2nd, the Belfast Telegraph gave wide prominence to O’Neill’s statement condemning Republican candidates for ‘provoking disorder’ and asking for ‘all responsible people to behave at this time with the restraint they showed during the IRA troubles.’  Exactly who the audience was for O’Neill’s exhortation is unclear: the Catholic dissenters in the Falls Road area who had resisted the heavy-handed RUC action or any outraged Protestants who might be motivated to participate in support of the RUC, an escalation viewed as a real danger.

O’Neill’s reference to IRA troublescould be seen to be a cynical attempt to make political capital by identifying angry militant Catholic demonstrators with politically-active ‘traitorous forces. In this way, the Prime Minister may have been continuing to try to consolidate the Protestant vote within the constituency. Similarly the four Unionist candidates contesting each Belfast seat issued the following statement (which was presented in heavily emboldened text within the newsprint typesetting):-

We condemn the actions of the republicans in displaying the tricolour in Divis Street which is deliberately aimed at provoking the Loyalists of Belfast. We deplore the vandalism and hooliganism in the area and urge all citizens to support the police and refrain from provocative acts so that the election may proceed peacefully.

Far more conciliatory was the joint message from the church leaders which stated:- ‘We urge upon all citizens the necessity for a Christian restraint, tolerance and understanding of those with whom they differ in political  judgment’; the paper also reported upon the Republican and Labour statements which requested calm but did not (unlike the Unionist exhortation) attempt to make capital out of the riots against their local election opponents – indeed the republican message firmly blamed the ‘Minister for Home Affairs and the RUC’ for the trouble but hinted that the tricolour would not be flown again.

The Northern Ireland press of Saturday 3rd October reported on a third night of rioting. Since sectarian feelings can be stoked by slanted reporting and weighted editorial comment, comparison of the front pages of the Unionist News Letter with the Nationalist The Irish News for that day is revealing. Headlined:-

Women and children scream behind terror mile barriers 

The News Letter emphasised the culpability of the rioters.

In contrast, The Irish News for the same day focused more upon the violence of the police. Headlined:-

Steel Helmeted Police Baton Charge Demonstrators


40 In Hosital : Dozens Arrested

The leading news article emphasised police charges and the fact that forty civilians and just four policemen had been hospitalised.

The Irish News followed its Republican credentials as, on the front page, there were reports on:- an unprovoked RUC attack upon a Nationalist MP (Austin Currie); complaints about the use of the RUC by the Home Affairs Minister (‘thus initiating the serious riotous disturbances’); a march in Dublin to protest to the British Ambassador about the forcible removal of the tricolour and the ‘barbaric treatment of the Republican people in Belfast’.

Front page photographs in The Irish News also depicted:- a youth being ‘frogmarched’ by the RUC ‘to a police van’; steel helmeted RUC men and a police dog ‘surging across Divis Street’; forlorn shopkeepers regarding their damaged premises.

In contrast, the News Letter reported on the excesses and misbehaviour of the demonstrators:- the looting of shops in the Falls Road; the deliberate hounding (by the crowd) of News Letter journalists (one of whom was ‘accidently’ struck by a police baton); the carrying of guns by demonstrators; the ‘trampling’ of an elderly woman. The solitary picture was of the same demonstrator depicted in

The Irish News only within the News Letter he was being ‘escorted’ rather than ‘frogmarched’.

Notably, within neither of these two papers, was there any serious evaluation of the politics underpinning the riotits origin and motivation, its implications for the future, its significance within the context of the upcoming general election. As Dervla Murphy has written, in Northern Ireland, ‘the media are on the whole so unanalytical’ so that, for many people, issues of cause and effect became totally subsumed and over-simplified by the particular sectarian leaning of the newspaper.

Perhaps significantly, neither the News Letter nor The Irish News reported that many of the demonstrators were youngsters – an aspect corroborated within the eyewitness account of Beresford Ellis who noted ‘the young lads … unafraid in the face of the grim paramilitaryphalanxes of the RUC.Perhaps these newspapers felt that reporting upon the rioters as youngsters might detract from the sectarian seriousness and partisan dimensions of the riot.

The Belfast Telegraph for the same day (3rd October), however, reported that ‘most of the outrages are the work of young hooligans and not by a core of politically motivated demonstrators’, thus adopting a more moderate Unionist position. Leading news articles within the Telegraph dismissed reports of guns being produced by demonstrators (thus contradicting the News Letter account) and gave wide coverage to appeals for calm from all sections of the community. The front-page headline focused on the leader of the NILP, Tom Boyd’s, request for a ‘fullscale public inquiry’ into the tricolour riots and Capt. O’Neill’s refusal to grant it. The headline (for 3rd October) thus contrasts with the other papers mentioned:-

Premier turns down request by Leader of Opposition


Of interest also is the Belfast Telegraph of October 6th which reports the views of the Unionist Lord Mayor of Belfast (William Jenkins) which blames the riots on ‘extremists on both sides’ and also gives prominence to a Nationalist view expressed within a Stormont debate that attacked Dr Paisley’s role in the affair – this seemed to be the only direct mention of Paisley within the ‘news’  items in the contemporary local press. The Letters page within the same edition portrays a range of anguished viewpoints that deplore the violence and the circumstances which led to the riot but also prints some letters which are indicative of extremism and a misplaced sense of national identity, for example:-

a) If people want to fly the tricolour they should go to the Republic of Ireland. Ulster is a very loyal place and the flag for Ulster is the Union Jack.

b) Rev. Ian Paisley is what I call a good Christian and Protestant minister. He is the only one to stand up for his rights (Jim Gibson Newtonards)

c) The remark by the Republican candidate that the RUC are unable to cope with their recent disturbances is nonsense.

d) If it had not been for the courage of the RUC and their ability to cope with trouble the casualties would have been much more serious and the damage worse.

e) A candidate in an Eire election could not fly the Union Jack, yet troublemakers come to Ulster and expect to be able to fly their flag, voice their hatred and threaten violence.

f) There is no place in religion for hatred and violence. If these people want the peace they seek, let them conform to decent methods and they will receive decent results. (Ulster Citizen  – Belfast 10)

While the Northern Ireland newspaper editorials seemed to focus on the detail of and responsibility for the Divis Street riots, in contrast, the editorial in the London Times endeavoured to position the fighting within a wider context as it maintained:- ‘there is no room in a small society, struggling hard and resourcefully to put its economy on a broader and sounder basis for indulgence in traditional feuds’. However the news reporting in respect of the riots within the Times was limited to approximately a quarter column on each day between the 1st and the 5th October competing for equal space with such items as the wedding of Emperor Hirohito’s second son and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson’s dispute with striking dock workers.  Clearly, riotous events within the province in October 1964 were not considered, at least by The Times, important enough to merit any extensive news coverage  – indicative perhaps of an English establishment view that Northern Ireland was really a curious peripheral area that did not merit serious concern. It could be argued on the other hand that, inevitably, the Times’  major news coverage during the riot period was focused upon election in mainland Britain. But if a riotous gathering of angry youths had been beaten and arrested for throwing Molotov cocktails, stones and bricks at police in armoured cars in the barricaded streets of Bristol or Edinburgh – then, perhaps the Times coverage might have been greater? After all, in the Divis Street riot, at least seventy police and civilians were injured and there were many arrests.

In contrast The Irish Press, published in the Republic, gave extensive front page exposure to the disturbances while taking a position, rather like the Irish News, of accentuating police severity and, in particular, their violence towards journalists. Church and community leaders’ appeals for calm were given wide prominence as were the views of a number of Nationalist politicians who condemned ‘the tragic onesided action of the Stormont Government’ and ‘those who for their own ends desire to promote and foment bitterness in the community’. Two pictures are captioned ‘an arrested girl pleads with a policeman as she is led away…’ and ‘police drag a youth along the street to a police tender’ – the message is self-explanatory. A protest at the British embassy in Dublin is also given front-page prominence noting that ‘several thousand’ had marched to object to the ‘Stormont authorities’ action in Belfast during the past few days’.

All of this press coverage cannot have failed to focus Northern Irish voter attention upon the election  – particularly in West Belfast. In the event, if the Government’s tactic in acquiescing to Paisley’s demand to remove the flag by force was indeed to consolidate the working-class

Protestant vote around Mr Kilfedder’s Unionist candidacy then the ploy was successful as, on October 15th he won the seat with 41.2% of the vote, his nearest rival, the Republican Labour candidate Harry Diamond, receiving just 28.3%. A grateful Mr Kilfedder thanked Ian Paisley for his victory:- ‘without whom, it would not have been possible’. Such a result in a seat previously considered to be marginal shows how easily, then at least, many working-class Protestant people could be persuaded to vote to preserve their sectarian supremacy in the face of a perceived threat (the flying of the tricolour) in preference to candidates who might have benefitted them from an economic or job-security viewpoint.

For an external observer, the extreme significance of flags within Northern Ireland as evidenced by the events in Divis Street, is difficult to comprehend; however it was not a new phenomenon neither was it one peculiar to the Protestant community. Consider the words of James Connolly writing in April 1916 shortly before the Easter Rising:- there should fly in Dublin the green flag of this country as a rallying point of our forces and embodiment of all our hopes. Where better could that flag fly than over the unconquered citadel of the Irish working class, Liberty Hall, the fortress of the militant working class of Ireland.

Consequently, there might be a view that explains extremist Protestant hostility to the flying of the tricolour as being a defensive action against a symbol which, as the above extract shows, had such presumed historical significance to the Republican community – a grouping who were anyway perceived as being potential threats to the status quo of Unionist dominance. But such an explanation would be grossly over-simplistic; it fails to understand the inculcated Protestant fear and animosity that many had for the Roman Catholic community – even from childhood. But such is the essence of aggressive sectarianism, consider these recollections of a Protestant working class Belfast boyhood by a writer who would have reached the age of 36 in 1964:-

‘The Pope! How we feared and hated him, we thought the Pope more terrible than Hitler when the German came to our notice, and certainly a greater evil than his disciple, Mr. De Valera. From the safety of the passing train we could boldly hurl abuse at the Mickeys’ houses and their papish murals… We shouted ‘To hell with the Pope’, a devout prayer on Ulster lips – and a favourite on and his ownflag memories of 12th July Orange celebrations:-

A Union Jack hung from every house and masses of bunting criss-crossed the street from upper windows … streamers, red, white and blue rosettes bloomed in a profuse garden of paper and linen.

Strictly speaking the RUC requirement for the Republicans to remove the tricolour was lawful according to the 1954 Act. Since Ian Paisley had threatened to remove the flag himself (with the support of his followers) then continued display would certainly have caused violent confrontation. Like much of the legislation within Northern Ireland, the only necessity required for the law’s enforcement was for a policeman to unilaterally decide a breach (or in this case a potential breach) had or might be committed. Note the implication within the (somewhat quaint) language of Clause 2 of the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland), 1954:- where any police officer … apprehends that the display of  such emblem may occasion a breach of the peace, he may require the person … to discontinue such display or cause it to be discontinued’.

Paradoxically therefore, ironically even, Paisley’s threat to effectively cause a riot brought about RUC actions to enforce the law the consequence of which was – a riot! The significance of flags and other colourful symbols seems to run through Northern Ireland sectarian history since the province’s inception; even in June 2000 at an early meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly there was still bitter squabbling in respect of whether the Union Flag or the tricolour or both should be permitted to fly. 

Aside from instruction in respect of the heightened significance given to flags, what other conclusions can be drawn from the events of Divis Street as to the growing divisions in Northern Ireland society in the mid-1960s? Firstly, the Paisley tactic of threatening a march or demonstration by himself and his supporters had absolutely the desired effect as his threat caused the Government to introduce the RUC in order both to enforce the law (by removing the illegal flag) and to preventa guaranteed disturbance if Paisley’s adherents had entered West Belfast to remove it themselves. Threatening a march would become a tactic to be used increasingly by Paisley as demonstrations in support of the civil rights movement gained ground. Faced with the prospect of certain violence, the RUC and/or the Government would ban both marches thereby leaving a satisfied Paisley to settle for  a mass indoor rally (for instance) in the knowledge that civil rights protest voices had been quelled – on that occasion at least.

As Andrew Boyd notes, Paisley’s vocal tactics in the Divis Street dispute over the tricolour became his ‘model for the future so that the consistent alleging of a ‘threat to Protestantism in Ulster and the weakness of certain political leaders’ became thematic for future extremist campaigns and gatherings.

Maintaining the credentials of the Unionist Government as stalwart upholders of continued Protestant supremacy was also significant. Dervla Murphy has noted how the views and attitudes of ‘extreme Protestant religious leaders and traditionalist Unionist political leaders’ often overlapped particularly when ranged against more liberal Unionist opinion that might prejudice the enshrined No Surrender  ethos.

The Divis Street events were the first serious occasion whereby Terence O’Neill’s Loyalist steadfastness was put to the test by his more extreme Protestant/Unionist colleagues who were suspicious of any potential for relaxing the time-honoured hard-line Unionist approach.

O’Neill’s cleverly-worded (and prominent) condemnation of Republican candidates for provoking disorder mitigated some of the damage to his reputation brought about by his previous efforts at rapprochement with the nationalist segment of the community. He certainly seems to have survived the tricolour riots with his Loyalist reputation intact – the utilisation of the RUC as a paramilitary tool for enforcing Nationalist adherence to sectarian legislation, in this case the flying of a flag, consolidated his personal job security at least for a while. Conclusions in respect of national identity and allegiance can also be drawn from Divis Street. As well as harbouring deep seated suspicion of Catholicism, Loyalist extremists were additionally very sceptical not only of Catholics’ allegiance to the state, but their potential for subversively undermining its institutions. Loyalists were aware that reunification with the Irish Republic was a defined objective by Northern nationalists and was a key component within the constitution of the Irish Republic to the south. Such distrust was perhaps not conceptually misplaced since many Catholics had refused to recognise the State of Northern Ireland since its foundation.

However, whether a suspicion of treasonable activity (flying a flag?) was sufficiently valid to stimulate the use of such extreme force by the RUC in Divis Street is doubtful. Undoubtedly, a significant number of the rioters would have considered themselves victims of police oppression at the time; many, like the young Gerry Adams (as mentioned previously), would be witnessing their first exposure to such a profound expression of state-sponsored force and violence. As a consequence therefore, it could be argued that the state action to repress a treasonable display of sympathy to another country, itself stimulated many young Catholics to begin pursuing their own extremist solutions.

In conclusion the root cause of the Divis Street dispute, and the further conflicts and troubles that followed it, was essentially the active and reactive sectarian antipathy harboured by so many otherwise rational people. Related issues such as:- Republican violence, British disdain and obliviousness, Loyalist paranoia, injustices and Civil Rights, flags and symbols, gerrymandering, national allegiances, police excesses, the presence of the army, bombs and bullets, riots and protests, even the original act of partition itself and a myriad of other effects were just that  – the effects of religious bigotry and intolerance. However sectarianism, and all that flowed from it, cannot be presented as having been only due to the hostility and loudness of politicians and extremists – perhaps the Northern Irish poet Seamus Heaney should have the final word:-

Smoke-signals are loud-mouthed compared with us:

Manoeuvrings to find out name and school,

Subtle discrimination by addresses

With hardly an exception to the rule

That Norman, Ken and Sidney signalled Prod

And Seamus (call me Sean) was sure-fire Pape.

O land of password, handgrip, wink and nod,

Of open minds as open as a trap

One response to “The Divis Street Riots Of 1964

  1. Pingback: Podcast: Ian Paisley with Ed Moloney – The Irish Story

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