Falls Curfew
The Falls Curfew was a British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 operation during 3–5 July 1970 in an area along the Falls Road in Belfast
Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland. By population, it is the 14th biggest city in the United Kingdom and second biggest on the island of Ireland . It is the seat of the devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly...

, Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

. The operation started with a weapons search but quickly developed into rioting and gun battles between British soldiers and the Official Irish Republican Army. Shortly after the violence began, the British commander imposed a curfew
A curfew is an order specifying a time after which certain regulations apply. Examples:# An order by a government for certain persons to return home daily before a certain time...

, which eventually lasted 36 hours. During the curfew, four civilians were killed by the British Army, at least 75 people were wounded (including 15 soldiers) and 337 people were arrested.


A week before the Falls Curfew, on Saturday 27 June 1970, Belfast experienced severe rioting after an Orange Order parade in the north of the city. During that evening, republicans claim that groups of loyalist
Ulster loyalism
Ulster loyalism is an ideology that is opposed to a united Ireland. It can mean either support for upholding Northern Ireland's status as a constituent part of the United Kingdom , support for Northern Ireland independence, or support for loyalist paramilitaries...

 rioters began to make incursions into the Catholic
Irish Catholic
Irish Catholic is a term used to describe people who are both Roman Catholic and Irish .Note: the term is not used to describe a variant of Catholicism. More particularly, it is not a separate creed or sect in the sense that "Anglo-Catholic", "Old Catholic", "Eastern Orthodox Catholic" might be...

 and nationalist
Irish nationalism
Irish nationalism manifests itself in political and social movements and in sentiment inspired by a love for Irish culture, language and history, and as a sense of pride in Ireland and in the Irish people...

 Short Strand
Short Strand
The Short Strand is a mainly-nationalist area in east Belfast, surrounded by a mainly-unionist area. It is within the townland of Ballymacarret and sits on the east bank of the River Lagan in County Down.-Security issues:...

 enclave of east Belfast. Loyalists claim that the violence was begun by the republicans; allegeding that Orangemen and supporters came under attack on Newtownards Road when returning from a parade.

Members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army
Provisional Irish Republican Army
The Provisional Irish Republican Army is an Irish republican paramilitary organisation whose aim was to remove Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom and bring about a socialist republic within a united Ireland by force of arms and political persuasion...

 took up sniping positions in the grounds of St Matthew’s Catholic Church and engaged in a prolonged gun battle with loyalist gunmen
Battle of St Matthew's
The Battle of St Matthew's or Battle of Short Strand was a gun battle fought between volunteers of the Provisional Irish Republican Army and Ulster loyalists on 27 June 1970. It took place in the area around St Matthew's Roman Catholic Church, which is in the mainly nationalist Short Strand...

. Across Belfast seven people were killed, of whom five were Protestants and one was a Roman Catholic shot by the IRA. Meanwhile, the Official Irish Republican Army arranged for a large number of weapons to be brought into the mainly nationalist and Catholic Lower Falls area for distribution. The area was a stronghold of the Official IRA.

Initial weapons search

In response to the violence, the following weekend the British government sent troops from the Black Watch
Black Watch
The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland is an infantry battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. The unit's traditional colours were retired in 2011 in a ceremony led by Queen Elizabeth II....

 and Life Guards
Life Guards (British Army)
The Life Guards is the senior regiment of the British Army and with the Blues and Royals, they make up the Household Cavalry.They originated in the four troops of Horse Guards raised by Charles II around the time of his restoration, plus two troops of Horse Grenadier Guards which were raised some...

 regiments into the Lower Falls area to recover paramilitary weapons. The search began at about 3pm on 3 July, under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Ian Freeland
Ian Freeland
Lieutenant-General Sir Ian Henry Freeland GBE KCB DSO DL was a British Army officer, who most notably served as Army General Officer Commanding and Director of Operations in security matters in Northern Ireland in the aftermath of rioting in 1969, and the beginning of the Troubles.-Early career...

. 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.

Gun battles and rioting

As the armored vehicles left the area, a small crowd of youths on Raglan Street pelted them with stones. The troops replied by launching CS gas
CS gas
2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile is the defining component of a "tear gas" commonly referred to as CS gas, which is used as a riot control agent...

 at the crowd. The youths continued to throw stones and the soldiers responded with more CS gas. Jim Sullivan
Jim Sullivan (Irish Republican)
Jim Sullivan was a leading member of the Official Irish Republican Army from the lower Falls area of Belfast.Sullivan was second in command of the Belfast Brigade of the Official IRA and played an important role in events in Belfast during the late 1960s and early 1970s...

, the local Official IRA commander, instructed his men not to attack the troops, for fear that the rest of their weapons would be found and seized and instead tried to move the arms out of the area. At about 6pm, however, the rival Provisional IRA attacked the troops with improvised hand grenade
Hand grenade
A hand grenade is any small bomb that can be thrown by hand. Hand grenades are classified into three categories, explosive grenades, chemical and gas grenades. Explosive grenades are the most commonly used in modern warfare, and are designed to detonate after impact or after a set amount of time...

s. 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.

Shortly after the violence began, Freeland announced a curfew
A curfew is an order specifying a time after which certain regulations apply. Examples:# An order by a government for certain persons to return home daily before a certain time...

 and flooded the area with up to 3,000 soldiers supported by armoured vehicles and helicopters. The curfew zone, comprising about fifty streets, was sealed off with barbed wire. Helicopters equipped with loudspeakers hovered overhead, ordering residents to stay indoors.

According to an Official IRA source quoted by journalists Eamonn Mallie and Patrick Bishop, the local Official IRA leadership reluctantly decided to take on the British troops once the scale of their incursion became clear. The source said:

The way we looked at it, we were not going to put up our hands and let them take the weaponry. We didn't want the confrontation, but we couldn't surrender".
Directly after the curfew was imposed, three soldiers were shot and wounded by Official IRA volunteers in Omar Street.The Provisional IRA pulled out, allegedly because it believed the clash would end badly and it would lose the few weapons it had.

The shooting, which had begun at about 6pm, continued into the night. On the morning of 4 July, when the troops entered the area, they were attacked by nationalist rioters and a sustained barrage of rifle and automatic fire from Official IRA volunteers. Over the next two days, there were continuous rioting and gun battles in the area. Approximately 80–90 Official IRA volunteers, each armed with a rifle and one or two hand guns, exchanged fire with the troops, who fired over 1,500 rounds in the incident. Hundreds of local youths also pelted the troops with stones and petrol bombs. Journalist Simon Winchester
Simon Winchester
Simon Winchester, OBE , is a British-American author and journalist who resides mostly in the United States. Through his career at The Guardian, Winchester covered numerous significant events including Bloody Sunday and the Watergate Scandal...

 later wrote:
To anyone who experienced the battle, it was perfectly obvious that hundreds and hundreds of bullets were being fired by both sides – and yet the Army had the gall, when asked by reporters later in the weekend, to say that its soldiers fired only 15 shots in sum.

After sealing off the curfew zone, the Army began a house-to-house search for weapons under the cover of CS gas. The soldiers fired 1,600 canisters of CS gas, which was considered to be excessive in such a small area. Journalist Peter Taylor describes the effect of the CS gas on the densely populated area:
The clouds of choking and suffocating gas drifted up the narrow alleyways and back streets of the warren that is the Lower Falls. The gas got everywhere, in through windows, under doors and into the residents' eyes, noses, throats and lungs.

A soldier later interviewed by Taylor recalled: "The place was still saturated with CS gas. Children were coughing, I remember. I'm talking now about the toddlers, kids of three, four, five. It affected everyone but children especially". There were allegations that some soldiers fired CS gas canisters through the windows of houses while residents were still inside.

Any journalists who remained inside the curfew zone were arrested by the Army. It is claimed that, because the media was unable to watch their activities, the soldiers behaved "with reckless abandon". Hundreds of houses were forcibly searched for weapons. Pubs and businesses were also searched and it is claimed that several of them were looted by the soldiers. According to Mallie and Bishop's account:
The soldiers behaved with a new harshness ... axeing down doors, ripping up floorboards, disembowelling chairs, sofas, beds, and smashing the garish plaster statues of the Madonna, the Infant of Prague and Saint Bernadette which adorned the tiny front parlours.

At a Northern Ireland Cabinet
Executive Committee of the Privy Council of Northern Ireland
The Executive Committee or the Executive Committee of the Privy Council of Northern Ireland was the government of Northern Ireland created under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Generally known as either the Cabinet or the Government, the Executive Committee existed from 1922 to 1972...

 meeting on 7 July, it was said that "little structural damage had been reported, apart from the pulling up of floorboards". The ministers concluded that there was a "smear campaign" being mounted against the British Army. The British Minister of State
Minister of State
Minister of State is a title borne by politicians or officials in certain countries governed under a parliamentary system. In some countries a "minister of state" is a junior minister, who is assigned to assist a specific cabinet minister...

 for defence, Lord Balniel
Robert Lindsay, 29th Earl of Crawford
Robert Alexander Lindsay, 29th Earl of Crawford and 12th Earl of Balcarres, , styled Lord Balniel between 1940 and 1975, is a Scottish hereditary peer and Conservative politician. The elder son of the 28th Earl of Crawford and 11th Earl of Balcarres, he succeeded to the titles in 1975...

, defended the actions of the soldiers, stating: "I am deeply impressed by the impartial way they are carrying out an extremely difficult task".

At 5pm on Saturday, the Army announced by loudspeaker that people could come out for one hour to get vital supplies.

End of the curfew

The curfew was broken at about 9am on Sunday 5 July, when 3,000 women from the nationalist Andersonstown
Andersonstown is a suburb of Belfast, Northern Ireland.It is overshadowed by the Black Mountain and Divis Mountain and contains a mixture of public and private housing. It is largely populated by the Irish nationalist and Roman Catholic community...

 area marched to the lower Falls with food and other groceries for the people there. The unprepared soldiers tried to hold back the crowd at first, but eventually allowed it to pass through.

By the time the search was over, the troops had captured about 100 firearms, 100 home made grenades, 250 pounds of explosives and 21,000 rounds of ammunition. Among the firearms were 52 pistols, 35 rifles, 6 machine guns and 14 shotguns. Almost all of this material belonged to the Official IRA.

It was later reported that while the lower Falls was under curfew and the streets emptied of people, the Army had driven two Unionist
Ulster Unionist Party
The Ulster Unionist Party – sometimes referred to as the Official Unionist Party or, in a historic sense, simply the Unionist Party – is the more moderate of the two main unionist political parties in Northern Ireland...

 ministers, John Brooke
John Brooke, 2nd Viscount Brookeborough
John Warden Brooke, 2nd Viscount Brookeborough, Bt, PC was a Northern Irish politician, the son of Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, the 1st Viscount Brookeborough.-Early life:...

 and William Long
William Long
William Long is the name of:* William J. Long, American nature writer* William Ivey Long, costume designer* William Long...

, through the area in armoured vehicles. This enraged nationalists in Northern Ireland, who perceived the gesture a symbol of unionist triumphalism
Triumphalism is the attitude or belief that a particular doctrine, religion, culture, or social system is superior to and should triumph over all others...

 over an area cowed by British military force.


The Army killed four civilians during the curfew:
  • Charles O'Neill, a 36-year-old Catholic civilian, died on 3 July after being knocked down by a British Saracen
    Alvis Saracen
    The FV603 Saracen is a six-wheeled armoured personnel carrier built by Alvis and used by the British army. It became a recognisable vehicle as a result of its part in the policing of Northern Ireland.-History:...

    Armoured personnel carrier
    An armoured personnel carrier is an armoured fighting vehicle designed to transport infantry to the battlefield.APCs are usually armed with only a machine gun although variants carry recoilless rifles, anti-tank guided missiles , or mortars...

     on the Falls Road. The Conflict Archive on the Internet
    Conflict Archive on the Internet
    CAIN is a database containing information about Conflict and Politics in Northern Ireland from 1968 to the Present. The project began in 1996, with the website launching in 1997. The project is based within the University of Ulster at its Magee campus...

     (CAIN) and the Irish News claim that O'Neill was "deliberately" run over. He was an invalided ex-serviceman.
  • Thomas Burns, a 54-year-old Catholic civilian, was shot dead at the front door of his home on the Falls Road on 3 July.
  • Patrick Elliman, a 62-year-old Catholic civilian, was shot in the head on Marchioness Street on 3 July and died of his wounds on 10 July.
  • Zbigniew Uglik, a 23-year-old visitor from England, was shot dead at the rear of a house on Albert Street on 4 July. He was an amateur photographer and was allegedly trying to take photographs when he was shot.

Another 60 civilians suffered gunshot wounds, as did 15 soldiers, 3 more of whom were wounded by stones or petrol bombs. A total 337 people, including Official IRA leader Billy McMillen
Billy McMillen
Billy McMillen was an Irish republican activist and an officer of the Official Irish Republican Army...

 were also arrested.


The Falls Curfew had two major results. The first was that it deeply alienated Belfast's Irish nationalist and Catholic population from the Army. Historian Richard English
Richard English
Richard English is a historian from Northern Ireland. He was born in Belfast in 1963. His father, Donald English was a prominent Methodist preacher. He studied as an undergraduate at Keble College, Oxford, and subsequently at Keele University, where he was awarded a PhD in History...

 suggests that the Falls Curfew was "arguably decisive in terms of worsening the relationship between the British Army and the Catholic working class
Working class
Working class is a term used in the social sciences and in ordinary conversation to describe those employed in lower tier jobs , often extending to those in unemployment or otherwise possessing below-average incomes...

". Previously, many of them had seen the Army as a neutral force in the city to keep order between Catholics and Protestants. However, the events of the Falls Curfew gave credence to the Irish republican
Irish Republicanism
Irish republicanism is an ideology based on the belief that all of Ireland should be an independent republic.In 1801, under the Act of Union, the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

 argument that the British Army was a hostile colonial army of occupation. According to Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin is a left wing, Irish republican political party in Ireland. The name is Irish for "ourselves" or "we ourselves", although it is frequently mistranslated as "ourselves alone". Originating in the Sinn Féin organisation founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, it took its current form in 1970...

's Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams is an Irish republican politician and Teachta Dála for the constituency of Louth. From 1983 to 1992 and from 1997 to 2011, he was an abstentionist Westminster Member of Parliament for Belfast West. He is the president of Sinn Féin, the second largest political party in Northern...

, "Thousands of people who had never been republicans now gave their active support to the IRA; others, who had never had any time for physical force now regarded it as a practical necessity".

The second main result was a deepening of the enmity between the two factions of the Irish Republican Army, the Official IRA and the Provisional IRA, who had parted ways in December 1969. The Officials blamed the Provisionals for starting the confrontation with troops and then leaving them to fight alone against overwhelming odds, resulting in the loss of much of their weaponry. Over the following year, the two factions carried out many shootings and beatings of each other's members. A truce was eventually agreed between them to prevent further bloodshed after the Officials assassinated a young Provisional named Charlie Hughes. Hughes was the commander of the Provisional's unit in the lower Falls and had taken part in some of the fighting during the Falls Curfew.
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