Londonderry’s Protestant exodus little remembered

Mural in Fountain estate in the Cityside in 1971, now the only major Protestant concentration left in the city's west
Mural in Fountain estate in the Cityside in 1971, now the only major Protestant concentration left in the city's west

I refer to your article by Sam McBride on January 1, ‘Declassified files: Ministers decided against radical measures to stem Londonderry’s Protestant exodus’.

In any other country if there was a drop in the population from 18,000 to 1,500 (16,500) over the period of 20 years (that’s 825 people per year) you would think it would warrant action from the Government or security forces.

A drop of 92% over 20 years was not down to ‘natural wastage’; any right-thinking person would appreciate that. The figures point towards a strategy of ethnic cleansing, defined as “the systematic forced removal of ethnic or racial groups from a given territory by a more powerful ethnic group”.

The figures quoted do not include the number of Protestants who lived in Northern Ireland’s second largest city prior to 1973, which were some of the worst years of the so-called ‘Troubles’.

The exodus of Protestants from Londonderry’s Cityside is a story that has been told by playwright Jonathan Burgess.

However, it is one that has fallen on deaf ears.

Protestants, a minority on the Cityside, were under threat from republican terrorists – the root cause of the problem.

Protestants lived in fear and threat of being burned out of their homes or murdered because of their religion or perceived politics, something similar to the Protestants left behind in parts of the Irish Free State in the 1920s, such as at Bandon, Co Cork – another untold story unearthed by the late Peter Hart.

Republicans usually argue that unionists did not want “a Catholic about the place”, yet the figures in respect of Londonderry argue to the contrary.

The story of the exodus, or expulsion, of Protestants in Londonderry and elsewhere (to include the border areas and parts of west and north Belfast) is one that receives little or no attention today. Instead, it is brushed aside as hearsay.

Furthermore, republicans forcing Protestants from the Cityside to the Waterside of Londonderry, or further afield, succeeded in segregating the city and no-one sought to prevent it. Through their actions, in Londonderry and elsewhere within the Province, the Provisional movement was effectively allowed to take control of the city – control they never held prior to the emergence of the civil rights movement and ‘the Troubles’.

That appears to demonstrate a serious case of injustice worthy of further investigation.

Dr Andrew Charles, Belfast, BT9