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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

Press Release

The Burning Of Bombay Street

Lawrence Pitkethly

Seasoned journalist Lawrence Pitkethly, now living in Paris, revisits the scene of harrowing human suffering that started his career as a young television reporter in the late 1960s in a new documentary for BBC One Northern Ireland. The Burning Of Bombay Street is on BBC One Northern Ireland on Monday 7 March at 10.35pm.

On 15 August 1969 in an increasingly tense Belfast, Bombay Street was burned to the ground by a Loyalist mob. A typical west Belfast working class street, Bombay Street was situated in the shadow of the well known Clonard Monastery. It also neighboured Cupar Street, an unmarked dividing line between the Nationalist Clonard Area and the Loyalist Shankill Area.

On the night of 14 August 1969 sectarian tensions exploded in west Belfast. Republicans exchanged shots with the RUC and Loyalist gunmen amid riots along the interface areas. When the RUC pressed into the Nationalist district it was followed by a Loyalist mob.

By the end of the following day, the mob had burned Bombay Street to the ground.

In the aftermath of the attack, Lawrence interviewed residents, community leaders and Clergy to try to make sense of the awful events that occurred.

Over 40 years later he now revisits the area to find a cautious hope for peace in future generations.

Originally from County Down, Lawrence moved to London at the age of 20, then to New York where he spent most of his successful career in television. He moved to Paris 12 years ago where he continues to write and produce programmes.

Lawrence Pitkethly said: "What's interesting to me is the responsibility of the journalist, as journalists record the lives of real people. Many of those lives are shattered, but then those lives go on, and so the journalist is not just snapping a moment in time for a news story, the journalist is responsible for talking to people about who they are, what they feel and what is really happening at the time, and that's a lesson to me."

The programme is interspersed with remarkable archive footage and photographs.

Lawrence speaks with the Canavan family, who still live on Bombay Street, with Father Des Wilson and Reverend Harold Good, as well as IRA volunteers Sean Murray and Sean Meehan, who tried to protect the street as young men.

Revealing that on his way home after reporting in August 1969, he wept in empathy at the suffering the people had to endure, Lawrence continued: "At the time, I definitely had an interest and attachment to this story in a way that was different to any other news story I've done – because I come from this place."

The documentary, produced by Notasuch Films, expresses a cautious hope for the future.

In late 1969 as the 'Peace Wall' was erected in the aftermath of the unrest, it became clear that the city council were neglecting to help reconstruct the houses for the displaced. The street was voluntarily rebuilt by a dedicated group of Irish speakers from within the community.

Seán Mac Goill, architect of the street's rebuilding, left a deliberate opening in the road on the Bombay Street side of the wall with the aspiration that one day the communities on either side would be reunited. That opening still awaits a reconnection.

The Burning Of Bombay Street is on BBC One Northern Ireland on Monday 7 March at 10.35pm


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