On the night of 14-15 August 1969 the skies above north, east and west Belfast blazed as Loyalist mobs, actively supported by the RUC and the B-Specials, launched attacks on Catholic streets. It was a night that was to mark a seismic shift in the history of Ireland, marking the ignition of the Troubles, the arrival onto Belfast streets of the British army and the emergence of the Provisional IRA.
At the heart of these seismic historical events, however, lay human tragedy, as whole communities were forced to become refugees within their own city.
Ardoyne-born Hugh McKeown witnessed the cataclysm first hand, as he helped his Brookfield St family escape. Crucially, however, he also recorded what he saw, in a series of vivid, compelling photographs which communicate more eloquently than words ever could the human impact of the events of August 1969.
Hugh had an exceptional eye for the isolated detail which spoke volumes about the wider picture, so a bullet hole torn in a wall, or the wheel arch of a burned bus become powerful symbols of the broader reality of events.
These photographs are a testimony to the terror, the grief and, crucially, the resilience of a community in turmoil as, through Hugh’s unflinching and perceptive lens, we can almost smell the still-smouldering houses. They are both an elegy for the hundreds of ordinary lives thrown into sudden and painful chaos, and a chilling foretaste of what was to come. With the release of these images into the public sphere, they will also become a reminder, an education and a caution.