1969 was an eventful year, to say the least. We turn the clock back fifty years to remember what was happening in the world, and what Old Moore had to say about it. By Elaine Kavanagh.
1969 stands out for a particularly momentous event and one of history’s most famous quotes: “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” It was, of course, Apollo 11’s successful trip to the moon and the words of Neil Armstrong crackling back to a watching world 240,000 miles away. The success of the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969 was the culmination of years of scientific research, engineering genius and hard work.
But there was much more to 1969 than the moon landing. It was a turbulent year, with trouble brewing all over the world. Half a million American soldiers were fighting in Vietnam, to the increasing disapproval of many US citizens. In the Middle East, Israel and her neighbours came to blows. Russia and China also flexed their muscles in a border conflict.
Ireland in 1969
Then there were the events that took place on our own island that year. In 1969, tensions in Northern Ireland boiled over. Nationalist communities who were protesting for civil rights came increasingly under threat from loyalist groups. The nationalist Derry MP Eddie McAteer summed up the situation at the time by saying “a fifty-year-old dam that has been building up has burst.”
In the Republic, there were calls to send the Irish army into the North to protect the nationalist community. The situation was so grave that Taoiseach Jack Lynch addressed the nation, the Irish government asked the UN for assistance and refugee camps were set up along the border. In August, British army troops arrived in Northern Ireland amid continued unrest and violence.
Also in Ireland that year, a housing crisis saw protests take place by the Dublin Housing Action Committee (DHAC). In a sad reflection of the current housing situation, campaigners protested about homelessness, evictions and long waiting lists.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the government built less social housing. However, throughout the 1960s demand for housing rose due to a combination of factors. Declining emigration had an impact. So too did the evictions of families from old Georgian houses, now fallen into disrepair. In 1963 two of these houses had collapsed, killing four people. Since then, many families had moved out of condemned homes – some into tents and caravans.
The DHAC published a booklet entitled Crisis which claimed that 10,000 people were homeless in Dublin. The booklet highlighted strategies to address the important issues, such as moving families into empty properties and exposing rogue landlords. While the protests were well supported, critics dismissed the group as communists or subversives.
Pop Icons & Airplanes
In the entertainment world, John Lennon and Yoko Ono had their famous bed-in protest for peace in Amsterdam, followed by a second one in Montreal later in the year. The protests were intended to be peaceful anti-war demonstrations. Paul McCartney married Linda Eastman despite the grief of thousands of Beatles fans. And the Woodstock festival took place.
Concorde took to the skies for the first time in October 1969 for test flights; scheduled flights began in 1976. Also that year, the Boeing 747, was introduced by Pan American and Trans World Airlines to great acclaim. And in a mark of things to come, work started on a new terminal for Dublin airport amid the increasing popularity of air travel – 1.7 million passengers passed through Dublin Airport in 1969.
What Did Old Moore Predict?
So, what did Old Moore have to say about such an eventful year? Rather a lot as it turned out. He started the year with this prediction for January: Middle East news strongly featured with aid for the Arab countries by Eastern powers.
Middle East news was indeed strongly featured right from the beginning of the year. Israeli fighter jets attacked Jordan, and the Israelis claimed that Egyptian soldiers at the Suez Canal opened fire on them. January newspapers reported that world leaders stressed the need to find a peaceful solution.
Trouble in the Middle East
Trouble had been brewing in the Middle East for years. The 1967 Six-Day War, during which Israel seized the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria, while killing 20,000 Arab soldiers, had served to further exacerbate tension between these neighbours.
As for Old Moore’s prediction of aid by the Eastern powers, it’s possible that Russia did provide aid of some kind to the Arabs, albeit behind the scenes. A declassified CIA cable from February 1968 said that the Soviets would actively aid the Arabs in gaining back the territory lost in the June 1967 war.
Old Moore predicted that in August 1969 tension will increase in border activity between Israel and her neighbours. This did happen, although the War of Attrition, as it came to be known, actually began in March 1969.
The previous year had seen increasing hostilities between the two countries. Egypt were seeking to retake the territory seized by the Israelis in the Six-Day War. During 1968, each side had carried out attacks, but the early months of 1969 saw no activity. Then in March, Egypt initiated war with strikes against Israel. The conflict escalated in July when the Israelis increased their attacks; it dragged into the following year, finally coming to an end when Egypt’s President Nasser died and his successor didn’t renew the hostilities.
The Moon Landing
Old Moore foretold that in March 1969 a major set-back could occur in space development programmes of both America and Russia. As it happened, a major set-back did occur – but only in the Russian camp.
When we remember the moon landing, it’s perhaps easy to forget the space race between the Cold War superpowers. The Soviets had an early lead over the US. They launched the first man-made object to ever reach the moon, the Luna 2 probe, in 1959. They gave the world the first pictures of the far side of the moon, courtesy of their Luna 3 probe. Plus, in 1966 another Soviet probe transmitted the first pictures from the surface of the moon.
But while they proved successful in unmanned missions, Soviet efforts to land astronauts on the moon ended in failure. The N1 rocket was the Soviet equivalent of the American Saturn V rocket and it was intended to launch the L3 spacecraft, just as Saturn V launched Apollo. Four attempts were made to launch the N1: in February and July of 1969, and again in 1971 and 1972. All four attempts failed, with the second attempt ending in a massive explosion of the N1 rocket.
The Soviets cancelled the N1 programme in 1976. It remained a state secret until 1990 when the government allowed details to be published under its glasnost (openness and transparency) policy.
Old Moore’s forecast for April that chances of settlement of the Vietnam issue could suddenly be dashed unfortunately turned out to be true (more or less) as no settlement was reached, and the war dragged on.
Peace talks had begun in Paris in May 1968, but no progress had been made by the start of 1969. At one stage, there was even disagreement over the shape of the table! The North Vietnamese preferred a circular table so that all parties could be seen as equals. But, the South Vietnamese wanted a square table to represent the distinct sides to the conflict.
In November 1968, to foster the progression of the peace talks, US president Lyndon B Johnson called a halt to Operation Rolling Thunder, the three-and-a-half-year American bombing campaign of North Vietnam.
Despite the peace talks, an escalation of the war early in 1969 saw Old Moore’s prediction ring true. In February, North Vietnamese forces attacked 110 targets throughout South Vietnam. Thirty-six US marines died in just one raid. In March, US President Nixon threatened to resume bombing in North Vietnam in retaliation and US troops went on the offensive inside the Demilitarised Zone for the first time that year.
That same month the US began a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia to target North Vietnamese sanctuaries and bases. It didn’t remain a secret for long though – The New York Times broke the story in May 1969. By this time public sentiment in the US had begun to turn against the country’s continued involvement in Vietnam.
Another April prediction said: At home political affairs rather turbulent; the resignation of a Minister will be called for. Indeed, political affairs in the North of Ireland were turbulent for the entire year and that very month, Terence O’Neill, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland since 1963, resigned in response to fierce opposition from his own party members.
O’Neill’s resignation came amid a continuing build up of tension in Northern Ireland. In 1968 the nationalist civil rights campaign made international news when pictures of RUC officers baton-charging a civil rights march in Derry were shown around the world. Nationalists demanded reforms in public housing allocation, fair employment in the public service, a restructured RUC and equality in the electoral system.
At the time gerrymandering enabled unionists to hold majorities on local councils, meaning nationalist communities were poorly represented. In 1968, for instance, there were 14,000 nationalists and 9,000 unionists in the Derry electoratal area, but twelve unionists and eight nationalists sat on the local council.
O’Neill had proposed a programme of modest reforms but hardliners within his own party opposed them. Meanwhile many nationalists and civil rights activists saw the reforms as too little too late. The Ulster Unionist Party split into pro- and anti-O’Neill factions in response to these reforms. In February 1969, O’Neill called a snap general election, the last one before Northern Ireland’s parliament was abolished in 1973.
One Man, One Vote
The Ulster Unionist Party won a majority in the general election. However, the split meant O’Neill didn’t have enough numbers to form a government. He resigned two months later in April. John Hume, who was involved in the civil rights campaign and set up the SDLP in 1970, said at the time:
“no matter how the unionist party attempt to explain this resignation, the facts are that O’Neill has been brought down because he offered one man one vote.”
Affairs in the North continued to escalate throughout the summer. Loyalist opposition grew in tandem with the civil rights campaign, leading to a growth in sectarian tensions and violence. Nationalist homes were attacked by loyalists and the infamous B Specials.
In August the British Home Secretary, James Callaghan, sent in British soldiers. In an address to Bogside residents, he said: “I will try to ensure that there is justice and equality, and lack of fear, and absence of discrimination in this country in which you live.” By the end of 1969, eighteen people had died, 765 had been injured, and thousands had been driven from their homes.
Crisis in the Far East
Two of Old Moore’s June predictions stated: Major crisis develops in Far East and at home a general election is almost certain. The country did indeed go to the polls that month, with Fianna Fail winning a majority under Jack Lynch. It was Lynch’s first election as Taoiseach, having won the leadership race when Sean Lemass resigned three years earlier.
The crisis in the Far East occurred slightly earlier in the year than Old Moore had envisaged. In March, a group of Chinese People’s Liberation Army troops ambushed Soviet border guards on Zhenbao Island. Both sides gave differing accounts of events and of their casualties, but in any event, it resulted in a seven month long military conflict. This unofficial war was the culmination of a split between the two communist countries that centred around political ideology. The Chinese disapproved of Soviet post-Stalin reforms and its policy of peaceful co-existence with the West.
The two countries prepared for an all-out military conflict and for a brief time nuclear war threatened. Fortunately, late in 1969 diplomatic relations were restored. Interestingly, Old Moore predicted a rumour of a secret treaty between Russia and China in November. The Soviet Prime Minister did secretly meet the Chinese Premier in Beijing, after which the two countries began officially makrking their borders.
Working Towards Peace
It wasn’t all trouble and strife in 1969, however. Old Moore predicted that in September meetings will take place in Moscow between leaders of several big powers which are certain to result in general easing of world tension. As it happened a meeting did take place which turned out to be beneficial in promoting world peace and cooperation. It actually took place in November in Helsinki.
The talks were preliminaries to the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks of the 1970s. They laid the groundwork for agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States to curtail the arms race. The world had endured the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and the threat of nuclear war that very year during the Sino-Soviet crisis – these talks set the tone for the pursuit of world peace and stability into the future.
Some other predictions made by Old Moore in 1969 turned out to be pretty accurate. In February, he said: Ireland all set for a great boom in angling and fishing rights are likely to become increasingly valuable. Sure enough, the Irish Press reported in September that angling was in good health, with lakes doing well and sea anglers reaping a plentiful harvest.
Old Moore also predicted a medical breakthrough concerning arthritis research and in January 1969, newspapers reported on an impending cure for arthritis. A team of researchers at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology in London told newspaper reporters that the results of their most recent work was exciting, and that a cure was coming, although they wouldn’t say exactly when. We can only assume the researchers were a little too enthusiastic in their promise of a cure.