Doctor and leading light of the North’s early civil rights movement

GP was key instigator of the 1960s campaign to address homelessness in Dungannon caused by unionist policy

Dr Conn McCluskey meeting former president Mary McAleese: he has died at the age of 98

Dr Conn McCluskey meeting former president Mary McAleese: he has died at the age of 98

Sat, Dec 28, 2013, 01:00

Dr Conn McCluskey, who has died in his 99th year, was, with his late wife, Patricia McCluskey, one of the principal instigators of the North’s civil rights movement. At the time, McCluskey was a general practitioner in Dungannon, Co Tyrone. Though fairly well-off, he was not prepared to walk away and see injustice done to others. This was despite knowing his stance would attract threat and insult.

In 1963, his wife and he helped organise protests against injustice in the allocation of public housing. He also set about collating statistics regarding discrimination in employment and housing against Catholics.

At the time, Dungannon had a slight Catholic majority. As with most local authorities, unionists controlled the Urban District Council, consolidated by a gerrymander.

Many of his patients lived in overcrowded housing. He knew a family of 10 living in a one-roomed bedsit. Seven other families lived in that house, each in one room.

This resulted from unionist government policy. Local councillors allocated housing, with no standard procedure for assessing need. Only householders could vote in local elections, so unionists restricted the numbers of Catholic householders. From 1945 to 1963, Dungannon Council allocated houses to 264 Protestant families – and 34 Catholic.


Homeless protest
In response, his wife and he helped organise the Homeless Citizens’ League. In 1963, it organised a protest march in Dungannon, and then squatting in bungalows at Fairmount Park. The squatters were eventually housed.

He then helped set up the Campaign for Social Justice. For the first time this systematically documented discrimination in the North. As the North was part of the UK, McCluskey wanted its residents to have the same rights. The campaign lobbied sympathetic British politicians. It annoyed unionists – and many in the Nationalist Party, who had developed a cosy relationship with unionism.

In 1967, McCluskey was elected vice-chairman of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights’ Association at its first meeting. It was because of the McCluskeys’ preparatory work that the first civil rights march, in 1968, was from Coalisland to Dungannon. However, he fell away from the civil rights movement as its campaign developed, feeling it had become too radical.

Constantine Mary (Conn) McCluskey was born in February 1915, the elder of two sons to John Montague McCluskey and his wife Anne (née Hughes). Both parents originated from the Armagh-Tyrone border area, southwest of Lough Neagh.

Even in the womb, he suffered the North’s sectarian problems. His parents had rented a house in a largely Protestant area a few miles east of Dungannon. After incidents of intimidation, they moved to Warrenpoint, and he was born soon after.

He received primary education locally, and secondary education at St Colman’s College, Newry, and Blackrock College, Dublin, before studying medicine in UCD. After graduation, he worked in the north of England, then Keady, Co Armagh, before moving to Dungannon.


Medical excellence
He was also a fine sculptor and photographer. Almost 30 years ago, he and his wife moved to Dublin.

He is remembered in Dungannon as an excellent doctor, despite having retired and left over a generation ago.

He is survived by his daughters Sheila, Margaret and Darine; son-in-law Dermot; grandchildren; and great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife Patricia (née McShane).

Róisín Meets...Dawn O'Porter