New course looks at Civil Rights movement and early Troubles

Key players in protests or politics 50 years ago will lecture at Stranmillis University

A new 10-week course in Belfast will hear nationalist, unionist and other perspectives on the Civil Rights movement in Northern Ireland.

The course at Stranmillis University College, starting on Thursday, will also feature rare archive material, including the first television interview with John Hume and anecdotes from the period including how the then Bernadette Devlin was described as "just an ambitious young girl".

Key players from 50 years ago who were involved in protests or in politics will discuss the formation of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1967 and, in particular, the trouble at the October 5th parade in Derry one year later which brought discrimination in Northern Ireland to world headlines.

The living history project covers the period 1968-74 and is being run by Stranmillis University's lifelong learning team under Belfast native Peter Weil, a former broadcaster and producer.


A journalist put it to her that not only was she a communist but also 'just an ambitious young girl'

The first lecture will be delivered by Bernadette McAliskey, who was a prominent civil rights campaigner and, as Bernadette Devlin, the youngest woman elected to Westminster.

Those participating in the course will hear how on the day she was elected for Mid-Ulster in 1969 a journalist put it to her that not only was she a communist but also “just an ambitious young girl”.


Others participating include Lord Kilclooney who, as John Taylor, was junior home affairs minister in the unionist Stormont administration between 1970 and 1972 when Northern Ireland was becoming engulfed in the Troubles.

Former SDLP politicians Bríd Rodgers and Austin Currie, who were involved in civil rights in the late 1960s, will also be delivering lectures, as will Chris Maccabe, a former political director of the Northern Ireland Office, Noel Dorr, former secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and Sir Kenneth Bloomfield, former head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service.

Other speakers include loyalist politicians Baroness May Blood and Billy Hutchinson; the writer and former Sinn Féin director of publicity Danny Morrison; the Rev Harold Good, who was involved in overseeing IRA weapons decommissioning; former senior RUC and PSNI officer Alan McQuillan; former Fianna Fáil TD Martin Mansergh, a special advisor on Northern Ireland to three taoisigh including Charles Haughey; and Baroness Shirley Williams, appointed the first minister for Northern Ireland by Harold Wilson in 1969.

Journalist Eamonn Mallie and former DUP Assembly speaker Lord Hay will speak on the legacy of Ian Paisley, and there will be lectures on how the early days of the Troubles were reported and dealt with in drama.

Women in politics

The course will address attitudes towards women in politics at the time. Baroness Williams will recall how when she was appointed junior home affairs minister with special responsibility for Northern Ireland, the then Stormont unionist prime minister, James Chichester-Clarke, took the British home secretary, James Callaghan, aside and said: "We can't talk to her about anything important – I'm sure you understand."

There is this feeling of resentment that here is a man who is out to destroy Northern Ireland if he can possibly do it

“In that case,” Callaghan replied, “you won’t be talking to anyone at all.”

The course also will feature what is described as the first TV interview with Nobel Laureate John Hume when in 1961 on UTV he is introduced as “a younger citizen of Derry, a very intelligent man called Hume”.

A 1968 Irish Times interview with former unionist prime minister Lord Brookeborough also will be recalled, during which he stated, "Well, there is no discrimination against Roman Catholics qua Roman Catholics, because they worship in a different way. What there is, is a feeling of resentment that most, and let me emphasise the word most, that most Roman Catholics are anti-British and anti-Northern Ireland.

“This is nothing to do with religion at all. But there is this feeling of resentment that here is a man who is out to destroy Northern Ireland if he can possibly do it. That, I think, is it. They say, ‘Why aren’t we given more higher positions?’ But how can you give somebody who is your enemy a higher position in order to allow him to come and destroy you?”

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times