Civil rights not ‘middle aged and middle class’

Co-founder of the Civil Rights Association and veteran activist, Fionnbarra O' Dochartaigh, pictured with the first minute's book of the Derry Citizen's Action Committee and Dr Conn McCluskey's 'Harpist' sculpture Civil Rights Memorial award.  DER3618GS017
Co-founder of the Civil Rights Association and veteran activist, Fionnbarra O' Dochartaigh, pictured with the first minute's book of the Derry Citizen's Action Committee and Dr Conn McCluskey's 'Harpist' sculpture Civil Rights Memorial award. DER3618GS017

A civil rights veteran has rejected a claim that the leadership of the embryonic movement in Derry in the late 1960s was ‘middle-aged, middle-class and middle of the road’.

Fionnbarra O’Dochartaigh says the remark - made by Eamonn McCann, another leading voice in the nascent campaign - is not supported by the facts.

Mr O’Dochartaigh says the original membership of the Derry Citizens’ Action Committee (DCAC) - the group which effectively assumed leadership of the local civil rights movement in the wake of the iconic October 5, 1968 march in Derry - was far from “middle class”.

“In my opinion, it is disingenuous for anyone to claim that the DCAC comprised ‘middle-class, middle-of-the-road and middle-aged’ people. For example, in October 1968, I was aged just 24, Ivan Cooper was a mere nine months older, three others were younger, a few were in their thirties, and a handful were actually ‘middle-aged’.

“Therefore, to describe us all as ‘middle-class and middle-of-the-road’ is incorrect, not to say absurd.”

Mr O’Dochartaigh spoke out as preparations continue to mark the 50th anniversary of the October 5, 1968, march - regarded by many as the “day the Troubles started”.

The Derry man argues that recently discovered minutes of the first meeting of the DCAC - which took place at the old City Hotel on October 9, 1968 - make for interesting reading.

The original minutes’ book - a non-descript, hard-backed student exercise book - was uncovered by Mr O’Dochartaigh among items belonging to his late mother, Mary Ellen, who has often been referred to as the “mother of civil rights”.

He told the ‘Journal’: “In these days of “#Me Too” and other determined struggles for women’s equality, I have no doubt researchers will endeavour to establish why no women figured in decision-making in the all male grouping of the DCAC.

“Indeed, this issue remains highly controversial among key ‘68 veterans because, previously, women were the backbone of the Derry Housing Action Committee. Iconic figures such as the late Bridget Bond would most certainly have had an impact on its proceedings, as undoubtedly would other younger and older women then battling against local Rachmanism and homelessness.”

Eamonn McCann refers to the October 9, 1968 meeting - which he says he actually chaired - in his acclaimed memoir, ‘War and an Irish Town’.

In it, he says that, “in a fit of either pique or principle”, he walked out of the City Hotel, angry at the conduct of the proceedings.