Long hidden film reel reveals Dungannon’s pivotal moment in Civil Rights campaign

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Rare footage of one of the first Civil Rights marches in Northern Ireland has been released online.

The RTE film, shot in nostalgic black and white tones, shows the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association’s (NICRA) first march on August 24, 1968 between Coalisland and Dungannon. It was the beginning of the campaign for change in the North and commanded the attention of newspapers and media organisations around the world.

It shows civil rights demonstrators arriving in Dungannon, where Gary Lennon is served with a notice from the RUC not to enter the Market Square.

The report features men, women and children marching and holding banners in protest. The reason the South Tyrone town was chosen as the location of the first march was to protest at Dungannon Council’s decision to allocate one of its council houses in the small village of Caledon to a nineteen-year-old Protestant woman rather than a large Catholic family.

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was set up in February 1967 and was seen as a decisive step in the campaign for equality.

The aims of this association included: defining the basic rights of all citizens; to protect the rights of the individual; to highlight all possible abuses of power; to demand guarantees for freedom of speech; and to inform the public of their lawful rights.

Campaigners such as Austin Currie used civil disobedience to highlight discrimination. Protests went from occupying a council house to marching to Dungannon. It was hoped that such protests would put pressure on the unions to give in to the nationalist and Catholic demands.

In July 1968, these new methods of protest prompted a statement from Northern Ireland Prime Minister Terence O’Neill, who disregarded the efforts of the nationalists to highlight the inequalities that exist.

To watch the full clip visit: http://www.rte.ie/archives/exhibitions/1031-civil-rights-movement-1968-9/1033-first-civil-rights-march/319369-organising-the-first-civil-rights-march/