Leader’s memorial campaign

Dr McCluskey and his wife Pat
Dr McCluskey and his wife Pat

CALLS are mounting to create a fitting memorial to celebrate the ‘father’ of the Civil Rights Movement in the town where he once lived and worked.

Dungannon people, including former politicians and community leaders, have expressed their sadness at the lack of a suitable tribute to Dr Conn McCluskey, who passed away in December.

A campaign to shed a light on his instrumental role in the history of Northern Ireland has been launched on Facebook, and has gathered pace in the past week, with many contributors lamenting the lack of media coverage following his death.

One Dungannon Facebook user posted: “I have had a look round the web and am both saddened and angry that Conn McCluskey’s passing has not been more widely reported and acknowledged. He and his wife Pat’s roles in the Civil Rights movement, were in my opinion of historic importance.”

“A truly heroic figure, a man who rose to meet the challenges of the most difficult and dangerous times” said another post

“His passing seems to have received very little coverage. Only for a statement from the SDLP it would have gone largely unnoticed”, complained another.

Dungannon artist Marty Cullen, whose postings triggered the flow of tributes, has called for one of his art works to be brought to the town and installed as a memorial. Others have suggested a memorial night, a plaque, or an installation at the Ranfurly Arts Centre.

Former Independent Councillor Michael McLoughlin also said it was time the Dungannon District marked Dr McCluskey’s remarkable political career.

“Dr McCluskey was my political mentor and motivator, as well as a personal friend. He is more than deserving of a memorial for the remarkable things he achieved”, he said.

“I remember in particular his forcefulness, and his ability to motivate others. He was constantly encouraging people to stand on their feet and assert themselves. He inspired a generation of politicians, and was a force behind the scene for the civil rights campaign, constantly writing letters and lobbying for greater social justice.

“As a Dungannon GP he was acutely aware of the impoverishment of the local Catholic population and the inequalities they faced.”

SDLP Councillor Anthony McGonnell, who was a patient of Dr McCluskey’s, also added his voice to the campaign to create a suitable memorial.

“Dr McCluskey had first-hand experience of the terrible deprivation experienced by the majority Dungannon population, who were subjugated by the minority.

“He was an outstanding citizen and should be remembered as such by the district.”

Dr McCluskey was working as a GP in Dungannon in 1963, when along with his wife Patricia he founded the Homeless Citizens’ League to draw attention to discrimination against the Catholic population in the allocation of public housing by the unionist-controlled local council.

On 17 January 1964 the couple established the Campaign for Social Justice, with Patricia McCluskey as the first chairwoman, to broaden the focus of their campaign to cover all aspects of discrimination against the one-third Catholic minority in Northern Ireland.

A pamphlet written by the McCluskeys, The Plain Truth, drew widespread attention to the issues. In January 1967 they helped to found the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), which became the main vehicle for the civil rights campaign.