1968: The Day the Troubles Began

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1968: The Day the Troubles Began
The pivot point of Northern Ireland’s narrative
by Raquel GOMEZ for Shared Future News
14 April 2018

Fifty years ago. 1968. The year that changed the course of history.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
–Martin Luther King’s Speech

The 5th October 1968 may be considered as the starting point for the Troubles in Northern Ireland, as the beginning of a great loss of human life.

The dominant and simplistic narrative, in terms of the Troubles, is a confrontation between two sides, two religions, two identities and two senses of belonging. This kind of narrative excludes, unavoidably, many others factors. This reductionist vision isolates Northern Ireland, without taking into account social movements and currents of thoughts that sprouted in different points of a globalised world.

The protests and marches during along 1968 in Chicago, Alabama, Paris, London, Derry-Londonderry and Gdansk are linked.

The Black Power movement, Civil Right movement, Socialist movement and Hippie movement weren’t isolated facts.

The documentary, 1968: The Day the Troubles Began, screened as part of the Belfast Film Festival, shows the historic local events in Derry-Londonderry from a global perspective.

The key international activist from the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and France — Rev. Jesse Jackson, Tom Hayden and Alain Geismar — participated in this film directed by Michael Fanning.

The key international activist from the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and France — Rev. Jesse Jackson, Tom Hayden and Alain Geismar — participated in this film directed by Michael Fanning. The film also features Finbar O’Doherty (a member of Derry Housing Association); members of the Labour Party, Eamon Melaugh and Eamon McCann; activists of the Civil Rights movement, Michael Farrell and Simon Prince (author of Northern Ireland’s ‘68).

The impact of what was happening in the rest of the world affected social and politically to Northern Ireland.

“Won’t you please come to Chicago for the help that we can bring.
We can change the world,
rearrange the world,
It’s dying – to get better
Politicians sit yourselves down, there’s nothing for you here.
Won’t you please come to Chicago for a ride.”
–Lyrics from Chicago by Crosby, Nash, Young and Stills

The lyrics in the voice of Graham Nash — referring the riots at 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago — were heard in Europe. Martin Luther King’s words claiming freedom and equality, his dream “deeply rooted in the American dream”, inspired a young generation from the other side of the ocean.

“Civil rights march on Washington, D.C.” by Warren K. Leffler is licensed under public domain by the Library of Congress.

The role of the television at this moment was very important, as a “public transport of ideals”.

Embed from Getty Images

People around the world sitting on their sofas, watching the protests and riots in the United States against black oppression, against the Vietnam war, and against the discrimination and segregation. You could feel unfairness and empathy. You could feel inspiration.

Embed from Getty Images

People around the world sitting on their sofas, watching the events of May 1968 in France couldn’t have felt fear.

“It was a time of change. People began to see all the struggles. We were not just a part of something local; we were part of something much more bigger,” claimed Finbar O’Doherty, who described Derry-Londonderry in the Sixties with three words: “defeat, despair and the dole”.

There is no denying that Northern Ireland had its own internal and particular issues that drove the riots at the end of 1968.

“Troublemakers — as called to me a million times — and we were. I was trying to create trouble for the people who denied us access to housing, to jobs, to adult universal suffrage,” explained Eamon Melaugh.

“A Civil Rights March” by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association; source: The Civil Rights Commemoration Committee.

Unemployment, discrimination in housing, and gerrymandering — alongside non-sectarian civil rights demands — were the issues that underpinned the march of 5th October in Derry-Londonderry.

The answer from the government to the marches was “a punishment operation”, according to Eamon McCann.

Water cannons, a huge policing arrangement, and violence.

“After 5th October, people came up to and said that things will never be the same, and they were right. We all sensed that this was a pivot point in the narrative of Northern Ireland,” said McCann.

What could have happened if the authorities of Northern Ireland then gave Catholics equal rights?

It is a question with no answer.

“The civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965” by Peter Pettus is licensed under public domain by the Library of Congress.

1968 was the year that the world heard the footsteps in Alabama and Chicago. The year the world listened to Luther king’s dreams. The year of the French students. In Northern Ireland, the year the Troubles began.

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