Tribute to the late Paddy O’Hanlon

Co-founder of SDLP for whom the courts were a fitting forum

Irish Times Obituary 11 April 2009

PADDY O’HANLON , who has died aged 64, was a civil rights activist, a founder member of Northern Ireland’s Social Democratic and Labour Party, and the party’s chief whip during the ill-fated powersharing administration at Stormont in the 1970s.

In later years, he practised as a barrister in Northern Ireland and the Republic. He had been ill for some months and died in Dublin’s Mater hospital.

Born in Drogheda, Co Louth, in 1944 and educated at UCD, Paddy O’Hanlon was closely associated with south Armagh, an area he represented in the old Stormont parliament in from 1969 until its prorogation in 1972.

As an Independent MP, he was active in the civil rights movement in the heady days of the late 1960s, but he was also a committed sportsman and teacher with an deep love of the arts.

Politically he was committed to the unity of Ireland by consent and he was vociferously opposed to violence, state repression and sectarianism. He used his considerable powers of eloquence to argue for a new democratic model in Northern Irelandand between North and South.

He was among those who opposed the entrenched injustice of the old Stormont regime as much as he confronted the violence of republican paramilitaries and the state’s authoritarian response.

The term conviction politician applied especially well to him. He was among the diverse group of people, including John Hume, Austin Currie, Gerry Fitt, Eddie McGrady and Paddy Devlin, who rejected the old Nationalist party at Stormont and in August 1970, founded the SDLP.

In those early turbulent years, he was an architect of the fledgling party’s new-style political philosophy. His influence behind the scenes was key. He was a delegate to talks with the Irish government in 1973 and was successful in standing for a seat in the new powersharing Assembly for Armagh from 1973 to 1974. He was chief whip of the party.

However, his career as an elected representative was marked by some narrow failures and significant setbacks.

He stood unsuccessfully for his constituency in the first of the two British general elections in 1974 and was narrowly defeated by party colleague Hugh News in the elections to the Constitutional Convention in 1975 and again in 1982 to the Assembly set up by then Northern secretary James Prior in the aftermath of the republican hunger strikes. He lost both times on transfers.

With Séamus Mallon the established SDLP candidate for his constituency and the party deputy leader, O’Hanlon stepped back from full-time politics.

He studied law and was called to the Bar in 1986. Colleagues say his sharp mind and love of debate particularly suited his new-found vocation. Party leader Mark Durkan, who joined John Hume’s staff in 1983 and helped organise Séamus Mallon’s victory in the Newry and Armaghbyelection in 1986, claims that O’Hanlon’s influence was always felt.

“Even when standing well back from the political frontline his compelling political insight, and the integrity of his commitment to social justice was apparent in all the activism and advice he offered.”

Durkan believes the courtroom was an apt place for a man with O’Hanlon’s skills.

“In the legal vocation which he found he was able to give . . . expression to his sense of justice, his instinct for challenge and his love of able argument. So much of Paddy O’Hanlon’s contribution epitomises the debt which this society owes to the activists of the civil rights movement who never deviated from non-violence and who sustained the quest for a new agreed democratic order,” said Durkan.“He was sharp in his observation and straight in his counsel. Whether in his private conversation or public speaking he always impressed with the purity of his principle and the clarity of his case and the sincerity of the advice he offered.”

Paddy O’Hanlon was predeceased by his wife, Dr Ann Marley, and he is mourned by many, including his cousin Dr Rory O’Hanlon, the former ceann comhairle and Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan.

Among the many political tributes paid was that from Newry-Armagh Ulster Unionist deputy leader Danny Kennedy. “He was entirely dedicated to achieving his political goals by exclusively peaceful means, and as a public representative he worked hard to achieve better living and social conditions for a great many people,” said Mr Kennedy.

Paddy O’Hanlon: born May 8th 1944; died April 7th 2009

Memorial Stone Commemorates March

By Ashleigh McDonald – Originally Published: Irish News 25 August 2008

A MEMORIAL stone to commemorate the first ever civil rights march in Northern Ireland was unveiled this weekend in the centre of Coalisland.

Around 300 people attended the unveiling, which took place in the Co Tyrone town on Saturday afternoon.

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the march, when people took to the streets and walked from Coalisland to Dungannon to highlight civil rights abuses against Catholics.

Speakers at the event were Mid-Ulster MLA Francie Molloy and Bernadette McAliskey.

Mr Molloy, who acted as a steward in the 1968 march, said the memorial stone was a tribute to all those who have played a part in the civil rights movement in the last four decades.

“Forty years ago Coalisland was at the birth of the civil rights movement,” the Sinn Fein politician said.

“It is fitting that we commemorated the original march in the town.

“In 1968 there was a huge optimism that here in Ireland we would challenge the corrupt unionist state and bring about real change.

“Sadly the civil rights movement and its basic demands for housing, jobs and democracy were met with all the violence of the unionist state.”

During Saturday’s event Mrs McAliskey spoke of the problems of racism against migrant workers in Ireland today.

“People who campaign for human rights should also recognise the issues around racism,” she said.

“Migrant workers have the right to live and work here and people should not be discriminated against because of their race or nationality”.

Dr. Conn and Mrs. Patricia McCluskey

Click photo to enlarge

Dr. Conn and Mrs. Patricia McCluskey of Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, were founders of the Campaign for Social Justice in N. Ireland. After extensive lobbying, in Tyrone and other counties, and despite several disappointments it was launched at a press conference in the Wellington Park Hotel, Belfast on 14 January 1964. It undoubtedly was the fore-runner of the N. Ireland Civil Rights Association. Nicra was established. three years later, in January 1967. Mrs. McCluskey (nee McShane), prior to the establishment of CSJ was one of sixty-seven people, mainly women, who founded the Homeless Citizens’ League. After unsuccessful representations to the Urban Council their first marches in Dungannon took place in June 1963. The League was then led by a youthful Mrs. Angela McCrystal.

The League and Campaign’s activities are recorded in Up Off Their Knees. Written by Conn McCluskey, it was published in 1989.

Rebecca McGlade – A Tribute in the Northern People 1989

The hundreds of people who attended Rebecca McGlade’s funeral last Sunday was testimony to the love and respect she had built up during her life.

Rebecca was a Republican in the truest sense of the word and she was fiercely proud of her beliefs. Her republicanism was that of Wolfe Tone and she spent her life arguing, campaigning and working whatever way she could for the unity of Catholic, Protestant and dissenter. Rebecca hated bigotry and sectarianism and in order to rid Northern Ireland of this evil she devoted much of her life to the civil rights movement. She was a prominent figure on all the marches and for many years was a member of the Executive of NICRA.

Rebecca and her husband Big Frank worked tirelessly on behalf of their class. They carried the socialist message that working class strength lay in working class unity to the streets of Ardoyne and North Belfast. In the early seventies as sectarianism, communal strife, and the activities of bigots gathered momentum, they became more determined to get the socialist message across. They held positively and loudly to non-sectarian principles and convictions when lesser people would have chosen silence.

The only fear they knew was the fear of failing and this they did not do. That there is a continued voice of opposition to narrow mindedness and bigotry in this city of Belfast and that the voice is daily growing louder is a tribute to the people like Frank and Rebecca. People who had the vision to see the evil that was developing in our midst and the courage to stand against it.

To her friends and comrades Rebecca was gentle and quiet spoken, yet fiercely determined in her views. She did not require glasnost to express her opinions. Her commonsense and ability to relate politics to the lives of people enriched many a political debate.

Rebecca was also a deeply spiritual woman. She loved music and shared with Frank an appreciation of the Irish language and its literature. Her spirituality was an essential part of her humanity which she shared with us all.

Goodbye Rebecca. We will miss you but are enriched by having known you.

Cathy Harkin: An Appreciation

Please click on an image to view the large version…

Cathy Harkin died on 22nd July, 1985

On her headstone are the words:
“It was as brief as it was difficult.”

Though the words were placed by Cathy in memory of her greatly loved mother, no words could better sum up Cathy’s own life.

Cathy worked for many years in a shirt factory in Derry, a hard life, badly paid, but not uncommon in Derry. She married and had one son, Terence, and a daughter, Molly, who was an infant cot death.

Cathy was involved in the Derry Labour Party for many years and was in the Derry Housing Action Committee which was linked to the start of the Civil Rights Movement.

But it is probably for her part in Women’s Aid that she will be most remembered. Any woman who came to her for help was sure not only to find a sympathetic helper, but a friend. She was available at any time, day or night, for any woman in trouble. She used to say that she would get arthritis of the shoulder from the many tears that were cried on her. However, she never complained.

She worried greatly about many people, from the young prostitutes that were being cruelly treated in her home town of Derry, to those people who were crushed by poverty, trying to bring up children on not enough money. You could always be sure that Cathy would put the interests of anyone else before herself.

When she got the opportunity to avail of formal education, she chose to study history, graduating with a degree in the late 1070s. Cathy was always up to date on Welfare Law and appeared often with claimants at Tribunals, getting whatever was possible for the applicants though often despairing at what was available.

Cathy was imaginative. You could never be bored in her company. Her mind could see angles to every situation that would not normally strike you. She was fun to be with and, after talking to her, you went away refreshed and uplifted.

Cathy was a feminist, a socialist and a trade unionist but mostly Cathy was a beautiful Derry woman. She will be greatly missed.

“It was as brief as it was difficult”.

Written by Avila Kilmurray. Source: City of Change by Dermot Kelly, 2007. Yes! Publication, 10-12 Bishop St., Derry.

Gerry Fitt – Brave man of politics had hatred of injustice

Opinion by Austin Currie
Irish News 14/03/06
A tribute to Gerry Fitt, delivered by Austin Currie at a Memorial Service last Friday at Belfast City Hall
Gerry Fitts contribution to public life must, of course, be assessed in the context of the political conditions of his time.

When Gerry was first elected to Belfast Corporation in 1958 and then to Stormont in 1962 there had been one-party rule for 40 years in a state deliberately established to maintain permanent unionist rule and with the power to discriminate and gerrymander in order to consolidate it.

The unionist stranglehold on power seemed unbreakable.

But Gerry recognised at an early stage the Achilles heel of unionism. This weakness was not their opposition to a United Ireland but their professed loyalty and commitment to British standards while refusing those same standards to those they ruled over. Gerrys simple demand, backed by the Civil Rights Movement, which he supported from the beginning, for the same rights for his constituents in Belfast as were enjoyed by British citizens in Birmingham had unanswerable logic.

Gerrys major achievement at Westminster, to which he was elected in 1966, was to break the convention which had built up since partition that any matter under the control of the devolved Stormont parliament could not be brought up in the mother of parliaments.

With the assistance of MPs such as Paul Rose, Stan Orme and Kevin McNamara, in the Campaign for Democracy in Ulster, he smashed that convention and made the Westminster Parliament accept its sovereign responsibilities.

Without that victory further progress would not have been possible.

His ability to seize every opportunity to embarrass unionists, his capacity to highlight the intransigence of the unionist government and a personality which enabled him to win friends and influence people in the Labour Party, were the crucial factors. It was an outstanding and crucial achievement which, on its own, was

In 1970, along with five other Stormont MPs he founded the SDLP. As one of those MPs, committed to the formation of the new party, I had to contend with Gerry�s strong initial reservations. By nature he was an individualist. The idea of a party whip and party discipline did not appeal to him.

In 1970 as an MP at Westminster and Stormont and a Belfast city councillor he was at the top of the greasy pole which was the highest a non-unionist politician could aspire to in the one-party state. To his credit Gerry, despite his strong personal inclinations, took up the challenge and the responsibility of providing an alternative to one-party unionist rule.

Within four years of helping to form the SDLP he led the party from being on the periphery of politics with six MPs to the heart of government, with Gerry himself as deputy chief executive. It was an outstanding, almost unbelievable achievement. The Sunningdale experiment unfortunately lasted only five months but it established for the future the necessary architecture for a lasting agreement, the template which even those who had helped to bring down the power-sharing executive of 1974 had eventually to accept 25 years later. How much happier Northern Ireland would be today if the system of partnership government, which he had helped to establish, had survived and prospered, the tragedy of 2,000 additional deaths had been avoided and generations spared the blight of intensified sectarianism.

Gerry was a brave man, displaying his physical courage as a teenager on the convoys on the North Sea and later on an almost daily basis when he and his family came under threat from extreme republicans and loyalists. He displayed moral courage too. He predicted that he would lose his Westminster seat because of his strong denunciation of the violence of the IRA and the Provisional IRA hunger strike but this almost inevitable outcome did not deter him. The particularly savage murder of his close friend and confidant, Senator Paddy Wilson, by the UVF had a lasting effect on him. Nor did he play the sectarian card, so endemic in Belfast politics. When I approached him to approve the draft first constitution of the SDLP he insisted on changing non-sectarian to anti-sectarian.

Gerry was a personality politician who responded to his gut feelings. Policies came second. Not for him the carefully crafted words of a speech writer. If he had any notes they were on the back of an envelope. He was probably the best orator of his generation at a time when the ability to perform on the back of a lorry was an essential attribute.

Gerry has not been, up to now, given the credit he deserves, particularly for fighting injustice and intolerance.

A hatred of injustice was the fire in Gerrys belly. It was not flags or borders or seeking after power. He was a true disciple of James Connolly. Ireland without its people meant nothing to him. Gerrys concern throughout his life was the eradication of injustice whether based on religion or politics or on class. That Northern Ireland is today a fairer place with the potential for greater improvement is at least partly a testimony to the efforts and commitment of Gerry Fitt.

This is an abridged version of the tribute to Lord Fitt delivered by SDLP founding member Austin Currie at last Fridays City Hall memorial service.

John McGuffin – A Tribute

By Eamonn McCann – Author “War & an Irish Town” et al.

The obituary cliche that “He didn’t suffer fools
gladly” was never more apt than for John McGuffin,
which occasionally presented him with problems of an
inter-personal nature, since McGuffin tended to regard
a remarkably wide section of the earth’s population as
fools. Anybody who voted in an election (“It’s wrong
to choose your masters!”). All who had ever darkened
the door of a church after reaching the age of reason.
People opposed to cannabis. And that was just for

One day in the late 1960s, when we thought we’d heard
the chimes of freedom flashing, I drove to Dublin with
McGuffin and the American anarchist Jerry Rubin. A
mile or so out of Newry, McGuffin explained to the
fabled member of the Chicago Seven that the town we
were approaching was in the grip of revolution. The
risen people had turned en masse to anarchism. We’d
better barrel on through. If we stopped for a moment
the fevered proletariat would surely engulf us…

Down were in the All-Ireland final that weekend. Every
house, lamppost and telegraph pole was festooned with
red-and-black flags. Rubin was agog, at risk of
levitation when we passed under banners strung across
the streets, reading, “Up Down!”

“These people really got the revolutionary ethic”,
enthused the ecstatic Rubin.

“As much as yourself, comrade”, allowed the gracious

He turned up on the Burntollet march with an anarchist
banner but couldn’t persuade anybody to carry the
other pole. He marched all the way with the furled
standard sloped on his shoulder, managing to convey
that this was sure evidence of his singular
revolutionary rectitude, the easy-oozy reformism of
the rest of us.

McGuffin was interned in August 1971, as far as I know
the only Protestant lifted in the initial swoop. He
wrote a fine book on internment afterwards, “The
Guineapigs”. He was later to publish “In Praise of
Poteen”, “The Hairs of the Dog” and, recently, “Last
Orders, Please”. He was a gifted, utterly
undisciplined writer, eschewing the pedantries of
structure and all strictures of taste. Various
newspapers agreed to give him regular space, but it
never lasted. Editors physically winced at his
ferocious philippics. He said to me of this column a
few months back, “If it’s any good, why havn’t they
sacked you?”

For a time, An Phoblacht published his scabrously
brilliant “Brigadier” column. Frequently, the Provos
wouldn’t print it because they thought their readers
would find it offensive. They weren’t bad judges.

I first became aware of McGuffin within a week of
arriving at Queen’s as a wide-eyed innocent from the
Bogside. He erupted into a debate addressed by Sam
Thompson, the former shipyard worker whose play, “Over
The Bridge”, had convulsed the Unionist establishment
with rage. Thompson was the hero of the hour for
Northern liberals. But not for McGuffin. The only
achievement of “Over The Bridge”, he raged, had been
to enable a section of the useless middle class to
feel good about themselves for having a night out at
the theatre. “Meanwhile, Basil Brook is roaming the

He took off for California in the early ’80s, where he
practiced as a lawyer for 15 years, advertising his
services under the slogan, “Sean McGuffin, Attorney at
Law, Irish-friendly—No crime too big, no crime too
small”. He only did defences and preferred getting
people off who he reckoned were guilty because that
way it was more fun.

He was my friend for 40 years. The announcement of his
end told that he died peacefully on the morning of
April 28th after a long illness, and that two days
before turning sideways to the sun had married his
long-term collaborator, comrade and partner

He was laid out in his coffin with a smile of final
satisfaction on a face sculpted like a chieftain of
old, in a black t-shirt with square red lettering,
“Unrepentant Fenian Bastard”.

Way to go, McGuffin.

An appreciation – Mary Ellen O’Doherty (1908-2007)

Originally Published – Derry Journal, Tuesday 31st July, 2007

Ninety-nine-year-old Mary Ellen O’Doherty [nee Hegarty] described by prominent civil rights leaders as the”mother” of the movement – was laid to rest recently in Derry.

Mrs. O’Doherty died peacefully at Altnagelvin Hospital, on June 16th, after a short illness, comforted by all her children, and son-in-law, Prof. Sinclair King. The widow of Harry O’Doherty (1899-1989), decorated for his role in ‘A Company’, of the Derry Brigade, Irish Volunteers, Mrs O’Doherty is believed to have been the last of a generation linking Derry to the War for Independence (1916-23).

In the 1960s she and family members worked closely with the Campaign for Social Justice in N. Ireland, established by Dr. Conn McCloskey and his wife Patricia of Dungannon. It was actively supported at Westminster by several MPs including Stanley Orme, Paul Rose and Gerry Fitt. This group was the forerunner of the Civil Rights Association. One of Mary’s younger sons, Fionnbarra, was a co-founder of NICRA when it was established in Belfast in early 1967.

Draped in the national flag, her coffin had been carried from her former home in Crawford Square to the doors of St. Eugene’s Cathedral by her nine surviving sons and daughters, extended family, neighbours, men and women from local community groups and former republican prisoners. Among four daughters carrying her remains was Mrs. Mary Kathleen O’Doherty- King, who for several years has been an independent senator in the Trinidad and Tobago parliament.

Mrs O’Doherty’s casket was carried into the Cathedral by her sons to the music of the Mountains of Pomeroy and during her last Mass a number of Gaelic laments were played and sung.

Requiem Mass

Her Requiem Mass was celebrated on Monday morning, June 18, by Fr. Gerard Mongan who said Mrs. O’Doherty had made an immense contribution to the evolution of society as well as rearing her nine surviving children:

“Mary Ellen instilled in her family a great love for education for she believed passionately that education was the key to progress. And, in celebrating her long life today, we are all conscious of her family’s deeply-felt loss. First and foremost Mary was a devoted wife to Harry, who died in 1989. Both she and her husband represented local working class views and their home became a focal point for a wider community.”

In the mid-1960s, Harry and Mary attended the annual TUC Conference, held on the Isle of Man to update Labour and TU leaders on the burgeoning civil rights struggle in the North. Harry, a master in his family’s trade, trained scores of apprentices, before deciding to retire from Doherty Meats, after 65 years, at the age of 79. He was a founding member of the Butchers and Allied Workers Union, which eventually merged into the T&GWU. For many years he served on the Northern Committee of the ICTU, alongside a former Mayor of Derry, the late Nationalist Party councillor, James Hegarty.  

Mary and her late husband remained in contact with many across Ireland and beyond. They particularly cherished close bonds with Tan War veterans and their families. Among their ever-welcome visitors where Dr. Nora O’Brien and her brother Roddy, the daughter and son of the 1916 leader and martyr, James Connolly. Their links to Irish American communities and the Left in Britain led to the opening of several influential doors which significantly assisted the civil rights cause, and,  in particular, its pivotal advocates.

“Like others of her generation she attended every one of the Civil Rights marches that took place between 1968 and ’72”, Fr. Mongan told the large attendance at her Requiem Mass.

She and family members were among marchers during the initial Coalisland to Dungannon demonstration, Duke Street on Oct. 5th, and later, ‘The Burntollet Ambush’.

Bloody Sunday

On Bloody Sunday, firstly on William Street, and later Rossville Street, they witnessed the massacre by the First Battalion of the Paras, which included the shooting of fondly-respected Bogside neighbours, such as Johnny Johnson. Harry and Mary assisted two of those shot. They were tended to at the nearby home of an old friend, Mrs. Bridget “Ma” Sheils. Bridget’s late husband, Paddy, was a legendary republican leader in the 1920s and beyond. Mr. Johnson, who had lived only a handful of doors away from the O’Doherty home at 134 Bogside, died a few months later.

Fr. Mongan said civil rights leaders had spoken publicly of Mary being a “mother to us all and everyone involved”. Several civil rights veterans, including John Hume and Ivan Cooper, spent time with the family whilst paying their last respects. A visit by Bishop Edward Daly was particularly appreciated because of his own heroic role during the civil rights’ march on Bloody Sunday in January 1972.

A lifelong gaelgoiri, Fr. Mongan said Mrs O’Doherty helped promote Irish culture in the city and enjoyed a profound love of Gaeilge literature, song and dance. He also noted her contribution to the welfare of political prisoners, social justice and the rights of women for which she received the transatlantic Celtic Cross Society Award earlier this year. Mary’s contributions on several fronts were only fittingly recognised in the last decade of her life.  Her characteristic humility was always quite evident. When initially told others wanted to salute her work, she said, “Only important people receive special awards”.

 All her family, friends and people in many walks of life give living testimony that she will always be an important person to all who were privileged to know or struggle alongside her. Appropriately, the Celtic Cross is awarded to “ordinary people of courage, faith and life of simplicity”. Among its previous recipients were Mr. Raymond Flynn, a former Mayor of Boston who was appointed US Ambassador to Vatican City, and Mrs. Sheila Kelly of Dublin, the widow of an Irish Army officer whom Mary, then aged 96, and other campaigners welcomed at her home and later to the City Hotel in 2004. This was part of an on-going crusade aimed at lobbying the Irish government to publicly exonerate her husband, Captain James J. Kelly*, who died the previous July.

In 1997, Mrs. O’Doherty, on the recommendation of several community groups  was awarded a Pensioner of the Year Award by Age Concern at a public ceremony in Derry’s Guildhall. Later, although never a member of the AOH, at another formal event, Mary was made an honorary member of the local Ladies Division in 2002. Interviewed on the occasion of her last birthday,  Mary spoke eloquently of the role of other women in spearheading community progress but lamented the fact that, unlike her, their contributions remained unrecognised during their own life-time. Mary was much appreciative of the fact that the then female Mayor of Derry, Councillor Helen Quigley, and the Junior Mayor, Emmet Doyle, bearing a floral tribute, paid an official courtesy call to her home to congratulate her on reaching her one hundredth year and on being awarded the prestigious Irish-American Celtic Cross Award


Inspiring Legacy

Fr. Mongan also described her as a “powerful presence” at every family gathering. “She has left us an inspiring legacy in her commitment to social justice and equality as well as her Irish identity, which she would never forget or deny. Mary rejoiced and was glad of all things Irish, including ceili dancing and music. Sitting on her Gaelic-speaking grandmother’s knee, in Balee, near Strabane, where she was reared, she’d listened to first hand accounts of starvation, evictions and mass emigration.”

For more than a decade she acted as a trustee, alongside the late Cllor. Tony Carlin, former Mayor of Derry, on the North West Great Hunger Memorials Committee, then based at the AOH Hall on Foyle Street.

Fr. Mongan led the congregation in the prayers beloved by Mrs. O’Doherty, Se do bheatha Mhuire and the Ár nAthair. Her funeral procession left the church to the strains of the Flower of Sweet Strabane, which is close to her birthplace, at Balee. Musical tributes were provided by Áodan Dorach O’Donnghaile, Riseard Mac Gabhann and Padraigh O’Mianáin who played a piece specially composed for Mrs O’Doherty’s Requiem Mass.


Masses offered

According to numerous messages sent to the civil rights veterans’ office, where Mrs. O’Doherty had for years worked voluntarily, Masses were offered in recent days in Trinidad, Spain, the US, Glasgow and London, and by Irish missionaries in fields across Africa, in her memory.  In a recent letter published in the ‘Journal’ the U.S-based International Executive of the O’Doherty Clan mourned Mary’s passing. They described her as the “Grand Hostess of Derry, Ireland” due to the fact that “with the loveliest of smiles she welcomed at her door thousands of Irish, Americans, Canadians and Australians over several decades.”

Mrs. O’Doherty is survived by her sons and daughters Anna, Pat Leo, Breege, Mary Kathleen, Pearse, Deirdre, Fionnbarra, Kevin and David and by her youngest sister Celine, who, with her family resides in Strabane.

Like the beauty and loveliness of passing seasons kind hearts always leave the world a better place for us.

In the eternal kingdom, may she rest in peace.

Compiled and submitted by the Oct. 5th Association – a network of 1968 civil rights veterans and supporters. E-mail:

The late ‘ Vinny ‘ Coyle – A Working-Class Hero

IT WAS with profound shock and sadness that the people of the Bogside district, and much further afield, learnt of the death of Mr. Vincent Coyle.

He was a self-professed socialist, who became one of the best known and extremely popular figures of the civil rights movement from the mid-1960s’, including and beyond the tragic events of Bloody Sunday. Following the unwarranted massacre of peaceful civil rights marchers, in January 1972, his home became an international newsroom and local information centre.

‘Vinny’, as he was popularly known, was born in January 1929. He was one of nine children born to John and Angela Coyle of Ann Street, off Rossville Street. He believed in Derry like he believed in God. He provided tools and assisted in building the first barricade outside his own home in Rossville Street, in 1968. Although to many people he was just an ordinary docker, as was his father before him, to many more he was a symbol of determination and hope for the city.

True Friend

Vinny will best be remembered as a highly effective civil rights’ steward at many historic marches and mass meetings. His six-foot muscular frame maintained more law and order during the trial of fellow civil rights leaders at the city’s Magistrates’ Court than three lorry loads of RUC. None of us could ever forget how, with outstretched hands and words of wisdom, he calmed that, and many more volatile situations, throughout many stormy years. Often, alongside him stood two of his brothers, the late Joe and Johnny Coyle. Joe tragically lost his life with two other adults and two children in an explosion in the early 1970s’ at the home of a republican comrade who resided in the Creggan district of the city.

From the days of the Housing Action Committee, and from being a rank and file member of the Derry Citizens’ Action Committee, Vincent worked his way through the ranks of the civil rights movement to become one of its most well known figures and spokespersons. He was on first name terms with local journalists, but also leading media personalities across the globe.

Up to, and including the October 5th demonstration, where he was in the front line, he was just ‘one of the boys’. However, he was so impressed by the work and courage of the marshals on that fateful day, who were led by the late republican veteran Sean Gallagher, of Rosemount, that he joined the select body and soon became a deputy chief steward.

His strength and intelligence got him the job of bodyguard to Ivan Cooper and John Hume, at various venues and events, which were deemed to be unsafe. His two brothers, Johnny and Joe, were Hume’s election proposers, and Vinny was a seconder as well on the electoral documentation.

His undoubted competency got him the job of Chief Marshal by popular acclaim within the seven hundred strong stewards’ organization. He gave up many days of work ‘for the cause’, as he put it, to carry out such onerous duties.

Labour Leader

When the British Labour leader, Jim Callaghan, came to Derry in August 1969, anxious civil rights’ leaders assembled near Free Derry Corner, which was the most suitable meeting point. Vinny arrived at the scene, realized the problem, and with no instruction necessary, set off to find the elusive politician from London. He duly located his target, and soon reappeared, proud as punch, declaring to Callaghan, “These are my friends, Mr. John Hume and Mr. Ivan Copper”, and so on.

Callaghan later enquired, “Who is that marvellous man with the bushy moustache and large brimmed hat. He was like Moses himself, at the parting of the Red Sea. We were at the edge of the massive welcoming crowd, feeling somewhat lost and abandoned. He became our saviour. Everybody knew him. The multitude parted with a mere wave of his hand until we got to our promised location”.

Vinny told journalists once at the City Hotel, which was our busy headquarters on those dramatic days, “Through my example I hope to communicate to people my tolerance of everyone. If they see me taking it they will learn to be obedient at the demonstrations. My aims are for all the people of Derry to get what they are entitled to”.

To him Derry was the most wonderful place on God’s green earth. He was, like many others of his generation, forced to become a wanderer because of bad times in his youth. He worked at a multitude of jobs, including chef, ice cream salesman, lathe-turner, gas worker and builder’s labourer.

He summed up his involvement and socialist outlook as follows: “We are in this for our children and for everybody’s children, that they can obtain civil rights to grow up with all the doors of opportunity wide open for them”.

Vinny was alongside the homeless and unemployed long before October 5th 1968. He and his stewards came to our rescue immediately following the vicious attacks on Burntollet Bridge, and put his arm around many of the families of those who lost their lives, before and after Bloody Sunday. We have all lost an extraordinary man.

Like many who will mourn his passing, I and other civil rights’ leaders feel proud to have known Vinny Coyle, not only as a political ally, but as a sincere and true friend. This working-class hero deserves to be remembered. He did more than most to lead and unlock our people from many of the links that make up the chain of state-sponsored discrimination and second-class citizenship.

Vinny sadly has left us, but even from beyond the grave his undoubted courage and practical examples in struggle will continue to inspire us to move, forever, forward, be we Protestant, Catholic or Dissenter.

Tributes to Madge Davison

Originally Published – Unity, 9th February 1991

MADGE DAVISON, Communist, feminist, activist and ardent Civil Rights campaigner died on Sunday 27 January 1991 at the tragically early age of 41.

At her funeral the following Wednesday, the many people from all walks of life, who in her friend Anne Hope’s words came “to celebrate Madge’s life, and mourn her death,” indicated what broad areas of life Madge had touched and influenced.

Tributes were given by Michael O’Riordan, National Chairman of the Communist Party of Ireland, who spoke of the work Madge had carried out in the Communist Party and Connolly Youth Movement; by Anne Hope, Madge’s lifelong friend and comrade, who gave a very moving salute to her work in the civil rights and women’s movements; and by Barry Macdonald close friend and colleague who spoke of the caring, principled and conscientious manner in which Madge worked in the legal profession.

Ireland, and indeed the international workers’ movement have suffered a tremendous loss with the untimely death of Madge-as have the people who knew and loved her.

Unity offers sincere condolences to John, Jonathan and Niall and to the family circle in their time of grief and sadness.

We salute you Madge!

A Woman for All Seasons

At the outset of the proceedings on this sad occasion I want to thank Madge Davison for giving me the honour, albeit a melancholy one, to pronounce the words of a final farewell.

It may seem incongruous to have this duty performed, as at a young woman’s funeral by one who has seen seven decades and three years, but it is not odd, strange or illogical although Madge Davison was but 41 years of age, she was a woman for all seasons, for all situations, and not for her own generation alone, but also for the one that preceded her

When the news of her impending death reached her wide circle of friends there was truly an extraordinary reaction.

Those of the generation which preceded her were saddened at the cruel passing of a young woman whom they cherished with maternal and parental affection-Likewise, those of her own generation who loved her with a sisterly attitude and a fraternal respect and attachment.

Both generations shared a common grief at the passing of Madge in full bloom, being cut off in a life of which, at the same time she had not yet reached the prime.

She was the object of much love but at the same time she never courted, sought or cultivated popularity. She was her own woman. She spoke her own pieces at all times.

She was kind in her appreciation of honest efforts. She was sharp in her criticisms of dishonest motivations.

Madge played a leading role in many organisations – the Civil Rights Movement, the Communist Party of Ireland and its youth section, the Connolly Youth Movement.

Anne Hope will deal with the Civil Rights Movement and Barry McDonald will pay tribute from her legal professional colleagues.

Madge served on the National Executive Committee of the CPI, bringing to bear on all questions her practical knowledge; experience coupled with a principled attitude.


Outstanding Leader

She was an outstanding leader of the CYM. For example in August 1973 she led an Irish Youth delegation to the 10th World Festival of Youth and Students in Berlin-114 in all, from the Connolly Youth Movement, the Republican Movement, Union of Students in Ireland, Young Liberals, National Federation of Youth Clubs, Irish Union of School Students, St. Gabriel’s Youth Club, delegates from NICRA, the Northern Ireland Transport and General Workers’ Union and the Dublin-based Automobile General Engineering and Mechanical Operating Union.

A wide roll call of Irish Youth-North and South-Catholic and Protestant, united in the cause of Peace and Friendship and Social advance for Youth.

On that occasion she displayed her capacity for straddling the generations when she led the 114 delegates to pay tribute at the graveside of that leading Irish Anti-Fascist, Frank Ryan, Commander of the Connolly Column of the International Brigades who fought for the defence of the Spanish Republic between 1936 and 1939.

Frank’s grave was in Dresden where he lay buried for 30 years before the rendering of the CYM Salute-seven years later we brought his remains home to Ireland.

Significant that today we have present a large number of Madge’s contemporaries of the CYM who have come from Dublin, Galway and Sligo, as well as Belfast itself to honour Madge’s passing.

The last time I heard Madge speak was in this very chapel when she was paying a tribute at the funeral of Dotsie Barr – she did it well.

In paying a well-deserved tribute, she, at the same time by the nature of her speech, revealed the warm and humane character of her own personality.

Friends!  Madge was particularly proud of her Presbyterian background, of the great contributions made by her forebears in the Society of the United Irishmen, whose foundation date took place 200 years ago, in October 1791.

Madge stood in the tradition and indeed in the image of such girl fighters as Betsy Gray who fell in battle for the cause of Irish democracy, for the independence of Ireland and for the unity of Protestant and Catholic sections of our people.

Inspired by Madge we should remember the retort of the American working class martyr, Joe Hill, who the night before his execution called out: “Don’t mourn-Organize!”

Let us think how best we can organise as a tribute to Madge Davison the 200th anniversary of the United Irishmen in October of this year.

Madge was deeply influenced in her character and political development through her association with another working-class heroine, Betty Sinclair, who was, 40 years older than Madge but life and conjunction of their activities as well as common membership of the CPI enabled Madge to know her in the closing years of her life.

Betty as a young woman was one of the leaders of the most celebrated struggles in Irish Labour History – the militant Outdoor Relief Workers’ strike in October 1932 united in struggle the Protestant and Catholic unemployed.

October this year presents us with the task of a combined tribute to the United Irishmen and the Unemployed Revolt of 1932 and the theme, common to both events, a theme close to the heart of Madge -the unity of the Protestant and Catholic sections of the working class.


Dear Friends, the fact was that Madge was motivated by a vision or dream of a society in which there would be no sectarianism, no exploitation, one in which poverty would be abolished, in short in an Ireland, free, united and socialist.

This was Madge’s dream, and recognition of that evokes the lines written by a poet of the 1930s, Langeton Hughes, the Black-American Communist, a leading figure in the struggle for Civil Rights for Black people, who wrote:

Hold on to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Madge, your bird has flown high into the sky.

Michael O’Riordan

“Everything a good lawyer should be….”

Among other things, in his tribute to Madge, Barry Macdonald, close friend and colleague said:

“Madge was a solicitor’s dream and a client’s dream. She was everything a good lawyer should be and epitomized all the best things the legal profession could offer the community if all of its members shared more of her values.

I wouldn’t insult Madge’s memory by saying that she was the equal of any man. I don’t know any man who was the equal of Madge.”