New course at Stranmillis University College. Key players from October 1968 discuss the events of half a century ago…

Stranmillis University College’s Lifelong Learning team are launching a major Living History project next month to mark the half century of the civil rights march in Londonderry on 5 October 1968 which will include live interviews with key people who were involved at the time.

Among those who have agreed to take part are  Bernadette McAliskey, Brid Rodgers, May Blood, Eileen Paisley, Austin Currie, John Kilclooney, Stratton Mills, Kenneth Bloomfield, Danny Morrison and Billy Hutchinson.  Shirley Williams, appointed by Harold Wilson to be the first Minister for Northern Ireland in 1969, Noel Dorr who ran the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin and was closely involved in the Sunningdale negotiations and Martin Mansergh who was the main advisor to three Taoisigh, including Charles Haughey, on Northern Ireland will also join us in Stranmillis to offer a perspective from Dublin and London.

In addition to our guests, the team has also uncovered some rare archive including the first TV interview with John Hume in which he is introduced as “a younger citizen of Derry, a very intelligent man called Hume” and an Irish Times interview with former Prime Minister, Lord Brookeborough who states: “There is no discrimination against Roman Catholics… because they worship in a different way. What there is, is a feeling of resentment…that most Roman Catholics are anti-British and anti-Northern Ireland. This is nothing to do with religion at all. But there is this feeling of resentment that here is a man who is out to destroy Northern Ireland if he can possibly do it”

Winston Churchill once said: ” History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.” Unsurprisingly, there are already numerous different versions of our recent history. By providing a platform to question the key players, the course will aim to help the audience make up their mind as to where the truth lies.

The course will not focus exclusively on politics. Former UTV Reports presenter Gordon Burns will be reunited with Robin Walsh, his editor of half a century ago, to reveal how UTV covered the nightly news, Olivia Nash and Tim McGarry (Ma and Pa in “Give my Head Peace”) will discuss how James Young succeeded in using the Troubles as a source for comedy without alienating either section of the community while Robina Ellis and Denis Tuohy will tell the story behind “Over the Bridge”, the controversial play which explored sectarianism in the Northern Irish workplace.

A study of the archives also reveals that some of the women who were to the forefront of our society in the 60s have since seen their contributions marginalised. Attitudes towards women in politics left much to be desired. Shirley Williams recalls how, when she was appointed Minister for Northern Ireland in 1969, the then Prime Minister, James Chichester-Clarke, took the Home Secretary, James Callaghan, aside and said: “We can’t talk to her about anything important – I’m sure you understand.” “In that case,” said Callaghan, “you won’t be talking to anyone at all.”  And on the day Bernadette Devlin was elected to Westminster, a journalist put it to her that she was a communist and “just an ambitious young girl”.

The Irish government’s archive shows that Charles Haughey was somewhat more subtle in his approach to Margaret Thatcher. The atmosphere at one of their meetings was distinctly strained but Haughey was determined to charm his interlocutor. At one point an exasperated Prime Minister exploded: “I don’t know why I keep trying!”. The Taoiseach’s emollient response:  ” Keep trying. You are one of the most able politicians”. The Irish Cabinet secretary’s account of the meeting concludes: “There then followed some general discussion which was notably more friendly and relaxed than earlier in the meeting.”

The course will use our history to look to the future. In our final session we will explore whether it is possible to remain proud of your traditions and heritage while simultaneously refusing to be a prisoner of your history. Contributors include playwright Laurence McKeown, a former Republican prisoner whose plays on legacy issues are performed in diverse communities across Northern Ireland, Paula McFetridge, Artistic Director of the drama company, Kabosh, Senator Ian Marshall, the first person from a Unionist background to have been be elected by members in both the Seanad and the Dail and Linda Ervine who set up the Turas Irish Language Programme in East Belfast.

The course starts on Thursday 6 September at 6.30 pm and runs for ten weeks at Stranmillis University College.

View the flyer for the courseYou can book online…

Web Page:
Telephone: 028 9038 4345

For further information, please contact Katie Miller on 028 9038 4352 or  or Peter Weil email or Andrew McAteer on 028 9038 4312 or email

This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.