Northern Ireland news

Tributes paid to civil rights pioneer Patsy Gildernew

Patsy Gildernew, Austin Currie and Joe Campbell took part in the Caledon sit-in in protest against civil rights abuses in 1968
Connla Young

The funeral has taken place of a Co Tyrone man who took part in a protest believed to have given birth to the civil rights movement more than 50 years ago.

Patsy Gildernew wrote himself into Irish history when he took part in the Caledon ‘sit-in’ to highlight anti-Catholic housing discrimination by unionists.

From Brantry, near Dungannon, Mr Gildernew died peacefully at home surround by his family on Sunday after an illness.

The father-of-seven was joined by former nationalist MP Austin Currie and a neighbour, Joe Campbell, during the famous sit in, which took place in June 1968.

Hundreds of mourners attended his Requiem Mass at St Patrick’s Church in Eglish yesterday.

He was buried in a nearby cemetery.

Patsy Gildernew pictured with Tyrone AOH resident Gerry McGeough last year

The 72-year-old made headlines after along with Mr Currie and Mr Campbell, who died in 2015, he entered a house in Caledon which had been allocated to unmarried 19-year-old Protestant woman, Emily Beattie.

The sit in took place after Mr Gildernew’s sister, Mary Teresa Goodfellow, and her family had been evicted from a neighbouring house they had been squatting in.

The protest ended after a brother of Ms Beattie, who was a policeman, demanded the men leave the property.

When they refused he returned with a sledgehammer and broke down the front door.

Images of the three men defiantly emerging from the house were captured by the waiting media.

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The Caledon protest is viewed by some as a key event in the emergence of the civil rights movement.

The following month the movement held its first march from Coalisland to Dungannon.

Two months later, on October 5, people taking part in a similar civil rights march in Derry were beaten off the streets by the RUC in an incident viewed by many as the start of the Troubles.

Mr Currie, who was later elected to the Dail and served as Fine Gael minister for justice, paid tribute Mr Gildernew last night.

“I was relieved when Patsy Gildernew, along with Joe Campbell, joined with me in the house in Caledon, that his father Jimmy’s physique as a blacksmith was inherited,” he said.

“The potential for physical harm was possible.”

Mr Currie added: "I am grateful to him, then and afterwards, for his support to which many historians attribute as the initiation of the civil rights’ movement.

“May he rest in peace.”

The Ancient Order of Hibernians made a special presentation to Mr Gildernew last September to mark the part he played in the protest.

Tyrone AOH president Gerry McGeough, who was a neighbour and friend, said it was a “tremendous honour” for the organisation to make the award.

“He was a very decent, honourable man with strong principles and total integrity,” he said.

The Gildernew family has strong links to nationalist politics with his brother Phelim currently serving as a Sinn Féin councillor in Mid-Ulster, while his niece Michelle is MP for Fermanagh South Tyrone and nephew Colm an MLA for the area.

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