Publication Date

Spring 4-23-2024


College of Arts and Sciences


History; Interdisciplinary Studies




Many Americans are familiar with the history of student riots in the U.S. in the late 1960s—from marches against the Vietnam War, to those advocating civil rights for African Americans. Far fewer Americans, however, realize that nearly the entire western world was concurrently embroiled in similar student-led movements, most of which converged in 1968. Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom that seems to defy definition as a political entity (particularly among its own people, who may describe it as a country, region, or province, depending on their respective political ideologies), was not immune to this trend. The Catholic civil rights movement—which swept through Northern Ireland in the late 1960s—was, in many ways, both a culmination of centuries’ worth of sectarian tensions and a pivotal ‘flashpoint’ for the ensuing civil conflict known as the Troubles. Student activists involved in this campaign were primarily affiliated with a radical political organization called People’s Democracy (PD). Though PD’s role in the Catholic civil rights movement was short-lived, and is often overshadowed by both the proceeding years’ turmoil and the more widely-studied activities of contemporary community-based pressure groups, its significance to the movement is unmistakable. PD ultimately gave rise to ‘household name’ leaders like Eamonn McCann, Michael Farrell, and Bernadette Devlin, and contributed to the swift polarization of moderates that set the tone for the next thirty years of civil violence.

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