Newry.ie

This Friday 11 January 2019 sees 50 years since the landmark People's Democracy march in Newry, a Civil Rights parade that ended in violence when police prevented parade participants from reaching the Sugar Island part of their route with barriers erected at Monaghan Street Merchant's Quay junction.

Commemorative Events

Several events have been planned for this weekend including: 

Friday night, 8pm Lislea Community Centre, Chairman, People's Democracy, Tom Keane and guest Eamonn Mallie will give a historical insight into the Civil Rights Movement.

On Sunday 13 January the march will be commemorated with a parade taking in the original 1969 route, leaving at 12pm from the Royal Mail Sorting Office, Upper Edward Street. Following the march there will be a Newry Civil Rights Commemoration lunch at the Canal Court at 3pm with guest speakers and live entertainment from Brian Weir. Tickets for lunch event are £25 and can be obtained by contacting 074 5400 5673 or the Canal Court Hotel.

A changed City? - The spot where police prevented marchers from proceeding during the 1969 Civil Rights march in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie
A changed City? - The spot where police prevented marchers from proceeding during the 1969 Civil Rights march in Newry. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

The March

Saturday 11 January 1969 was the day. The march was primarily a protest about high unemployment in Newry and the local councils points system for allocating houses. They also were protesting against the treatment of marchers at the previous week's Belfast to Derry event.

As the Frontier Sentinel on the day said "The People's Democracy march in Newry will go ahead in spite of threats from extreme Protestant groups to interfere with it. The march will start at Edward Street Car Park at 3.30pm and go to the Soho Place Car Park via Monaghan Street, Merchants Quay, Sugar Island and Hill Street, a route which merely skirts the Unionist area of the town. The march organisers gave the route to the police early in the week with the assurance as on all previous occasions, that as far as they were concerned the parade would be peaceful and law abiding."

The newspaper reported that threats of a counter demonstration had been made and that "the alleged South Down Branch of the Ulster Volunteer Force" had warned that they "would not permit any band of rebel anarchists to parade the Protestant sector of Newry on Saturday"

World's Press Descend on Newry

The Frontier Sentinel pointed out that Newry would see the "greatest invasion of press and television in it's history" with journalists from America, Holland, Denmark, Italy, Sweden and Australia on the scene.

The People's Democracy had met the previous Tuesday at a press conference where Paddy O'Hanlon declared "we are second class citizens in a second class area"

Chairman of PD, Tom Keane stressed that the parade route was designed to embrace both unionist and nationalist areas to show that People's Democracy was non sectarian.

Statements from Public Representatives

Many local politicians and clergy made statements before the march. Local Nationalist Party MP, Michael Keogh said no offence would be offered to any section of the community with the parade not taking in any Unionist residential areas.

Protestant clergy urged people to refrain from activity which would lead to violence. "While regretting that it was necessary to hold a civil rights demonstration at this time, and particular the statement that it would be held with or without Government sanction, we nonetheless note with very great concern the proposed plans on the part of outsiders to protest against it"

Unionist Newry Urban Councilor, Joseph Fisher while not agreeing with the march felt that comment on the parade should be left to the people of Newry.

Maintaining excellent community relations

The 'Sentinel also mentioned that Protestant and Catholic traders with premises on the route of the parade were signing a 'memorial' stating that the didn't object to People's Democracy and that they "trust that nothing will be done to interfere with this parade in order that the present excellent community relation are maintained. Any disruptive action can do nothing but harm to the trade, industrial and personal relationships of the community" It was reported that the 'memorial' was meeting with 100% success.

The Oliver Craven Republican Club added it's support to the march "We the members of the Oliver Craven Republican Club unanimously pledge our support to the forthcoming Civil Rights march and we call upon the people of Newry and district to do likewise"

Inflammatory and Provocative

Unionist MP for South Down Capt L.P.S Orr and Senator Samuel Kinghan, Grand Master, Down County Grand Orange Lodge also made a statement calling for the march not to take place, saying that the demonstration because of the declared intention to pass through a Unionist area was intended to be inflammatory and provocative. "Such a demonstration in such circumstances would be wholly irresponsible and subversive of public order and should not take place

"If however the parade as at present planned should proceed and if the law and the police should be defied, we hope that the Unionists of Newry will act with their customary dignity"

"We will not tolerate outsiders trying to divide this town into particular areas to suit their malicious intentions."

Newry Urban Councillor Michael Murphy added "The best possible relations exist in Newry between all sections of the community, including the police. I hope that nothing happens to disrupt those good relations.

"If trouble occurs it will not eminate from townspeople, but be due to some ill advised and precipitous action by the Minister of Home Affairs or by the influx of vicious hooligans of the type we have recently seen in action.

"One thing I want to utterly refute is this idea of loyalist areas in Newry. Let me tell them that all the people in the town are loyal to the town. That is the test of loyalty at this time.

"I or any citizen or visitor can go to any part of the town at any time of the day or night without fear of being molested for either their religious or political convictions. There are no ghettos, no segregation and we will not tolerate outsiders trying to divide this town into particular areas to suit their malicious intentions."

With thanks to Frontier Sentinel 11/1/1969

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