The Northern Ireland Civil Rights movement The chimera of change and the spectre of sectarianism

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Claire Mansour


Following the fiftieth anniversary of the Derry march of 5 October 1968 –– both Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party have been presenting a revised version of the history of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights movement exaggerating the role played by Republicans to fit in their own Manichean narratives. Former participants to the movement have on the contrary insisted that their cause was a genuinely non-sectarian attempt to bring change to Northern Ireland. They were trying to break away from the Orange and Green protest traditions to create a new, inclusive movement in order to obtain the same rights as other British citizens. Thanks to semi-structured interviews carried out with former members of various Civil Rights groups in October 2019, this chapter will shed light on their efforts to overcome the sectarian divide and bring about change through moderate demands. It will also endeavour to put the movement back into the context of the international uprisings of the 1960s by studying instances of cross-national diffusion of protest tactics and ideas which enabled activists to construct a different image for their movement, by summoning the respectable aura of the non-violent American Civil Rights movement or reinventing the radical slogans from the student protests in the United States and France. In their recollections, most activists depict thrilling times which contrast with the traditional narratives of the period, usually seen in the gloomy shadow of the Troubles. Thus, taking into account the international dimension of the context can be a way to counterbalance the narrow focus of the partisan versions presented by Sinn Fein and the DUP.

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How to Cite
Mansour, C. (2021). The Northern Ireland Civil Rights movement: The chimera of change and the spectre of sectarianism. Imaginaires, (23), 192-209.
Author Biography

Claire Mansour, Université Toulouse Jean-Jaurès

Claire Mansour is a lecturer in British and Irish studies at the University of Toulouse Jean-Jaures. Her research focuses mainly on the diffusion of social movements in the long sixties in the United Kingdom, including national, cross-national, diachronic and synchronic processes.