Martin, John & Mitchel

The life and times of Martin McGuinness up to August 1972

Martin McGuinness was born on 23 May 1950 in the Bogside area of Derry. Refused a mechanic’s job as a teenager simply because of his nationalist identity, he also witnessed local peaceful civil rights marchers being attacked by the RUC on 5 October 1968. Active during the Battle of the Bogside which broke out during the annual Apprentice Boys march in August 1969, he subsequently joined the Official IRA before joining the breakaway Provisional IRA in late 1970. ‘I would have felt ashamed if I was not part of the resistance and part of fighting back against the forces of the state.’ Martin McGuinness, 1995. The British army killings of local unarmed civilians Seamus Cusack and Dessie Beattie in July 1971, and the reintroduction of imprisonment without trial or ‘internment’ (used against republicans in every decade since the North was established in 1921) further radicalised his views. In response republicans re-erected barricades around Free Derry, increased attacks on British soldiers and police, and launched a major city-centre economic bombing campaign. Appointed Commander of the Provisionals’ Derry Brigade after Bloody Sunday, one British army officer famously described him as ‘excellent officer material’. A short-lived Provisional IRA ceasefire in June 1972 saw McGuinness and five other Provisional leaders flown to London for inconclusive talks with British Secretary of State for the North William Whitelaw. When Operation Motorman was launched, McGuinness ordered IRA Volunteers to offer no military resistance to prevent civilian casualties. He soon realised republicans had to regroup to face the huge British military presence now patrolling Free Derry and beyond. The museum explores his journey from IRA commander to the role of joint First-Minister in the power-sharing Executive established through the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The life and times of John Hume up to August 1972

John Hume was born on 18 January 1937 in the Rosemount area of Derry. A teacher by profession, in 1964 he was elected the youngest-ever President of the Irish League of Credit Unions, an organisation which assisted those unable to secure conventional financial assistance. He also chaired the ‘University for Derry’ cross-community campaign, which lobbied the Stormont government to locate the North’s second university in the city. He later said the government’s controversial decision to situate the university in the much smaller and pre-dominantly unionist town of Coleraine was ‘the point of no return’ for civil rights campaigners. Elected Vice-Chair of the Derry Citizens' Action Committee in 1968, in November of that year he and others breached a police cordon blocking a banned Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) march from entering the city centre. ‘We have broken the ban... I am not a lawbreaker by nature, but I am proud to stand here with 15,000 Derry people who have broken a law which is in disrepute.’ John Hume speech during civil rights rally in Derry, November 1968. Elected to the Stormont parliament as an Independent MP in February 1969, he co-founded the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) in August 1970. The SDLP withdrew from the Stormont parliament in July 1971 when the Unionist government refused a public inquiry into the killings of Seamus Cusack and Dessie Beattie in Derry. The following month, Hume was arrested by British soldiers during an anti-internment sit-down protest in Derry. During his appeal in February 1972 he successfully argued that only the Westminster government, rather than the Stormont regime, had the authority to deploy and direct British troops. This compelled the British government to impose Direct Rule a few weeks later. He was also a conduit between republicans and the British government to secure the IRA ceasefire in June 1972. It’s collapse saw him explore new solutions to resolve the conflict peacefully. The museum explores his consistent search for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, which saw him awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 to recognise his role in securing the Good Friday Agreement.

The life and times of Mitchel McLaughlin up to August 1972

Mitchel McLaughlin was born in Derry on 29 October 1945. A participant in the 1965 University for Derry campaign, he joined Sinn Féin (then known as ‘Republican Clubs’ to get round a ban imposed on the party by the Stormont government) the following year. He also took part in the October 1968 civil rights march which was attacked by the RUC. An engineer by profession, when Free Derry was first declared in January 1969, McLaughlin returned home from his employment in Zambia to resume his activism. He was further radicalised when no charges were brought against RUC members involved in a brutal attack on Bogside civilian Sammy Devenney in April 1969; Mr Devenney subsequently died in July of that year as a result. Active during the Battle of the Bogside in August 1969, he joined Provisional Sinn Féin following the 1970 split in the Republican movement. McLaughlin was one of the first anti-internment protestors to be fired on by the Parachute Regiment on Bloody Sunday: ‘On 30 January 1972 the world awakened to a new day just like so many others, but for many families in Derry that day would change their lives forever. By teatime on that Sunday afternoon, three women would be widowed, nineteen children would lose a father, twenty parents would lose a son, ninety-nine siblings would lose a brother and a few months later another woman would lose a husband to the tragic events of that day. In the years following, the British Government attempted to bury the truth behind the events of what has now become known as Bloody Sunday.’ Mitchel McLaughlin speaking on the 30th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in 2002. The events of that day intensified his republican activism. The museum explains his vital contribution as a republican strategist to the creation of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.