Wednesday, September 14, 2022

the last book I ever read (We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland, excerpt eight)

from We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland by Fintan O'Toole:

While we in Dublin were calling people Balubas, the revolt of Catholics and their allies among liberal Protestants and left-wingers was arguably the first white rebellion to be directly and explicitly inspired by a Black movement. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, formed in 1967, was another example of the Americanization of Ireland. But the defining influence was not the America of capital and commodities and Westerns. It was the America of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. ‘We plagiarised an entire movement’, acknowledged the manager of the Derry museum, Adrian Kerr. ‘We even went as far as stealing the song.’ The song was the civil rights anthem, ‘We Shall Overcome’, adopted almost immediately by NICRA.

One of the key turning points in the emergence of the struggle in Northern Ireland as an international story was consciously modelled on a similar moment in US history. In January 1969, a march for civil rights, from Belfast to Derry, was organized by the student-led People’s Democracy group. When it came to Burntollet Bridge, the marchers were viciously attacked by a loyalist mob that included off-duty members of the notoriously sectarian auxiliary police force, the B-Specials. Some of the RUC members on duty tried to protect the marchers, but most stood by while they were assaulted with iron bars, bottles, and cudgels studded with nails. Burntollet Bridge was a knowing simulacrum of Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The main organizer of the march, Michael Farrell, wrote that ‘The march was modelled on the Selma − Montgomery march in Alabama in 1966, which had exposed the racist thuggery of America’s deep South and forced the US government into major reforms.’

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