AN impressive line-up of leading academics, commentators and human rights campaigners will gather in Derry’s Guildhall for a special festival this weekend, October 4-7, marking 50 years since the birth of the Civil Rights movement in the city.
Irish President Michael D Higgins will give the keynote speech at the festival on Saturday at 2pm, followed by broadcast journalist Fergal Keane delivering the John Hume Civil Rights lecture at 3pm with an introduction by Pat Hume.
The event will be hosted by Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Councillor John Boyle, in conjunction with the NI Civil Rights Association and coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Duke Street March which took place on the 5th October 1968.
The programme features a broad spectrum of speakers, focusing on a range of issues spanning the civil rights era and reflecting on where we are today as a result of the campaign which changed the face of Irish society.
Looking ahead to the event, Mayor Boyle said it presented an opportunity to highlight one of the most significant periods in Modern Irish history.
“I am delighted to see this event taking place here in the Guildhall, to mark what is considered a seminal moment in our history, when the eyes of the world were firmly focused on the streets of Derry.
“The NI Civil Rights Committee have put together an impressive programme of events, with some fascinating speakers including some of the most influential proponents of international human rights.
“I am honoured to welcome President Michael D Higgins to the Guildhall as keynote speaker on Saturday. It will be the highlight of a packed weekend, offering time to debate, reflect and remember a major period of transition which has shaped our society today.”
The festival begins with a special schools’ event on Friday October 5th, featuring talks and discussions around some of the key issues and events of the time.
Speakers include veteran civil rights campaigner Eamonn McCann, Jim McBride, Dr Chris Reynolds, Anne Devlin and Aidan McKinney.
On Friday evening a number of renowned Irish artists will deliver the Words of the Civil Rights in poetry and song, featuring Damien Dempsey, Stephen Rea, Martin Lynch, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, Paddy Nash and other Special Guests.
All proceeds from the evening are in aid of the Mayor’s chosen charity Foyle Search and Rescue.
Throughout the weekend there will be an impressive line-up of speakers including Eamonn McCann, Erskine Holmes, Marian Donnelly, Michael Mansfield QC, Gareth Pierce, Lord Alf Dubs, Baroness Nuala O’Loan and other international human rights activists and leading academics.
Looking ahead to the weekend, Chair of the Civil Rights Committee, Professor Paul Arthur said:
“We are delighted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Duke Street March in Derry, a march that successfully challenged the status quo and led to a new political dispensation.
“The range of events over four days in October is an acknowledgement of the reflective and inclusive approach adopted by the Committee from its inaugural meeting in Belfast last November; and its formal launch by the distinguished poet, Michael Longley, in Rosemary Street Presbyterian Church in January.
“Longley’s poetry and prose captured the optimism of the moment but also reflected the pain and tragedy of subsequent years.
“We have not shied away from that darkness and we have attempted to engage with those who saw the initial civil rights movement as a conspiracy.”
To view the full line up of events and to book tickets go to http://www.nicivilrights.org/events/civil-rights-festival