Irish Republican News · October 10, 2003
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
When history was made

By Michelle Gildernew

In Caledon, County Tyrone there is a small housing development called Kinnard Park, a place that I had never been to until I was an adult, but somewhere that I heard about throughout my childhood. It was here in 1968 that my family were evicted from a house in an event that was to have major implications for my future and that of this country.

On their return from England in 1967 my aunt, her husband and their two young children found themselves homeless and had to live with my grandparents and their six grown-up children in a small house five miles from the village of Caledon. There was an appalling lack of housing in Tyrone and other parts of the Six Counties for Catholics as every ratepayer was entitled to a vote. By not giving Catholic families homes they were effectively disenfranchised and many were forced to live in cramped conditions or travel to England for a better standard of living.

In an attempt to remedy this situation my mother, grandmother, her sons and other members of the Brantry Republican Club (then an illegal organisation) entered into negotiations with the council asking them to build houses in the area. After much wrangling and with the aid of the local priest it was finally decided that 15 new houses would be built in Caledon and of those seven would be allocated to Catholics, eight to Protestants.

However, when the time came only one of the houses was allocated to a Catholic, an ex-serviceman from the British Army.

At this stage it was decided to take matters a step further and my aunt and her family moved in, in a squat that was to last for almost a year. There was no electricity or water in an attempt to drive them out. As they did not have a key, members of our family had to stay with them for their security. During this time the couple's third child was born and the Republican Club, of which my mother was secretary, started a publicity campaign, receiving letters from 10 Downing St, Buckingham Palace and the United Nations among others in an attempt to get the decision overturned, all to no avail.

When these avenues had failed they turned to the local MP and asked him take up the fight. He agreed, hence Austin Currie became involved.

However when the eviction notice was served and the date when the family were to be thrown out of the house loomed, Mr Currie's enthusiasm had waned and after the eviction he felt that the protest was over and nothing more could be done. Not to be deterred, however, members of the Republican Club decided to continue the struggle and took over the house next door. This one had been given to an unmarried Protestant girl, the secretary of a unionist politician and at this point Currie had to be cajoled into continuing the campaign.

The subsequent scenes of the forcible eviction of women and children struck a chord in the hearts of an oppressed people. Enough was enough, northern nationalism was coming off it knees.

Encouraged by the success of the Brantry Republican Club in drawing attention to the inequalities that existed, the first Civil Rights march from Coalisland to Dungannon was organised. Taking the Civil Rights Movement in the United States as a model, the Catholic population here, who had been refused basic human and civil rights for so long, began to demand those rights, turning a society on its head.

Over 30 years later, only some things have changed, and we are still fighting for our rights. Prophetically, on the morning of the eviction one of our neighbours asked our grandmother if we were making hay today. Her reply was: ``No, we're making history.'` Hopefully, the struggle is now coming to an end.

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© 2003 Irish Republican News