Civil Rights to Armalites - January 1967 to April 1969

Part B:

Download 1968 History Resource PDF

3. Museum-related activities


For this section, students should watch the two short films below.

i.  Students should first watch films 3 and 4

  • Film 3: Students


  • Film 4: Posters



The films look at the broad background to political developments in Northern Ireland between 1967 and 1969. After students have seen the films, teachers should initiate a discussion, to find out what students have learned from each one. Suggestions for themes to explore include:

  • The aims, objectives and tactics of student activists
  • The role of the media
  • The international context
  • The use of political posters

Students should then be split into groups and asked to work more closely on the following questions:

  1. What were aims of the student-based activists in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s?
  2. Which groups in Northern Ireland opposed demands for political changes?
  3. How did the Parisian student protests of May 1968 affect the tactics which used by Civil Rights activists?
  4. How important was the new style of political poster in the Civil Rights campaign between 1967 and 1969?

ii.  Students should then watch films 5 and 6

  • Film 5: Duke Street


  • Film 6: Craigavon Bridge



After Films 5 and 6 have been shown, another discussion should be started by the teacher, with the object of discovering what students have learned. Suggestions for themes to explore include:

  • The political impact of NICRA marches in 1967
  • The role of the mass media (newspapers, radio and television)
  • The response of the Northern Ireland Government and the RUC to the marches
  • The response of the UK Government to growing tensions in Northern Ireland

Students should then be split into groups and asked to work more closely on the following questions:

  1. Why did the Duke Street march acquire so much political significance?
  2. Why is the Duke Street march described as a “game changer” in the film?
  3. What point does Gregory Campbell make about NICRA in the film?
  4. How important was the role of Gerry Fitt in the Duke Street march?
  5. Why was another NICRA march held in Derry/ Londonderry in November 1968?
  6. Ivan Cooper is interviewed. Why did he feel that the NICRA march was important?
  7. What actions did Terence O’Neill take, shortly after the November march, and why did he take them?
  8. How did NICRA respond to the promises which O’Neill had made by December 1968?

iii.  Students should then watch film 7

  • Film 7: Burntollet



After the film has been shown, the teacher should initiate a discussion with aim of finding out what students have learned. Here are the suggested topics.

  • The role of the mass media (newspapers, radio and television)
  • The role of the leaders of “People’s Democracy”
  • The political impact of Burntollet
  • The responses of Stormont, Westminster and Dublin politicians

Students should then be split into groups and asked to work more closely on the following questions:

  1. What was ‘People’s Democracy’?
  2. What were the political aims of People’s Democracy?
  3. Why did they decide to organise a march in January 1969?
  4. Which groups and individuals opposed this march and why were they opposed to it?
  5. Why is the march described in the film as “a coat-trailing exercise”?
  6. Austin Currie believed that Burntollet was politically important. Why did he hold that view?
  7. What were the political consequences of the Burntollet march by April 1969?
  8. In the film, it is claimed that “there could be no turning back after Burntollet”. Explain why that view was expressed. To what extent do you agree with it?
  9. Why was the Burntollet march attacked? Discuss the complexities of policing this particular march.
  10. What were the respective responses of nationalists and unionists to news of the Burntollet march and the attack on it?
  11. How would you summarise the way in which those present reflected on this experience?

In order to prepare students for visits to the Ulster Museum, some of the questions above can be used for additional classroom discussions, in conjunction with Films 3 to 7.


Visit activities

After viewing the ‘Living on a Divided Island’ section of the modern history gallery, students should move on round the corner towards the Troubles gallery and look for the following items, which are displayed there, and try to answer the related questions. (PS)Students’ responses should be in writing. They should make notes and take photographs, to help them answer questions. (WO, UICT)

Item A: Terence O’Neill’s “Crossroads” speech
A television broadcast which the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland made on 9 December 1968

  • What was O’Neill trying to achieve by making this speech?
  • Why did he decide to address the people of Northern Ireland directly, via the medium of television?
  • Why was it known as “the Crossroads speech”?
  • What were the respective responses of Unionists and Nationalists to the speech?

Item B: Gerry Fitt’s shirt from October 1968.

  • In what ways had Gerry Fitt become an important figure in Northern Ireland by October 1968?
  • What role did he play in the Duke Street march?
  • Why is his shirt a powerful historical artefact?



Item C: ‘The Umbrella Man’, showing some of the events of 1968

  • Describe the events which are portrayed.
  • How does the print reflect sectarian divisions in Belfast by 1968?
  • Was this polarisation experienced in both communities?


Item D: Poster bearing the slogan “End the Special Powers Act!”
1969, possibly published by People’s Democracy

  • What was “the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922”, commonly known as “the Special Powers Act”?
  • In January 1969, why did many Unionists support the Act? Why did many Nationalists oppose it?
  • Which groups agreed with the demands made on the poster? Why did they agree?


Item E: Unionist Party election poster 
General Election held on 24 February 1969

  • Which prominent figure ran against Terence O’Neill in his Bannside constituency in the 1969 Northern Ireland (Stormont) general election?
  • Why was the 1969 Stormont election important?
  • Why did some members of O’Neill’s own party oppose him?


Item F: NICRA handbill
Distributed in New York City, NY, USA, 17 March 1969

  • Why does the handbill refer to events in Selma, Alabama?
  • Explain why NICRA wanted to put across its message in New York.
  • What was the significance of the date?


Post-visit activities

Students have now studied the main political events in Northern Ireland between January 1967 and April 1969. In order to consolidate their knowledge and develop their understanding of the period, they can undertake some of the following exercises, in the classroom, after visiting the Museum.

Exercise A – Comparative table: Draw up a table comparing the aims, methods and supporters of NICRA and the USA Civil Rights movement. (SM)

Exercise B – NICRA poster and leaflet: Students should then design a poster for NICRA and a leaflet, setting out the main demands of NICRA. (UICT, PS and COMM)

Exercise C – Newspaper articles: Students should form small groups and each group should prepare a newspaper article which describes the incidents at either Duke Street, Craigavon Bridge or Burntollet. The article must contain a headline and an image (such as a photograph or a map) and must try to present a contemporary report and contemporary comment on the incident being covered. Taking account of the allegiance and tone of each of the three main regional newspapers in the late 1960s, each group must produce three short articles:

  • The first article which should be suitable for inclusion in a contemporary edition of The News Letter;
  • the second for inclusion in The Belfast Telegraph; and
  • the third for inclusion in The Irish News.

Articles should be about 300 to 400 words long each. (UICT, WO, SM, COMM)

Exercise D – Flow chart: Each student should produce a flow chart, showing the reasons or events which led to the downfall of O’Neill by April 1969. (PS)

Exercise E – Assessment of opinions and preparation of mind maps: From Films 3 to 7, each student must select (in total) two contemporary opinions and one later interpretation, of the success or failure of the NICRA campaign, up to April 1969. Students should form source-work groups and collate the evidence which (as individuals) they have gathered from different sources in the films. As an aid to evaluation and further discussion, each group should produce a “mind map” or diagram for each of issues (such as discrimination in employment, “One man, one vote” and social housing) which Northern Ireland faced in April 1969. The mind map should show how the different aspects of the issue are connected.

Exercise F – Commissions of inquiry: During 1969, the UK Government grew concerned about events in Northern Ireland and, in particular, about increasing violence. It asked a senior Scottish judge Lord Cameron to examine the issues which were causing (or had caused) strife in the region. The Cameron Report contained a number of findings. It was critical of several policies and practices of the Unionist government at Stormont. However, the report also expressed the view that, although most members of the civil-rights movement had genuinely wanted to create a fairer society and political system in Northern Ireland, a relatively small number of people had exploited the NICRA, in order to further long-standing extremist agendas or to stir up trouble.

Students should form three groups. Each group should pretend that it is a commission of inquiry, and that it is sitting immediately after the resignation of Terence O’Neill as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. The first “commission” will supposedly be reporting to the Northern Ireland Government in Belfast; the second to the UK Government in London; and the third to the Republic’s Government in Dublin. Therefore, each “commission” and report will have a particular slant.

Students’ “commissions” should examine serious problems of the sort which Lord Cameron investigated. Each “commission” should outline its conclusions and (very brief) supporting evidence in a short, simple report. Remembering which government has supposedly commissioned their report, members of each “commission” should also recommend reforms which might have solved the problems described in their report.

Each report should be roughly 300 to 400 words long. At the end of the exercise, all three reports should be compared and the differences between them highlighted. (WO, COMM)

Exercise G – Written assignments: Discussion of the following propositions can be used as the basis of written assignments.

a. “Between 1965 and 1969 O’Neill’s attempts to deal with the political problems facing Northern Ireland were largely successful.”

b. “The Civil Rights movement had failed to achieve its aims by April 1969.”

c. “The British government be seen as accountable for the crisis which had arisen in Northern Ireland by 1969.”

d. “The mass media and new political ideas from outside Northern Ireland, greatly contributed to the development of NICRA by 1969.”