Caledon housing protest that led to Civil Rights campaign 

Posted By: February 05, 2018

“On the morning after the eviction Nana Gildernew was asked by a neighbor why the family were not making the hay that day, she replied; ‘Because we are making history.’”

Colm Gildernew Sinn Féin MLA. Fermanagh/South Tyrone. Letters to Editor. Irish News. Belfast. Monday, February 5, 2018

Fifty years ago, on  October  12, 1967, Dungannon District Council convened its monthly meeting. One of the decisions they were about to take would reverberate across decades and bring the northern Unionist state to its knees and, some argue, ultimately led to its demise as a one-party Orange state.

The Brantry Sinn Féin Republican Club, under the leadership of Annie Mary Gildernew, had been trying to secure housing in the local area for nationalist families. This had been denied over many years, and things had reached an intolerable situation in the late sixties.

The local council had a gerrymandered Unionist majority, and they refused, point blank, to build social housing in the Brantry area as this would also provide local Nationalists with votes as well as housing.

Instead, they agreed to build 15 houses in the then predominantly Unionist village of Caledon. They stated that they would allocate these homes on the basis of a half to Unionists and half to nationalist families to ease the housing crisis.

At the council meeting, this deal was reneged upon; all but one of the homes were allocated to Unionists. The only home which was allocated to a Catholic man was, in fact, an ex-serviceman and thus not as controversial in the Unionist council’s opinion.

The Brantry Republican Club met immediately to analyze their next move. It was decided that they were left with no alternative but to take immediate and direct action.

At approximately 2am, on Friday, October 13 members of the Gildernew, Goodfellow and McKenna families supported by the Brantry Republican Club went to Caledon and took possession of two of the newly allocated homes, (numbers 9 and 11 Kinnard Park, Caledon) including one which was subsequently allocated to a single 19-year-old Protestant woman.

The Caledon sit-in had begun.

The homes were disconnected from utility supplies, and this left Mary Theresa Goodfellow (nee Gildernew) and her young family to continue their sit-in action over the long winter months, supported by friends, family and the local Republican Club.

They stayed in number 11 Kinnard Park at all times, for fear the state authorities would repossess the home if they left it unoccupied. They organized shifts to stay in the house, transported all food and water in and used batteries for rudimentary power. They resisted coercion and court action to defy the State and to demand housing and voting rights for all.

Eventually, in May 1968 the State’s patience gave way; Geraldine Gildernew (my mother, then pregnant with me) and with two young children, Mary Theresa Goodfellow, with a three-month-old baby and two other small children and Nana Gildernew were forcibly dragged from the house under the gaze of the world’s press.

The State’s mask had finally slipped, and the nascent Civil Rights Movement mobilized the first Coalisland to Dungannon Civil Rights March on the 29th of August to protest the eviction.

This march was blocked by the RUC from entering Dungannon’s Market Square and the second Coalisland to Dungannon civil rights march was then organized.

Many cite the Caledon Eviction as the spark that lit the subsequent conflict. Unionist intransigence and discriminatory practices would no longer be tolerated by the Nationalist/Republican people, and a popular uprising against Unionist discrimination ensued.

On the morning after the eviction, Nana Gildernew was asked by a neighbor why the family was not making the hay that day, she replied; “Because we are making history.”