The civil rights movement in Ireland has its deepest roots in Derry. It was here on 5 October 1968 that the issue of civil rights in the north first came to the attention of the world when the police attacked a peaceful demonstration in Duke Street. It was here that the first no go area was declared in January 1969, when the defiant slogan ‘You Are Now Entering Free Derry’ appeared on a gable wall in the Bogside.
It was here on 30 January 1972, Bloody Sunday, that 14 unarmed demonstrators were killed and 17 others injured by the British Army in the streets around this building.
By boldly taking on the might of the state, an oppressed people were demanding a different world where justice, equality and freedom were the entitlement of all. In this museum and archive rests part of their legacy. Their epitaph is the continuing struggle for democracy. This museum is dedicated to all who have struggled and suffered for civil rights everywhere, and who will do so in the future.
After partition, the Unionist Party set about creating “a Protestant state for a Protestant people” – built on a “foundation of sectarian discrimination, biased administration and a barrage of totalitarian legislation, which both protected unionism and instilled a deep sense of social injustice in the non-unionist population.” (Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, 1978.)
Bloody Sunday failed in its objective to terrorise the no-go area. Stormont fell in March and direct-rule from London was re-instated. Free Derry remained. Support for republicanism grew. The conflict continued to escalate. In six months after 30 January, 15 people were killed in the Free Derry area.
Free Derry as a physical entity ended with Operation Motorman, and this area suffered inordinately in the decades of armed conflict that followed. The death and injury rate here throughout the 1970s, 1980s and into the 1990s was high as the PIRA and the British Army fought a long war of attrition.