ACIS Logo Under the Wrong Banner: Springtown Camp and the Peaceful Fight For Better Housing

On a cold January morning in 1964 in the city of Derry, Northern Ireland, roughly two hundred people from Springtown Camp, an abandoned U.S. Army base turned squatter camp, marched from Springtown to the Guildhall in Derry to protest the almost third world conditions they were living in as a result of local councils refusing to address the housing crisis in Derry. Although this march did not generate immediate change, it was an indication that the people of Northern Ireland were tiring of the Unionist government’s refusal to acknowledge the living conditions of certain communities. However, despite this obvious precursor to Northern Ireland’s civil rights movement, which has been attributed to 5 October 1968 by most historians, this episode has almost become a footnote in history. Only a handful of histories mention Springtown, with almost no attention paid to this march. It is possible that this historical silence is due to the fact that this march did not cause a reaction from the police or Unionist community, unlike the 5 October march. However, the historical significance of this march should not be ignored. In this presentation, I argue that the Springtown march paved the way for the civil rights movement in 1968 and played a key role in Derry’s political awakening. The Springtown March shows that, even before the rise of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association later in the decade, there was a movement for peaceful political change in the North.