Belfast Telegraph

Free Derry corner gets makeover in tribute to anarchist John McGuffin

By Brendan McDaid

One of Londonderry’s best known landmarks has been given a complete makeover to mark the anniversary of the death of a Belfast anarchist and civil rights leader.

Former friends and colleagues of the late John McGuffin marked the 10th anniversary of his death by unveiling a striking red and black-coloured, anarchism-inspired paint job on Free Derry corner.

Over the next fortnight the black flag of anarchy will fly over Free Derry Corner, while a large billboard to the rear carries a quote from Mr McGuffin: ‘No Gods, No Masters!’

John McGuffin was born in 1942 into a middle-class Presbyterian family. His uncle Sam McGuffin was the MP for the Shankill in Belfast from 1917 to 1921 and then for north Belfast.

He went to Campbell College in Belfast and then to the city’s Queen’s University where he graduated in history and psychology and took up a lecturer’s post at Belfast Technical College.

During his time at Queen’s, Mr McGuffin first came to prominence as a leading figure of People’s Democracy (PD), which was heavily involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

He was among marchers who walked from Belfast to Derry on New Year’s Day 1969 and came under attack from police and loyalists at Burntollet.

He was a also founding member of the Belfast Anarchist Group (BAG) but skipped the group’s first meeting to join a civil rights march.

He was arrested in the first internment swoop on August 9, 1971, and held until September 14. After his release he gave his support to the Northern Resistance Movement (NRM), a rival to the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. He also wrote about internment without trial and human rights in Internment (1973) and The Guinea Pigs (1974).

He sat on an international committee investigating the deaths in custody of Red Army Faction members in Germany, and in 1978 wrote In Praise of Poteen, ‘celebrating the talent and anti-authoritarian spirit’ of the poteen-makers.

Mr McGuffin later settled in San Francisco, becoming a criminal defence and human rights lawyer, before moving to Derry with his partner Christiane in 1998. He died in 2002.

Background

Free Derry Corner started out life as the gable wall of a row of terraced houses in the Bogside.

A youth scrawled the words in paint across the gable in January 1969.

The wall was retained after demolition of the houses and has gone on to become an international symbol of people power.

In more recent years the white wall with its large black letters has also taken on different hues to make it relevant to modern causes.

It was pink for Gay Pride Week in 2007, and went from white to black during the Bloody Sunday commemorations in 2006.

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