Paddy Wilson…Forty Years Ago Tonight

On the night of 25th June 1973, one of the eight people who founded the SDLP was murdered. He was murdered with a friend in North Belfast.
They died in horrific circumstances, too gruesome to recount here.
Paddy Wilson visited our home on occasions. He and my father were friends. He helped us with a housing problem. In the Spring of 1973, he visited our house. I remember telling him that I wouldnt vote in the upcoming Council Elections because Fr Dennis Faul ws calling for a boycott to support the internees.
As it happened I joined SDLP the week after those Elections.
I dont suppose that Paddy Wilson, who was voted onto Belfast Council knew that I had actually joined the Party.
I was canvassing in West Belfast for the Assembly Elections.
Paddy was murdered a few days before those Elections.

It is hard to believe that it is forty years ago.
I sincerely hope that SDLP mark the occasion, especially a the Party is promoting a major conference on Thursday.
It would be fitting if he was mentioned.

I have been frankly disappointed that many young people in SDLP do not know anything about that night forty years ago.
You may say “why should they?” but thats not really a good reason.
It is not a mistake that Sinn Fein would make.

A Political Party needs HISTORY.
So does say…a Football Team. For example young footballers or foreign footballers who join Manchester United cannot be expected to know about the Munich Air Crash or Duncan Edwards. But the Club makes sure they know the history of the Club thru induction courses.
Should SDLP have induction courses for new members?
Surely it is basic stuff.

SDLP is not good with its own History. I have looked for literature that dos not exist because nobody thought it was important. But that…frustrating for the historian….is only paper.
People are much more important.
So hopefully, in this Decade of Centenaries, SDLP will issue a Press Release to acknowledge the murder of a founder member.
Hopefully on Thursday, the large gathering of SDLP people will acknowledge Paddy.
He deserves it.

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20 Responses to Paddy Wilson…Forty Years Ago Tonight

  1. factual says:

    Have you read Séan Farren’s History of the SDLP? Would you recommend it?

  2. Political Tourist says:


    Is there a case to be made that the SDLP would rather forget the past.
    Another ex SDLP member murdered by loyalists was John Turnley.
    Who remembers him.

    • I have actually wondered about that myself.
      And as I was framing the post last night …I was trying to be sensitive.
      The SDLP has a reputation in the media as not being nice to each other.
      There is something very single minded about the SDLP.
      Almost vocational in the old sense that they (the members) dont really matter. But yet they do seem to care passionately about people in general.
      I have often said SDLP is far too interested in other peoples opinions….Duncan Morrow, Rev Norman Hamilton, Davey Adams (for Gods Sake!!!!) than they are in their own members.
      SDLP members get a bad deal from their own Party. But curiously thats what they want because it fits the narrative of sacrifice.
      John Turnley…I met him before he was a MLA .He was on the Party Organisation Committee of SDLP in 1974.
      He actually had left SDLP and joined Irish Independence Party when he was murdered.

  3. bangordub says:

    You obviously feel strongly, and in my view, rightly so.
    In those days it is apparent that the SDLP were radical, energised, involved and paid a heavy price for so doing. They were also a powerful voice for nationalism.
    Where is that radicalism now?

  4. Fear Feirsteach says:

    Any word on John White of late? Last I heard he was in Manchester claiming to be born again – but that was a few years back.

  5. @FHH,
    Apologies, perils of reply via the WP Android widget. I don’t trust it and with good reason. Anyway here is the report:


    A UFF double murderer is in the running as a unionist candidate in next year’s council elections.

    Convicted killer turned drugs campaigner Bobby McConnell was selected on Thursday to run for the Court ward during a meeting of the UUP Association at Belfast City Hall.

    And it will be up to new UUP leader Tom Elliott whether he rubber-stamps the double killer’s nomination to run for the council seat.

    McConnell was one of three UFF men jailed in 1982 for the murder of republican councillor John Turnly. Protestant Turnly, a former SDLP man, drove to Carnlough village, Co Antrim, in June 1980 for a meeting with other councillors. As he got out of the car he was cut down in a hail of gunfire.

    McConnell was one of three men sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder. He was also convicted of the murder of Catholic Robert McCormick, 22, who was shot 10 times outside his Larne home in August 1980.

    While in prison McConnell turned his back on paramilitaries and educated himself to degree level.

    A source said: “Bobby has done his best since getting out in stopping young people making mistakes he did.”

    The former UFF man backed Basil McCrea for UUP party leader.”

  6. Political Tourist says:


    How do you think the present day university educated bright young things in the SDLP would have got on with Gerry Fitt, Paddy Devlin or Paddy Wilson.

    • Sorry for delay in replying to this.
      I thought I had done so.
      I didnt know Gerry Fitt, barely met him and was never overly impressed. As MLA for North Belfast, I rarely saw him. Paddy Devlin, Desmond Gillespie, Vincent McCloskey and Joe Hendron were effectively West Belfast.
      Paddy Devlin was largely self educated and took advantage as far as I know of things like Workers Education and Trade Union courses. I sat beside bis nephew at primary school for seven years between 1957 and 1963. And we walked to and from Grammar School four times a day from 1963 to 1968.
      one of his daughters became a BBC producer.
      Coincidently one of Gerry Fitts five daughters …the famous Miss Fitts (misfits) was a BBC producer. I think she was the one who married Vincent Hanna.
      So Devlin and Fitt certainly believed in the value of Education.
      and of course they formed a Party with university educated people.

      So Id put them in the tradition of working class men who grew up in the 1930s and been denied the benefits of Education.
      in a long tradition of James Connolly and others.

      Paddy Wilson was younger and strangely I know less about him in the political sense. I think of him primarily as a man who visited our house (if that makes sense). I certainly recall that he was aways nice in the way that visitors are. but Id say in the same tradition as Fitt, Devlin, my father, my Uncle Jackie.
      Thats how people were.

  7. Just wanna praise your blog. I’ve read the archives and you’ve made me appreciate –
    Strongly Republican background – that the narrative I’ve held on victimhood is narrow and diminishing. You’ e opened my mind and helped me lose that chip on my shoulder. Let’s make a New Ireland with your message at its core.

    Don’t have much time to contribute but I’ll continue reading.

  8. SDLP Supporter says:

    I knew Paddy Wilson. He was in effect the first SDLP General Secretary when it opened for business in August 1970. A few weeks later it placed an advertisement for membership in the ‘Irish News’ and I joined that day. Ten shillings, 50p to join (a good percentage of my Saturday job as a ‘settler’ in a bookies) and I still have the receipt signed by Paddy. Wilson had been a political opponent of Fitt and had stood against him in (I think) the 1967 Belfast Council elections for Dock ward, under the NILP. He later became Fitt’s closest political associate.

    What to say about Fitt? He was highly intelligent, quick-witted, could be very funny, came from extreme poverty in Walbeck Street, in the New Lodge Road/Dawson Street area and any time I talked to him appeared to loathe physical force ‘die for Ireland’ “republicans”, I would imagine he completely despised people like the sadist Jimmy Steele and craw-thumpers like Frank Card (Prionsias Mac Airt). Fitt’s successful 1966 campaign for the West Belfast seat was the best political fun I ever had in my life: talk about FDR’s ‘happy warrior’.

    Fitt’s greatest political service after being elected in 1966 was blowing away the ‘Westminster convention’ that the affairs of NI could not be discussed there and, of course, his brilliant use of the media, bloody shirt and all, after the march in Derry on Saturday, 5 October 1968, which I was at as a member of the National Democratic Party.

    In political terms, both Fitt and Devlin were in essence one man bands, who operated through trusted lieutenants (Devlin’s was a street-wise guy called Andy McKenna), not committed to the often boring work of political organisation and the nurturing and acceptance of rising talent which often seeks to bite the hand of the nurturer, if it’s any good,

    • Thank you for this.
      I cant really think why Paddy and Claude Wilton, an exceptionally brave man in my view have been airbrushed from SDLP History.
      From 2005-2009 I was at QUB (an alleged mature student) and I went down to HQ to get a copy of an article I had written for the firs issue of the Social Democrat. Dan McAreavey who had just taken over from John Duffy was the editor.
      I was shocked to discover that they did not have a copy and I had to go to the Linenhall Library.
      SDLP is shockingly bad at its own History.
      As recently as last Thursday, I attended a SDLP event and a SDLP figure mentioned to me that they had never heard of Claude. The basics are that EIGHT people formed the SDLP.
      And fair play to your folks in NDP who particuarly provided the “organisation”. And again Ben Caraher is only a man really known and appreciated by an older generation of SDLP people.
      I make my statement that SDLP SHOULD set aside time for an induction course for the new members. Its more relevant now as the SDLP lacks the middle generation.
      As to Andy McKenna…he was Secretary of the old Falls Branch before I was. But I would have chosen another individual as Paddy Devlins street wise lieutenant.
      While people like Desmond Gillespie (I liked him very much) and Vincent McCloskey (ailing even in 1973) were the troops on the ground, it enabled Gerry Fitt and Paddy Devlin to do the “leadership” things. It surprising and a bit annoying that Dessie and the Silver Fox and some other rank and file people like John O’Hagan in North Antrim dont get a mention in SDLP histories. As far as I know they were not even mentioned by Brian Feeney, Sean Farren and Gerry Murray.
      Of course its the old story…SDLP prefers to listen to its enemies rather than its friends. Mary Hanafin, Brian Hayes, REv Norman Hamilton, Joanne Tuffy (“Ive never thought of Irish Unity but I lived three streets from Conall McDevitt”), Duncan Morrow……….Davey Adams…….Davey Adams!!!
      As one of the joint winners of the Dan McAreavey Cup, put it in November at Armagh City Hotel…….”the people told us that they hadnt left the SDLP ..the SDLP had left them”. Hes on the Party Executive now. So hopefully thngs will change.
      Like inviting Brian Feeney on to a panel.
      Or…ME. Now I might even do that. 🙂

    • I think that I would add that I agree that Gerry Fitts finest hours were 1966 to 1973. Involving people like Paul Rose.
      After that…and possibly even a little before, he had lost a lot of prestige.
      Certainly at one of the two 1974 General Elections, there was a fairly serious attempt to select another candidate.
      I still remember that night well.
      The first time I ever saw Gerry Fitt was in 1967. He was on the back of a coal delivery lorry which was passing thru Cullingtree Road-Albert Street. Celebrating Celtic winning European Cup.

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