African-born Derry doctor and Nobel Peace Prize nominee honoured by blue plaque

Sat, 29/09/2012 - 22:49 -- Editor

THE Ulster History Circle yesterday unveiled a blue plaque in honour of Dr Raphael Ernest Grail Armattoe, the West African-born Derry doctor, Nobel Peace Prize nominee and staunch campaigner for the independence of Africa's colonies.

Dr Armattoe lived in 7 Northland Road, currently the HQ of the Garbhan O'Doherty Group, from 1939 to 1945 and carried on his practice as a GP. The plaque was unveiled by his son, Stanley Armattoe who travelled from London for the ceremony.

Derry Mayor Kevin Campbell, a large number of representatives from African organisations in Ireland as well as our local MP Mark Durkan were present for the unveiling.

Dr Armattoe was born in August 1913 to a prominent family of the Ewe people in Togoland, West Africa. He came to Europe at the age of 17 to continue his education. He studied in Germany, France and Britain. He came to Northern Ireland shortly after receiving a medical qualification in Edinburgh in 1938.

Besides practicing medicine in Derry, Raphael Armattoe made a unique contribution to the intellectual life of the city. He gave talks on a variety of subjects, mainly medical and anthropological, to diverse groups such as the Great James’ Street Women’s Guild, the Amateur Radio Club and the St John’s Ambulance Society. The doctor wrote articles for the Londonderry Sentinel as well as for academic journals such as Man, Nature and African Affairs.  

From his base at Northland Rd, Dr Armattoe wrote a book on The Golden Age Of West African Civilization (published in 1946) and issued numerous pamphlets. He also found time to give lectures and make presentations in Dublin and London and further afield. He spoke at the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England and the Scientific and Cultural Conference for World Peace in New York in 1949. At both of these major conferences, Dr Armattoe called for independence of the African colonies.

It is a sign of the esteem in which Dr Armattoe was held, that members of both Stormont and Dáil Eireann as well as three Westminster Members of Parliament nominated the doctor for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1949.

Towards the end of 1950 Armattoe and his family settled in Kumasi, in what is now Ghana, where he set up a medical clinic and research centre. He wrote books on poetry and politics. His two books of poetry, Between The Forest And The Sea and Deep Down In The Black Man’s Mind, are of continuing interest to students of African literature. 

After the First World War, the former German colony of Togoland was divided into two mandates, one under French and the other under British rule. As the Togoland mandates and the Gold Coast colony were moving towards independence, Armattoe called for British and French Togoland to be reunited as a single country, rather than British Togoland becoming part of Ghana, as it eventually did become. Armattoe became active in both the pre-independence Ghana Congress Party, in opposition to Kwame Nkrumah; and the Joint Togoland Congress.

Dr Armattoe travelled to New York in 1953 to address a United Nations commission on the ‘Eweland question’ and Togoland unification. On his way back to Kumasi, he visited the British Isles and Germany. Taken sick en route, Armattoe was treated in hospital in Hamburg, where he died on 21 December 1953.