McGill, Patrick (‘Paddy’) (1913–77), journalist and politician, was born 4 October 1913 in Great James Street, Derry city, the son of Patrick McGill, a publican of Great James Street, and his second wife Mary (née Duffy). He earned a scholarship to St Columb's College, Derry, but left school at an early age to join the reporting staff of the Derry People, part of the Ulster Herald group of newpapers. After a few years he was promoted to take charge of the paper's office in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, where his lack of knowledge of the Irish language restricted his work, especially when it came to dealing with the work of district courts in the Gaeltacht and Breac Gaeltacht. This experience led him to begin to study the language, and within a few years his proficiency (along with his expertise in shorthand) was such that he was appointed as shorthand note-taker to the Letterkenny circuit court as well as court interpreter in many cases involving those from the Gaeltacht who gave their evidence in Irish. In addition, along with a native-speaker colleague, McGill collaborated on a book recounting the story of Mac Giolla Brighde, the ‘stiff-necked poet’ from Creeslough, Co. Donegal, who had once been prosecuted for having no name on his cart, as his name was written in Irish. The trial, in Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal, had been notable for the appearance of Patrick Pearse (qv) for the defence, in his only case as a lawyer. McGill's commitment to the Irish language was further strengthened with his marriage to Maeve, a native speaker from Annagry in the Donegal Gaeltacht, whom he married in a service in Derry conducted entirely in Irish. After the retirement of Anthony Mulvey (qv) in 1951 McGill was appointed managing editor of the Ulster Herald in Omagh, Co. Tyrone, and the family home in Gortmore Gardens became an exclusively Irish-speaking house, with English being used only when visitors arrived.
His entry into politics came in early 1953, when he was appointed as secretary of the executive of the Irish Anti-Partition League (IAPL), which had been formed in 1945 to try to unite nationalist opinion within the north of Ireland and to campaign on the issue of partition. By the time McGill accepted the post the IAPL was already in terminal decline, but he remained as secretary till it was officially wound up at the end of the 1950s. As holder of this position, he was nominated by the nationalist parliamentary party to the Northern Ireland senate (1953–72) and after the collapse of the IAPL he was appointed as secretary of the nationalist group of MPs and senators at Stormont. In this role McGill became a figure of some importance and close confidant to colleagues such as Eddie McAteer (qv), who became leader of the nationalist party in 1964. At this point the party was coming under pressure from the wider minority community to transform and modernise its image and structure, in order to ensure it became a modern political party with an active membership. From McGill's perspective he urged caution, and along with other members of the parliamentary party warned against the establishment of a broad alliance of opinion which did not necessarily share their views on the national question, namely that the ending of partition remained the first priority. After the abolition of Stormont (March 1972) he continued to seek popular support for the ideas that the nationalist party had stood for, and in the elections to the new district councils (May 1973) he was returned as a councillor for Omagh district council (1973–7). A month later McGill also ran unsuccessfully as a nationalist in the Mid Ulster constituency for election to the Northern Ireland assembly (June 1973).
In addition to his work as a journalist and a senator, he believed that for the latter role he needed a deeper understanding of the law; so, after qualifying for university by taking the NI senior certificate, he enrolled as a law student at London University. Within three years he had graduated with an LLB. He also received a D.Phil. from QUB (1965) for a thesis on the senate in Northern Ireland 1921–62.
Although he had decided to retire from Omagh district council before the election in May 1977 due to ill health, McGill continued with his duties on the Ulster Herald up to the day of his death. After attending a meeting of the Omagh hospital committee he returned to his home in Gortmore Gardens, Omagh, where he suffered a heart attack and died on the evening of 16 June 1977.
His wife Maeve and their five children, Mary, Caitriona, Paul, Fergus, and Ultan, survived him. His private papers are in the PRONI (D/1726).