Derry is a complicated place with a questionable reputation. The city has been called everything in the book from quaint and charming to militant and scary, and the truth is that it is all of these things and more. At once Derry is old, angry, exhausted, resigned, and stagnant but it is also young, vibrant, somewhat progressive, grudgingly forgiving, and ready for change. It’s a place full of whispering ghosts, frustrated wails, clanking flagpoles, and joyful, laughing children. If you’ve ever been there, chances are the city has stayed with you no matter what your impression of it was. It’s easy to be haunted by a city when that city itself is haunted.
Trauma doesn’t only affect those who witness terrible events. It is also the pain and suffering that is passed down from generation to generation, lingering in the shadows even when you think it is finally gone. Sometimes Derry feels like a testament to this kind of generational trauma. You can feel the ache in the very bones of the city, and you can sense the suspicious eyes following you in various parts of town. Dark alleys and dead ends can lead to street violence and rough justice, and there’s an uneasy feeling of lawlessness in the dead of night, thanks to the population’s healthy (and understandable) distrust of authorities. Still, Derry strives to heal and improve. It demands acknowledgment and recourse for the injustices it has faced, but it is also a beacon of cultural change, political compromise, and relative peace. That there could ever be peace where so many tragedies have happened is remarkable in itself and couldn’t be achieved without the city’s unwavering people. ‘Something inside so strong,’ indeed.
One of Derry’s most well-known tragedies is the Bloody Sunday Massacre which happened an unbelievable fifty years ago. On Jan. 30th, 1972 the British Army opened fire on innocent civilians during an anti-internment march. Thirteen men were instantly killed, another died later from his wounds. At least another fifteen people were shot by the soldiers before someone finally put a muzzle on them and made them stop firing. It seems impossible that so much time has passed since that day and yet the excruciating and never-ending search for justice has trudged on forever. The scars from this state-sanctioned mass murder are still everywhere you look in Derry and most have not healed. How do you cope with the loss of friends and family members when generations have been denied their proper recourse or closure? How can you heal from something so brutal without any justice? The short answer is that you don’t and when you visit the city of Derry, you know it. Its lion’s share of tragedy is impossible to ignore.
Bloody Sunday shocked the world to its core and changed the political landscape of this region forever. The level of aggression was something the people were not used to at that time and even though the British Army had said they would be cracking down on the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Derry no one expected them to start firing at a march that was mostly peaceful and full of women and children. Ironically, the IRA had recently fractured and was on what arguably could have been its last legs until those shots were fired. Almost before the dust and CS gas settled, money and volunteers from all over the world were pouring into Derry. The nearly empty coffers of every Irish paramilitary organization were suddenly overflowing. With their blatant disregard for life and reckless shooting, the English soldiers guaranteed that they’d receive the same in kind and they did, for decades to come.
The authorities tried to stem the flow of funds and fighters by claiming that all of their innocent victims were bombers, snipers, and other “legitimate” targets. This only infuriated the region and inflamed the world. Thanks to brave photographers and their anonymous helpers, investigative reporters, strong survivors, reliable witnesses, and generations of determined family members, the truth did prevail and the innocent victims were finally recognized as such. However, as their families and descendants know all too well, the truth is not always enough. They still fight for justice, fifty long years later.
Derry’s many terrible tales are often told by those who are most affected by them. When you’re navigating the maze of streets in the Bogside, you’ll probably run into the son of one of the Bloody Sunday victims who takes visitors on a walking tour, reliving and retelling the tale every day. Families of the lost will lead you through a museum that chronicles the tragic deaths of their loved ones so that you better understand the cost of the conflict known as “the Troubles.” Old men and barflies will tell you amazing stories of the people and the area over pints in the pub. These oral histories will break your heart wide open, but they also might fill it again. The city will get under your skin whether you like it or not, but if you’re lucky it’ll also teach you a thing or two about life, love, friendship, struggle, and the incredible solidarity that humans are capable of, even in the face of the worst horrors we could ever inflict on one another.
The legacy of Bloody Sunday is just as complicated as the town itself but that amazing fortitude is a huge and important part of it. That stoic determination is one of the only tools that the families and survivors have to fight back against all the injustices that they continue to face. Please support them if you can. Take their tours, buy their books, learn their stories. Listen to them when they speak. Follow their cases and amplify their voices. Learn about what happened and how to help if you can. You don’t have to be local to Derry either. If you’re trapped in other parts of the world read some history books, or watch some movies and/or documentaries on Bloody Sunday and share that you did (in real life or on social media) leading up to this weekend. There are Sunday masses and remembrance events in the US this weekend in PA, NY, & CA (at least) and there are many more across Europe and the world. Attend one if you can so that the people of Derry know we remember them and that we still honor the survivors and victims of Bloody Sunday, even if fifty years have passed.
One world. One struggle.
*To learn more about current Bloody Sunday commemorations in Derry or to donate to them, please click here.