Operation Demetrius was the fancy name the English used when they started rounding up people in the north of Ireland and imprisoning them without charges or trial. It was more commonly known as internment and it was the root cause of many of the worst conflicts and atrocities during the long period of the Troubles in the north of Ireland. The British government insists that the practice was officially ended in 1975 but the citizens of the region know better. Operation Demetrius may have ended but the practice of internment continues to this day and the most blatant proof of this is the continued imprisonment of Tony Taylor, a Republican activist from Derry. Today marks nearly two years that he has been held in the notorious Maghaberry prison, without public charges, bail, or trial.
The world reacted with horror after English soldiers fired directly into a Derry crowd of peaceful anti-internment protesters, on what came to be known as Bloody Sunday. The soldiers wounded more than twenty and instantly killed thirteen innocent people. (One more died months later as a result of his injuries). On this day in 1972 a fuse was lit and just days after the killings, the English embassy in Dublin burned to the ground while eleven innocent people were buried in Derry.
On January 30th, 1972, thirteen innocent people were murdered and twenty-eight were shot during an anti-internment march through the Bogside area of Derry. Another innocent victim died later as a result of his injuries, bringing the total number of fatalities to fourteen. That bleak day became known as Bloody Sunday. At first the soldiers and the English government tried to claim that all who had been shot or killed were armed, dangerous, and/or members of the Irish Republican Army. Witness statements backed up with photographic evidence, forensics, and videos helped disprove their lies but it took nearly forty years and the most expensive inquiry in English history to finally exonerate the victims.
An anonymous teenage girl who would now probably be in her mid-to-late sixties made a quick and pivotal choice on Bloody Sunday that helped set those things in motion and has affected millions of people since. As she and her friends wandered through the aftermath of the Bogside Massacre, a stranger approached them. He quickly explained that authorities had begun searching people nearby and he had some rolls of film he needed to hide. This young girl quickly put the film in her underwear, assuming that her undergarments would not be searched if she were stopped. She was either not stopped or was correct in that assumption because later she met the man, Gilles Peress, at a hotel where she handed over his rolls of film and then promptly vanished. Peress drove straight out of Derry that night with his precious cargo and never saw the blonde girl again.
Danny Doherty and William Fleming grew up in Derry. They were from Republican families and each had relatives that were imprisoned at one time or another for their political ideals and paramilitary activities. They followed in their families’ footsteps and each joined Na Fianna Éireann at a young age, before funneling into the Derry Brigade as soon as they were able.
Each man knew what the cost might be. They knew their membership in the IRA could land them in prison or in the grave but they felt it was worth the risk. Danny Doherty was a veteran with six years of active service in the Derry Brigade but Willie Fleming was younger and greener with only two years under his belt when the two men were killed (or overkilled) in a hail of gunfire on this day in 1984.
The Museum of Free Derry has temporarily removed its most controversial exhibit and Linda Nash and Helen Deery have brought their around-the-clock protest inside the museum to a close. All parties will meet again next week with a mediator to negotiate how to proceed when it comes to the exhibit that was created to remember the victims of the Troubles from Derry.
The newly revamped Museum of Free Derry has been mired in controversy since before its doors reopened. At issue is an exhibit that includes the names of all the people who were killed in the area during the Troubles. This seems harmless except that the names of British soldiers and police officers are also there, right alongside many innocent victims who were killed by those very same squads. The decision to include those names may seem reasonable from a purely educational viewpoint but the Museum underestimated the emotional response from locals who lost friends and family members during the conflict. For some of them, the inclusion of these government contingents is an affront to the memories of their loved ones and a blatant disregard for their own feelings and their continuing fight for answers and justice.
The North of Ireland is a complicated place – especially in July. Every year makeshift towers of debris, old tires, and wooden pallets reach higher and higher into the sky. They are decorated with sectarian slogans, political effigies, Irish flags (or Ivory Coast ones, since some can’t tell the difference between the two), and serious threats against Catholics, opposing politicians, Irish men and women, minorities, and the gay community. These dangerous displays are what they call culture this time of year and they are a horrifying example of the division that continues to exist in the North.