Bloody Sunday 50

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.

Lyra McKee

Sometimes it seems that there’s never anything but tragic news coming out of Derry. I have to remind myself that there are plenty of wonderful things happening in the town I love so well and so many wonderful people who call it home…but yesterday as I sought those out my heart sank yet again. The headlines screamed out the news of a young woman who was killed in the crossfire on the city streets and it broke my heart.

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Another heartbreak for Derry

The short time I spent in Derry utterly changed me. The wounded city stole a large part of my heart when I took my first steps into it – and my life, my writing, my opinions, and my studies have changed drastically in the years since that first visit. It is why I regularly set the alarm for an ungodly time here in the states to watch events as they unfold in Derry in real time. This morning was one of those days that I got up before the sun with my digital eyes glued to the news from The Town I Love So Well because after so many years of determination and stubborn hope, it was finally possible that the families of the innocent people who were shot and killed on Bloody Sunday would get the justice and the vindication that they deserved. It was easy to be optimistic when I woke up. After all, if the Prime Minister can call the killings ‘unjustified and unjustifiable’ why wouldn’t there be consequences for those who pulled the trigger? But my heart sank quickly as the news came in. The vast majority of those responsible for murdering innocent people and firing indiscriminately into a crowd of peaceful protestors will not be charged with any crime, despite overwhelming evidence that they should be.

It’s more salt in the wounds for the survivors and the families of those who were murdered. To see their astonishing grace and determination in the face of even more injustice this morning was mind blowing. Words are not sufficient for what they must be feeling and to remain so dignified in the face of this fresh devastation is beyond my comprehension. They will continue their quest for justice, despite this setback and the many other obstacles they’ve faced on this journey.┬á Please support them in any way you can.

One of their many incredible statements can be found here.

https://www.derrynow.com/news/justice-one-family-justice-us-say-bloody-sunday-families/271169

 

Their fight continues. Something inside so strong.

Operation Motorman

Operation Motorman was the code name given to a mission carried out by the British Army in the North of Ireland on July 31st, 1972. The goal was to forcibly reassert control over the Nationalist and Republican areas where they were not welcome with a particular focus in the cities of Derry and Belfast. In these cities, nearly impenetrable barricades had been erected in many neighborhoods barring any soldiers from entering or policing the communities. When the Provisional Irish Republican Army detonated more than twenty bombs in Belfast on July 21st of that year, the English government decided that the “No-go” areas in these towns would no longer be tolerated and Operation Motorman was born.

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The Occupied Museum of Free 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. 

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Back Home In Derry

I arrived in Derry during a downpour, even though the sun was still peeking through the gathering storm clouds. By the end of the trip, I felt like the weather was a perfect metaphor for the city itself. Derry is rare. It is dark, but light pierces through it. It is grey but full of color. It is gathering and ready, but still and waiting. It is tragic and beautiful. Derry is a very special place.

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Crashing into the History Books

On May 21st, 1932, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly a plane over the Atlantic ocean by herself. She ended up crashing in a field near Derry, rather than landing safely in France as she had intended, but she earned her title nonetheless and became an important symbol and inspiration to women everywhere. Continue reading