Operation Motorman was the code name given to a mission carried out by the British Army on July 31st, 1972. The goal was to forcibly reassert control over the Nationalist and Republican areas in the North of Ireland, 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.
He was brash and tenacious. He was often obnoxious and nearly always a drunk. He was a brilliant writer, but in his words he was “more importantly, a reader.” He was a cocky, yet humble adventurer who was opinionated but always seemed ready to be wrong or surprised. Anthony Bourdain was not Irish but he had a gift of gab and a way with words that put him on par with many of the great Irish writers that he was inspired by. He was touched by Ireland on his first trip there and on his last he wrote “Heaven looks like this” in the guestbook at the Gravedigger pub.
Patsy O’Hara was a survivor. He grew up in Derry during some of the city’s most violent years and he was hit by a soldier’s bullet at the tender age of fourteen. He lived through that ordeal and became a fighter devoted to freeing Ireland from English rule. Patsy had a keen sense of what he thought was right and a huge streak of Irish Republicanism. This combination led him straight into the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), a militant Irish Republican group that was dedicated to forcing the English out of Ireland by any means necessary. It also eventually led him into the H-Blocks of Long Kesh Prison where he died on this day in 1981 while on hunger strike.
On this day in 1981, Bobby Sands was elected to Parliament. His candidacy was a risky maneuver, given that he was in prison and on hunger strike at the time and while his win ended up being a masterful propaganda tool, it did not save his life.
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.