Annette McGavigan was only eleven years old when the Troubles erupted in the North of Ireland. Her home was in Derry, one of the major flashpoints of the Troubles and a stronghold of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. She and the other children of the area witnessed more conflict than any child should within those first few years. She would have seen the British Army rolling into her city, bringing CS gas, rubber bullets, violence and protest with them. Riot after riot broke out and civil rights marches, anti-internment protests, and anti-police incidents were frequent and violent. These things probably became rather commonplace over the next few years for Annette and the other children who were growing up in areas like Creggan, Little Diamond, and the Bogside.
On Sept. 6th, 1971, when Annette was only fourteen, Catholic schools were closed in Derry. Teachers were taking part in a week-long anti-internment program. This left the schoolchildren with free time. Some joined the protests and riots and others stayed in. Once a small riot had ended on the edge of the Bogside, Annette and her friends went out to collect the leftovers of the violence. Children regularly gathered rubber bullets, gas canisters and more after each riot in Derry and this day off from school gave Annette the perfect opportunity to hunt for these dangerous souvenirs. As the young girl in a school uniform picked up an empty cartridge, a shot rang out. She likely never knew what hit her.
Forty-five years ago today the Parachute Regimen of the British Army was sent to Belfast to take part in Operation Demetrius, the fancy codename the government used for internment. They were to detain and arrest anyone who they thought was either involved in or supporting the Provisional IRA, but sending the Paras in to do this was rather like setting off a grenade to stop a fist fight. Over the next few days in the Ballymurphy area alone, eleven civilians were killed. Many who were killed were just trying to get away from the trouble and some were shot while helping others.
On this day 102 years ago, a large shipment of arms landed in Howth, destined for the Irish Volunteers. Many of these guns were used two years later during the Easter Rising of 1916 and without them, the Rising may never have happened at all. When the Asgard came to shore it was met by the Fianna Éireann and other Volunteers who were quick to unload the weapons and begin carting them off. They hoped to avoid the attention of the police, but their mission did not pass unnoticed. The authorities who were watching did not engage the large crowd but they did call for backup. As the Volunteers left the area they were met by the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, a regiment of the British Army. A tussle ensued but in the end, the soldiers were only able to confiscate a mere nineteen of the nine hundred guns brought into Ireland that day.
News spread quickly of the successful smuggling operation and the military’s failure to seize most of the weapons so by the time the Borderers were marching back into Dublin, crowds had already gathered to celebrate and to mock them. They antagonized the soldiers, taunting them and throwing rubbish and fruit at the column (which magically became stones in the official reports). They shouted insults and openly laughed at the troops and their failed mission. Soldiers and police officers never tolerate this kind of behavior for long (as they continue to prove to this day) and by the time they marched onto Bachelors Walk they had had enough of the hostile crowd. The soldiers turned to face the people and seconds later shots were fired directly into the busy street, hitting those who had been following them and innocent civilians alike. They followed the volley of bullets with a bayonet charge. The collective lack of self control from the army resulted in four casualties and nearly forty others were injured.
Here in the U.S. Memorial Day means a three day weekend to most people. Many either forget, are opposed or are simply untouched by the idea of war and those who fight them. As a woman who is obsessed with the politics of another land and disagrees almost entirely with her own country’s foreign policy, Memorial Day is a strange one. Still, while I am opposed to war and I despise the greed from which almost all of them spring, I do not oppose those who fight them. I absolutely hate the fact that they are necessary – but I do not hate them. And I can hardly honor the patriot dead of one country without honoring my own, so here it is.
Those who are sent on a mission and who do not return should be honored, not just on Memorial Day but every day. Those lucky enough to come back should be cherished and cared for – and those who thrust them into the world should be forced to join them, in order to better understand what they’ve done.
Cheers to you…. and thank you for your service. May you never be forgotten.