As thousands mark a day of mourning for the city, the families of those killed warn they will not be silenced by proposed amnesty
Travelling through the Bogside yesterday on a cold January morning, people could be seen exiting St Eugene’s Cathedral and returning to their homes before the sun came up.
It brought to mind the words of Liam Wray earlier this week when he spoke of going to mass as a “family unit” on Bloody Sunday.
Fifty years later, it’s hard to imagine families leaving the sanctuary of chapel, full of hope about the change they could effect on a peaceful march, to hearing gunshots pierce the air and witnessing lifeless bodies on the streets.
Liam’s brother Jim was one of 13 men shot dead that afternoon. A soldier fired a second bullet into his back at close range as he lay wounded on the ground.
Thousands assembled at Creggan shops yesterday just as they had done in 1972. The 50th anniversary carries extra significance and locals turned out en masse in support of the families.
Gerry Duddy, whose 17-year-old brother Jackie was the first killed on the day, pointed across the road to his family home. He said: “As we’re standing here now looking at the crowd gathering, that’s the view we saw that day.
“It feels the same, with the crowd looking forward to the march. On that morning we were told we weren’t allowed to go on the march because there would be trouble.
“But trouble to a 14-year-old, the age I was that day, was a riot. Throwing stones or bottles at the army and them retaliating by shooting rubber bullets, CS gas or a water cannon.
“But what actually occurred that day changed the lives of many people.
“I’m thinking about Jackie today, we’ll never forget Jackie, the other people killed on that day and those who were wounded.”
Young family members carrying flowers led the march, closely followed by older relatives who held images of the deceased.
They were applauded as they set off.
Along the route, which snaked through Creggan and the Brandywell, people stood at their doors to pay their respects.
As the crowd filtered down William Street, John Kelly could be heard recalling where paratroopers stood that day moments before the shooting started.
His 17-year-old brother Michael was shot in the stomach near a barricade and died on his way to hospital.
Numbers swelled at the Bloody Sunday monument. A black flag hung from a lamp post opposite the memorial.
At around 11am the annual wreath-laying and memorial service got under way to the sound of St Mary’s choir.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin laid a wreath at the memorial ceremony and said he supported the families’ campaign for justice. He thanked the families for their “dignified, persistent and courageous” campaign in the pursuit of justice, truth and accountability.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, also laid wreaths.
In a virtual address, President Michael D Higgins paid tribute, saying the victims continue to be honoured through a commitment to rights that “were won at such great cost”.
He said: “Let us all celebrate that, in transcending all the darkness and the wrongs, the exclusions, today Derry stands as a beacon of hope and justice, of battling and succeeding against the odds, a peace and a people with an inclusive achievement of dignified and respectful ethical remembering.
“That is your legacy and the legacy of those who lost their lives on that day, Bloody Sunday, and on subsequent days.”
The most touching moment of the day came when the names of the dead and injured were read aloud as a flute was played in the background.
Michael McKinney, whose brother William was among those killed, vowed that families would keep on fighting to clear the name of Gerald Donaghey, who was accused of carrying nail bombs on the day.
He said they all know those nail bombs were planted on his body to justify his murder.
Mr McKinney also criticised the British government for its plans to ban prosecutions for Troubles killings.
He said: “The British government intend to announce an end to all legacy investigations. They intend to announce it because they’re scared. Scared that their soldiers, spooks and civil servants will be exposed, and that their role as a combatant and catalyst in the war in Ireland will be highlighted around the world.
“They are trying to deny us justice because they are scared to face justice. But we want to send a very clear warning to the British government.
“If they pursue their proposals, the Bloody Sunday families will be ready to meet them head on. We will not go away and we will not be silenced.”
The commemorative event organised by the Bloody Sunday march committee took place at 2.30pm, the same time as the original march.
Those carrying crosses at the front of the procession included Damien Donaghy, the first man shot on the day.
It is estimated that around 10,000 people took part and among them were republican bands. The protest song We Shall Overcome was sung before Kate Nash – whose brother William was killed on Bloody Sunday – introduced speakers.
Bernadette McAliskey addressed the audience from Free Derry Corner at the end of the march, as she was supposed to at the end of the 1972 civil rights march. However, back then she was stopped in her tracks by the sound of bullets fired by the Parachute Regiment.
With the rain pouring and wind swirling in the Bogside, Ms McAliskey finally had the opportunity to finish the speech she started all those years ago.
She said of the crimes committed on Bloody Sunday: “The British government isn’t afraid of lone gunmen, snipers of secret armies. It is afraid of masses of people who won’t quit. If I don’t see the British government at the Hague, my grandchildren or my great grandchildren will.”
Fittingly, as darkness began to fall over Derry, veteran civil rights activist and life-long Bogside resident Eamonn McCann took to the stage.
“Bloody Sunday was a Derry event, it has defined Derry over subsequent years. All the major political disputes and splits in Derry have really reflected our attitudes and reactions to Bloody Sunday,” he said.
It was a day of national and international significance, he explained.
“They can say about Bloody Sunday, as they can say about so many other things in Irish history, when you see people fighting and coming out in large numbers and running risks for themselves and defending civil rights and equality.
“This indomitable persistency, this faculty of preserving through decades of failure and frustration the memory of a lost liberty.
“This is the noblest cause that people have ever fought for, ever lived for, or ever died for, and if that be the cause that is represented here today then we stand in very good company and the right noble succession.
“Remember Bloody Sunday, remember the perpetrators and jail those responsible.”