Wednesday 24 January 2018

The only heroes of Bloody Sunday

Diarmaid Ferriter on the remarkable courage and resilience of the relatives who fought for the truth

State files released by the National Archives of Ireland in 2003 gave historians a sense of the difficult atmosphere that Bloody Sunday created in January 1972. On the evening of the slaughter in Derry, an emotional Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, rang his British counterpart, Edward Heath. Lynch began by apologising for ringing at a late hour, "but you will probably have heard the unfortunate news about Derry this afternoon". Heath replied: "It is very bad news, yes." That was about all they agreed on.

The conversation was tense as an emotional Lynch grappled with the enormity of what had happened and the potential fallout, telling Heath that "from reactions received around the country it looks as if a very serious point has now been reached and the situation could escalate beyond what any of us would anticipate at this stage. I am told that, according to reports I received and checked on the spot, the British troops reacted rather beyond what a disciplined force might be expected to, and, as you know, there were 13 killed and as many again injured".

Heath was terse and defensive in reply: "Well, now, as far as any accusations are concerned I obviously cannot accept that ... I must also point out that this arose out of a march which was against the law. Now the people therefore who deliberately organised this march in circumstances which we all know in which the IRA were bound to intervene, carry a heavy responsibility for any damage which ensued."

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