Thursday, June 24, 2010

Unique Irish historical document

I am told it weighs 20 kilogrammes. It is claimed that each and every page of the 5,000 pages of the 10 volume report provide the most detailed insight ever into any military operation in world history. The fact that it was an operation carried out on the streets of an Irish town within living memory and culminated in the death of 14 innocent persons makes the Saville report a unique Irish historical document. My postman may not have realised this as he delivered two extremely heavy parcels containing the Saville report to me this morning.

It was Sunday afternoon the 30th of January 1972 when a citizens protest march against internment without trial organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association set off from Bishops Field in the Creggan Estate, Derry intending to finish at the city's Guild Hall. Just a week earlier I had left Monagan town having spent three years there amongst people whose lives and associations were touched by border activities, both legal and illegal. During my time there, which immediately preceded the start of the “troubles” I often visited Armagh and Belfast city. As the “troubles” developed my visits became less frequent but my familiarity with those cities forged a link with Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland affairs which was never to be broken.

Imagine then my horror on hearing that the Sunday afternoon protest march had resulted in the killing of 13 men on the streets of their home town and the injuring of 15 more, one of whom later died. The tragic events of that day were to find an echo in similar murderous atrocities over the years that followed as Northern Ireland descended deeper and deeper into a frightening and frightful state of war.

“Bloody Sunday” in Irish history described the day on Sunday the 21st of November 1920 when IRA volunteers went to addresses throughout the city of Dublin to shoot, in what can only be described as a cowardly fashion, English officers and men who were believed to be intelligence officers. 14 men were shot dead that day while in bed or in their bedrooms in much the same way as cowardly Irregulars shot the two Connor Scarteen brothers in Kenmare on the 9th of September 1922 during the civil war. However, following the murderous activities of the paratroopers in Derry on the last Sunday of January 1972, that Sabbath day would thereafter be inevitably known as “Bloody Sunday”.

The Derry killings led to a storm of protest and on the following day some public institutions in the North and shops in Derry closed as catholic workers went on strike. Society in Northern Ireland was polarised on religious grounds in 1972 much more so than it is today and here in the South a national day of mourning was called for Wednesday the 2nd of February as the funerals of the 12 of those killed took place in the North.

The sense of outrage felt by so many people found expression in protest marches organised following “Bloody Sunday”. I had just joined AnCo, The Industrial Training Authority and was working in Carrisbrook House in Ballsbridge. On the national day of mourning, Wednesday 2nd February, the entire staff of AnCo led by their Director General, Jack Agnew silently marched from Ballsbridge to the British Embassy in Merrion Square. That same evening the British Embassy was burnt to the ground.

The subsequent Widgery report on the “Bloody Sunday” shootings which comprised 61 pages (compared to 5000 pages of the Saville report) concluded that shots had been fired at the British soldiers before they returned fire. Much of the credit for the reopening of the investigation into “Bloody Sunday” must go to Jane Winter, Director of British and Irish Rights Watch and Belfast solicitor Patricia Coyle whose work on unearthing documents on the events in Derry led to Professor Dermot Walsh's report 13 years ago. “Bloody Sunday Tribunal Enquiry, a resounding defeat for both truth, justice and rule of law” prompted Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to press the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair for a new enquiry. To Blair's credit he agreed and the Saville enquiry opened in Derry on the 3rd of April 1998. 12 years later a new British Prime Minister David Cameron apologised on behalf of the British nation for the “unjustifiable” killing of 14 civilians in Derry 28 years ago.

Apologies are due by many others from all sides of different conflicts in this island going back as far as the Irish War of Independence and the bitter civil war which followed. Unfortunately for many the opportunity to apologise has long gone. All that is left now is sorrow at the savagery which marked the actions of so many.

1 comment:

Peadar said...

You mention that you visited the Northern cities many times before the Troubles.I had the experience of working in Tyrone in 1965/66 in a Protestant company.I actually had to obtain a work permit. My employer claimed I was so well qualified they could not survive without me!!!! In the time I was there I saw rank discrimination, inequality,bigotry and ignorance. Yet the people on both sides themselves were sincere and generous.Armed conflict was inevitable once the peaceful protests were beaten off the streets and roads.That is why it is unfair to criticise the IRA.In your comments on Bloody Sunday in Derry you refer back to the tragedy of our Civil War. I see all of these tragedies as being the logical outcome of British Imperialism in our country.Thankfully we now have a new political scenario with the established tradition of gunmen turning into statesmen.We must welcome that regardless.