Today marks the 50th anniversary of one of the darkest days in modern Irish history. It was the day a peaceful civil rights march in Derry ended in a massacre. Troops from the British 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment opened fire on unarmed marchers, killing 13 and wounding 18.
On Bloody Sunday does not seek to explain or overanalyze the events of the day and the years that followed. Instead, it provides a comprehensive and compelling oral history straight from the mouths of those who witnessed the atrocity. It includes interviews, access to rare tapes and material released for the first time.
In common with Ken Wharton’s To a Dark Place, which looks back on 30 years of The Troubles, it is one of the first books to focus on survivors and loved ones of the fallen, giving them a voice and allowing them to share their harrowing and often tragic stories directly with the reader.
Butcher’s Dozen (meaning 13) was a poetic response to the massacre written by Thomas Kinsella, who died just before Christmas. In fact, the heavily armed soldiers killed 14 people in all, with another victim later dying.
The poem was written immediately after Lord Widgery’s notorious report, which whitewashed the atrocities and concluded that soldiers were the first to fire on them.
The publication of the poem cost Kinsella dearly, who later recalled: “There was a considerable loss of readership – a permanent chill in the atmosphere of readers of my work and friends. I received a letter from a friend who simply ended our friendship. They signed: ‘No Briton would behave like this’.
This continued even after the full vindication of the Saville report, which concluded that it was the soldiers who were the terrorists, not the marchers, and Prime Minister David Cameron’s apology in the House of Commons, who said the killings were “unjustified and unjustifiable”. ”.
The idea that “no Briton would behave in such a way” (to the point of shooting unarmed civilians) was the prevailing attitude within the British establishment at the time. Nor was it considered possible that British police officers would coerce a confession and then lie about it.
This was illustrated in a controversial judgment in the Birmingham Six case in 1979. Lord Denning, the most famous English judge of the 20th century, said: “If the six men win, it will mean that the police are guilty of perjury, that they are guilty of violence and threats, that the confessions were fabricated and improperly admitted into evidence, and that the convictions were wrong… It is such an appalling sight that any sane person in the country would say that it cannot be right that these actions should go further.
The men’s convictions were overturned in 1991 after it was shown that the police had indeed done all the things described.
For author Julieann Campbell, recounting the experiences of victims and their families must have been a personally painful and necessary journey. Her 17-year-old uncle, Jackie Duddy, was the first person to be killed on January 30, 1972. For more than a decade, she helped document and archive the collective experiences of that day.
Campbell’s book is a heartbreaking and powerful tribute to those who were murdered and serves as a poignant lament for the young lives lost on Bloody Sunday, including seven teenagers.
As Thomas Kinsella said:
- Bloody Sunday: A New History of the Day and Its Aftermath by Those Who Were There by Julieann Campbell
- Monoray, £16.99