The death of IRA volunteers in the early 1970s “republicanised Derry,” according to Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
Mr McGuinness made the remark at a commemoration held in the city on Sunday evening to mark the 40th anniversary of the death of IRA volunteer John Starrs.
The 19 year-old was shot dead by British soldiers on an IRA operation in Chamberlain Street on May 13 1972.
Despite heavy rain, a crowd of more than 300 republicans gathered at the Bogside and Brandywell republican monument for Sunday night’s commemoration. Members of the Starrs family were also in attendance.
Former members of the 19 year-old’s IRA unit, including well known Derry republican Gerry Doherty, who was also wounded during the incident in May 1972, made a presentation to the Starrs family.
Mr McGuinness was the main speaker at the commemoration and described Mr Starrs as “the bravest of the brave.”
He said that the events of Bloody Sunday had driven the Brandywell teenager towards the IRA. “When that happened John Starrs was in the army in the South. He could have easily lived his life comfortably and went on to do many things in his life but he was not prepared to do that. He was prepared to give up all the opportunities that would have been presented to him. He came back to his own city. He came back to the Brandywell and joined the 1st battalion of the Derry brigade of Oglaigh na h’Eireann,” he said.
Mr McGuinness said the military training of John Starrs was a boost to the IRA at that time.
“It was not an experienced army, nothing could be further from the truth. We were all young people who had taken enough and decided we had the right to stand against the forces of occupation and the right to fight back.
“For John Starrs to come back an experienced soldier was a major boost to the IRA in this city. He was someone who was held in high esteem,” he said.
Mr McGuinness said the killing of IRA members like John Starrs changed opinion in Derry. “A city that was Nationalist and Catholic, over the course of the years by dint of the sacrifices made by people like John Starrs and the Derry brigade of Oglaigh na h’Eireann, became republicanised in a way it was never republicanised in the past,” he said.
The Deputy First Minister also paid tribute to the late Rosie Carlin from Creggan who died last week and was buried on Sunday. Mr McGuinness described her as “a lifelong supporter of the IRA, Sinn Fein and all things republican.”