After decades of marching through the cold and the rain, under hail and winter sun, the Bloody Sunday families came together under grey skies yesterday to march in the hope of gaining justice for their loved ones.
The journey may have been much shorter than the well-trodden route undertaken by hundreds of thousands down the years on the anniversary of that fateful day, but the magnitude of the moment was lost on no-one as they gathered outside the Museum of Free Derry at Glenfada Park yesterday morning.
The troubled skies overhead seemed to mirror the palpable sense of nervousness among those gathered, knowing as they did, that within the hour the question they have long posed as to whether any of those whose actions on January 30, 1972, resulted in the loss of their brothers, fathers, neighbours and friends would face charges, would at last be finally answered.
Almost nine years on from the Saville Inquiry officially declaring that the 14 men and boys who lost their lives that day had posed no threat and the subseqent apology from the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, there was clearly a hope that history was about to repeat itself but, equally, there was also quiet trepidation.
Hundreds of Derry folk came out to walk with the families, including some who had marched on that cold winter’s day on January 30, 1972 - a day which altered the lives of so many and served to change a city forever.
Among them was Mary Lou McLaughlin from the Bogside, who told the Journal: “Whether there are prosecutions or not, we are here to stand with the families of the victims of Bloody Sunday.
“I was on the original march and it brings it all back to me again, this whole area, it was horrific.
“It’s been a very long time but, hopefully, they will get a good result. The families have been very strong.”
Sean Ferry from the Greater Shantallow area also travelled into town as he, too, wished to show solidarity with the Bloody Sunday families.
“It’s a very important day for Derry,” he said. “There is a lot of hurt to be healed and nobody is getting any younger. Hopefully they get a result and hopefully Ballymurphy is also sorted after this.”
Daniel McBrearty from Creggan was there to stand with the families. “It has been 47 years of struggle to get this to court and hopefully this is the day,” he maintained.
The families and members of the public were joined by a host of dignitaries, human rights activists, community representatives and politicians including SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood, Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill, Foyle MP Elisha McCallion and Mayor of Derry & Strabane Colr. John Boyle.
Applause greeted the relatives as they led the march, some of them holding laminated black and white posters with their loved ones’ photographs and names listed below the simple message: ‘Justice’ - a poignant reminder that for them, Bloody Sunday was then and still remains a personal loss.
As the procession neared the City Hotel, where the Public Prosecution Service were to deliver their decision to the families, there was a brief pause as those gathered sang a verse of the Civil Rights anthem, ‘We Shall Overcome’.
Following a short wait for local people and most of the 130-strong cohort of journalists from across Ireland, Britain and beyond, who had gathered outside the City Hotel, word began filtering through that only one of the 17 surviving soldiers considered for prosecution was to face charges.
The very atmosphere seemed to change and there were heartbreaking scenes as one of the bereaved, Linda Nash, sister of William Nash, emerged in tears and was comforted by veteran civil rights activist, Eamonn McCann, outside the hotel entrance.
But despite what had clearly for many had been an emotional and disappointing result, there was also solidarity within the families who received more hopeful news.
And as they gathered in silent formation once more to lead the march on the short distance to the Guildhall, an awaiting crowd lined the City Walls along Guildhall Square to greet the families with muted applause.
That greeting was in recognition of, and tribute to, the dignity and strength the Bloody Sunday families had shown not just yesterday, but throughout the past five decades in their determined quest for justice.