The heartbroken family of Lawrence McElhinney, the last surviving parent of the Bloody Sunday dead, said yesterday that their father and grandfather was “greatly relieved” to have lived long enough to hear the truth of his son’s innocence, “but sadly did not live long enough to see justice delivered.”
“Lawrence was the last surviving parent of any of those killed in the massacre on Bloody Sunday and the only one to live long enough to hear the results of the Saville Inquiry and see the impact that this had on the Bloody Sunday families and on his beloved city,” a family statement said.
Mr McElhinney passed away at home on Sunday a week short of his 87th birthday, after a short battle with cancer.
He was pre-deceased by his beloved wife Roisin and his 17-year-old son Kevin, who was murdered on Bloody Sunday.
A life-long resident of Phillip Street, his death marks the end of an era for the McElhinney family, who have been resident in Phillip Street for over 110 years.
Lawrence spent almost all of his working life as a fitter with the old Ulster Transport Authority, and its successor, Ulsterbus. Having completed 50 years of service he retired in 1989. He will always be remembered by his family and friends for his quick wit and dry humour.
Lawrence is survived by his family in Derry, Donegal, Birmingham, Mississauga (Ontario), Cork and Dublin.
The McElhinney family would like to thank the staff at Altnagelvin Hospital and Foyle Hospice, and the carers who attended him at home.
Speaking on behalf of the wider Bloody Sunday families and wounded, campaigner John Kelly said that Mr McElhinney’s death would create a “deep void” within the remaining families.
“One consolation is the fact that Lawrence at least got to hear the outcome of the Saville Report and witness the vindication of his son Kevin and all the others who were murdered and wounded on January 30, 1972.
‘Lawrence was a quiet man and always a pleasure to talk to. The McElhinney family have always been stalwart supporters of the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign over the years, as was Lawrence himself. Because of his age, Lawrence was not capable of being involved 100% but when called upon by the campaign to participate in campaign events, he was always more than willing to do so.
“Of course, it is very sad to realise that all the parents of Bloody Sunday have now passed away and he will be sorely missed by all of us.”
Eamonn McCann, chair of the Bloody Sunday Trust, described Mr McElhinney as the last of a “heroic generation”.
“Lawrence McElhinney was the last of a heroic generation which held the truth in trust for the rest of us through the long years when Bloody Sunday wasn’t seen as ‘big news’. He was an undemonstrative man and shy of the limelight, but it was the quiet self-contained determination of senior family members like Lawrence which built the basis for the broader campaign which finally forced the British government to reopen the issue of the Bloody Sunday massacre.
“We should never forget that what freedom we have here was never freely given, but has been won at least as much by Lawrence McElhinney and his like as by any of the more flamboyant among us who have tended to figure in public events.”
“He can rest fully content with the part he played in vindicating the memory of Kevin and of all the innocents down the years who have died at the hands of the state,” Mr McCann added.
SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan expressed his sadness at the death of Mr McElhinney. “Lawrence McElhinney epitomised the dignity and determination of all the families who struggled and strived to exonerate their loved ones and have the truth proclaimed.
“On behalf of the SDLP I would like to express my sincere condolences to the McElhinney family at this very sad time.”
Northern Ireland’s deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also paid tribute to the late Mr McElhinney. “Lawrence’s dignified commitment to the campaign for truth and justice was an inspiration to many and he will be sadly missed by all who knew him. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire family at this tragic time.”
Mr McElhinney’s wake is at his home at 44 Phillip Street, with the funeral service at St Patrick’s, Pennyburn at 10am tomorrow morning, Wednesday, July 20.