Documents recently uncovered by the Bloody Sunday families reveal that their campaigning started as early as 1976 - sixteen years before the official Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign got underway.
Papers discovered among the possessions of the last parent of Bloody Sunday, Lawrence McElhinney, suggest that families bereaved by the Bogside massacre may have came together much earlier than anyone previously imagined - as a group during the 1970s - to help maintain the memorial on Rossville Street.
Mr McElhinney, father of 17-year-old Kevin McElhinney, died in summer 2011. Sadly, he was the only parent who lived to hear his son declared innocent by Lord Saville following the Bloody Sunday report’s publication on June 15, 2010.
The documents were recently unearthed by Jean Hegarty and Roslyn Doyle as they were sorting through their father’s belongings.
Jean Hegarty said that the handful of banks slips and papers suggested activity among the families long before the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign formally began in 1992.
The papers reveal that the first generation affected by Bloody Sunday, the parents, and perhaps wives of those killed, were in fact active as a group called the Bloody Sunday Memorial Maintenance Fund, from at least 1976 until 1982. It would appear that this early activity among the families was all but forgotten in the years since.
“We were going through my daddy’s things, deciding what to keep, when we came across them,” Jean Hegarty remembers.
“I thought it was interesting, as I didn’t know the parents had been active at all. My father never spoke about it very much, and so it seems to have been forgotten that they ever got together. I recognised the significance of the papers and so took them to the museum, but they knew nothing of it either. My sister Roslyn has some vague memory, though.”
Roslyn Doyle elaborates on her vague recollections of this early group. “I do have vague memories of some activity among the families. I think my daddy must have been a Trustee or something, as he wrote the cheques, and I think Mr Wray (father of Jim) was involved too.
“When the families were sent money from the US, I would drive around to their homes to help deliver it,” Roslyn recalls.
“I also remember that they held their meetings in the Ardowen Hotel on Northland Road (near the present day fire station) and that the owner Mrs Slevin was very good to them,” she added.
The primary aim of the Bloody Sunday Memorial Maintenance Fund was no doubt to fund and maintain the Bloody Sunday Memorial on Rossville Street, unveiled on 26 January 1974.
It is indeed fascinating that this important aspect of history has only emerged now, particularly considering how well documented the entire Bloody Sunday saga is.
With all the parents of Bloody Sunday now passed, one wonders what other secrets they took with them?