Bloody Sunday was ‘a national trauma that bore deeply into the national psyche’ – Mary Lou McDonald
Bloody Sunday was ‘a national trauma’ that bore deeply into the national psyche emanating from the epicentre of pain in Derry, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald TD has said as she delivered the annual Bloody Sunday Trust lecture in the city.
Ms McDonald was the keynote speaker of this year’s 51st anniversary lecture and spoke to a large attendance at the Guildhall in Derry on Friday night.
In an address entitled ‘A letter to those we lost and to those we have yet to meet’, MS McDonald spoke of inter-generational trauma and paid tribute to the Bloody Sunday relatives and the wounded for their long campaign towards justice and truth.
“Fifty-one years on, Sunday, January 30, 1972 is a date that reverberates still,” she said. “Time hasn’t eroded it’s meaning. A half a century hasn’t diluted it’s significance.
“When uttered, the words ‘Bloody Sunday’ resound with the gravity of history, as a chapter of profound trauma and searing injustice in the story of our nation. They reverberate with humanity – with human cruelty and cowardice, human tragedy and suffering, human resilience, and courage. Human hope.
“Bloody Sunday is the story of British state murder of innocent civilians. Fourteen times. Fourteen lives. Fourteen futures wiped out. It’s aftermath, is the story of the ferocity of the British state brought down upon ordinary families who had suffered unimaginable loss at the hands of the Parachute Regiment.
“Ultimately, it has become the story of those families enduring, refusing to let the massacre of their fourteen loved ones be justified with lies or swept under the carpet by cover-up, black propaganda, and whitewash. Those families resisted. Those families held on. Those families overcame.
“I want you to know that we will always stand with you in your long walk to justice and truth. The full truth. No cloud left hanging over any innocent name. Full vindication. For every victim.”
In between the seminal moments in the struggle for truth and justice, and the hardship of conflict, the legacy of Bloody Sunday has hummed in the background of life, Ms Mc Donald said as she related a personal experience demonstrating how those events continue to impact today.
“It has transcended the last fifty-one years. It has touched all of us. Sometimes without us even knowing. Sometimes when we least expect it. My daughter, Iseult is aged four. She runs into the kitchen. She sobs in distress. She drags me by the hand and points to the television. The source of her fear - an episode of ‘Reeling in the Years’ covering 1972. My child fully believing the events of Bloody Sunday were unfolding, there and then. Her little mind experiencing the horror, in real time. Blue eyes, wide-eyed, inconsolable. It takes time to calm her down. To assure her that the awful things she sees happened a long time ago. In a different city. In a different time.
“In a million different ways, and in million different moments, the hurt of Bloody Sunday – the day that innocence died - echoes down the decades and the generations. Though the epicentre of pain was here in Derry, it was a national trauma. It bore deeply into the national psyche just as ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Croke Park in 1920.”
Ms McDonald said Bloody Sunday “exposed the reality of the British military occupation to the world”.
"Let it be said, to those down south who believed and argued that the British army were acting as peacekeepers. The British approach, the approach of the sectarian state, had been anything but peaceful. The oppression of the nationalist people and the growing demand for equality had sparked the rise of the Civil Rights movement. A movement which was met with fierce repression. The targeting of leaders, the banning of marches, the violent put down of demonstrations, And then, the introduction of internment without trial created the charged climate in which the horror of Bloody Sunday unfolded.
“In little over ten minutes, on the streets of this beautiful city, they took the lives of fourteen innocent civilians. They shot and injured many more. The reels that played out on TV screens are the reels that condemned the British Army in the eyes of the world. Images of people shot as they crawled on the ground for cover. People shot as they ran for safety. People shot as they put up their hands and shouted, ‘Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot.’ People shot in the back as tried to protect others. People shot at close range as they lay helplessly on the ground. People shot in the chest as their father desperately tried to reach them. Seventeen-year-olds shot, and dying, and of a priest waving a white handkerchief to get them to stop. Just. Stop.
“Ten minutes of frenzy. When the bullets came like hail. When the unimaginable became real on the familiar streets of home. A reel of that could not be unwound. That could not be taken back. A reel of agony, loss and heartache that would play out again and again in the years that followed. A reel that has flickered through the lives of the families, their children, and their grandchildren.
“Friends, we’re here in the Guildhall tonight to remember. Remembrance is powerful and empowering. It’s an act of strength.
"We remember not to recall shadows but to illuminate the past. To light the future. To illuminate and light a world of human rights and equality, for everyone.
"There are no full stops or cul-de-sacs to remembrance. Remembrance is continuous. It rolls on like a river. Sometimes gentle as a babbling brook, sometimes raw, rushing and fast as white waters. But always moving.
“We remember to commemorate those taken from us. To stand in our truth. To press for a better tomorrow.”
Ms McDonald branded the current Tory government legacy and amnesty legislation ‘disgraceful’.
“Prime Minister Sunak should remember that the powerful have never stopped the Bloody Sunday families remembering the truth. They haven’t stopped the Ballymurphy families from remembering the truth either. For fifty years, the people have stood in the breach and stopped the powerful from stealing their memories, stopped them from rewriting the past and that will never, ever change.”
Ms McDonald said the Ireland the Bloody Sunday victims were taken from has been transformed as she paid tribute to John Hume and Martin McGuinness.
“An Agreement signed twenty-five years ago changed the future. We have had a quarter of a century of peace. We have a distance yet to travel. There’s no agreement that can change the past, but this is a healing time. A time to reconcile. To extend ourselves. To lift each other up.
"Derry is transformed too. The army is no longer installed by the old gas yard wall. The guns are gone. The war is over. That couldn’t have happened without John, without Martin, two of Derry’s greatest sons who believed in the power of a handshake.”
The Sinn Féin leader added: “Bloody Sunday will always be with us. It is interwoven into the fabric of our collective story. Patrick Doherty. John Duddy. Hugh Gilmour. Michael Kelly. Michael McDaid. Kevin McElhinney. Bernard McGuigan. Gerald McKinney. William McKinney. William Nash. James Wray. John Young. John Johnston. Gerald Donaghey.
“We carry these names with us as we work to build the Irish nation anew. We can’t reach our destiny as a people divided; a people separated for too long. The tomorrow that we can shape together is far greater than anything that divides us.
“So, our challenge is to tear down the walls of yesterday, to really see each other, to respect the integrity of each position, and to refuse to fight the battles of yesterday. That is another place. Those days are gone. A new Ireland is now in touching distance. We must reach with confidence and hope for tomorrow. We are called on again to stretch ourselves. To push the boundaries. To exceed all expectations. To once again, extend the hand of friendship, partnership, and inclusion.
“Tonight, we remember those we lost on Bloody Sunday. Tonight, we look to the future, we think about all that we have to gain. The ending of division. The uniting of all our people. The building of our nation in friendship and respect. Because deep in our hearts, we still believe that we will overcome. That we’ll walk and hand in hand. That we will rise above. We can get there, together. We will get there, together. We will see the dawning of a new day for everyone who calls Ireland home.”