Bloody Sunday 50: ‘How many brothers do you have?’ ‘I have two.’ ‘You have only one now’
Leo had been prevented from taking another young victim, Gerald Donaghey, to Altnagelvin, on the day of the massacre. He was arrested and interrogated overnight in Ballykelly before being brought back to the Victoria Barracks in Derry on the Monday.
“They had me in the barracks. The boy came out and asked, ‘Is Young here yet?’ And the boy replied, ‘Aye, there he is there.’ ‘How many brothers do you have?’ I said, ‘I have two.’ ‘You have only one now.’ That was the first I heard of it.”
John Young was 17 when he was murdered by the Parachute Regiment along with twelve other anti-internment protestors - a fourteenth died of his wounds - on January 30, 1972. He was one of six 17-year-old boys murdered - children in the eyes of the law.
“John was a schoolboy until he was 15 and he was dead when he was 17. That was all the life he had, him and the rest of them,” says Leo. “It is a sobering thing to think. They had nothing. All those young fellahs.
“There is no sense saying anything different. If John had got a chance to get away he would have been off to either England or America. You could say that about them all.”
Leo describes how in the years before Bloody Sunday John would have run about with his own gang, attended the local boys’ club, chased girls and went to the odd dance.
He was into music and friendly with Peter ‘Boy’ Roddy, whose band The Trend, were a popular showband in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“John fell in with Peter ‘Boy’ Roddy. They started a wee band and John was sort of a groupie for it. He organised who was getting in and who wasn’t.”
After leaving school he worked for Joe McGlinchey, the coalman from Iniscarn, who supplied most of Creggan. It was Joe’s lorry that was used to lead the march on the day of Bloody Sunday itself. John collected the coal money.
“Back in those days John would go to your mother’s house and open the door and walk in and lift ten shillings that would have been left on the fire place. That was the coal man’s money.”
Always a sharp-dresser John soon found work more felicitous to a man about the local showband scene.
“He got himself a job in John Collier tailors in Ferryquay Street which suited him down to the ground because he was into his style and clothes.
“But his life was cut short. He had had his own agenda. He wasn’t going to do great things but he was going to do things that were over and above the sixties in Derry, I think.”
John was the youngest of the family and on Bloody Sunday he and his older sister Maura were the last remaining children living in the family home on Westway in Creggan. Leo headed up there on the day of the march.
“That particular day we had all arranged to meet up in my ma’s house and then go up to the Creggan shops. But John had already left. He was away with his pals. My ma said to me when we were going out, ‘Try to keep an eye on him.’ But there were 50,000 there. The chances of running into him again would have been nil.
“I had a fair idea that if the march didn’t get down William Street, John would go along with the lorry because it was McGlinchey’s lorry. I presumed he would go down that way. As it transpired he went down to the bottom of William Street. You’ve seen photographs of him firing stones.”
Leo never saw his brother that day. He never saw him again. But after two inquiries - to which he was an indispensable witness - and fifty years of analysing the barbarism that was unleashed by the British army that Sunday afternoon he has a very clear and fixed picture of what happened to John.
Paratroopers disembarked from armoured vehicles in Rossville Street and murdered several protestors including John who was killed at a rubble barricade near the entrance to Glenfada Park on Rossville Street.
Leo relives what happened: “John had taken two girls in through the Rossville flats and left them at Free Derry corner and came back. By the time he came back the shooting was going and John was in against the wall. He wasn’t out in the road or anything and a boy had a hold of him - ‘Jesus, don’t go out there.’ But he was going out to help.Willie Nash was already shot. Michael Kelly was shot. Michael McDaid was shot and they were lying at the barricade. John was in that gable end and started to go out and your man shot him in the head.”
Leo is convinced a paratrooper belonging to 1 Para Mortar Platoon was the man who murdered his brother.
Mark Saville, in his report on the massacre, was unable to say for certain who killed him. A number of paratroopers may have been responsible for killing John, William Nash and Michael McDaid, Saville said, and left it open-ended.
“We are sure that Corporal P of Mortar Platoon, who had disembarked from Sergeant O’s Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) in Rossville Street, shot at least one of these casualties and may have been responsible for all three, though Lance Corporal J of Anti-Tank Platoon may have shot one of them and we cannot eliminate the possibility that Corporal E was responsible for another,” Saville stated.
But Leo is unambiguous: “Soldier P was there. He is the boy I maintain shot John.” For Leo, John’s death will be forever connected with that of Gerald Donaghey, also aged 17, who was shot dead alongside Gerard McKinney, aged 34, in Abbey Park.
Amid the pandemonium of those terrible minutes Leo was among a number of citizens who went to the aid of the injured and dying not far from where John was shot dead.
“I could see people running everywhere. They were saying they are shooting people, they are shooting people. As it happened a fellah called Joe Friel [shot and injured in Glenfada Park] came running out of an alleyway. He fell. I went over to him and me and a couple of other boys lifted him and took him into a house. There was a Knights of Malta girl in the house and she did her best. Then people were saying there are two bodies lying over at the steps beside Glenfada Park so me and her ran over there. There was a gap that takes you into Glenfada Park which is all closed up now where the bullet holes are in the walls. I ran past and there was a soldier standing in the alleyway. He had his rifle up and as I ran past he put the rifle down. I heard a crack and it went between me and her. It went through the legs of her trousers.”
It was at this point Leo came upon Gerald - a contemporary of John’s but someone he had never seen before.
“I saw the young fellah lying on the ground. I grabbed a hold of him by the back of his neck and there was a wee wall there. I pulled him over. If the soldier had come out I was a dead duck. We carried him up to Raymond Rogan’s house. He was lying on the floor and people were trying to find any identification to see who he was. Dr. Kevin Swords came in then. He was at the march on the day. He had already been in with Willie McKinney [aged 27, who was shot dead in Glenfada Park] who was in a house. He opened [Gerald Donaghey’s] trousers. His shirt was holding his stomach in. It was protruding out. He said he was badly wounded. He wasn’t dead but he would have to go to the hospital. We decided to carry him out the back door. I put him into the car and pulled him in behind me but I couldn’t get out because the door was locked .”
Leo tried to call to people because he wanted to go and search for his brother John but the car, a Ford Cortina, took off.
“We were arrested at the Long Tower chapel. We were going up ‘The Folly’ to go down Abercorn Road and over to Altnagelvin. The cops and army were there and pulled us out of the car, threw us up against the wall and searched the car.
“They must have searched the young fellah as well. Somebody in command must have then told the soldier to pull the car in through the barrier.”
The car, with Gerald in it, was taken to an army post underneath the Craigavon Bridge. Leo and Raymond Rogan were taken down some time later. In 2010 Mark Saville’s most controversial finding by some distance was that four nail bombs found in Gerald Donaghey’s pockets were ‘probably on him when he was shot’. It was a finding that for many sullied a report that was otherwise viewed as an emphatic vindication of the victims. Leo, in his evidence to both the Widgery tribunal and the Saville inquiry, has been consistent and remains so a half century later - there were no nail bombs, he says.
“The only thing the young fellah had on him was a pair of rosary beads. I was at his head looking down on him. Raymond Rogan’s wife who was a nurse was there. They were all looking and there was definitely nothing. The thought that came into your head - if there was as much stuff on him why would you take him to the hospital? You wouldn’t get into the car in the first place. I told his sister that.
“If that young fellah had been carrying anything I wouldn’t have been getting into the car with him, Are you mad? And to take it to Altnagelvin if you did see it? To go through all those army checkpoints?”
After he was arrested and taken to the army post underneath the bridge, a forensics officer took Leo’s clothes, stripped him to his underwear, and scraped his nails. He was then taken to the Victoria Barracks on the Strand Road.
“I was disorientated by this time. At 7.30pm they moved me down to Ballykelly. I was down there all night and then maybe half of the next day. They were asking me questions. I had to say to them, ‘I don’t know this young fellah. I’ve never seen this young fellah in my life before. Why are you asking me questions about him? I don’t even know his name’. This went on. Up and down. Finally they decided to let me go.”
Thus it was back to Derry and Leo finally found out, many hours after the worst atrocity in living memory had robbed him of one of his closest kin, in the cruellest of manners.
‘How many brothers do you have?’ I said, ‘I have two.’ ‘You have only one now.’
“It didn’t dawn on me then but walking up William Street and Beechwood Avenue towards Westway there was an atmosphere that was unreal. When I got as far as Inishowen Gardens I saw the crowd outside the house. I said there is something wrong here. I got in and they told me. John’s body was already out in the house.
“It hit me big time. They had to get a doctor and they gave me a sedative. It put me away to the Tuesday. When I did get up I started asking and found out how many people had been shot. What about the young fellah that I had? I wondered did he survive. Nobody seemed to know.”
Leo reflects on how none of his interrogators had given him any clue about the scale and extent of the atrocity. He visited the wake houses of Creggan and the Bogside and saw for himself.
“Them boys questioned me all night and they didn’t say a thing. I found out then there were 13 dead. I had to go around to everybody’s house. I went to John Kelly’s house. I didn’t know any of those young fellahs. I went to McDaid’s house, I went to William Nash’s house. I went to Paddy Doherty’s house but this was a young man. We finally ended up in Mary Donaghey’s house and we went in to see him. I said, ‘That’s him’.”
Leo is as unyielding today as then that the nail bombs later pictured stuffed into Gerald Donaghey’s jean pockets were planted to suit the army’s narrative of events that day.
“His body didn’t go to Altnagelvn until 6.3opm at night. They held him in that car underneath the bridge. That’s the time I presume the police did their dirty work. Young Donaghey was on six months’ probation and was in Na Fianna Éireann [the IRA youth wing]. That seemed to be more ammunition for the cops. Once they found out who he was that’s when I’d say they did their work.”
Leo was never aware of having met nor seen Gerald Donaghey prior to Bloody Sunday. But he is a young man with whom he will always now feel a connection.
“That was a young fellah I never knew but I can’t forget. He is part of John’s death as well. That’s what haunted me for years.”
Leo is disillusioned with how things have transpired. Particularly he is aggrieved by what he and others see as the British Government’s cynical and tone-deaf attempt to introduce an amnesty for soldiers involved in atrocities.
“It is devastating to think that nobody is going to be held to account. All those words that David Cameron [the former British Prime Minister who apologised for Bloody Sunday in 2010] said - ‘unjustified and unjustifiable’ - that was just words. Now they are all going to walk. With this amnesty now they are going to let everybody off. That scar will always be there. It destroyed my life for long enough. I went into depression and anxiety and stuff like that.
“The more I learned about it - going to the Guildhall and Saville - you always thought that justice...if you murder somebody you have to pay the price irrespective of who you are or who is murdered.”