Poignant ending to a remarkable campaign

Marie Reilly Kennan dismayed at her weigh in.
Marie Reilly Kennan dismayed at her weigh in.

An estimated crowd of up to 30,000 people braved the biting cold on Sunday afternoon to take part in Derry’s last ever Bloody Sunday commemoration march on Sunday afternoon.

Despite the chilling winds and occasional rain, marchers gathered in Creggan in their many thousands, eager to be a part of this historical occasion.

In a marked difference to other commemoration years, a distinct jubilance and camaraderie filled the air as thousands took off from Creggan Shops, following the original route of the ill-fated civil rights march in 1972.

Present for this important occasion were many Bloody Sunday relatives and traumatised eyewitnesses who had never before had the courage to attend marches. Indeed, whole families with grandparents and babies in prams also joined in the march for the first time, proud to be a part of it. Hundreds of International visitors also weaved through the crowds with cameras, no doubt capturing this momentous event for their own families back home. Also in attendance were 60 delegates of the Ancient Order of the Hibernians from the New York metropolitan region. An intense media presence lined the entire route of the march, with photographers, cameramen and news crews capturing the cheerful procession from all conceivable angles and elevated positions.

Unlike past commemorations, Sunday was an afternoon filled with positivity. The collective achievements of the past year were to the forefront of everyone’s mind as they marched along the route, down William Street, past Aggro Corner and into the heart of the city centre - the intended destination of the march in 1972. As thousands poured into Guildhall Square, a large screen listed the names of all other victims of state violence in Northern Ireland, as well as those killed and injured on Bloody Sunday.

Although very much a poignant celebration of all that has passed, there were also moments of comedy to treasure.

Following a touching welcome by prominent campaigner John Kelly - a young musician tried three times, somewhat unsuccessfully, to play the Irish National Anthem on flute amid slight giggles from the assembled crowd. However, in a move which surprised many in attendance, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams promptly saved the day by taking to the microphone instead, singing ‘Soldiers Are We’ in Irish.

The speakers on Sunday were Gerry Adams, followed by SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan and Briege Voyle, who represented the Ballymurphy Massacre Group and urged the listening crowds to lend their much-needed support to the Ballymurphy campaign. Next, speaking on behalf of all the families and wounded was Gerry Duddy, brother of Jackie Duddy, who publicly thanked all of those who had ever supported their long campaign, particularly the hundreds of local people who had the unenviable task of giving evidence to the Saville Inquiry.

Relative John Kelly then read out the names of all those killed and wounded on Bloody Sunday and, in light of the celebratory atmosphere which accompanied this year’s

march, he called for a minute’s applause in place of the usual minute’s silence.

With speeches and tributes at an end, renowned singer Frances Black then closed proceedings with the uplifting song ‘Something Inside So Strong’ and a verse of celebrated civil rights anthem ‘We Shall Overcome’.

And as thousands of marchers dispersed for the final time, it was clear that once again Derry had done itself proud in the eyes of the world.