Nationalists and republicans joined in events to mark the anniversary of the Bloody Sunday massacre and to renew demands for justice for the victims.
A 51st commemoration rally was held last Sunday at Free Derry Corner following the annual march which re-traces the route of the original civil rights demonstration that was attacked by British soldiers on January 30, 1972.
The massacre of fourteen innocent civilians was intended to destroy the civil rights movement, but instead it spawned a campaign that continues to make itself heard more than half a century later.
Speaking at the rally, Liam Wray, a brother of Bloody Sunday victim Jim Wray, accused the British state of implementing an “amnesty by attrition” for the former British paratroopers who carried out the killings.
Mr Wray described the Public Prosecution Service as the “Paratroop Protection Society” after it said in 2021 that it would prosecute only one soldier for the killings.
He outlined the legal processes and delays which followed Bloody Sunday from the 1972 Widgery Inquiry to the ‘Soldier F’ case. The London government and its officials are still seeking to block moves to prosecute the soldier for the murder of Mr Wray’s brother and fellow victim, William McKinney, as well as the attempted murder of five others.
He called out British General Mike Jackson as a war criminal and vowed to expose the other “faceless men” who gave the orders.
“They want us to go away; they have amnesty by attrition and they think the longer they withhold justice from us that we’ll acquiesce and fade away. That’s why I’m delighted to see so many here today,” Mr Wray said.
He urged those attending to highlight injustices of every kind.
“Talk to your politicians and councillors who sit on policing boards and justice committees. Tell them we want justice for the Craigavon 2, tell them we’ll have no fracking in our country, tell them we don’t want gold mines for the wealthy which poison our land and communities. Let us stand together as a people of protest. We are off our knees and we are not going back on them.”
The rally was also addressed by Rhea Glover, a niece of John Paul Wootton who is one of the miscarriage of justice victims known as the Craigavon 2. Ms Glover read an update on his case from her uncle.
Other events included a minute’s silence observed at the Bloody Sunday monument at Rossville Street at 4pm. The annual event marks the actual moment that the Parachute Regiment entered the Bogside during the original 1972 march.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald was the keynote speaker at Derry’s Guildhall as she gave the annual Bloody Sunday 2023 lecture.
Shs said Bloody Sunday has become a story of endurance and resistance by the families of the victims.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
Ms McDonald said the story of Bloody Sunday is about “those families enduring” and “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.”
She added: “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.”
During the lecture, the Sinn Fein leader recalled her young daughter “sobbing in distress” after believing footage of 1972 on television was happening in real-time.
“My child fully believing the events of Bloody Sunday were unfolding, there and then,” she told the audience.
“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.”
Ms McDonald also quoted African-American poet Lucille Clifton’s poem ‘why some people be mad at me sometimes’.
“They ask me to remember but they want me to remember their memories and I keep on remembering mine,” she said.
“Clifton’s words provide a critique of how the powerful often attempt to steal the past from the powerless. How the powerful try to steal experiences, and steal memory from those who have suffered.”
She concluded her speech by reading the names of some of the victims, saying “we carry these names with us as we work to build the Irish nation anew.”
“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.”
Other events to mark the anniversary including a special screening the musical documentary ‘North Circular’ and unveiling of a new mural by local artist Ray Bonner.
There was also an outing for a recently discovered tribute to the fourteen fatalities by US folk star Bob Dylan, in which he reads out the names of those who died. It was played to the surviving family members for the first time.
The recording was an emotional event. Hearing Dylan speak the name his teenage brother, 51 years after he was shot dead, deeply affected John Kelly, brother of Michael Kelly.
“It means a lot,” he says, “the fact Bob Dylan recognised the horror of the day itself and all those innocent people murdered by the British.”
SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood has also announced plans to nominate the Bloody Sunday families for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. The Derry MP said he could think of no better tribute to the families because of their commitment to peace and reconciliations during their “long fight for truth and justice”.
* The fourteen who died were: Paddy Doherty, Gerald Donaghey, Jackie Duddy, Hugh Gilmour, Michael Kelly, Michael McDaid, Kevin McElhinney, Barney McGuigan, Gerald McKinney, Willie McKinney, William Nash, Jim Wray, John Young, and John Johnston.