(Reading time main text: 6mins.)
Thousands of people gathered on Sunday 29th January in Derry City’s Creggan area and marched through rain and gusts of strong wind in the annual Bloody Sunday March for Justice to Free Derry Corner.
The march commemorates the Derry Bloody Sunday Massacre of the last Sunday in January 1972, when the Parachute Regiment opened fire on unarmed Civil Rights marchers, killing 14 and injuring a great many, claiming the soldiers had only returned fire on paramilitaries.
British Governments for decades stood by those claims, refuted by many hundreds of witnesses to the actual shootings and though the city’s coroner called it “sheer unadulterated murder”, the inquiry under Lord Chief Justice Widgery declared in favour of the Paras’ version.
The 1972 march organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association had been protesting the introduction of internment without trial in August 19711 and the Paras had already killed 11 unarmed protesting people that month in the Ballymurphy housing estate, Belfast.2
Among the scheduled speakers and organisers in Derry in 1972 had been leading activists of the time, Bernadette Devlin (now McAlliskey) of People’s Democracy3 and Eamon McCann of the Socialist Worker’s Party (now People Before Profit).
The Commemoration this year
Participating organisations this year included Anti-Imperialist Action Ireland, Communist Party Ireland, Éirigí, Irish Republican Socialist Party, Irish Republican Welfare Association, Lasair Dhearg, People Before Profit, Republican Network for Unity, Saoradh, 1916 Societies.
Also marching were an IWW/ Anarchist contingent and a number of campaign groups: Ireland Anti-Internment Campaign, Ballymurphy Justice, Justice for the Craigavon Two, Justice for Manus Deery, with a number of environmental groups were represented also.
Derry Trades Council and IWW seemed to have the only trade union banner present or flags present.
A broad domestic and internationalist solidarity sweep was evidenced by the poster for the event with the slogan: “An injury to one is an injury to all” and also by the banner of the Derry branch of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
Public support from Britain came with a banner of the Fight Racism/Fight Imperialism periodical and leaflets from Republican Socialist Platform4 were distributed among the marchers also.
Some years can reveal the misfortunes of particular organisations with a much smaller contingent than previously due to drop outs, defections and splits. Equally it has not been unknown for an organisation to draft in people to inflate its numbers specifically for the annual march.
The annual march takes the twisting route of the original one in 1972, covering much of the Derry nationalist housing areas.
Marchers rally at the Creggan heights and march down to the bottom of the hill, then along and up another steep hill, turning right at its top, along and then right down again and, at the bottom, turning right and along to the Free Derry Corner5 monument where speakers address the crowd.
Kate Nash chaired the rally there and Liam Wray, relative of murdered James Ray spoke as did also Ria, niece of John Paul Wooton who, with Brendan, are the Craigavon Two, framed for the killing of a colonial policeman.
The numbers this year were a huge drop from the previous year’s but 2022 was the 50th anniversary of the massacre and the participants are estimated to have numbered well over 10,000, including maybe 10 marching Republican Flute Bands6 from Ireland and Scotland.
Nevertheless the mass media’s coverage of last year’s march varied from minimal to nil.7
Probably4,000 actually marched this year, but perhaps nearly another 1,000 gathered on the roadsides to watch the marchers, greet people they know and so on. Many children are brought by their parents to watch while their older siblings gather and sometimes accompany marchers too.
The day had begun sunny and crisp but by march time the weather had deteriorated to constant rain and gusts of wind and, as the march reached the Lecky Road, to a heavy downpour. It was bad but veteran marchers have experienced worse in previous years, including snow and sleet.
Three Derry-based Republican Flute Bands formed part of the march: James Connolly RFB, Kevin Lynch RFB and Tommy Roberts Stevie Mellon RFB, along with the Banna Cuimhneachán Thomáis Uí Chléirigh (Thomas Clarke Memorial RF Band) from Dungannon.
Although in recent years members wear more weather-appropriate uniforms, they still do an amazing job marching and playing in bad and sometimes atrocious weather.
A Deal with the Devil
The Sinn Féin political party, once prominent among the march organisers and speakers at the rally, sought to end the annual march in 2011 and have not supported the event since.8 This was after the British Government publicly apologised for the massacre that same year.
Part of the process leading to that Governmental apology was the setting up of the Saville Tribunal in London in 1998, although it took unexpectedly long to deliver its verdict.9 The Good Friday Agreement was also concluded in 1998, giving the Tribunal the appearance of a concession.
Indeed, the whole has the marks of a deal with the Provisional IRA’s leadership, with the British side saying: “You give up the armed struggle and control your people. We’ll make it easier for you by releasing your prisoners on licence10 and admitting we were wrong in Derry in 1972.”
Whether ceasing the annual commemoration was part of the deal or whether that was Sinn Féin’s own leadership’s decision is difficult to guess. It may have suited SF to scale a colonial reminder event down or simply to scratch one big annual event from their organisational calendar.
On the other hand, it has lost Sinn Féin all control of an important historical commemorative event on the Irish Republican calendar and their abstention again at the 50th anniversary march was a massive exposure of their collaborationist position.
The Bloody Sunday Trust also boycotts the march, in the sense that it does not promote it nor record its annual march or other events opposed by Sinn Féin. It does organise and promote its own events during every anniversary but that seems to be as a counter to the march organisers.
The BST of course receives funding and employs a Director and staff for its museum. Nobody pays Kate Nash or other members of the Bloody Sunday Commemoration committee; they rely on public donations and sale of items such as commemorative T-shirts to fund the march11.
A number of relatives of the murdered and injured civilians continue to support the march and are counterered among its organisers, for example Kate Nash, sister of murdered William murdered on Bloody Sunday and daughter of Alex Nash seriously injured by the troops the same day.
The Derry Trades Council and two of the original organisers and speakers support the continuation of the commemorative march as do most Irish Republican and Socialist organisations.
Derrylondon12 and annual commemorations
Most Irish people call the city “Derry13” from the ancient monastic settlement located there, “Doire Cholmcille”14 but most Unionists and the British officially call it “Londonderry”. Many think the latter do that to annoy but there is a historical basis for it.
Large parcels of land in the city and surrounds were the payoff to the City of London for bankrolling Cromwell and the English Parliament’s campaign in Ireland to crush support for King Charles and the resistance of the Irish clans and Norman-Irish magnates.
Commemoration of the crimes of the oppressor forms an important part of the resistance of the oppressed around the world. Such events say “Our oppressors committed this atrocity here and we remember, will always remember and constantly deny them any legitimacy in occupation.”
If that is so, what gives any liberation organisation the right to call an end to such commemorations? Yet that is what the formerly liberation Sinn Féin did in 2011 after a British Prime Minister apologised in public for the massacre (but as some kind of serious ‘error’).
Not a single Minister or civil servant who organised the Derry or Ballymurphy massacres, nor judge who condoned them, nor officers who ordered them, nor soldiers who carried them out have been even tried, never mind convicted or jailed in the thirteen years elapsed since that ‘apology’.
Derry’s Bloody Sunday will continue to be commemorated at least until British colonialism has left Ireland and probably as long as imperialism continues to exist.
Remembering is part of resistance; commemoration makes it collective.
1Abandoned on 5 December 1975. During this time a total of 1,981 people were interned for a period without trial, many of them physically assaulted, some grossly beaten and a small number tortured (the “hooded men” whose campaign for justice is yet another example of courage and determination against British State lies, prevarication and delays). 1,874 were from an Irish nationalist background, while 107 were from a unionist background.
2A similar British Army story, “returning fire” and again witnesses’ accounts ignored. The British State has yet to admit the gross inaccuracy of the official account.
3The party grew out of the Civil Rights movement of which it represented a more radical section. It ceased to exist after a few years.
4Previously unknown in Ireland, the RSP claims members in Derry and Belfast and the leaflet states it is part of the Radical Independence Campaign in Scotland.
5The monument in the shape of a gable end of a two-storey house mimics its original inspiration on the blank gable end of a row of houses in 1968 when John Caker Casey or Liam Hillen painted upon it YOU ARE NOW ENTERING FREE DERRY. The Bogside enclave had been barricaded in 1968 to deny the sectarian and brutal colonial police entry and continued to exist as an area from which the police were barred and British troops, even after the official removal of the barricades, entered only in force and at their peril for years afterwards.
6Typically flute players, side and bass drums, led by a colour (flags) party, all in the band uniform.
7Instead the media concentrated on the presence of a small group of Irish Government Minister and politicians of main parties at an earlier event at the monument to the massacre and a cultural event in the Guildhall.
8No doubt some of SF’s supporters in Derry and many more of its voters ignore the party ban and attend nevertheless.
9An almost unbelievable 8 years after a delay of two years before hearings began and £400 million in costs (mostly in fees to law practitioners) even through years when no hearings were being conducted.
10Release on licence meant they could be returned to jail to complete their original sentence at the discretion of the Minister of State for Northern Ireland, without a hearing or entitlement to know the specific reason for that decision. At first only the Provisional’s prisoners signed up to it but were followed by those with allegiance to other Republican groups, along with Loyalist paramilitaries. As they were leaving the jails, a new crop was entering due to new or alleged acts of resistance, rising to 70 between jails in both states and never falling much below 50.
11See Useful Links and References at end.
12Popular Irish balladeer Christy Moore, on a British tour in the 1980s, greeted his London audience by calling the city “Derrylondon” to wild cheering. Shortly afterwards an Irish activist produced Christmas cards displaying London sights in snow, titled “Christmas greetings from Derrylondon”.
13Derry City FC is also the name of the local soccer club which enjoys cross-community support.
14“Colmcille’s (“Dove of the Church”, real name possibly Crimthann of the Cenel Connail) Oakwood”.
USEFUL LINKS & REFERENCES
Bloody Sunday Campaign for Justice: (10) Bloody Sunday March | Facebook
Bloody Sunday (1972) – Wikipedia
T-Shirts, free delivery, all proceeds to fund March: Bloody Sunday Derry Campaign (teemill.com)
Craigavon Two Campaign: https://www.facebook.com/mrsmcconville
Justice for Manus Deery: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?