Wednesday, January 30, 2008

January 30, l972-2008

Today is the 36th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Londonderry, northern Ireland. On that day, a mass march for civil rights in the Bogside, or Catholic section of the city, turned into blood-soaked mayhem as British army paras, or special forces opened fire on the march, killing l4 people. There are varying explanations of what happened that day, including allegations that IRA members were present and fired on the soldiers, but it seems clear that the soldiers were pumped up and determined to "teach those Fenians a lesson," in the words of one commander. Several of those murdered were l8 or under, including Jack Duddy, a promising boxer who hoped for a spot on the Irish Olympic team. He became the symbol of the horror of that day, as a priest and several marchers tried to carry him to safety.

I first learned of this incident in global studies class--one actually relevant moment in an otherwise forgettable course-- leafing through the pages of Life magazine. I wondered how this could happen in one of the cradles of western Civilization, British soldiers shooting down their fellow citizens, some roughly my own age, on a sunny weekend day. With time and some reading, you come to a more nuanced understanding of these kinds of incidents, but the sight of l3 coffins in the church where the mass funeral was held is something I can never forget. I saw it first in that life magazine, then was lucky enough to get to the Bogside Inn in Derry, where there is an entire wall dedicated to pictures of the march, then the mayhem, funeral and burials.

Fortunately, Londonderry is peaceful today, thanks to the passage of time, people's impatience with the "fanatics hijacking our lives" and the dedicated negotiators of the Good Friday peace agreement. But it can only be bittersweet for people who lost loved ones on that day, like Jack Duddy's sister, who laments that "all I can do for him now, on holidays, is bring him a fresh bouquet of flowers in the cemetery."

The image you see above is of the mortally wounded Jackie Duddy and the people who tried to get him some help. The priest you see is Fr. Daly, who later went on to become the bishop of Derry. The photograph is mine, but the mural is the work of the Kelly brothers, who call themselves the Bogside artists. All credit to them and their wonderful story of the northern Irish conflict in murals throughout the Bogside, or Catholic neighborhood of Derry. PLEASE go visit their official site and inspect their work. If you are in Londonderry, you can knock on the door of their studio, located just in back of the Bogside Inn, and if they are there, they will greet you warmly.

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