Fateful Day in Contemporary History
Deaglán de Bréadún
This is a fateful anniversary for anyone who was around in the early ’70s. On this day in Derry 13 people were shot dead and a 14th would die later from wounds. Most of them were young, several were only 17 years of age.
I was a student at University College Dublin at the time. I recall the news bulletins on the day and how the death toll kept mounting. There was an absolute feeling of shock, I need hardly say.
My outstanding memory is slightly offbeat. The library in Belfield was meant to be a haven of quietude and reflection. But after Bloody Sunday – it must have been next day – I recall that one of the porters was playing a radio at high volume to get the latest news. It was contrary to all the practices of a university library but nobody would have dreamt of objecting under the circumstances.
There was a huge march from the college into town and then, perhaps inevitably, the British Embassy – then located on Merrion Square – was burnt-out. Strangely enough, that seemed to defuse the protests and, from then on, support for militant republicanism began to decline.
Many years later the Saville Inquiry was set up. It has cost a lot of money but if it brings closure to this stark and terrible event from 1972, it will be worth it.
This is a fateful day in other respects too. Charles I was beheaded in 1649. The ghastly Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany on this day in 1933 and on the same date in 1945 he gave his final radio broadcast to the nation he had led to the brink of ruin (I emphatically do not equate Hamas with the Nazis but the results of their efforts are not dissimilar.) Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 and the Beatles gave their last public performance on the roof of Apple Records in London in 1969.
Oh, and the Tet Offensive began in Vietnam. That was the beginning of the end for the US presence in that country. There is a misguided theory that a similar type of action by the IRA could have ended Britain’s hold over Northern Ireland. Off the wall: the public would never have supported it. As stated above, Bloody Sunday was the high-water mark.
After Bloody Sunday, we are told there were queues to join the IRA in Derry. Now the SDLP holds the Westminster seat for that constituency.