Bloody Sunday: the fight for truth

Sat, Feb 25, 2012, 00:00

NORTHERN IRELAND: Setting the Truth Free: The Inside Story of the Bloody Sunday Justice CampaignBy Julieann Campbell Liberties Press, 219pp. €16.99

ON JANUARY 30th, 1972, the British army’s parachute regiment murdered 14 boys and men who had gathered in Derry for a peaceful civil-rights march. The paras tried to murder many more that day and shot 14 other bystanders. The infamous Widgery report would later conclude that those who died were “nail-bombers” or “gunmen”. It would take more than 38 years for the lies in Lord Chief Justice Widgery’s report to be laid bare.

On June 15th, 2010, the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, chaired by Lord Saville, concluded that those murdered and maimed were innocent of any wrongdoing. In a historic statement, the British prime minister, David Cameron, described the actions of the British army as both “unjustified and unjustifiable”.

Julieann Campbell’s book tells the story of an epic struggle by working-class families from Derry to take on the might of the British establishment. The book charts their incremental progress in overturning the lies and prejudice towards them generated by Widgery and his establishment confreres, including the former prime minister Edward Heath. The British defence lawyer Gareth Peirce, in her foreword, describes the scale and apparent hopelessness of their cause: “The engines of the British state pumped out an immediate false narrative . . . There was no one, absolutely no one, to turn to.”

The Bloody Sunday families persevered, however. Finally, through grit, ingenuity and determination, they publicly and unequivocally reclaimed the truth about their loved ones’ innocence.

Utrinque Paratusis the motto of the parachute regiment. Roughly translated from Latin, it means “ready for anything”. Campbell’s book clearly demonstrates that the paras were unready for the fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters of those they slaughtered in Derry.

Despite their fabled maroon berets and winged-parachute cap badges, they were unequal to what Peirce describes as the “sustained, demanding moral integrity and stamina of the families. The families were the soul, the heart, the iron and the steel. They are all our inspiration.”

Campbell’s authorship of the book is informed by her relationship with the first boy to be murdered on Bloody Sunday. Jackie Duddy, who was 17 when he was shot, was Julieann’s uncle. His broken, bloodstained body lies at the centre of the most iconic photograph to emerge from that day. Flanked by Fr Edward Daly waving a white cloth, Duddy’s lifeless body is a shocking, pieta-like reminder of the violation of trust perpetrated that day.

Campbell’s uncle Gerry Duddy was 14 the day his brother Jackie was shot. As recounted in the book, Jackie Duddy’s last words to his little brother were, “I’m all right, I’m a big boy.”

The final words of other victims, recorded throughout the book, make for difficult reading. Hugh Gilmour, aged 17, called out for his mother after being shot: “I want my mammy. Please, go get my mammy.”

Paddy Doherty was shot in the buttock, the high-velocity round exiting through his chest. As he lay bleeding to death, he repeatedly cried out for help. His last words were: “Somebody help me, please – I don’t want to die on my own.”

Barney McGuigan, a father of six, attempted to comfort Doherty; he approached him waving a white cloth. He was shot in the head and died instantly.

Despite the heartbreak and loss, Campbell describes the ingenuity, determination and good humour that sustained the families throughout their campaign. At one point Gerry Duddy raffled a bottle of vodka to pay for the train fare to speak to an audience of students in Co Westmeath. The struggle for truth made public speakers out of all of the families, however reluctant or nervous. One relative describes how, during a speaking tour of the UK, he would vomit in the toilets prior to each speech. A protest against a 1995 visit to Dublin by Prince Charles, colonel in chief of the parachute regiment, was dubbed Operation Big Ears by the families.

Campbell’s book is a life-affirming account of the struggle for truth. It contains little recrimination. Gerry Duddy describes the soldiers who gave evidence to the Saville inquiry simply as “wee skinny men – their guns made them look 10ft tall”.

There are many heroes in this book – family and supportive politicians, journalists and singers and other artists – but what is most remarkable is that their campaign was commenced and sustained by ordinary people living in ordinary terraced houses behind lace curtains. “It all began in a room in West End Park, over a cup of tea.”


Dr Tom Clonan is the Irish TimesSecurity Analyst. He is an academic, a writer and a retired Army officer