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Bob Dylan’s Bloody Sunday tribute: ‘What really got to me was that he named every one of the victims’

In Derry, a newly unearthed tribute from the singer’s Theme Time Radio Hour has been played to surviving families for the first time

Hearing Bob Dylan speak his teenage brother’s name 51 years after he was shot dead, on Bloody Sunday, got to John 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.”

Michael Kelly was one of the civil-rights protesters killed in Derry on January 30th, 1972, by soldiers from the British army’s parachute regiment when they opened fire on the anti-internment march, from the city’s Creggan to the Bogside, that the 17-year-old and John, his older brother, were taking part in. The paratroopers shot 13 people dead, fatally wounded another, and injured 18 more.

Dylan read out Michael Kelly’s name as part of a roll-call of the atrocity’s victims that he recorded for his Theme Time Radio Hour programme and that, newly unearthed, was being played for the first time to surviving families in Derry.

“What really got to me was that he named every one of the victims,” says Kelly, who works at the Museum of Free Derry. “The personal element is there. I do feel the time when he did it, he did feel for the families and for what happened that day.”


Kelly remembers his brother as “really, really happy”, rearing pigeons, getting a new job at a tailor’s – Michael loved clothes – and “going steady” with a girl. “Actually, when you’re listening to the list of names being spoken by Bob Dylan, you’re waiting for your own brother’s name,” he says. “Sure enough, when Michael’s did come out, it really got to me emotionally.”

An edited version of the original audio was released on social media by the Bloody Sunday Trust in advance of an event next week to mark the 51st anniversary of the killings. Declan McLaughlin, the trust’s event co-ordinator, was sent the recording by a “Dylan-mad” friend in the United States who “searched and searched” for the archive piece.

“When the guy sent me the audio three weeks ago, I didn’t know what it was. He just said, ‘Have a listen to this.’ So I hit play, and all of a sudden it was Bob Dylan talking about Bloody Sunday. It was heart-stopping. Then I played it to the family members, and some of them had tears. To a lot of people, having Bob Dylan say something, it’s like having the pope read out the names.

“But I didn’t know what to do with it. Because it’s part of a radio show, it was public domain. So I put the images [in the social-media post] together as part of the events. It’s been really positive for the families, especially coming out of the 50th anniversary last year.”

Dylan, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, hosted Theme Time Radio Hour on satellite radio from 2006 to 2009; each week he took listeners on a thematic journey through musical history. The Bloody Sunday section was from a programme, first broadcast on October 3rd, 2007, whose theme was the days of the week.

On the programme the singer says: “On January 30, 1972, 30,000 people marched into Derry, in a march organised by the civil rights association. Armoured cars appeared from behind barriers. British troops boxed in hundreds of people. All of the soldiers were fully armed with combat rifles. Suddenly shots rang out. At the end of the day 13 people lay dead and 17 wounded.”

After playing the U2 song Sunday Bloody Sunday, Dylan continues: “Let us take a moment and remember the names of the people that died that day: Jack Duddy, Paddy Doherty, Bernard McGuigan, Hugh Gilmour, Kevin McElhinney, Michael McDaid, William Nash, John Young, Michael Kelly, Jim Wray, Gerald Donaghey, Gerard McKinney, William McKinney and John Johnston.”

The Bloody Sunday Trust’s director, Maeve McLaughlin, says the emergence of a recording by an artist of Dylan’s stature is significant for the families. “The issue of Bloody Sunday is in the DNA of Derry. It also resonates internationally ... Coming out of the 50th anniversary, we set ourselves the task of acknowledging the role of the families and also shining a spotlight on the city for everything we’ve achieved around conflict transformation. Bob Dylan’s tribute is another symbol of that.”

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times