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Bloody Sunday was for me one of those life defining events, to be remembered a bit like the day JFK was assassinated, Nelson Mandela was freed, and I first heard Neil Young's "Harvest" and "After the Gold Rush" holed up in some Lexington, Virginia attic after some kind students had offered me a lift and a place to stay for the night as I was hitch-hiking my way down the east coast of America in 1973.

I was a student in Trinity College Dublin at the time of Bloody Sunday in 1972, not very happy with myself, my course, or the world into which I had been born. The world seemed to be a place where the powerful did more or less as they pleased, and the little people always got squashed. Paratroopers firing dum-dum bullets at unarmed civil rights marchers seemed to capture that feeling perfectly. I was enraged, and could do absolutely nothing about it.


Some of my contemporaries joined the Republican Movement, the anti-Apartheid Movement or Amnesty International. A Cabinet Minister and future Taoiseach, Charles Haughey, was dismissed for allegedly supporting the running of guns to the then almost quiescent IRA.  


The picture of a Bogside mural at the top of this Diary is somewhat misleading. Father Edward (later Bishop) Daly did carry a white handkerchief as he was helping the wounded to safety under fire.  But the attempt to portray a paratrooper standing on a bloody civil rights banner gives the misleading impression that he was standing with them and not shooting from cover some distance away. Neither were the IRA active in defending civilians. That was the time when the letters IRA were mockingly referred to as standing for "I Ran Away".


That summer I worked as a summer student on a community development project in the nationalist estate of Kilwilkie, Lurgan, in Northern Ireland: a ghetto surrounded by a motorway, a railway line, and hostile Protestant estates. Every night we had the pigs - Saracen armoured cars screaming through the streets - and hauling people off to internment - indefinite detention without trial, and often with torture as a routine part of the process.


As a group of student volunteers we had everybody confused: Irish, English, Australian, my German name and passport at the time; Catholic, Protestant, Quaker, and a Krishnamurti devotee. Who's side were we on?

We had originally been invited in as part of a VSO projectorganised by the (relatively) middle class Community Centre Committee. We got on fine with them organising children's activities, adventure trails, street football leagues, arts and craft classes, sports days and the like.


It was a good learning experience for me in terms of the importance of tribal identity. We would put red arm bands on one team, and blue on another, and instantaneously the two teams would be transformed into warring factions ready to give blood for the cause - whatever the sport or the ostensible purpose of the exercise. No matter that brothers or best mates were on opposing sides.


After a lifetime's involvement in competitive sports I have always marvelled at how coaches talk about having to motivate teams. Our problem was to stop them killing each other and keeping passions down to a manageable level. Of course all were best friends again after the battle was done and the arm bands removed. That is the beauty of sport when done properly by those who know how.


But it was our tribal identity as a student volunteer group which was the larger issue. We had status in the eyes of our middle class patrons because of our third level studies and the good work we were so obviously doing with the kids. But we were viewed with extreme suspicion by the local Stickies (the Official IRA), their mortal enemies the Provos (provisional IRA), and the various branches of the local socialist and communist groups. Who were we spying on, and for whom?


Being an outsider was an advantage in terms of navigating the many rivalries and petty jealousies within the local community which often prevented local community initiatives from getting off the ground if they were seen as the brainchild of one or other group. But it was a distinct liability if any one of the more militant groups came to regard us as spies. We did our best to get along with everyone, and our willingness to listen and learn the differing perspectives of different protagonists earned us a certain grudging, if distant, respect.


One thing we had to do however, was to demonstrate our solidarity with the community as a whole. Each of us were living with a different family on the estate and we had to be sensitive to their feelings. And so when a big Civil Rights march came to town, we made sure to join virtually everyone else (other than our more conservative middle class sponsors) on the march.


Unfortunately our Australian student (and Krishnamurti devotee) had been in a serious motorbike accident not long previously, and could only walk on crutches for a limited period of time. He was in a lot of pain returning from the march, and we were forced to take a short cut home through a neighbouring Loyalist estate.


Troops watched from corners, and an army helicopter circled over-head. Groups of denim clad youths kept a close eye. We were subsequently informed by our Provo contacts that they had been monitoring the Army radio frequencies and that there had been much chatter about a group breaking off from the civil rights march and heading through a loyalist estate.


Eventually we were confronted by a large group of young men. "Are ye Taigs or Micks or what are ye?" came the inevitable question - to our somewhat strangely attired group - well the 60's didn't come to Ireland until the 70's after all. Steve, for it was he of Australian and Krishnamurti fame, was the first to respond, remarking on the strange superficiality of tribal identities and the essential transcendental nature of Man. Or that was the gist of it as far as I could recall, being more exercised by the increasingly hostile expressions on our interlocutors faces...)


As the two groups seemed to move ever closer together I blurted out something to the effect that he was an Australian - which appeared to have an instant clarificatory and calming effect on our inquisitors. I was so glad they didn't think of the obvious riposte - ah yes, but is he a protestant or catholic Australian? Although some of us were protestant, none of us gave any hint of any religious affiliation: It would only have divided our group and set up the others for "special" treatment.


We were given a fools pardon and let go on our way, but not before our Quaker leaders' pacifist convictions and skills were given a good run out. It's amazing how much immense moral courage, a friendly demeanour, and relaxed body language can do to diffuse a fraught situation.


As we turned the corner we came across another British Army patrol with their rifles cocked at us and a rather nervous look on their faces. The English accents amongst us really helped to diffuse that situation, and soon we were back on "home" ground in Kilwilkie.


My subsequent switch to Sociology and Politics, a lifelong interest in conflict resolution, and a conviction of the importance of economic, social and political development in transforming lives for the better can all be traced back to those formative experiences. I never did join the Provos, nor the Quakers for that matter, but the rage at injustice is with me still.


And so I hear today that a British Prime Minister has deigned to say what almost every Irish person alive then has known in their bones for the past 38 years:


Cameron 'deeply sorry' for Bloody Sunday

British prime minster David Cameron said today the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday has found the British soldiers' actions in killing 14 people were in no way justified.

The 14 were killed in Derry on January 30th, 1972, by British soldiers following a civil rights rally in the city.

The inquiry set up to investigate the deaths was set up in 1998 under the chairmanship of Lord Saville of Newdigate, and it published its final report today.

Addressing parliament, Mr Cameron said the Saville findings were clear in finding the soldiers' actions both "unjustified and unjustifiable".

The prime minister said the British government was ultimately responsible for the actions of the army and therefore said he was "deeply sorry" for what had happened on Bloody Sunday.

However, he added the Saville report found there was no evidence of a conspiracy, cover-up nor premeditation over the day's events or matters relating to it since.

His last sentence is all the more remarkable given the actual findings of the Saville enquiry:


Main findings of Saville Inquiry

Firing by British soldiers of 1 Para caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.

This also applied to the 14th victim, who died later from injuries.

"Despite the contrary evidence given by soldiers, we have concluded that none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers."

Report says no one threw, or threatened to throw, nail or petrol bombs at soldiers.

The accounts of soldiers to the inquiry were rejected, with a number said to have "knowingly put forward false accounts"

Members of the official IRA fired a number of shots although it was concluded paratroopers shot first on Bloody Sunday.

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, second in command of the provisional IRA in Derry in 1972, was "probably armed with a Thompson submachine gun", and though it is possible he fired the weapon, this cannot be proved.

The report concludes: "He did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire".

It is even more remarkable in the light of the fact that the original Widgery "Whitewash" Tribunal had declined to use the evidence and testimony of a soldier who had said just what Saville has now found - and was in an ideal position to testify as he had a direct line of sight and had also been a radio officer and could hear all the orders and reports coming through.


That soldier also testified that soldiers kept a "private" supply of bullets which they filed into dum dum bullets and that this could account for the discrepancy between the number of bullets "officially" fired by the British Army and the newsreel footage sound recordings which demonstrated that a far greater number of bullets had actually been fired.


Perhaps now, 38 years on, some soldiers will be prosecuted. Wearing your Nation's uniform should not be a licence to commit murder.

Much of the mayhem into which Northern Ireland descended can be traced back to that fateful day. The IRA was main-streamed and constitutional politicians sidelined. It would be 30 years before constitutional politicians regained the initiative, and it took some outstanding peacemakers to make it happen.


John Hume led the process, and David Trimble, Martin McGuinness, and even Ian Paisley eventually saw the light - helped by more constructive attitudes from the British and Irish Governments. Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern have a lot to answer for, but their contribution to the Peace process cannot be gainsaid.


Meanwhile I'm still raging at Israelis persecuting Palestinians and the politically serious people who tell us this situation must be tolerated by us all. If only we could remove their tribal identities as easily as we could take the coloured armbands off kids. If only life could be so simple again...


U2: Sunday Bloody Sunday

Originally posted to Frank Schnittger on Wed Jun 16, 2010 at 02:39 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (26+ / 0-)

    "It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

    by Frank Schnittger on Wed Jun 16, 2010 at 02:39:14 AM PDT

  •  Repeat (11+ / 0-)

    As I already responded on a different blog:

    Thanks for your extensive account, Frank. And for the embed of one of my all-time favorite songs.

  •  The families are relieved, it's been a long time (16+ / 0-)
     
    I'm married to the daughter of Patrick Nash, son of Alec Nash and brother of William Nash, who's life was taken that day.

    Bad enough they kill your child and shoot you when you attempt to go to his aid, worse they proceed to blame him for his own death and label him a terrorist.

    I'll pass this on to my wife and thanks you for your recollection of those times.

     

    I will not teach a man who is not anxious to learn and will not explain to one who is not trying to make things clear to himself - Confucius

    by DiegoUK on Wed Jun 16, 2010 at 03:29:37 AM PDT

    •  Diego, would you please do something for me? (6+ / 0-)

      Please...PLEASE...when you have the chance, pass along to your wife - and to her family - my most sincere wishes for all of the peace and joy that they may have from the Saville report.

      The Truth is finally recognized and out in the open and the light of day sines brightly upon it.

      It's a great day to be Irish.

      Celtic Merlin
      Carlinist

      Sorry I couldn't take your call. I'm using my cell phone to make pancakes. Please leave a message.

      by Celtic Merlin on Wed Jun 16, 2010 at 06:02:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Will do, have done. She says thanks. (4+ / 0-)

         
        You know the worst of it? 38 years were taken not only from the families, but from all the people of the city, the providence and the country.

        The lies, born that day and perpetuated by inquiry and time, hardened the Loyalist societies and populated the nationalist. Events of that day set the stage for decades of hardship and strife.

         

        I will not teach a man who is not anxious to learn and will not explain to one who is not trying to make things clear to himself - Confucius

        by DiegoUK on Thu Jun 17, 2010 at 02:29:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  For a good discussion of this diary (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          NearlyNormal

          you could also go to my home base at the European Tribune

          "It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

          by Frank Schnittger on Thu Jun 17, 2010 at 05:13:49 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  You weren't alone, Diego. (0+ / 0-)

          Many of us here in the USA lost those same 38 years and struggled along with the Irish over the problems which that day begat.  We may not have been there at the barricades, but we were always with the Irish in spirit for those same 38 years.

          When I heard the results of the Saville Commission, tears rolled down my face.  I'm having a hard time holding them back even now.

          The families of the 14 men and boys, the people of Derry (especially, for me, those of "Free Derry"), and all those who live in the 6 counties were never alone.

          I have to go dry my face now.

          Sorry I couldn't take your call. I'm using my cell phone to make pancakes. Please leave a message.

          by Celtic Merlin on Thu Jun 17, 2010 at 11:30:31 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Many Thanks (6+ / 0-)

      I'm glad the family finally has some closure.

      "It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

      by Frank Schnittger on Wed Jun 16, 2010 at 06:30:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks to you for writing this (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Frank Schnittger

      Sorry I didn't get here in time to really join in this conversation.

      "I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man'" Robbie Robertson

      by NearlyNormal on Thu Jun 17, 2010 at 03:19:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Bloody Sunday (8+ / 0-)

    That the British can now find that there has been no cover-up 32 years after these murders speaks to the distain they hold for some of their citizens.  Were this act of state murder to take place in London no amount of state whitewash would cover it.  

    go raibh maith agat

    by jersy on Wed Jun 16, 2010 at 03:41:10 AM PDT

  •  Powerful retelling (10+ / 0-)

    Thank you for sharing what must be such painful memories.

    If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

    by marykk on Wed Jun 16, 2010 at 04:03:30 AM PDT

  •  Now is the time to prosecute those responsible (6+ / 0-)

    for the carnage.

    Great diary, thanks.

  •  Thank you, Frank. (8+ / 0-)

    I recounted what Bloody Sunday kindled in me in a comment under a diary written yesterday by GlowNZ titled "At Long Last", which I link you to here.

    While the fight for equal rights, civil rights, and fair treatment is not yet completely over in the 6 counties, what's left of the fight now is for the politicians to settle.

    I was a big supporter of Sinn Fein.  Lately, I'm not certain who I'd vote for.

    Today, I stand with the people of Gaza and the West Bank in their fight for equal rights, civil rights, and (in this case) basic Human Rights.  During the speeches at the Guildhall, I was thrilled by the support from the people of Derry when Gaza was mentioned.  The people of Derry understand.  They know too well.

    Your words:

    ...a conviction of the importance of economic, social and political development in transforming lives for the better can all be traced back to those formative experiences. I never did join the Provos, nor the Quakers for that matter, but the rage at injustice is with me still.

    Describe a part of me as well.  Especially the bit about "rage at injustice".  I'm not quite the peacemaker you are, however.  I'm one of the folks you work with when you practice "conflict resolution" for I still stand right up to those who perpetrate injustice.  It's the Irish in me.

    An important point about the IRA's remarkable lack of presence that day.  A fact that I swear is true, but that too few people know.  The civil rights organizers asked the PIRA to back away from the parade and especially the rally site at the end of the route so that the expected Brit Army presence would have no reason to be violent.  The IRA not only agreed to this request, but let it be known through contacts they had with the Brits that they'd not attend the parade nor the rally in order to help keep the peace.  The Paras, however, did not see this as the gesture of Goodwill it was always intended to be.  No, the Brits saw this as an opportunity.

    I openly admit that while the Saville Commission report brings joy to my very soul, much of my bitterness remains.  This is so mostly because there will be no arrests, no charges, no indictments, no trials, no sentences.  This we all know.

    So now the Paras have been exposed as the murderers they were that day - dishonored and discredited.  May the names of the men who pulled their triggers now be made public so that they may live with the shame and so that their friends, families, and relatives will know what they are.  If we may not have justice in the courtroom, may we at least have justice in the court of public opinion and in the annals of history.

    With the Truth finally exposed to the light of day, the innocent dead are now vindicated and their families have some small measure of justice.  The 14 men and boys murdered that day in the Bogside can now rest in peace - free of the lies which labeled them terrorists.

    I leave you with some Irish Republican Math:
    26 + 6 = 1

    Celtic Merlin
    Carlinist

    Sorry I couldn't take your call. I'm using my cell phone to make pancakes. Please leave a message.

    by Celtic Merlin on Wed Jun 16, 2010 at 05:50:01 AM PDT

    •  A united Ireland (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NearlyNormal

      is off the table at the moment - even the Good Friday agreement acknowledges this - but that doesn't mean a lot of good economic, social and political developments cannot take place within existing state frameworks, and particularly within the context of the EU.  The logic that Ireland can only be united if Northern Ireland is seen to fail and one people are conquered by another is a logic we have to get away from.  A better Ireland can be created when both peoples work together for the common good and realise how much they have in common - so much so that the concept of two distinct tribal identities is in itself undermined.  It's time people took off the protestant and catholic armbands...

      "It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

      by Frank Schnittger on Thu Jun 17, 2010 at 05:57:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  "Ireland As One" is yet a dream. (0+ / 0-)

        But it is not a dream I'll ever surrender.

        Ah, and the horrible deaths which religion has visited upon Mankind makes me wonder why Atheism isn't more popular.

        Sorry I couldn't take your call. I'm using my cell phone to make pancakes. Please leave a message.

        by Celtic Merlin on Thu Jun 17, 2010 at 11:38:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Your right (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          NearlyNormal, Celtic Merlin

          Daily Kos: My Bloody Sunday 1972

          But it is not a dream I'll ever surrender.

          And the anglo Irish agreement recognises our right to work for that dream - and states only only that it has to be brought about by consent - which means we have to work with those who have other dreams and see if we don't have a few dreams in common.  We already have some - like an all Ireland Rugby team and some other sports run on an wall Ireland all communities basis. We already have many common interests vis a vis the EU - e.g. fishing, agriculture, environmental issues.  My late wife organised many North-South cross community women's and community group joint initiatives and seminars including local families hosting people from "opposing" communities.  The barriers are reducing all the time...

          "It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

          by Frank Schnittger on Thu Jun 17, 2010 at 12:24:52 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for such a powerful and eloquent diary. nt (4+ / 0-)
  •  Excellent diary....this has been a lot on my (5+ / 0-)

    mind today....

  •  Thanks very much for your memories and insight. (3+ / 0-)

    Very moving and thoughtful personal account and analysis. I live in Ireland now... I was in Washington DC in '72... And it was a distant event for a person fresh out of college in the late Vietnam era... I did not moved to Ireland till 1987... when it was still very much like it was... and just before the major changes to the Island that have taken place since. I was in the North twice before the troubles were over and saw how the divide marked Ulster in general but in a few specific things stood out for me too.. had the experience of walking past a road block with a couple of British soldiers with loaded guns partially concealed just feet from the sidewalk I was walking on... startling, disconcerting even though they were relaxed and smiled at me.
    I had not been long in Dublin when I went to the final concert of U2's Joshua tree tour... and the version of Sunday, Bloody Sunday was searing and the crowd at Croke Park were intense in a still very working class Dublin... a small hint of the emotions still alive then and still intense today.

    Pogo & Murphy's Law, every time. Also "Trust but verify" - St. Ronnie (hah...)

    by IreGyre on Thu Jun 17, 2010 at 12:40:01 AM PDT

  •  My thanks to you all - there is also (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NearlyNormal

    a good discussion of this diary at my home base on the European Tribune

    "It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

    by Frank Schnittger on Thu Jun 17, 2010 at 05:15:36 AM PDT

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