269 - Sunday Bloody Sunday

Mark Worden (Standard British accent):

Speak Up features an interview with John Kelly, who is the education and outreach officer at the Museum of Free Derry in Northern Ireland. The Museum’s exhibits include a section on the tragic events of Bloody Sunday, on January 30th, 1972. On that day British troops opened fire on civil rights marchers. 14 people died, including John Kelly’s 17-year-old brother Michael. 37 years later, John Kelly describes what happened:

John Kelly (Northern Irish accent): The march was called by the Northern (Ireland) Civil Rights Association and it was an anti-internment march, it was banned, it was illegal. It wasn’t a legal march, but at the same time the march was being held inside our own area and I joined the march like thousands of other people that day, just simply to protest against internment. And I remember Michael actually trying to persuade my mother to allow him to go on the march, he was never on a march before in his life, he was totally non-political, and he was even being educated in Belfast and staying with a Protestant woman, which she was then and so on, and eventually my mother allowed him… allowed him to go on the march and I spoke to Michael before the march began and I told him to be careful and, if anything happened, to get offsides because he had no experience whatsoever about marches, about riots, or anything of the kind. So I left him and I joined up with my friends and he went with his friends on the march. So I walked with the march and I remember getting to William Street, where the march was actually blocked by the British army, the whole area was surrounded by barricades… army checkpoints, and eventually the march was turned into the Bogside, away from the true… how do you say, destination, which was the Guildhall. The Guidhall was the final destination of the march, but we were not allowed to get there, so they blocked us and we turned… the march was turned into Rossville Street, to go to Free Derry Corner, so that the speeches could take place. So I remember, you know, coming down William Street and turning into Rossville Street, but I do remember then that the… the riot that began and it was a small riot by those days, in comparison… in comparison to those days and I went over to have a look to see what was happening and I (got) bored with it, you know, so I decided to just go back into Rossville Street and go to Free Derry Corner, to listen to the speeches. As I was walking… towards Free Derry Corner, I met a guy I knew, who I worked with, and his name was Bernie McGuigan. Bernie was shot dead on Bloody Sunday, but I… and I spoke to him for a few minutes, at Chamberlain Street, as a matter of fact, and after speaking to him, we walked on and I was walking through the car park of the high flats when the shout came up that the Paras had moved into the area, and if you look at that photograph there, it more or less tells you where I was. You know, you had the high flats here to your left-hand side, you can see the Paratroopers in the background. And, like everybody else, I ran, you can see everybody else running there within the photograph. And I do distinctly remember, there was two gaps in the high flats, one to the right and one to the left, where people are actually streaming through, trying to get away. The right-hand one was jam-packed with people, so I went to the left and I got through the gap and, as I got through, I heard this shooting begin. So I… I dived for cover and I lay there for a while and all the shooting was going on around me and I didn’t know where it was going, I didn’t know where it was coming from, but I knew it was army fire. I knew that for a fact. And, after a while, I decided to get out of the area and I got up and ran across Rossville Street and, as I did, so I heard two bullets whizz past my head. And, apparently, if you hear the whizz of a bullet, the bullet is very, very close to you, so. So I got to the other side of the street and I took cover behind a house that was just being built, this area was being built at the time, more or less, and I stood there for a while and I… I met one of my brothers-in-law, and the two of us stood together, wondering what was happening. We still heard the shooting, we couldn’t see what was happening, but we did look across the street and we’d seen a crowd of people and we wondered what it was, what was happening there. So we decided to go back into the area again to see what… you know, what the crowd were doing and, as we stepped out, two bullets bunched in front of us, they fired at us from the Derry Walls, down into the Bogside. So we came back in and took cover again. After a minute or two, the shooting had completely finished, so we decided to go on, to see what the crowd were doing and, once we got there, we’d seen a dead body in the ground, and it was Gerry McKinney. Gerry, apparently, Gerry, when he was shot, was shot with his two hands in the air and the bullet went through one side and out the other side and when he fell, his two hands fell by his side, his two arms fell by his side, so people thought he had taken a heart attack, so they were trying to resuscitate him. So I was… me and the brother-in-law were actually standing watching this, when a call came from behind, that, and there was another brother-in-law, so there was two brothers-in-law, OK? And he shouted to me, “John, Michael’s been shot!” So I ran to the house where they were actually taking him from and we carried him to the ambulance and we placed him in the ambulance and I’m nearly sure that Rory McKinney and Joe Mahon were the other two in the ambulance, they were shot as well… we went back to the hospital and we took him into the casualty where he was declared dead on arrival and I remember the doctor saying to me, “I’m sorry, he’s dead” and I says, “Are you sure?” and he checked him again and he said, “Sorry, he’s dead.” He says: “What age is he?” And I says, “16,” but I’d forgot that he had just turned 17, so he’s just a young, 17-year-old boy. So, after that there, we had to get word back to my father back home, to get my father over to the hospital, so we phoned over, somehow or other, I can’t remember how, and eventually my father came over and we had to tell him that Michael was dead. And I remember him, once we told him, he slid down the wall, you know. So we pacified him and we had to go then into the mortuary, so that they could… my father could formally identify the body. So we went into the mortuary and… when we walked in there, I’ll never forget, there was there were about three or four bodies lying in the ground, there was three or four on trolleys, and a few more in the freezer units, you know, so we had to go through them individually, to find Michael, and there was blood everywhere, and so on… So we found Michael and Michael, my father, identified Michael and we left, but then, as we sat outside the hospital, we… someone offered us a lift home in the car and, as we sat outside the hospital, this was at about six o’clock at night time, about an hour-and-a-half after the shootings, an army… an army personnel carrier pulled up and they dragged three bodies out of it and these were three young boys who were shot at the barricade, young lads that were dead. So what they did was, after shooting them, they actually went to the barricade and picked the three of them up and put them into… they threw them into the back of the Saracen, but an hour-and-a-half later they decided to bring them to the hospital. My view is that they were making sure they were dead before they got… but I seen them pulling them… dragging them from the Saracens, by their hands and their legs, taking them into the hospital, bringing them out, and throwing them back out of the Saracen again and take them to the mortuary. So after that we went home and… and when we got home, my mother was still, hopefully… Michael… believing that Michael was still alive, but when we go there we had to tell her that Michael was dead. (John Kelly was talking to Kathleen Becker)

For more on the Museum of Free Derry, visit: http://www.museumoffreederry.org/


For a video of U2’s song Sunday Bloody Sunday,  which features footage of the events of January 30th, 1972, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFM7Ty1EEvs