Travels through Northern Ireland

Derry in a Day

First we visited the Pat Finucane Centre, founded in the 1990s, where we spoke with Maggie O’Connor who is a case worker with the center and has a background in law. The Centre has three offices throughout Northern Ireland, and early in their work were mainly focused on policing – many times looking to see if collusion resulting in death had taken place between the government and the paramilitary groups during the Troubles.

After the conflict, people started coming in saying they wanted more information about the death of a family member, or wanted to correct misinformation that has been circulated in relation to the death of their family member. At the time, there were many volunteers who helped look into the public records and began piecing bits of information together for the families that were looking for more answers.

When looking at the past the centre strives to correct the narrative that the state was a neutral broker, standing between two tribes. States have a responsibility to take a neutral road. One of the most distributing parts about  the track record of collusion that has since been discovered is that as far up as the cabinet in the government knew about it. They considered much of the violence a safe release of loyalist energies. Hindsight is a great pair of glasses, so we know that actions that were considered a safe release really only served to escalate the situation. The centre also sees their efforts as modern ones, because whatever the theater of violence (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) the state has a legal obligation to look at how military forces conduct themselves.

There are still many families in Northern Ireland that are looking for answers, which means the Historical Enquiry Team (HET) at the police service remains very busy. Their commitment is to give a much information as they can to people, and there conversations with people can have a huge healing effect.

We then visited the Bloody Sunday Museum and took a political tour. If you have not seen it already, I highly recommend watching the movie Blood Sunday. After seeing the footage and artifacts the museum had, I can say that the movie does a really good job of capturing many movements of a terrible day. There were also several murals in the city that did the same, such as the one below.

The land where Derry now sits used to be a walled city up on an island surrounded by water. This shallow water was eventually filled in as people began to need the land. The walled city was built by English settlers, and was part of a larger attempt to plant the Protestant British  in Ireland to displace the native Irish Catholics. However, as our tour guide rightly pointed out, even if everyone had been the same religion there would have still been trouble because it was much more about one group of people denying the other their civil rights.

Thus the Civil Rights Movement was a working class thing, not a religious thing. They attempted to get people to see past the religious divide and the conquer tactics that had been employed against them. On the  day of a Civil Rights march the British military shot and killed civilians in a day that would forever be known as Bloody Sunday.

The struggle was not peaceful in Derry, there was a strong paramilitary presence. After Bloody Sunday, IRA recruitment shot through the roof, as people became more committed to violence struggle rather than peaceful protest. The museum even had some of the hand written notes requesting supplies from this paramilitary groups.

The resistance eventually built barricades around a population of close to 18,000 and declared the space Free Derry. This was a space that was policed entirely by the paramilitary groups that manned the check points.

All that remains of Free Derry is this wall, which used to be the end of a row of houses that have since been knocked down in redevelopment processes. But Derry suffered as much as Belfast did during The Troubles, both were places of heavy paramilitary activity and much damage was done.

Also, at the museum we encountered Jude Law. It distracted everyone.

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