Better late than never. London's Prime Minister has just apologized for the January 20th, 1972 killings by British soldiers of 14 unarmed Derry residents. That day, 15,000 Derry demonstrators had been assured they would be safe and that the IRA would stay away. As the marchers arrived at barricades blocking the road, a standard Derry riot followed: stones and bottles vs. rubber bullets, gas, and water cannons - an almost daily occurrence in Derry. Suddenly, without notice, the Army began to fire with live rounds.
The Museum of Free Derry http://www.museumoffreederry.org, in Northern Ireland, tells the city's history from the point of view of the people who lived through the events. It is the first museum in the north to take on the story, dedicated to all who have struggled and suffered for civil rights everywhere. John Kelly, the Museum of Free Derry's education and outreach officer, was leading a small group through the museum. He stopped in front of an exhibit and his eyes welled up with tears as he pointed out a small bloodied rag behind a glass case. "My seventeen year-old brother, Michael Kelly, was the youngest person to die in Bloody Sunday," he said. "They shot him as he stood on the barricade. This is the onesie with Michael's blood. A woman tried to staunch Michael's wound with it, but it was too late."
Kelly moved to a wall of photographs and pointed. "Jackie Duddy was shot in the back. Paddy Doherty was shot from behind as he tried to crawl to safety." He pointed out a leather belt, one of the 30,000 personal items family members have donated. "Look, you can see the bullet knick in his belt". He moved to another photo. "This is Tim here. One minute later he was lying with a bullet in his back." Kelly pointed to a photo of a teenager. "This is Michael Kelly. My mother didn't want him to go on the march, but everyone persuaded her he'd be safe. This picture was taken the day before he died. See? The shirt next to it is the same one he's wearing in the photo."
Kelly went on, "The British soldiers killed fourteen unarmed demonstrators and injured another fourteen. They called our dead gunmen and bombers. They claimed hundreds of shots were fired at the soldiers, even though this alleged fire hit not one soldier. Three months later, Lord Chief Justice Widgery decreed that the Paras did nothing wrong."
At the exit, I picked up a Free Derry Museum brochure. On the cover was what I thought was a red kite with a small splotch of white. Was the red a symbol of blood? Then what was the white? I looked more closely and could see that the white splotch was actually a flag waving in the wind and the red was the sunrise appearing over Free Derry corner.
Now that the British Prime Minister has finally apologized, I hope the new sunrise covers Derry with golden light forever.