On Sunday, we left the Ulster American Folk Park residence center on our bus to go to the town known as Londonderry. Our class had watched the movie “Bloody Sunday” in preparation for this particular part of the trip. We were all eager to finally start the tour–especially after such a long bus ride. When we finally parked, we were greeted by a man named Martin who gave a short introduction to what we were about to see. Soon after, we filed off of the bus and looked around at the very urban surroundings. Our tour guide, John, opened up with a few jokes about us being sleepy and then herded us into town. We started across from a small coffee shop known as “Java”. The whole tour was centered around the event known as Bloody Sunday.
John started off very briefly by talking about the potato famine and how many Irish people left in mass exodus during that time. He described how people went all over the English-speaking world and even made a quick joke about why people wanted to go to America. (They were let down when they got there and realized, “The streets were supposed to be paved with gold. When we got there, we discovered they weren’t even paved. We had to pave them.”) Then John led us up onto the city walls that let us look over the entire beautiful city. He went onto discuss the political and religious rivalry between Protestants and the Catholics. He even pointed to a church that earned the label as the “building most bombed by the IRA.” Then John started talking about one aspect of history that we were very familiar with, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He talked about how Dr. King inspired many to make peaceful protests in the effort to gain civil rights for Black people. Moved by the efforts and struggles of Dr. King, a man named Ivan Cooper decided to organize his own peaceful protest. On January 30, Ivan gathered many members of the community to march for Irish people’s right to representation, housing and jobs, as well as to protest internment without trial.
We reached the end of the wall and walked off on to a grassy hill which overlooked several elaborate murals that referenced the Bloody Sunday massacre in the Bogside. At this point, John delved into the darker parts of the incident. He talked about how midway through the march, the protesters were fired upon, and many people were killed by British paratroopers. We then approached the sign that read, “You are now entering Free Derry.” First, we looked at the mural of a young woman, Bernadette Devlin, holding a megaphone with a few of her peers standing behind her. Then John told us the tragic story of “The Loss of Innocence,” which illustrated a little girl who was sent by her parents to pick up a few groceries and was shot twice in the head on her way home while caught right in the middle of crossfire between the IRA and the British Army. We looked at a few more murals and finished with a painting that showed three boys carrying signs. Each boy was representative of the three kinds of people who died in The Troubles. We finished the walking section of the tour in front of a memorial which listed people who died in the incident. The most common age among the victims was 17 years old. It was a very solemn note to leave on.
Ivan Cooper, the legendary leader of the tragic civil rights march and former Member of Parliament, met us at a local cafe for a cup of coffee. He made a very brief opening statement before opening the floor to questions. Quite a few questions were about the movie, “Bloody Sunday,” for which he was a primary consultant. “Do you think the movie properly represented the incident?” “Do you think the movie properly represented you?.” Ivan surprisingly said yes to both questions, excluding the romantic scenes with his future wife. He said that the events of the movie and his character were excellently portrayed. One member of the group then asked him if he felt guilty for the terrible way things turned out. Ivan did not take one moment to think. He immediately said, “Yes, certainly.” He talked a lot about seeing young and old men who were shot and murdered right in front of him. Ivan let us in on other insightful details about that tragic day and then talked about the future. More specifically, Ivan talked about June 16th, when the results of the second inquiry into the events is supposed to come out. Ivan said that he would not be satisfied unless the British army was held completely responsible for the whole incident. When asked if he was sure if it was completely the army’s fault, Ivan said, “I only know what I saw, and I saw British soldiers gun down innocent civilian protesters.” After a few more minutes of talking, Ivan had to depart and we gave him our warm thanks and went our separate ways.