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Marchers demand British apology - Brooklynites observe 35th annual Bloody Sunday commemoration

Brooklyn’s 35th annual commemoration of the Bloody Sunday massacre in Ireland was best summed up by a woman who was asked if protestors were going to walk straight up to Our Lady of Perpetual Help this year or if they were going to follow tradition and walk around the church. “We’re going around the bend,” the woman said, holding a wreath of green, white and orange carnations, the crisp February wind threatening to whip the petals off their stems. “We’ve been going around the bend for some time.” Members of the Bay Ridge Irish American Action Committee will tell you that they’ve been “going around the bend” since 1972, when British paratroopers gunned down a group of peace protestors attending a rally in Derry, Ireland. Ever year, they demand peace in Northern Ireland, as well as some form of apology from Great Brittan about the massacre with every step. Sometimes they get closer to the goal, sometimes they get farther away, but still they march. According to the history books, protesters took to the streets of Derry that year demanding the simplest things in life – the jobs and homes the British were not allowing them to obtain. Back then, the Irish Catholic marchers followed the example set by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as they let their voices and staunch determination serve as weapons for change. Claiming that the protestors were armed, British soldiers opened fire on the crowd, killing 13 people in the process. Nearly half of those killed were under 18 years old. Thirteen more were seriously wounded that day, organizers recalled. One of those victims died of his injuries days later. To this day, the British government has not apologized to the relatives of those killed on Bloody Sunday. The closest thing to an admission of guilt was made by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said that their paratroopers “shot indiscriminately into the crowd.” The British government appeased some by organizing an investigation into the events of Bloody Sunday. That investigation, known more commonly as the Saville Inquiry, is expected to be released next year. When it does, 10 years would have passed since the probe was first formed in 1998. In Brooklyn, the Bay Ridge Irish American Action Committee remembers that horrible day with their annual march from Irish Haven at the corner of 58th Street and 4th Avenue to the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, where a mass is held to honor the memory of the Derry 13. Standing two abreast, marchers, many of who remember exactly where they were when the bloodbath was reported to the world, bear crosses containing the names of those killed on Bloody Sunday. This year, it was clear that another generation was taking up the call for peace. Several of the cross bearers were under 16 years old. Still, those who had started the march back when Nixon was president were still in abundance, leading the charge. One of the original marchers found on the route was Tom Hughes, who, now well into his seventies, continued to strive for peace in Ireland, albeit this year he did it with the help of a walker. Bringing up the end of the march was Margaret Hughes, Tom’s daughter, and her son, four-year-old Thomas, who was too small to carry a cross, although he wanted to, Margaret explained. “The kids are coming up,” she said. “They’ll keep it going.” As they walked closer to the church, everyone had their own opinion if justice for the Derry 13 would come this year, or not for another 35 years. “They [the British government] may have made some policy changes because of this, but they haven’t done enough for the families,” marcher Ellen Murphy said. A statement released from the families of the Derry 13 said that there has been “constant questioning of the expense of the Bloody Sunday inquiry.” These complaints, however, “have little to do with concern about cost and everything to do with the uneasiness about the truth.” “We never wanted, and no one we know ever wanted, to be forced to wait 36 years for the truth about Bloody Sunday to be acknowledged,” the family members stated. Many marchers believe that when the inquiry is released, it will be a watered-down report that still doesn’t hold everyone accountable. “Whatever they say it won’t matter,” said Mary Nolan, one of the founders of the Bay Ridge Irish American Action Committee. “We still know it was murder.” But, as they went around the bend once again, their criticisms were laced with the hope of a brighter future. “Demands for punishment and revenge haven’t gotten us anywhere,” said Father Colm Campbell, as he gave his annual homily. “What does work is reconciliation.” “Reconciliation and recognition is almost there,” he said. “We’ve reached the edge.”

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