Down Memory lane
NORTHERN IRELAND has been back on the news agenda in recent weeks, with extensive talks over justice, policing and parades. But for all the déjà vu experienced by journalists covering the marathon at Stormont, we’re a world away from the worst days of the Troubles.
Thirty-eight years ago last Saturday, 10,000 people paraded through Castlebar in what was described as ‘the greatest show of unity in the county town since the days of the Land League’. At the head of the mile-long march was a coffin, draped in black and bearing the number 13 – the number of people who had been shot dead seven days previously in Derry after what became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.
Three days after members of the British Army Parachute Regiment opened fire during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march, the British Embassy in Dublin was burned to the ground. Feelings were running high in the Republic.
Catholics and Protestants united in Westport on a silent ‘march of mourning’ as schools, business premises and factories were closed as a mark of respect to the dead. Michael Kelly, Westport Urban District Council Chairman, said the ‘cold-blooded murder’ was akin to the brutal inhumanities of the Black and Tans, and a special fund for the relief of distress in Derry was set up. Seven London hippies camping on Dorinish Island in Clew Bay called to The Mayo News office to express their condemnation of the killings.
At the protest march in Castlebar the following Sunday, Mayo GAA Board Chairman Fr Leo Morahan called for demonstrations by people from the Republic along the border. Richard Morrin, Castlebar Urban District Council Chairman, said that the atrocities in the North were ‘worse than anything the Russians have done’ and were ‘not short of what the Nazis inflicted’ during the Second World War.
Reiterating that the nationalist minority sought voting, housing and employment rights, Mr Morrin told the crowd: “You have shown by your attendance to the Faulkner regime and to the madman in Number 10 that we are united as never before in demanding basic human rights for the people of the Six Counties.”
The following night, a public meeting in Louisburgh saw the unveiling of a plan to invite Protestant and Catholic children from Derry to enjoy the hospitality of local homes for free holidays. Its motto was LOVE – Louisburgh Offers Veritable Earnest – and Basil Morahan, one of the chief organisers, said it was ‘one sure way that is open to us to improve the present situation in Northern Ireland’.
In March 1972, the man described by Richard Morrin as ‘the madman in Number 10’, British Prime Minister Edward Heath, announced the dissolution of Brian Faulkner’s Stormont government. For the first time in 51 years, Northern Ireland was to be governed solely from London.