Posted at 7:09 p.m. PST Saturday, December 6, 1997 New calls for the truth of N. Ireland's Bloody Sunday New York Times News Service LONDONDERRY, Northern Ireland -- This is the less belligerent part of Northern Ireland, an old city in the isolated west more famous for storied resistance to sieges, lilting folk music and municipal architecture than for the sectarian violence that has scarred much of the province. The massive 17th century walls that surround the city stand intact, and its many historic buildings and narrow streets bear the spiffy touch of civic pride. If ``Danny Boy'' is the world's favorite Irish song, then this city can be said to be the fount of Irish melody. The famous tune is called ``Londonderry Air.'' For a long time the biggest fight in Londonderry, Northern Ireland's second-largest city, has been over what the place should be called, a dispute that is almost quaint by the turbulent standards of this conflicted part of Britain. Roman Catholics, the majority here, say they live in Derry -- the name comes from ``doire,'' the Gaelic word for oak grove. The city was known as Derry until 1613, when Londoners sent money and master builders to restore a medieval town destroyed by fire and asked that its name be prefixed to reflect their contribution. Protestants cling to ``Londonderry.'' Disputes between Protestants and Catholics here center on patronage and politics rather than terrorism and killing. The Catholic leadership prides itself on putting projects like factories, a hospital, a deep-water port and the airport in Protestant neighborhoods, although Gregory Campbell, 44, the most prominent Protestant on the city council, dismissed the claim of benevolent treatment as ``nice P.R. packaging.'' But the relatively benign state of this community of 103,000 harbors a hurt from the memory of an outbreak of violence 25 years ago and a deep suspicion that the full story has not been told. On Jan. 30, 1972, a day known since as Bloody Sunday, British paratroopers killed 14 marchers protesting the British policy of internment without trial on the main street of the city's working-class Catholic community, the Bogside. The Catholic leadership of the city and the government of the Irish Republic are pressing the British government of Prime Minister Tony Blair to reopen a hasty and widely denounced investigation of the episode by Lord Widgery, then the Lord Chief Justice of Britain. His report, issued less than three months after the event, exonerated the troops and faulted the protesters, saying ``there is no reason to suppose that the soldiers would have opened fire if they had not been fired upon.'' It said there was a ``strong suspicion'' that the marchers had handled bombs and fired weapons even though none were ever recovered or detected in the many photographs of the episode. Campaigners believe the moment is crucial because hundreds of accounts by witnesses, recordings of army and police messages and forensic evidence that were not taken into account by Lord Widgery have just come to light and because Blair has shown himself amenable to confidence-building measures to keep the momentum of the peace talks now under way in Belfast. ``We talk so much about the peace process, but as well as a peace process we must have a healing process,'' Mayor Martin Bradley, 33, said in his neo-Gothic office in the waterfront Guildhall. The leader of the campaign is John Hume, head of the Social Democratic and Labor Party, a member of the British and European parliaments and the most widely admired political figure in the peace effort. ``All we want is the truth of what happened on Bloody Sunday,'' he said. ``We on the streets of Derry know what happened.'' The shock and anger of that day provoked hundreds of young Catholic men who had grown up in this city's less tribally contentious society to enlist in the Irish Republican Army and join in the fight to end British control. Mitchel McLaughlin, 52, a member of the city council and a negotiator in the present talks in Belfast as a member of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing, said there was little tradition of Republicanism here before Bloody Sunday. Edward Daly, 64, a retired bishop, said, ``Many young people I have talked to in prison have told me they would have never joined the IRA had it not been for what they witnessed on Bloody Sunday.'' Daly was himself a witness, captured in photographs that have inspired murals now on Bogside walls showing him helping to carry a fatally wounded teen-ager and waving a bloody handkerchief at the troops to make them stop firing. ``I know what happened, I saw it, I was there,'' he said. ``Innocent people were murdered without justification by heavily armed paratroopers.'' That the incident still has the power to divide the Irish and the British became clear recently with a promise from Bertie Ahern, the Irish prime minister, to publish new conclusions his government has. ``We have given the British government a great deal of time and space in which to consider the matter,'' he said in a speech in Dublin with an impatience uncharacteristic of his normal attitude toward Blair, an ally. The closest a British government has ever come to a reconsideration was a letter from Prime Minister John Major to Hume in 1992 saying that ``those who were killed should be regarded as innocent of any allegation they were shot whilst handling firearms or explosives.'' The expression was seen here as evasive because it left unchallenged the ``strong suspicion'' put forth in the formal investigation that the marchers might have been handling weapons or bombs earlier. On a recent raw day, Tony Doherty, 34, a community worker whose father, Patrick, then 31, was killed in the shooting, visited the stark gray Bloody Sunday monument in the Bogside accompanied by Joe Friel, 46, who was wounded with a bullet in his chest, and Linda Roddy, 39, whose brother William Nash, 19, was shot dead. A new piece of evidence, based on the direction of fire and the trajectory of the bullets, suggests that Nash and two others were killed not by the advancing paratroopers but by soldiers above on the city walls who picked them off as they tried to flee. ``I never come here unless I have to,'' Mrs. Roddy said with a shudder, looking at the bleak landscape with the whitewashed wall from a demolished tenement that proclaims ``Now You Are Entering Free Derry.'' Twenty-five years later, she grows tearful and bites her lip as she thinks about the official verdict of her brother's death. ``You know what they're saying?'' she said. ``They are saying that my brother was responsible for his own killing.'' )1997 Mercury Center. The information you receive online from Mercury Center is protected by the copyright laws of the United States. The copyright laws prohibit any copying, redistributing, retransmitting, or repurposing of any copyright-protected material.
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