Tag Archives: Bloody Sunday

Guest post: Frank Sinatra at Kate’s Bar, Derry

I’m always happy to publish a guest post from people visiting or just returned from Ireland. This piece is by Dick Davis, a retired San Francisco Bay area stockbroker and author of “Bus Journey Across Mexico” and other photo journals; and Victor A. Walsh, a retired California State Parks historian who has written about Ireland and Irish America for the San Francisco Irish Herald, Irish America, Eire-Ireland, and Journal of American Ethnic History. MH

Massive 17th-century siege walls surround the city of Derry (Londonderry to Loyalist Protestants) in Northern Ireland.  Waterloo Street, which parallels the old gray walls, rises steeply above the Bogside. In a 2002 visit, at a late hour, it’s empty; the buildings a silhouette of dark forms in the black night.

At the corner where Waterloo turns toward Diamond Square, we spot a brightly lit pub — a glow of life on the otherwise dreary street. The sign in front says, “Tonight Frank Sinatra”; below in smaller letters, “Jimmy Breslin.”

This is nuts, I think. I’m in Ireland, not New Jersey, and Frank’s dead.

We enter Kate’s Bar. It’s packed. Men are standing shoulder to shoulder drinking black pints of Guinness. Wisps of cigarette smoke and loud conversation fill the stale air. Some of the men are wearing white polo shirts with a football patch. Three ladies, near the front corner by the mike, more than fill a bench meant to seat four.

They remind me of buxom cafeteria workers from my high school days, only without aprons. All of them are blondes and their hair is curled and teased in the beehive style of the early ‘60s. It’s clear that they are here to listen to Frank.

We push through the throng of people, and find two tall stools against the back wall. A fellow next to me with tousled wavy black hair tells us that there are some empty tables in the next room. “Thanks,” says my friend Vic, “but we want to hear the music of Hoboken, Ireland.”  He nods somewhat quizzically and introduces himself as Declan.

Just as he begins to speak, someone yells, “Mop,” and Declan springs into action. A tray in front of a golden retriever sitting underneath the bar in front of us has been kicked over. As Declan quickly mops up the floor, he tells us that the dog belongs to a blind man, a regular seated at the bar. The tray is refilled, and the dog goes back to contentedly lapping up the Guinness.

At the far end of the bar stands an animated chap alternately talking and listening to his neighbor. When a point is made or something funny is said, he twirls his hand in a spiral motion and pokes his finger at the ceiling. I couldn’t tell if he was challenging God or keeping score.

Being newcomers, we begin to attract attention. “Where you from?” asks a thin fellow with a brown, droopy moustache. “California, near San Francisco,” I reply. “Oh, you’re a Yank,” he says in a friendly manner. He introduces himself as “Fergus,” with an emphasis on the “fer.”

We chat, and soon Declan returns. Like several other men at the pub, he is wearing a white polo shirt with a Celtic Football Club badge embroidered in green with a shamrock in the center. The patch is sewn on the right side of his shirt. On the left side, stitched in a circle with Irish flags are the words, “Celtic Supporters Club, McSheffrey and Deery.”

“Can I buy one of these shirts here?” I ask him. “They’re not for sale. They’re commemorative. They honor the memory of me friends, Eddie McSheffrey and Paddy Deery. We lost them to The Troubles here in ’87.”

“To your friends,” I saluted with my glass raised high and took a drink. Fifteen years, I thought, and The Troubles are still here, but friends are never forgotten.  

The stone walls that encircle Derry rose out of history. They stood in 1689 when Protestant defenders repelled a 105-day siege by the Catholic army of King James II.  They straddle the steep ground above ‘Free Derry’, the Catholic Bogside where British paratroopers in 1972 without provocation opened fire on unarmed Catholic civil rights marchers, killing 13 (a 14th person died later) and wounding 17 protesters in a massacre remembered as “Bloody Sunday.”

The murals and slogans painted on the walls and ramparts—“No Surrender”, “End The Torture”; “We Salute Those Who Gave Their Lives For Irish Freedom”—are a living testament to what divides the two cultures into segregated communities: one Protestant, British and Unionist; the other, Catholic, Irish and Republican.

As I think about this, someone whistles. The crowd claps, a cheer goes up, and a ruddy-faced version of Jimmy Breslin steps forward and screams into the mike, “It’s time for Frank!”

He’s dressed like a young Sinatra in a white-on-brown plaid sports jacket and fedora with the hat cocked and the brim turned down. He taps the mike; the crowd quiets as he fixes his gaze on the lady with the tallest beehive and sings, “I’ve got a crush on you…” She throws back her head; her face enveloped in a great smile. Her two friends nudge and jostle her.

As Sinatra croons “You do something to me…,” I look out at the blissful gathering, sparkling eyes, happy faces, people at the bar talking and laughing, small men dancing with large women, more joy and love than I’d ever seen in a church on Sunday.

Fergus comes over, taps me on the shoulder, and whispers, “To New Jersey,” referring to Sinatra’s home state.

Declan, who had disappeared when Frank began, returns with a white polo shirt. “Let me check the sizes. I couldn’t see in that cave-dark store room,” he explains. It’s extra-large, my size. As he hands it over to me, I could see a tear of joy in his eyes. “The club stocks the shirts, but we never sell our memories,” he says.

In June 2017, I returned to Derry with my granddaughter and grandson. We visited the Museum of Free Derry. The film clips on The Troubles were both personal and deeply moving, especially Prime Minister David Cameron’s apology on June 15, 2010, for what happened on Bloody Sunday. The Bogside was jubilant; the fallen finally remembered as victims, not perpetrators. In this sense Free Derry represents a future together as much as a past apart. .

Afterwards, we walk up Waterloo looking for Kate’s Bar. Uncertain, we ask around until I spot a pub called Castle Bar. For me, it’s still Kate’s.

When we enter, my commemorative polo shirt catches people’s attention. At the bar, I ask if anyone remembered Kate’s. “Yes,” an older fellow shouts while nudging his way forward. When he sees the polo shirt, he slowly bends his head, kisses the logo with the two names, and then praises me for bringing my grandkids, letting them know about The Troubles.

The mood is subdued; almost reverential. No one spoke. Words did not matter for the faces in that moment of silence simmered with the memory of tribal wrongs.

(Editor’s Note: Patrick Deery and Edward McSheffrey were among nearly 100 people killed in Northern Ireland in 1987. Nearly 3,600 violent deaths–nationalists, loyalists, British troops and innocent civilians– occurred during The Troubles, which lasted from 1968 to 1998.)

The worst of the Troubles ended nearly 20 years ago with Good Friday Agreement, but neighborhoods in Derry/Londonderry remain divided between Unionist/Loyalists, top, and Nationalists/Republicans, below. June 2017 photos by Dick Davis.

Remembering Bloody Sunday’s uneaten Mars bar

First, the numbers: 45 years after 13 Catholic civil rights marchers were shot dead on Bloody Sunday, 18 members of the British Parachute Regiment that opened fire on them that day in Derry may soon face charges, John Kelly, brother of one of the victims, told The Irish Times.

Kelly also repeated the story he told me in 2001, when we met at the Bloody Sunday Trust, a museum, human rights advocacy and conflict resolution center. His brother Michael, 17, was carrying a Mars candy bar in his pocket at the time he was shot.

The sweet became part of the evidence in several tribunals that explored the events of Bloody Sunday. A 2010 report determined the victims (a 14th person died later) were innocent. British PM David Cameron apologized for the 1972 military action to the surviving families and the community. As yet, however, none of the soldiers has faced charges for the deaths.

More on the background and latest developments in this BBC story.

“We will be here as long as we need to be,” Kelly told me in 2001. “What’s a couple more years, since we have waited nearly 30 [now 45] to hopefully get truth and justice?”

The 1972 civil rights march in Derry, Northern Ireland, that became Bloody Sunday.

Derry’s ‘Bloody Sunday’ Bishop Dies at 82

Former Bishop of Derry Dr. Edward Daly, photographed in January 1972 waving a blood-stained handkerchief as he tied to help injured civil rights protesters pass through British troops, died 8 August 2016. He was 82.

The Irish Times called the Bloody Sunday photo “one of the defining images of the conflict in the North.” Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin said his brother priest “literally spent himself in the service of others.”

Here’s the IT’s full news obit, and U.S. coverage from The New York Times. Also, my 2001 report from Derry about the conflict.

Dr. Edward Daly at Bloody Sunday in January 1972.

Dr. Edward Daly at Bloody Sunday in January 1972.

 

Former soldier arrested for 1972 Bloody Sunday killings

UPDATE: A petition calling for soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday to be granted immunity from prosecution has gained more than 20,000 supporters in three days, The Irish News reports. A protest march against the police investigation of the former paratroopers is also being planned in London for later in November.

ORIGINAL POST: A former British soldier has been arrested in connection with the 1972 Bloody Sunday killings of 14 unarmed civil rights protesters in Derry, Northern Ireland. See coverage from:

For Downton Abbey fans, a primer on revolutionary Ireland

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What’s going to happen to Tom Branson and Lady Sybil?

As “Downton Abbey” fans watch Sunday for the next plot twists of the popular “Masterpiece” series on PBS, some might be wondering about the backdrop in Ireland at the time. Season Three begins with Tom and Sybil living in 1920s Dublin.

Here’s a quick primer on what happened in Irish politics immediately before and during this period:

Season One of “Downton Abbey” begins in April 1912 with news of the Titanic disaster. Men like Branson were talking again about Ireland becoming an independent country after centuries of English (and later British) rule. In the spring of 1914, the British Parliament authorized a form of limited domestic autonomy for Ireland called home rule. But the political accommodation was immediately suspended due to the outbreak of war with Germany. Matthew Crawley and the footmen William and Thomas fight; Branson didn’t go because as an Irish national, he wasn’t subject to the draft.

Though Britain promised to reinstate home rule after the war, militant republican factions among Irish nationalists grew restless. (Here, “republican” means favoring elected representation instead of a monarchy, not the American political party.)  At Easter 1916, republicans launched an insurrection in Dublin by seizing several government buildings and posting the Proclamation of the Irish Republic:

IRISHMEN AND IRISHWOMEN: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom…

The revolutionaries had scant support in Dublin and the rest of Ireland, since many Irish men volunteered to fight on the continent with British troops. The “Easter Rising” was crushed in a week. Branson remarks in Season Two that he would have returned to Ireland to fight with the republicans if the fighting hadn’t ended so fast. Plus, he was sweet on Sybil.

The British government soon made the tactical error of executing the revolutionary leaders. This created a backlash in Ireland (and America) that shifted popular support to the nationalist cause. By January 1919, two months after the armistice ending World War I, Irish republicans once again declared independence, established their own government in Dublin and began a guerilla war against British military and police forces. The conflict, known as the Irish War of Independence or Anglo-Irish War, took place about the time that Season Three starts.

The brutality of the period is probably best exemplified by the events of “Bloody Sunday” in November 1920. Irish republican operatives under the direction of Michael Collins carried out the assassinations of 19 British Army intelligence officers living in Dublin. The British retaliated later the same day by opening fire on the civilian crowd at a football match, killing 14 and wounding scores more.

The two sides reached a ceasefire in the summer of 1921 and began to negotiate a peace treaty. In early 1922 this resulted in the creation of the Irish Free State for 26 counties in southern Ireland. Six northeast counties remained linked to Britain and were partitioned as Northern Ireland.

Free State status was similar to Britain’s arrangements with Canada and Australia. It provided more domestic autonomy than originally contemplated by home rule, but Ireland remained under the monarchy and far short of an independent republic. This caused a split between hardline republicans and moderate nationalists. The ensuing Irish Civil War over the next year claimed more lives than the three-year conflict with Britain.

The Free State forces prevailed by the summer of 1923 and a decade of violence in Ireland finally came to an end. The 26 counties of the south would not achieve republic status until 1949. The six northeast counties remain partitioned to this day.

For “Downton” fans looking for more details, the BBC has an excellent online presentation that explores the entire period “through essays, photographs, sound archive, music and newspapers from the period.” The Irish Bureau of Military History also has a deep archive of interviews, maps and images from the war years.