Protestant church leaders were warmly applauded into Derry’s nationalist Bogside today in a historic gesture they hope will help bridge the city’s traditional divide.
Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe Ken Good said people now needed to seize on the new opportunity to heal differences after the findings of the Bloody Sunday inquiry.
Along with the moderator of the Presbyterian Church Rev Norman Hamilton and Methodist Church president Rev Paul Kingston, Bishop Good met with victims’ families at a monument to the 14 dead.
There, the church leaders handed the relatives a replica of Maurice Harron’s Hand Across the Divide sculpture which stands at the west end of the city’s Craigavon Bridge.
Bishop Good said a cloud had lifted from over Derry since Prime Minister David Cameron apologised for the killing of the innocent civilians on the ill-fated civil rights march on January 30, 1972.
The findings of the Saville Inquiry into the events, published yesterday during momentous scenes at the city’s Guildhall, gave an historic opportunity for bitter rivalries to be settled, he said.
“I want us to have a more open, more transparent, a more natural and a more easy relationship with one another in this town that we all love so well,” Bishop Good said, in a reference to the Phil Coulter song about the city’s troubles.
“We don’t want their to be a divide.”
Bishop Good said leadership was now needed to seize on the opportunity to build bridges.
“I think leadership of this kind is needed across our community, politically, from churches and in civic life generally,” he said.
“I have had a lot of strong support from across Northern Ireland and beyond that this is the right thing to do and this is the right moment to do it.
“There are some people who, because they’re deeply hurt by terrorist violence, find this difficult.
“I’m very conscious of them today and I’m glad we had a minute’s silence for all victims of violence and not just the Bloody Sunday ones.”
Up to 200 people gathered around the Bloody Sunday memorial at Rossville Street - the scene of many of the killings by the British Army’s Parachute Regiment - to welcome the church leaders.
Rev Hamilton said he felt hugely humbled by the warmth of welcome which he believed would strike a chord within the unionist and Protestant community.
“I sense that most people feel a need to find a way into the future, no matter how great the pain of the past,” he said.
“So I sense a general welcome, albeit with a little apprehension, a little distress, but I think most people understand the past cannot be the basis on which we build a healthy future.”
Rev Paul Kingston said he hoped the Bloody Sunday families will now find relief and healing after the inquiry findings.
“It is to show you our love, and just to be with you and to hope this will indeed mark the beginning of new hope, peace and togetherness in this city that we are here to bring you greetings,” he said.
Retired Catholic Bishop of Derry Edward Daly, who famously raised a blood-soaked white handkerchief seeking a ceasefire as he guided the dying body of teenager Jackie Duddy from the gunfire on Bloody Sunday, said the church leaders’ gesture was more significant than a joint attempt by previous bishops in 1969 to quell tensions.
“I think this has a much more powerful symbolism than that had,” he said.
“It sends out a message that we can do more together than we can apart. We all have a love for this city whatever we call it, whether it’s Londonderry or Derry.”
Kay Duddy, Jackie Duddy’s sister, believes others will take heart from the meeting and “take that step forward”.
She said: “I think the vast majority will appreciate it for what it is, and will feel the same as we do, proud to be friends and shake hands. That gesture means such a lot.”
Jimmy Duddy had one simple message for his uncle Johnny as he returned to his graveside in Derry’s city cemetery today.
“We moved the mountain.”
John Johnston was one of the first shot on Bloody Sunday, but the last to die.
Hit three times by British soldiers positioned in a derelict building on the route of the ill-fated civil rights march, the 59-year-old draper never recovered full health and died from a blood clot on the brain five months after Derry’s darkest day.
His nephew Jimmy has been at the forefront of the Bloody Sunday families’ long campaign for justice and yesterday he celebrated with the other relatives outside the city’s Guild Hall after Lord Saville delivered the verdict they had waited four decades for.
“It was great to hear the truth and for the rest of the world to hear and now they can change all the text books,” said 57-year-old Jimmy, tending his uncle’s grave high on the hilltop overlooking the nationalist Bogside estate where the massacre took place.
“The families together as a group campaigned, knocking doors trying to get people to listen to us. At that stage we hoped that this day would come, and now we have moved the mountain.
“I hope that goes out to victims all over the world – if it takes 30 years or 38 years you can move the mountain.”
But amid all the joy and relief that yesterday brought for Jimmy, there was also bitter sweet regret that his own father was not there to see it.
John Duddy, who devoted much of his life demanding the truth was set free, died six weeks ago at the age of 87, never getting the chance to see all the victims declared innocent.
An engraver worked on his headstone this morning on a plot only yards from where his brother-in-law Johnny – Bloody Sunday’s 14th lost life – has rested since his death in June 1972.
“He campaigned for 38 years and missed out by six weeks to being there with the families,” said Jimmy.
Perhaps knowing that his race would soon be run, John Duddy wrote a letter to the other relatives in the months before his death. He sealed it and asked that it only be opened when he passed on.
“He said justice has to be done,” said Jimmy, explaining the letter’s contents.
“That it’s no good just saying sorry. If somebody steals from you and then says sorry, they (also) have to give you back the gift or the thing they stole.
“What message would it send out to the world that you can kill people... but you’ll never be convicted. That’s a terrible message to send out to armies all over the world.”
But after almost 40 years of campaigning, Jimmy would prefer the thorny issue of potential prosecution of the soldiers was resolved without the need for further family involvement.
“The families have had 38 years of this hanging over their shoulders,” he said.
“It would be better if the British government and prosecution service took that load off us and they make the decision.”
And what of potential compensation payouts? Jimmy, his body now wrecked by arthritis, has another simple response.
“This was never about compensation, not a penny,” he said firmly.
“If you had asked them (the families) to take that £200 million they keep talking about (money spent on the inquiry) but that the families still had a slur on their name, they would have told them to keep it.”