- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

For most Americans, "Bloody Sunday" calls to mind a popular U2 song with an incantatory refrain borrowed from Psalm 40: "How long, how long must we sing this song?"
For Don Mullan, 46, a free-lance journalist, the events of that day Jan. 30, 1972 in Derry, Northern Ireland, are far more affecting than mere arena rock chanting. Bloody Sunday, for him, is a phrase that warrants no quotation marks: It's a vivid memory that has forcibly impressed the course of his life.
On that day Mr. Mullan, then 15 years old, participated in what was supposed to be a violence-free Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) march to protest the newly introduced British policy of internment without trial.
Things went badly wrong: Thirteen unarmed civilians were killed by a regiment of British paratroopers, and another 14 were wounded.
Mr. Mullan's book, "Eyewitness Bloody Sunday," a compilation of witness statements and much other material, helped prompt a fresh inquiry into the matter after it was published in 1997.
The book became the basis for a report on Bloody Sunday submitted to the British government by the Republic of Ireland.
It also inspired a new film, "Bloody Sunday," which opened Friday..
"I was an eyewitness to the events of Bloody Sunday," he says in a phone interview.
"I was in the vortex of the killings, about two feet away from Michael Kelly," one of the 13 mortally wounded victims. "I can still see bullets spitting off the barricades."
After seeing Mr. Kelly fall, "gasping for air," Mr. Mullan says his mind, racked with panic, went "completely blank": He doesn't recall exactly what happened in a roughly three-minute interim before he heard a woman's voice and eventually ran to safety.

After Bloody Sunday, which he calls "one of the seminal events of modern Irish history," Mr. Mullan made a formal statement to the investigative tribunal headed by the English lord chief justice, Lord Widgery.
"Thereafter, I completely forgot about the statement until about 1996," when he ran into Tony Doherty, son of another Bloody Sunday victim, who said he had recently seen Mr. Mullan's statement.
"I was really interested in what I said as a 15-year-old," he says.
Moreover, he had recently learned he was dyslexic, when for decades he was told his reading difficulties were due to mental feebleness.
The discovery gave him new confidence in his intellectual abilities and impelled him to wade through hundreds of other witness statements compiled by the NICRA.
"I read them with a kind of forensic eye," Mr. Mullan says. "It appears that I was the first person in 25 years to read all of these statements as a whole."
He also dug through a trove of other evidentiary material that included maps of Derry's city center, postmortem reports, photographs and statements made by the British paratroopers.
"I realized there was evidence in there that [Lord Widgery] had ignored," he says.
About one in 10 witness statements reported that British soldiers were shooting from Derry's high walls.
"I found statements of army snipers firing into the crowd," he says.
Significantly, he adds, "three of the victims had almost identical, 45-degree, downward-trajectory" bullet wounds.
He took these findings to Robert Breglio, a former ballistics expert for the New York City Police Department, who would later sign a deposition saying that at least three of the Bloody Sunday victims were most likely killed by a single marksman.
"It severely undermined the findings of the official tribunal," Mr. Mullan says. The Widgery Tribunal concluded that IRA gunmen attacked first threatening paratroopers with firearms and petrol bombs and that the British soldiers returned fire from the ground only.
No guns were found among the marchers or the barricaded area where several of the killings occurred, however. A bomb was later found on one victim, but many believe it was planted after he died.

The event effectively destroyed the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland, Mr. Mullan says, and it swelled the ranks of the Irish Republican Army, the terrorist group responsible for much bloodshed in the ensuing years.
"The one thing that Bloody Sunday did was it galvanized the IRA and ensured it would never be short of volunteers."
Indeed, he believes that if he were a couple years older at the time, it's likely he would have joined the IRA himself.
After Bloody Sunday, many felt that "the only option was to take up arms," he recalls.
He says the event, and the confusion and misinformation that surrounded its aftermath, was "like throwing petrol on an already burning fire."
Although Mr. Mullan says he understood why many of his friends joined the IRA, he found its violent conduct car bombings, assassinations and other attacks that have claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians "horrendous."
The group did "things that I could never justify, things that I abhor."
Unlike the IRA, Mr. Mullan has tried to make a moral case against the findings of the Widgery Tribunal and the acquiescence of the British government through the pen, rather than violence.
In a sense, "Eyewitness Bloody Sunday" is an overdue continuation of a 1972 report called "Justice Denied," written by Sam Dash, a Georgetown University law professor who monitored the tribunal's activities.
The findings of Mr. Dash, who was counsel to both the Senate Watergate Committee and Kenneth Starr, became "a very important foundation upon which to rebut" the Widgery Tribunal, Mr. Mullan says.

After "Eyewitness Bloody Sunday" gave rise to the still-ongoing inquiry led by Lord Saville, Mr. Mullan was contacted by Paul Greengrass, an English director, to discuss a film.
The result is "Bloody Sunday," which Mr. Mullan co-produced. He'll be on the lecture circuit in the United States next spring, discussing both the film and his book.
"I believe it's very accurate," he says of the movie.
Most of the money that went into the film came from British companies, he notes "that's what makes it so powerful."
"If this film had been made simply by Irish people," he adds, "it would have been dismissed as propaganda."
He stresses the movie should in no way be construed as "anti-British."
"All of us have blood on our hands," he says, both the British and the Irish. "All of us have the responsibility to move this process forward."
He says the central factor that's hindering the peace process in Northern Ireland is a lack of trust between the Protestant majority and Catholics, who are a majority in the Republic of Ireland, a separate entity on the southern half of the island.
"The biggest fear still lies within the Protestant community," Mr. Mullan, a moderate Catholic, says. "They feel they've been sold out by the British. If it becomes a united Ireland, they would become a minority."
Northern Ireland's bloody struggles, he says, should concern everyone, not merely the Irish. In his opinion, they are an example of the perils of a uniquely misguided mentality.
"The most dangerous people in the world are fundamentalists," he says.
Mr. Mullan broadly defines a fundamentalist as "someone who says, 'I'm right, you're wrong and I reserve the right to kill you.'"
While the modern Irish experience may resonate across national borders, Bloody Sunday itself was a deeply personal event.
"The real heroes are the families" of the 13 victims, Mr. Mullan says. "They were just ordinary citizens up against an extraordinarily powerful and stubborn institution. And look at what they achieved."

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide