The Journal of History     Winter 2004    TABLE OF CONTENTS

"Praying for a happy death" on Bloody Sunday

Author unknown

A group of people huddled in a stairwell in fear for their lives and praying as gunfire echoed outside on Bloody Sunday, it was heard today.

Fourteen were shot dead after British troops opened fire on a civil rights demonstration in Derry on January 30th, 1972.

The new Saville inquiry into the massacre heard how one young boy spoke of getting home to let his parents know he was safe, unaware that a body lying covered nearby was his father.

Mrs Roisin Stewart, presenting her evidence to the inquiry, she said that she ran into a block of the Rossville flats with a friend as the soldiers arrived nearby. She emerged onto a balcony to see a boy throw an empty milk bottle into the car park below.

"A split second after the milk bottle had been thrown a number of shots rang out from the direction of the Rossville flats car park. I had the immediate impression that the shots were aimed at the balcony where we were.

Her friend said he did not think they were going to get out alive and started leading the party in saying the Rosary.

Mrs Stewart said: "At this stage we were praying for a happy death."


On Thursday, another witness described how three Bloody Sunday victims were shot in the back as they ran for cover.

John McCrudden was 12-years-old at the time of Bloody Sunday. Giving evidence to the inquiry yesterday, Mr McCrudden said he watched as three men were shot at Glenfada Park.

The witness said he watched the shootings from the vantage point of his home in Rossville flats.

"They must have decided to run across to Abbey Street since they made off in this direction. They began to run west towards the gap in the fences between Glenfada Park North and Glenfada Park south...."

"They were all shot as they ran along. I am not sure where they were shot from and did not see who fired the shots but I think they were all shot in the back," he said.

Although the witness was unable to identify the three men, they may include Jim Wray, William McKinney or Joe Mahon who were all shot in Glenfada Park.

In a detailed statement, Mr McCrudden also told the Inquiry he saw a soldier wielding his rifle "like a baseball bat" attempting to strike people running past.


A former first aid worker also told the inquiry on Thursday how she was shot at as she ran to the aid of an injured man. Now 44-years-old, Antoinette Coyle was 17 at the time and was on duty with the Knights of Malta first aid group at the time.

Ms Coyle also told the inquiry British soldiers cheered when first aid workers told them there were injured people. Breaking down while giving evidence, she said she was dressed in an identifiable first aid uniform on Bloody Sunday.

In waste ground behind Derry's Rossville flats, Ms Coyle said she saw a soldier jump from an armoured car and collide with a young girl.

"The soldier held the barrel of his gun with his hands and swung his rifle like a club. He hit the young girl with the butt of the rifle in the middle of her back. He had aimed for her head but she ducked at the last moment and he hit her back instead," she said.

The young girl managed to run on and was assisted by Ms Coyle and her first aid partner.

The witness took the injured girl to a flat at Rossville Street and was leaving when an injured or dead man was pointed out to her. She started running along a balcony outside the flats to assist the man.

"As I ran along the balcony I was conscious of chips of concrete flying out of the concrete ledge by my feet. I saw three or four pieces of concrete being chipped away in quick succession.

"The splintering concrete was about two feet away from my feet. The chips seemed to follow me as I went across the balcony," she said.

A man eventually pulled her to safety behind a pillar, saying "My God wee girl, that's live rounds they're firing."

Later on Bloody Sunday, the witness recalled trying to get an ambulance after seeing a number of dead and wounded people when soldiers stopped her.

"Alice (a fellow Knight of Malta) said to the soldiers that there were three people injured on the other side of the Rossville flats who needed an ambulance urgently.

"The soldiers just laughed and jeered and I remember them celebrating and cheering this news. Alice said "for Christ's sake there's three people dead."

"They said "Hip, hip hooray." I remember their English accents," Ms Coyle said.


And a British soldier claimed IRA men's bodies were hidden in drains before Bloody Sunday, the Inquiry also heard.

Alan Harkens yesterday related a conversation he had with a British soldier between six months and a year after Bloody Sunday. The soldier, from Dublin, told him he was stationed at Butcher Gate (near the Bogside) on Bloody Sunday and had stopped ambulances en route to hospital.

"He said the bodies in the ambulances were dirty and smelly and it was obvious that they were the bodies of IRA men who had been killed and their bodies hidden down manholes."

The witness said he saw the bodies of Bernard McGuigan, Jackie Duddy and two other young men (in the Rossville flats complex) in the Bogside on Bloody Sunday.

He said the events had a profound effect on him. When he returned home, his wife was in hysterics.

"I was in a state of shock about what I had seen and I also broke down crying. My children all arrived home safely. I didn't go to work the next day as I couldn't believe what I had seen on the Sunday. It didn't feel safe to go out on the streets when the army obviously weren't protecting us," he said.

Another witness, Daniel McGuinness, described two bullets passing overhead as he stood with a crowd at Free Derry Corner waiting for a public meeting to begin on Bloody Sunday. He said one bullet passed about five feet directly above his head from the direction of the city walls and he thought it could have been an attempt to kill him.

Mr Gerard Elias QC, representing a group of soldiers, said evidence would be presented that two shots were fired from a part of the city walls farther south at about 4:17 PM, and he asked the witness if the shots he noted could have come from that direction. Mr McGuinness said he did not see that as a possibility.

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The Journal of History - Winter 2004 Copyright © 2004 by News Source, Inc.