It’s hard to believe that it is 50 years today since the British army opened fire on innocent people in Derry city, killing 13 on the day and 1 some weeks later. Six of those men were only 17 years of age.
And in the intervening 50 years there have been two inquiries and even an apology from the British Prime Minister but not a single soldier has been jailed for those killings.
The families of the victims still demand justice.
When we were on holiday in Donegal a few years ago we joined the Bloody Sunday walking tour. It was very good good and helped us to understand the events of the day and the repercussions. I took the photo below of one of the murals.
I know it has been 50 years but I still hope that the perpetrators of these killings will be bought to justice one day.
Dublin engineer and draughtsman Cyril Fry built a superb collection of more than 300 model trains over a 40 year period from the 1920s. Cyril passed away on 1972 and the collection was subsequently acquired from his widow by Dublin Tourism.
The collection reappeared in 1988 in Malahide Castle. A team lead by retired CIÉ craftsman Thomas (Tom) Tighe had spent 8 years constructing a fabulous O gauge display to complement Cyril Fry’s models which were displayed in static exhibits for their own protection and preservation. The model railway had stations from all over Ireland, including Malahide station. So people (like me) going to see the Fry Model Railway were able to see and admire both of these things in Malahide Castle. The model railway was dismantled in 2010 and put into storage.
I mentioned in a previous blog that I was excited to hear that a local farmer, Micheál Gaffney (sometime referred to as Patrick Michael Gaffney) who passed away in 2012, had left €1.5M in his will to Fingal County Council for the renovation of Casino House provided it was used to house the Fry Model Railway. The House was built around 1750 by the Talbot family. What a fantastic idea that was – to reserve the model railway and the cottage and to keep them available for visitors to Malahide.
So the new exhibition (called the Model Railway Museum) finally opened in January of this year, I did not manage to get in to see if before it was closed for COVID, but I did get in to see it with my whole family last weekend. Here is where the bad news begins.
The lady who welcomed us realised that we had seen the railway in its old location. So she started to set our expectations by saying that:
Casino did not have enough space to show the old model railway
The model railway did not cope well with being dismantled and stored
So the bad news is:
There is nothing left to see of Tom Tighe’s work
The new working model is very very poor. It uses a very small number of smaller trains (OO gauge) and they have only made models of four different locations. The models themselves are very poor. The model of Malahide is confusing, for example, with parts that look current, parts that look older, and parts that do not represent the actual geography.
The restoration of Casino is disappointing. While it looks very well from the outside, they have retained no vestiges that might speak to the previous character of the interior. The interior is plain and boring.
I think small kids who like trains would still enjoy the model. But for the rest of us I would have preferred to have parts of Tom Tighe’s model, even if there were no moving trains.
So if you’re thinking of visiting because you have small kids then you may enjoy it. But everyone else can save their money.
Apparently Fingal County Council invested a further €2.8 million into the project on top of Mr Gaffney’s contribution. How badly wasted that money was!
To be honest, I can’t help thinking that Mr Gaffney is rolling over in his grave to see what Fingal did with his money.
If you have an interest in the Fry Model Railway, then I suggest that you should instead watch this segment from RTE’s Late Late show (originally shown on 31 March 1989) where Gay Byrne interviews Tom Tighe and shows some footage of the model railway in Malahide Castle.
They used to say that “behind every great man is a great woman”. I think in these PC days we need to replace the word “behind” with “beside”.
In any event, beside Gordon Wilson (see my last post) was his wife Joan. And she is obviously a fabulous person too.
Alf McCreary (who wrote the book about Marie with Gordon and later wrote his biography) interviewed Joan to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Enniskillen bomb and the killing of Marie. You can read it here.
She talks about Marie’s death, and the subsequent deaths of her son Peter and of Gordon himself.
Like Gordon, she is clearly a deeply religious person.
She says the following of her life since Marie’s passing:
“I have been spared by God for these 30 years since Marie’s death, and for whatever time I have left I want to make the most of each day – to appreciate the beauty of a flower or the power of the sea and all of nature, and I want to try to bring help and comfort to as many people as I can.”
And of Marie she says the following:
I still think of Marie as my bright, rebellious and deeply loving daughter. I know we will meet again some day. I think we both deserve that, and I am convinced that it will happen through the power and strength of God Almighty. That will be a wonderful day for both of us.”
On 8 November 1987 the Provisional IRA detonated a bomb during the Remembrance Day parade in Enniskillen.
Local man Gordon Wilson found himself buried in rubble after the blast. He was holding the hand of his twenty year old Daughter, Marie.
In the video below, you can see an interview which Gordon did with the BBC about these minutes. Even after all of these years, it is extraordinarily moving.
Marie died later in the hospital from her injuries. She was a young nurse with her whole life ahead of her.
Anyone could relate to the love between Gordon and his daughter and to the loss and immense sadness suffered by Gordon and his family.
What sets Gordon apart from other men is some of the other sentiments he expressed, not shown in this video:
But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life. She was a great wee lassie. She loved her profession. She was a pet. She’s dead. She’s in heaven and we shall meet again. I will pray for these men tonight and every night.
Gordon went on to be a peace campaigner for the rest of his life. He wrote a book about his daughter entitled “Marie: Story from Enniskillen” in 1990. He was a member of Seanad Éireann from 1993 to 1995. He passed away in 1997.
When that day started in 1987 Gordon Wilson seemed like an ordinary man. He was a draper with a wife and three children, and just a few years older than I am now. The events of that day and the remainder of his life showed that nothing could be further from the truth.
In 1996 Alf McGreary (who wrote the book on Marie with Gordon) wrote a biography of Gorden entitled “Gordon Wilson: An Ordinary hero”. I think that is an excellent title.
I have never forgotten the things which Gordon said. I think that the things the he said and did were a turning point in The Troubles.
Eleven people died that day, including three married couples. A twelfth died after spending 13 years in a coma.
Some of us imagined that we would never see another atrocity like that again, especially after the way Gordon spoke and the public reaction to what he said. But on 15 August 1998 (after the Good Friday Agreement) a group calling themselves the Real Irish Republican Army set off a bomb in Omagh killing 29 people, including a pregnant woman. This was the worst single bombing of the Troubles, in terms of civilian lives lost. But it also one of the last, and the last to claim multiple victims.
On the 9th of January 2017 the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended. That means that there has been no local government in Northern Ireland for over 2 years. This is a disgraceful betrayal of the Good Friday Agreement.
In an attempt, I assume, to put pressure on those involved to restore the local government, an announcement was made in September of last year that the £49,500 salaries of Northern Ireland Assembly members was to be cut by almost £14,000, starting with a £7,425 reduction in November and a further £6,187 cut three months later.
But there was no movement.
The major low point of the strife caused by the political vacuum was when journalist Lyra McKee was shot dead on 18 April 2019 while observing rioting in the Creggan area of Derry. A completely senseless waste of a young life.
Lyra’s funeral was attended by politicians from North and South.
Catholic priest Father Martin Magill received a standing ovation at the funeral service when he said the following: “”Why in God’s name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her whole life in front of her to get to this point?”
I guess the more naive among is thought that things might start to move at this point. But they did not.
So the latest thing to happen in the absence of local government in NI is that the UK Government has decided to bring NI into line with the rest of the UK in terms of laws relating to both abortion and same sex marriage. The deadline to get the assembly and executive up and running again is October 21st.
Experts like Susan McKay tell us that this won’t happen, so it looks as if the new laws will come into effect in the new year. So for me this is the “silver lining” in the shameful fact that the assembly has been out of action for 2.5 years.
Lyra had wanted to marry her partner, Sara Canning. Sara describes it as “bittersweet” that same sex marriage seems to be coming to NI but Lyra won’t be there to see it.
Here is a video of Lyra speaking very eloquently in 2017 about LGBT issues:
The Good Friday Agreement was signed in Belfast on 10 April 1998. So it’s over 21 years old now.
But last year Pat Kenny had a series of radio programmes on to mark the twentieth anniversary.
I happened to be out in the car for some reason and heard one of them.
It was very good and very moving.
The part I remember most was the interview with Monica McWilliams.
In 1996, Monica co-founded the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition political party and was elected as a delegate at the Multi-Party Peace Negotiations.
She was present at the announcement of the Good Friday agreement and she describes that in a very vivid and moving manner.
The whole recording is available here and her part starts at about 13 mins into the recording.
This photo was taken when some of the main players in the Good Friday agreement assembled last year to mark the anniversary. Monica is on the left in the front row. My personal hero, John Hume, was unfortunately too ill to attend.
(back row left to right) Jonathan Powell, Lord John Alderdice, Lord David Trimble, Sir Reg Empey, Lord Paul Murphy of Torfaen and (front row left to right) Professor Monica McWilliams, Seamus Mallon, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Senator George Mitchell and Gerry Adams, at an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, at Queen’s University in Belfast. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday April 10, 2018. See PA story ULSTER GoodFriday. Photo credit should read: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
I think everyone is pretty glad to see the back of 2016.
This was the year when we lost David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey at the start, Prince in the middle, and Leonard Cohen towards the end, and George Michael (on Christmas Day no less) and Carrie Fisher at the end. Along with many, many, others.
And incredible to see Carrie Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, pass away the day after she did.
Terrorist attacks linked to ISIL have continued throughout the year. The first in January in Libya claimed 60 lives. The last in December in Germany claimed 12. There were multiple attacks in Germany, France, Belgium and the USA. The worst incident was in Iraq with over 300 killed. Over 1,400 died in total.
From Ireland’s perspective, there were unfortunate public votes from our nearest neighbours on either side. In a June referendum the UK decided to leave the EU (well, to be more specific, England and Wales did and Scotland and Northern Ireland seem to have no choice but to go along with them). Among many other possible implications, this raises the possibility of a border being re-instituted between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. And in November, the citizens of the USA decided that Donald Trump would be their next president. The impact of this decision on Ireland and the rest of the world remains to be seen. He will take up the office on the 20th.
So goodbye 2016, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
I want to mention two beautiful songs which commemorate the 1916 rising.
The first is “Grace”. This version is performed by The Dubliners”.
The song remembers Grace Gifford who married Joseph Plunkett in Kilmainham Goal a few hours before he was executed. I learned on the walking tour a few weeks ago that they only had 10 minutes together after the marriage, in a small cell filled with soldiers. More details are available here and here.
This sad and beautiful song has been playing in my head for the last week.
The second is “The Foggy Dew”. This version is by Sinead O’Connor and the Chieftains and is from the latter’s fabulous album “The Long Black Veil”.
In my past post I named the 7 men who signed the signed the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and who were executed for their roles in the 1916 rising.
The following men did not sign the Proclamation but were also executed:
Place of Birth
Year of Birth
4th May 1916
4th May 1916
4th May 1916
5th May 1916
8th May 1916
8th May 1916
8th May 1916
9th May 1916
Castlelyons, Co. Cork
3rd August 1916
All of these men were executed in Kilmainham Gaol with the exception of Thomas Kent (killed in Cork Detention Barracks) and Roger Casement (killed in Pentonville Gaol in London). The picture below shows president Michael D. Higgins laying a wreath in the Stonebreakers’ Yard last Sunday to commemorate the centenary of the Rising.