Sunday, January 30, 2022

Letters on Bloody Sunday - The International Response - From the Kevin Boyle Archive


As the news reached international media of the killings of thirteen (and soon to be fourteen) civil rights marchers in Derry on Bloody Sunday, 30th January 1972, by British parachute regiment forces, international response and condemnation would follow from many quarters. As an Executive Council member of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), many figures wrote to Kevin Boyle in the weeks and months that followed, and also in a direct personal capacity, offering sympathy to Boyle on the killings, and in condemning the atrocity that happened.

Murray Sayle, an Australian journalist and foreign correspond with the Sunday Times, wrote to Kevin in June 1972 thanking him for a piece he had written. Sayle adds that “I suppose one day we will learn what really happened on B[loody] Sunday. However, it certainly takes its place with Amritsar, Sharpville, etc. as a turning point”. Sayle, originally from Sydney, Australia, was foreign correspondent for the Sunday Times in the 1960s and early 1970s. Through his career he reported on wars and conflict in Pakistan, Vietnam, and the Middle East.

Letter from Murray Sayle to Kevin Boyle, 2 June 1972. 
Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway Library

Sayle travelled to Derry on the night of the 30th January 1972 and reported directly from the scene in the aftermath of the Bloody Sunday killings, reporting that the soldiers were not fired upon first, as they had reported. The Sunday Times refused to print Sayle's report. The journalist quit the paper later in 1972 in protest to this editorial decision. The letter to Boyle, on Sunday Times headed paper, brings an international dimension to the Bloody Sunday to other colonial-era massacres, such as at Amritsar, India, where over one thousand peaceful protesters were killed by British army forces in 1919, and Sharpville, South Africa, where sixty-nine black marchers were killed by police officers while peacefully protesting the Pass Law system. (Boyle later reported on the Pass Law system in South Africa in the 1980s for Amnesty International, having researcher and lectured extensively on the human rights and legal failings of the Apartheid regime in South Africa.)

On February 12th, less than two weeks after Bloody Sunday, Friedel Malter, wrote to Edwina Stewart, Secretary of the NICRA, from Berlin, expressing condemnation of the killings in her capacity as Chair of the GDR Human Rights Committee:

“On behalf of the citizens of the German Democratic Republic, the Committee for Human Rights condemns the cruel terror of the British Army against the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland which found its most brutal expression so far in the assassination of 13 civil rights marchers in Derry”.

Telegram from Friedel Malter to Kevin Boyle
Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway Library

Malter continues in her telegram to state that “we follow with great interest and deep sympathy the struggle of the civil rights movement in Northern Ireland for attaining their political, social, and national rights”. Malter concludes the letter by lending demands for “the immediate release of all civil rights fighters detailed in concentration camps [in Northern Ireland]. Malter was an anti-fascist activist, communist, and trades unionist who had been detailed in German concentration camps during the Second World War.

The International Association of Democratic Lawyers also contacted Boyle with days of Bloody Sunday. Writing to Boyle at the Law Faculty, Queen’s University, Belfast, the organisation updated that after “the tragedy of Londonderry” they had issued a press statement demanding “immediate measures to prevent further escalation in repression and breaches of civil rights [in Northern Ireland]”. Later the next week, the American Congress on Irish Freedom, through its Chair, James Heaney, sent a letter on behalf of the ACIF to “all United Nations Delegations”, and urged the UN to intervene “to end the senseless slaughter” in the wake of Bloody Sunday.

Letter from Joe Nordmann, International Association of Democratic Lawers
Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway

Letter from James C. Heaney, American Congress on Irish Freedom to Kevin Boyle
Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway

The letters that feature here are a sample from wider files within the archive of Kevin Boyle at NUI Galway Library that show the international response by a variety of groups and individuals to Bloody Sunday. Within his role as PRO for the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, Boyle was at the forefront of formulating a response in the midst of the grief and outrage at the killings. Boyle own response to the Widgery Report (published in April 1972 to investigate the events of Bloody Sunday) would come later that year in the form of his paper: “Widgery: A Critique”. The paper takes a legal and human rights perspective on dismissing and dismantling Widgery’s findings. Boyle opens the paper by defining what ‘a whitewash’ is. He undermines Widgery by critiquing the findings on three avenues of investigation: “What was the British Army’s plan for dealing with the N.I.C.R.A. march on 30th January in Derry? [2] What were the consequences of implementing that plan? [3] Was the plan justified?”.

"Widgery: A Critique" by Kevin Boyle, 1972
Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway

Extract from "Widgery: A Critique" by Kevin Boyle (NICRA)
Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway

Boyle's paper was published by the NICRA and a copy is within one of the thousands of files within over 120 boxes of manuscripts and papers which form his archive at NUI Galway. The papers which relate to Northern Ireland and the Civil Rights Movement are a hugely detailed record of not just Boyle’s perspective but also those of his many colleagues and fellow activists from the NICRA, PD, and many regional civil rights branches across Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s. The catalogue of the papers can be searched online here.

For more on Boyle’s life and career, the biography “Are You With Me - Kevin Boyle and the Rise of the Human Rights Movement” is written by Mike Chinoy and published by Lilliput Press.

For previous posts in this series, see: 

Remembering Bloody Sunday: Kevin Boyle and the lead up to 'the Derry march', January 1972

Local Responses to Bloody Sunday - Material from the Boyle Archive

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Local Responses to Bloody Sunday - Material from the Boyle Archive

 In the wake the killing of fourteen unarmed civilians by British paratrooper regiment in Derry, January 30th 1972, local and international reaction is captured in a range of material within the Kevin Boyle archive. Regional civil rights associations across Northern Ireland met and discussed responses following the shootings. This flyer, from the Newry Civil Rights Association, Co. Down (Boyle was born in Newry in 1943) advertises a march its association organised in response to the Bloody Sunday Killings. 

Flyer for march in Newry, Co. Down, 1972. 
Kevin Boyle Archive NUI Galway

The marchers are instructed that the march will take place "in total silence in honour of the Derry dead", with further instructions that "Silence and discipline will be our watch-words". The organisers make clear all is intended as a peaceful march and not seeking to initiate or provoke any response or confrontation with the British Army. 

On the 9th March 1972, the South Derry Civil Rights Association held its Annual General Meeting in Bellaghy, Derry. Coming less than six weeks after Bloody Sunday, reaction to the killings was high on the agenda. A copy of the minutes of that AGM meeting was kept by Boyle and is present within his archive. Boyle attended the meeting and addressed the audience in his capacity as a member of the NICRA Executive Committee. As is recorded in the minutes, two days' mourning was observed on 1st and 2nd of February "for the victims of the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Derry". The minutes offer a detailed account of the CRA activities in Derry. Bellaghy, as venue for the AGM was one of the new CRA branches established, along with Castledawson, Maghera, Lavery, among other locations. Updates on the impacts of the Rent and Rates strike were given at the meeting, with notices that tenants in a number of locations who refused to pay rent as part of the strike were served with eviction notices. Protests erupted outside the courthouse where the tenant's cases were heard. 

Excerpt from minutes of AGM of South Derry Civil Rights Association, 9 March 1972
Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway

Also recorded in the minutes is an report on "Attitudes to Military": "We asked that security forces be ostracised by the people of south Derry. There are numerous instances of harassment, intimidation, and callousness by members of the British Army, U.D.R., and R.U.C." Further details of the firing of rubber bullets into a crowd of protesters at Swatragh, Derry, were recorded. 

The minutes conclude in stating gratitude "to all those who have helped us in our efforts to expose and eliminate injustices and who have supported our struggle for a free and just society" 

All these items and other files relating to Bloody Sunday, and the wider Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland are available in the Kevin Boyle Archive

Excerpt from minutes of AGM of South Derry Civil Rights Association, 9 March 1972
Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Remembering Bloody Sunday: Kevin Boyle and the lead up to 'the Derry march', January 1972

Professor Kevin Boyle

The civil rights march in Derry on 30th January 1972 and which would ultimately become known as ‘Bloody Sunday’ was first suggested by Kevin Boyle, an executive member and press officer for the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). Born in Newry, Co. Down, in May 1943, Boyle was a central figure and witness to the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland. Boyle’s biographer, Mike Chinoy, also positions Boyle at the centre of the rise of the human rights movement, not just in Ireland but internationally. A skilled orator, lecturer, barrister and academic, Boyle was the first full-time Professor of Law at NUI Galway (then UCG), in 1977, before becoming the founding director of the international NGO, ‘Article 19’, working on Freedom of Expression in the mid-1980s.

Boyle held numerous roles through the 1980s and 1990s, reporting on human rights abuses for Amnesty international, from South Africa, to Somalia, and the Gambia, as well as taking many cases to the European Court for Human Rights at Strasbourg. Later Professor and director of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex, Boyle’s (who died in 2010) vast archive is located at NUI Galway Library. Within it, are records not just of the NICRA (main executive committee and regional branches), People’s Democracy, and files of personal correspondence from the years and months through the late 1960s and 1970s, all which documents Northern Ireland political and social history from Boyle’s direct viewpoint and experiences.

Hugh Logue has written:

At the outset of 1972 a programme of events, including marches, was drawn up by NICRA. It was Boyle’s idea to hold a march in Derry on the last Sunday of January 1972. North Derry Civil Rights, of which I was vice-chairman, would organise, one week before the Derry event, a march on the Magilligan internment camp. Since access by road was banned, the march went along Magilligan beach, where John Hume, who was to be our main speaker, confronted the British army commander on the beach near the camp. Those British soldiers were members of the infamous parachute regiment that would wreak such havoc in the Bogside eight days later Bloody Sunday.

Boyle was not present on the day of the march in Derry on 30th January 1972. In his statement to the Saville Enquiry Boyle outlined his memories of the lead up to the march. Boyle’s archive provides a remarkable insight into Boyle’s own role but also his memories of the events leading up to Bloody Sunday in 1972.

The inaugural meeting of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association took place in 1967. Boyle became active in the group in the following year. “ . . . after the march in Dungannon on 5th October 1968 . . . After that, the People’s Democracy (“PD”) was established by the students (of Queens University, where Boyle was then a lecturer) and I made the conscientious decision to join. PD was essentially an alliance of student socialists and the unaligned.” In the period following this and up to 1972, Boyle recounts “a polarisation” in public opinion. Boyle took a more public role and spoke at demonstrations, such as in Armagh. Becoming more disassociated with PD following the Apprentice Boy’s march in August 1969, Boyle took greater interest in the NICRA from the middle of 1970. (Boyle had previously been elected to the NICRA Executive in 1969 at the NICRA AGM held at St. Mary’s Hall, Belfast).

Photograph of undated Civil Rights, Northern Ireland. 
From Professor Kevin Boyle Archive, NUI Galway.

By December 1971, Boyle recounts the NICRA plans to hold more marches but also while recognising the risks that such events would bring. “It was clear the Rent and Rates Strike was not having the desired effect, and that we needed to do something more . . . the question of marching was mooted”. Boyle clarified that while some disquiet among the NICRA Executive as to where the marches would be held, “the decision that we took in December 1971 was taken reluctantly against an increasing background of violence. However we felt the pressure against the authorities needed to be stepped up”.

A meeting of the NICRA Executive was held on 14th January 1972, where plans for the Derry march were discussed. A date of 16th January was first discussed for the march before it being eventually postponed until 30th January. Boyle discusses the early planning of the March in more detail, from its stewarding to its route and rerouting through the city of Derry, being aware of risks from Unionist protesters against the Civil Rights march. “We would have been concerned that sectarian violence would result from the confrontation and this is probably why we chose to ensure that the march went to Free Derry Corner and not to Guildhall Square”. As Boyle further clarified, despite being central to the early planning of the march, and on wider matters of civil disobedience and peaceful protest during his time with the NICRA, what would unfold on ‘Bloody Sunday’ was not within the expectations of the Executive, nor did Boyle travel to Derry for the march:

At the time, no one had a sense that something major was going to happen at the march in Derry. For example, I was not present at the march, having stayed in Belfast to catch up with some academic work that weekend.

“At the time”, Boyle concluded: “We had no sense of a premonition of serious trouble at the march". When later pressed about his 'conscience' as regards the events on Bloody Sunday, Boyle responded in a considered manner, that: 

What my conscience, how my conscience responds is, is something I'll have to decide for myself, it's a very complicated question. The point I would like to make is that twenty thousand people came to the streets of Derry yesterday. It wasn't three or four hundred people, determined militants who have no sympathy in or with the people. The whole of the Bogside and Creggan communities were on the streets in Derry, they wanted to be on the streets. That seems to me the best answer to those who say that it was irresponsible to organise demonstrations. The people themselves responded and they are the people that we in the end of the day feel responsible to.

In Hugh Logue’s article about Kevin Boyle, he reminds us of the findings and conclusions of Lord Saville and the enquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday and regarding those involved in organising the march:

Lord Saville’s verdict could not have been starker: “The firing by Soldiers of 1 PARA on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of thirteen people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.” And, he was equally clear: “No blame was placed on the organisers of the march, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.

Boyle’s archive provides a remarkable window into the tragic history and memory of the killings of the civil rights marchers by members of the British parachute regiment. As we approach the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday’, a series of blog posts will examine the material held within Kevin Boyle’s archive, and which offers new insights into the lead up to and response in the wake of Bloody Sunday in Derry in January 1972.



Thursday, January 20, 2022

Strand House and The Treaty - Story of a Photograph

Back Row L to R: Mary Rynne, Michael Rynne, Eamon De Valera,
Richard Mulcahy
Front Row L to R: Stephen O'Meara, Cathal Brugha.
Rynne Family Archive, NUI Galway Library Archives

The Strand Hotel in Limerick city, near the river Shannon, was the site of a significant moment at the heart of the Treaty negotiations of 1921. Then known as Strand House, home of the O’Meara's, a prominent political and business family in the city, a photograph was taken of a group of visitors to the house who would all play prominent roles in the lead up to and in the aftermath of the signing of the Treaty in December 1921.

As the Treaty negotiations were drawing to a close, and on the night the Treaty was being signed in London, Eamon De Valera was at Strand House in Limerick. Along with De Valera, Richard Mulcahy and Cathal Brugha also stayed at Strand House on the night of the 5th  and 6th of December as guests of Stephen O’Meara and family.

A phone call from the Irish delegation in London reached Strand House so as to inform De Valera on the outcome of the negotiations. The phone call updated De Valera that the Treaty had been signed in London in the early hours of 6th December 1921.

The photograph is included as part of the recently opened “The Treaty, 1921: Records from the Archives” exhibition, located at Dublin Castle and led by the National Archives of Ireland. The photograph is part of the Rynne Family archive at NUI Galway Library Archives. Comprising records of various members of the family, including playwright Mary Rynne, diplomat Michael Rynne, and later archaeologist and professor at NUI Galway, Etienne Rynne (grandson of Michael Rynne).

Michael Rynne (1899–1981) was a legal scholar, civil servant and diplomat. He was born on 12 September 1899 in Hampshire, England, before moving to Limerick in 1907. He studied at University College Dublin before joining the Volunteers in 1917. In 1921, Rynne was in charge of the flying column of Blessington, Co. Wicklow. He later served as ADC to Richard Mulcahy. A close associate of Michael Collins, Rynne was later appointed officer in charge of the military training camp at Dunboyne, Co. Meath, of which detailed records of training and drilling regimes devised by Rynne are present within his papers.

Rynne received his doctorate in legal studies from the University of Munich in 1929. In 1936, he was appointed legal advisor to the Department of External Affairs, soon becoming head of the department's League of Nations section from 1936 to 1940, part of a small group of close advisors to Eamon De Valera. In 1955, Rynne was appointed Irish Ambassador to Spain, before later retiring from the civil service in 1961. Rynne died in Dublin on the 8th February 1981.

For the full catalogue of papers from the Rynne Family Archive, including the Michael Rynne papers, click on this link

For more information on “The Treaty, 1921: Records from the Archive” exhibition see the National Archives for details.

Michael Rynne
Rynne Family Archive, NUI Galway Library Archives