Activist Museology. The Museum of Free Derry

The Museum of Free Derry. The building’s facade is a commissioned artwork by Derry artist Locky Morris: a steel panel cut with the sound waveform of the first line of the song “We Shall Overcome,” taken from a recording of the march on Bloody Sunday.
Photo: Paola Bernardelli, 2019

The Museum of Free Derry (MoFD) is one of a number of projects in the north of Ireland, including interpretive centers, historical museums, and political tours,[1] that attempt to articulate an alternative, counter-hegemonic history of the conflict in Ireland. Opened in 2007, the museum is located in Derry’s Bogside neighborhood, the center of protest activity and British/Unionist state repression during the civil rights era demonstrations of the late 1960s and throughout the almost 30-year period of violent conflict that followed.

Previous writing on the MoFD has focused on its negotiation of the relationship between private grief and public campaigns for justice[2], and on the museum as an active and partisan agent of change.[3] This essay will begin to consider the ongoing challenges of stewarding a “people’s museum” of resistance within an unstable and changing political context.  

“Free Derry” refers to both a geographical area and to an aspiration, a lost moment of revolutionary promise when the community rose up to seize control of their streets in defense against police brutality and towards a more equitable society. During the Free Derry period, a section of the city was a “no-go” area for the British Army and police, protected on all sides by barricades. This self-declared autonomous zone existed at various times between 1969 and 1972 and had an ad-hoc system of self-governance by community committee. Its name was taken from a slogan painted on a gable wall in January 1969 that read,  “You Are Now Entering Free Derry,” a sentiment adapted from contemporaneous student protests in Berkeley, California.[4]

The Museum of Free Derry was conceived of, built, and furnished with artifacts by the community in which it sits; by people with a direct connection to the events the museum represents. It is not a state museum or part of the National Museums Northern Ireland portfolio, although it does now receive indirect funding from the state. Acting as memorial to personal and community trauma and a symbol of resistance in the face of state injustice and indifference, the museum was envisaged as a way to return agency to the people of the city. It sought to document a people’s history of the conflict in the north of Ireland, to act as a corrective to official state history, and to stage a vital intervention into the campaign for justice for the victims of the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” when the British Army killed 14 unarmed civilians on a civil rights march in 1972. Drawing on conversations with the museum’s founders and manager, and other activists from the city, this essay considers the museum’s method of “doing museology otherwise,”[5] its efforts to establish an institution with a fundamentally different relationship to power and knowledge,[6] and reflects on the changing position and perception of the museum within a shifting political context.

 The stated mission of the museum is to tell the story of this one brief period in the history of the conflict in the north of Ireland[7] from the perspective of families of the victims, participants in the conflict, and the working-class population of the neighborhood in which the museum is located. The museum seeks do this “otherwise” through bearing witness to these histories of systemic mass violence, violation, and humiliation. Sociologist Roger I. Simon proposes that the practice of bearing witness does more than form part of the ethos of national or communal identity as the memory practices of most museums do. Rather, it provides a space to consider our “democracy still to come” binding “the future of civic life with considerations of remembrance.”[8]

Notes on terminology and background

With a population of just under 2 million people, the north of Ireland punches above its weight in terms of global awareness its history, and of “The Troubles.”[9] The conflict itself can be defined in various ways: one widespread interpretation understands it as simply a violent confrontation between Catholic and Protestant tribes, built on prejudice and atavistic communal impulses. But this naming elides the role of the British state in creating and maintaining the hostilities and of the political positions vis-à-vis British colonial history in Ireland, aligning broadly to the perceived religious orientation of various communities. The unwieldy terms “PUL” (Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist) and “CNR” (Catholic/Nationalist/Republican) acknowledge the political alignments of these communities and more accurately reflect the complex nature of this division.

The state of Northern Ireland was created in 1921 when Ireland was partitioned by Britain. Southern Ireland would become the Irish Free State. Partition sought to section off the largest possible area of the island that still contained a majority Unionist population—that is, people who wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom, mostly PUL (Protestant)[10] descendants of those who came from Britain as part of the process of colonization over several hundred years.  A significant, largely CNR (Catholic), minority of the population, however, were nationalists/republicans, who wished to remain part of a united Ireland. Violence has been used to forward both of these positions: “paramilitary”[11] groups such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) are associated with the CNR community, and loyalist militants like the Ulster Defense Association (UDA) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) are connected to the PUL community. The era of widespread violence was mostly ended in 1998 with the approval by referendum of the Good Friday Agreement. This peace agreement established the devolved power-sharing assembly, Stormont, as well as mapping out a number of changes to civil, political and cultural rights.

The inadequacy and awkwardness of terminology referring to the conflict also points to a larger set of difficulties with the naming of things, repeated with many contested terms that carry within them the support of an ideology or interpretation of history. The name of the city itself is one example. Known by its colonial name as Londonderry on British maps, Derry’s local name has been officially changed to this by its city council since 1984—in spite of a significant minority of the population who resist this change.

Murals depicting the Battle of the Bogside and Bernadette Devlin (McAliskey) by the Bogside Artists Photo: Sara Greavu, 2019
Free Derry Wall, with posters in support of Palestinian activist and politician Khalida Jarrar, detained by the Israeli State in November 2019. The structure once formed the end of a row of houses. When the houses were demolished to make way for a new road layout, this gable end, with its slogan, was preserved. Photo: Sara Greavu, 2019

The city shows traces of its political history: its walls are demarcated with murals. Most notable of these is a set of photorealistic murals with broadly nationalist themes painted by a group calling themselves “The Bogside Artists,” but there are also a large number of murals with more militaristic republican and loyalist themes.

Sustained economic underdevelopment is starker here than in other parts of the north, and it is one of the poorest areas in the United Kingdom. While Belfast’s economy has grown by 14 percent since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, Derry’s economy has contracted by 7 percent.[12] Austerity measures introduced by the Conservative government have seen food bank usage increase by 52% in recent years with over more than 30,000 emergency packages distributed by food banks in the north between April 2017 and March 2018.[13] These material factors are currently compounded by the collapse of the devolved assembly, Stormont, in 2017, due to a scandal over corruption within the largest political party, the Democratic Unionist Party.

It is against this backdrop that the city has seen a recent upswing in militant[14] visibility and activity. In January 2019, a bomb exploded outside the city’s courthouse and was claimed by the New IRA, a new dissident armed grouping who do not adhere to the peace agreement of 1998 and continue to press for a united Ireland using military means. April 2019 saw the killing of journalist Lyra McKee during a riot over police house searches in the Creggan area of the city, an act that was also claimed by the New IRA, though explained as an accident; the victim was reporting on a riot situation and was positioned next to a police vehicle, which was the target of the gunfire.

Bloody Sunday in Derry


I remember coming down that hill on that day 20 years ago. People were thinking ‘What can they do to us?’, we are still here after internment and after gassing. But Billy Gallagher said to me ‘There will be murder in this town before the day is out.’ And there was…On that day we knew real, naked fear for the first time. When the bullets were fired, people dived to the ground and crawled away like dogs in fear of their masters… Something else, an innocence, died on Bloody Sunday. It was then that we realized that governments kill people.

Bernadette (Devlin) McAliskey recalling Bloody Sunday in 1992 at the twentieth anniversary commemoration march[15]

The north’s civil rights movement of the 1960s and early 1970s, modeled on the US civil rights protests, was addressing a range of interconnected issues stemming from the policies of the Unionist-controlled state. These included electoral gerrymandering; the unfair allocation of state housing, privileging Unionist families, which had led to extreme overcrowding in CNR neighborhoods; and systemic police repression.[16] Closely connected to–and crossing over with–anti-imperialist activism, the movement sought equal electoral rights, fair allocation of housing, and an end to internment without trial, a state policy of pre-emptively imprisoning people they suspected of insurgent political activities. A peaceful anti-internment march in January, 1972 was blocked by the British Army’s 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment who began firing into the crowd. 29 people were shot by the paratroopers and 2 injured by British army vehicles; 13 died on the day and another died of his injuries four months later. In the ugly calculus of state massacres these numbers are not impressive, but this one incident of state violence, injustice, and community humiliation—among many in the conflict—is understood as a pivot point. A sharp corner on which people’s understanding of the nature of the conflict, and the course of action available to fight against inequality and repression, turned irrevocably.

In the aftermath, the official British Army position was that the paratroopers were reacting in self-defense to gun and nail bomb attacks from members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The discordance between local and official accounts was compounded when the investigation of the “Widgery Tribunal,” established by British Prime Minister Edward Heath following the massacre, returned its findings. The Widgery Report[ exonerated the soldiers and blamed the victims, employing a flawed process that had refused testimony from most local eyewitnesses. This discrepancy between the lived experience of the event and its public representation convulsed the Bogside community. [17] The sense of anger prompted a marked upswing in the number of recruits for the Provisional Irish Republican Army [(P)IRA]. The optimism of the Civil Rights movement, with its tactics of non-violent resistance and focus on class-solidarity, faded as the bloodiest year of the conflict unfolded.[18]

In the years that followed, family and friends of the victims, community members, and activists commemorated the anniversary of the killings, but there was a stigma attached to this gesture of remembrance. Widgery’s smear of the victims began to cast doubt on their innocence and the march was associated with republican politics and with the political party Sinn Fein, perceived to be connected to the IRA. This dark period of escalating violence saw a series of bombing and shooting atrocities by republic and loyalist militants as well as the British state. A prison protest by republican detainees against the elimination of a special status for political prisoners culminated in the Hunger Strikes of 1980-81 in which ten prisoners starved to death. Political tensions were extremely high and organizations and activities perceived to be associated with the IRA or other republican groupings were frequently subjected to British state harassment including raids, searches, and arrests.

In 1989, The Bloody Sunday Initiative was established by a group of republican and left-wing community activists, which shifted the approach to this act of public remembering. Not overtly party-political, the Initiative took up the organizing of the march and an annual weekend of commemorative and political events with a more outward-looking political perspective—communicating with a wider international audience and creating lines of solidarity and mutual recognition with other struggles, both within Ireland and internationally. The demands of the campaign were clear: “Vindicate the Victims, Repudiate Widgery, Prosecute the Guilty.” Tony Doherty, one of the founders of the Bloody Sunday Initiative–the son of victim Patrick Doherty, and a former (P)IRA prisoner–remembers that it was at this time that the idea of a museum first appeared, in the mission statement of the Bloody Sunday Initiative, as a broad aspiration for a “Bogside Interpretive Centre.”[19]

The twentieth anniversary in 1992 took the theme “One World…One Struggle”—connecting in solidarity to other, international miscarriages of justice—and it gathered the largest commemoration march since 1973.[20] Journalist and activist Eamonn McCann was commissioned to write a book, Bloody Sunday: What Happened in Derry, to revisit and reiterate local understandings of the killings. The march became the focal point of an annual weekend of activities, including talks, debates, screenings, and concerts. The campaign gathered momentum and in 1998, a new public inquiry into the events of Bloody Sunday, chaired by the Lord Mark Saville of Newdigate, was announced by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Derry has a rich history of cultural self-representation projects, initiated out of a frustration with the dominant depiction of the conflict and local people. Both British and International news-media and fictional portrayals of communities like the Bogside rendered its residents “without depth, in swollen detail;”[21]as a series of brutish stereotypes. Local projects included the community darkroom Camerawork (1982–1988), Derry Film and Video Collective (1984–1991),[22] and community festivals such as the Gasyard Wall Féile. Each of these projects sought to place representation and cultural production (respectively, photography, filmmaking, and a cultural festival) in the hands of the local community. But these initiatives were temporary, transitory, or event-based.

In 1994, when the Provisional IRA called a ceasefire, followed by ceasefires from Loyalist paramilitaries, some political space was opened up, and the idea of a permanently-sited interpretive center or museum became a more viable possibility. The founders, members of a loose and overlapping group of organizations linked to the The Bloody Sunday Initiative, didn’t research other museums with a similar mission[23] at that time, but drew on their experience as activists and campaigners envisioning the museum as a driver in the campaign for legal justice, a way of advancing their demands to vindicate the victims, and prosecute the guilty; and as an expression of community knowledge.[24] All museums are places where knowledge can be constructed and acquired but they are also a place where a ‘we’ can be constructed, in this case, a ‘we’ that sits in opposition to the invisibility, shame, and erasure engendered by political, military and representational domination.

Glenfada Park was central to the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, with unarmed civilians both killed and wounded there. The housing block on the top left of the photo is the site of the Museum of Free Derry. The rubble barricade at which five young men were murdered is visible on the lower right.
Photo: Fulvio Grimaldi, 1972, Courtesy of The Museum of Free Derry

The site eventually secured for the MoFD was comprised of three vacant flats in Glenfada Park, a housing estate adjacent to the city center that was the location for a number of the killings on Bloody Sunday. An informal call was circulated to local residents as early as 1997 for objects and artifacts that carried the story of Free Derry and Bloody Sunday to be donated on the basis of “long-term loan.” The museum opened in 2007 with a small collection of such materials. In 2017, after a move offsite to a temporary location to facilitate the construction of a new building,[25] the museum reopened in a purpose built space on the original site.

Forming the facade of the building is a commissioned artwork by celebrated Derry artist Locky Morris: a steel panel cut with the sound waveform of the first line of the song “We Shall Overcome,” taken from a recording of the civil rights marchers on Bloody Sunday. At the corner of the building, a section of the wall of the original flats bearing bullet holes from the shootings that day is preserved behind glass.

The museum is staffed almost entirely by family members of those killed on Bloody Sunday. They share their stories by way of introduction and when interpretive tours are given to groups, the guides foreground their own connection to the narrative.

Bullet holes from Bloody Sunday preserved on a section of the wall
in the facade of the Museum Photo: Paola Bernardelli, 2019
Entrance to the exhibition Photo: The Museum of Free Derry

The presentation of the collection begins in an anteroom with a display offering a potted history of the area and key events in 800 years of British political and military involvement in Ireland, and of Irish rebellion and resistance. Visitors can scroll through the timeline to select an event and hear its details.

The display leads visitors up to the period covered by the exhibitions and introduces the perspective of the museum—unabashedly partisan in the sense that it reflects the standpoint of a large portion of the nationalist / republican community in which it is located: In a political context where the narrative of two warring tribes (the PUL and CNR communities) is dominant, most state organs and institutions are obliged to evince “balance,” giving equal time and status to “both sides” of any contentious historical issue or debate. The museum’s manager, Adrian Kerr, writes of the strength of their position, of not pretending objectivity or creating false equivalences. “In many, if not most, cases the ‘official’ history of events, as seen in the media and elsewhere, is completely at odds with the experiences of the people who were actually there. This leaves people feeling as if their experience has been ignored or cheapened. Setting up their own museums, based in their own communities, gives people a way to get their experiences across, to be listened to and understood after years of being ignored.”[26]

The first half of the museum concentrates on the historical background of the civil rights movement and the build-up to Bloody Sunday, from internment and the repression of the civil rights movement to key moments like the “Battle of the Bogside”[27] and the Free Derry period. Artifacts on display in this section include those that reference military control and oppression in the area: Royal Ulster Constabulary (police) helmets, rubber and plastic bullets, truncheons, and a gas mask. There are also objects that embody local resistance including civil rights banners, a record player that was used in the broadcast of pirate station Radio Free Derry during the Free Derry period, photographs and original documents such as posters by London-based collective Poster Workshop, who brought a mobile screen-printing kit to the city to support protesters in 1969.

Plastic and rubber bullets from the museum’s display Photo: Paola Bernardelli, 2019
Display including poster by Poster Workshop, 1969 Photo: The Museum of Free Derry
“Bloody Sunday” display Photo: The Museum of Free Derry

The second half of the museum mostly pertains to Bloody Sunday. There are objects donated by the victims’ families and kin accompanied by interpretive panels that forensically explain the events of the day. Most of the objects are modest, domestic – but imbued with a power beyond their ordinary use. Many are intensely personal, connected to the actual bodies of the victims…clothing worn by the victims when they were killed, the items they carried in their pockets that day. History clings to these objects: the infant babygrow that was used to staunch the blood of Michael Kelly, the white handkerchief waved by Father (later Bishop) Edward Daly in an attempt to stop the killing and bring victim Jackie Duddy to safety, an episode recorded in an iconic series of photos of the day. These poignant and evocative mementos communicate the past “as agents, souvenirs, relics, fragments, as witnesses.”[28] In some cases, they are literally evidence: during the Saville Inquiry, the coat of victim James Wray was used to establish that the bullet that killed him had entered his body from the rear as he lay face down on the ground.

Interpretive material is provided in translation with an emphasis on minority languages and political solidarity Photo: Paola Bernardelli 2019

Explicit connections are made to other cases of state violence and injustice: Wounded Knee, the 1960 Sharpeville massacre of 69 protestors by the South African Police and the killing of protesting civilians in 2003 and 2004 by the US Army in Fallujah, Iraq, are represented, for instance.

The long struggle of the campaign is outlined. The displays finish with a film of the day the Saville Report on the Bloody Sunday Inquiry was returned, June 15, 2010, when the victims, with one exception,[ were declared innocent. [29] British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed the House of Commons that afternoon where he acknowledged, among other things, that the paratroopers had fired first and they had fired on fleeing unarmed civilians. He then apologized on behalf of the British Government.

From the standpoint of the museum, as repository and guardians of collective memory, “…we don’t need to know just the bare facts of what happened, we already know them, but what we need to know…is how people really feel about what happened, how they felt at the time, how they feel now.”[30]“ The museum is speaking with ghosts and “when listening to ghosts and then giving them back speech, one must proceed in full acknowledgment that the gift of testimony is nonreciprocal. The only way to return the gift is by giving it to someone else.”[31]

…and its discontents

Problems emerge from the very places that this model draws its strength. In the lives of real people, justice is not an abstraction;[32] it exists in relation to people and their complex social connections and interdependencies. Because the museum is embedded in its community, it is imbricated in community divisions and disagreements about history, strategy, and political values. Violence, indignity, and erasure leave a ragged cut through communities—and, indeed, through families—that the reparative effects of an initiative like the museum cannot fully heal. Remembering in public is mourning without end.

Cracks appeared, or deepened, as the jubilation dissipated after the Saville Inquiry’s vindication of the victims. The Saville Report, one family member says, was “long on innocence but short on guilt.”[33] For many, the declaration of innocence was not enough without prosecution of the soldiers who pulled the trigger. For others, the key is establishing the culpability of those who ordered the killings—believed to be high level figures in the British military and government.[34] Conflicts arose over the annual march—whether to continue to use it as a moment to gather together and express solidarity with other causes, or to finish as a declaration of the victory of the campaign. Perhaps at a deeper level, the question is about justice itself. What does “justice” mean when it is granted within the British legal system? While it appears to address past wrongs, the exercise of the justice system itself remains structurally committed to the colonial power relationship.[35]

Activists who had worked together for many years on the campaign began to fracture according to divergent political positions, some aligning with the party Sinn Fein, others with dissident republican groupings that disagree with the political compromises of “peace”, and some with left/Marxist positions. Each of these political positions reach back into the past for the framework and justifications for current strategies. Eamonn McCann, who represents the socialist political party, People Before Profit, speaks of the way “we see the past through the prism of our own beliefs…when political arguments get sharp in the here-and-now, your different perceptions of the past get sharp as well.” [36]

Today, the commemorative march continues, though it is a much smaller affair, and two separate groups organize weekend programs of events. One group is centered around the museum and the Bloody Sunday Trust,[37] the museum’s administrators—who are associated with, though not officially linked to, the political party Sinn Féin. The Trust’s weekend schedule is organized with human rights organization The Pat Finucane Centre and in 2019 it included events dealing with a number of other Irish miscarriages of justice, memorial services for the victims, and the Annual Bloody Sunday Memorial Lecture by Dr Asad Abushark, International Coordinator of the Great March of Return in Palestine. A non-aligned but broadly left-wing group organizes a parallel program with, perhaps, a stronger sense of international and intersectional solidarity, last year drawing connections to a range of individuals and struggles, commemorating other analogous atrocities and showing solidarity with campaigns including the victims of the Grenfell fire in London, those seeking justice for the death of Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres, Black Lives Matter, pro-choice activists campaigning around the death of Savita Halappanavar,[38] and many more.

With 42,630 people having visited the museum between June 2018 and August 2019, the museum ranks among the most visited cultural institutions in Derry. In line with other historical museums, the bulk of its visitors are tourists to the city and educational groups from both local and international schools and universities, with people from the north of Ireland making up 30% of its visitor numbers and local people a fraction of that. There are some who complain that the museum could be better connected to the community and that it controls the narrative of past and present to the exclusion of other voices.[39] Recent programming in the Museum, though, has expanded its scope through a series of temporary exhibitions and events. For example, Outing the Past, a project unearthing local queer histories running parallel to the conflict, acknowledges the gaps and fallibility of the museum as a repository of community memory and begins to ask the important question of how the institution can attend to these missing narratives with care and solidarity. Its flagship program, The Derry Model, was established in 2018 with the aim of “sharing the city’s valuable experience in overcoming contentious disputes like parades, conflict and legacy issues.”[40] This program gathers national and international community leaders for discussions around the negotiation of solutions to intractable community conflicts.

But community ownership, of both the objects and of the story, places a greater onus of accountability on the museum. In September of 2017, two local women, Helen Derry and Linda Nash, began a sit-in protest in the museum that lasted for several days. Linda Nash, whose 19-year-old brother William was one of the victims on Bloody Sunday, and Helen Deery, whose 15-year-old brother Manus was shot dead by a British soldier that same year, objected to a display in the museum that listed all the names of those killed in the years of the conflict that the museum represents—1969 to 1972. The list includes British soldiers as well as militant combatants and civilian victims. They demanded that their loved-ones’ names be removed from this display, on the basis that it equated innocent victims with their killers. An agreement was eventually reached between the museum and families, listing the dead in a two-tiered system, with civilians having been “murdered” and combatants “killed.”[41] More controversies have arisen recently as the trial of “Soldier F”, the only paratrooper against whom charges will be brought, begins in December 2019; families are divided about the efficacy and the importance of the trial and the museum’s alignments are called into question.

The creation of a “people’s museum” in a deeply divided community, marked by trauma and still experiencing the after-effects of long term conflict, is not a neutral act. There are complex personal and political hostilities that make intra-community consensus difficult to find. The deep investment of local constituents in this story means there is always something at stake, politically. Though the museum does not claim objectivity or balance in the sense of the political divisions of the national conflict, it does claim a space to tell the story of its “own” body politic…. It is in the detail of this claim that the frictions of the present can begin to rub and chafe.

As the conflict moved out of its hot phase and into a chapter of political negotiation and machination, it seems that some of the connection, interdependency, and collectivity of past activism has been lost. Recurrent critiques of the MoFD, legitimate or not, beg the question, who is the “we” of the museum now? How does it connect its story to the painful present of many of the people living adjacent to it? In neighborhoods hollowed out by post-crash Tory austerity, and disconnected from the political power they once seized through direct action, what does the idea of “Free Derry” mean, and how can it be mobilized today? Perhaps it is in the careful negotiation between these roles of museologist, mourner, community member and activist that the museum can claim an “otherwise” relationship to memory and power.

About the Author:

Sara Greavu is based in Derry, in the north of Ireland. She works with artists and others to make exhibitions, projects and texts; developing and delivering a range of collaborative projects including exhibitions, research, engaged public programmes, educational platforms, and events such as lecture-performances, workshops, symposia, screening seasons, and reading groups. She is interested in how art can recognise broader social structures, compassing art and artists in relation to these other fields of inquiry and other axes of power and privilege. Current projects include Knowledge is Made Here, with artist Andrea Francke; a program for young people that thinks about local knowledge and its embodiment in the community. It draws on histories of alternative/radical pedagogy, working with young people to develop a toolkit to understand the world. She is Queer Arts Development Leader at Outburst Queer Arts Festival (Belfast).

Notes:


[1] These include the Eileen Hickey Memorial Museum and Áras Uí Chonghaile / The James Connolly Visitor Centre in Belfast, Free Derry Tours, West Belfast Walking Tours, etc.

[2] See Elisabeth Crooke, Crooke, Elizabeth. “Memory Politics and Material Culture: Display in the Memorial Museum.” Memory Studies, (August 2017). doi:10.1177/1750698017727805.

[3] Adrian Kerr “Sitting on the Fence: What’s the Point?” in The Innovative Museum: It’s Up To You… (Edinburgh: MuseumsEtc, 2013).

[4] This slogan, proposed by activist and journalist Eamonn McCann was adapted from a similar slogan used by students involved in the Free Speech Movement at the University of California in Berkeley. “’You are now entering Free Derry’: 50 years on”, The Irish Times Sat, Jan 5, 2019, Freya McClements.

[5] Roger I. Simon, The Touch of the Past: Remembrance, Learning, and Ethics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). I’m grateful to Robert I. Simon for some of the ideas around remembrance, listening, and reparations that appear in this text.

[6] Tony Bennett writes of the formation of the museum, the “exhibitionary complex,”’ as one side of the ‘ “Janus face of power”,’ providing new instruments for the moral and cultural regulation of the working classes, with the other face and harsher form of instruction provided by the “the carceral archipelago.” The goals of MoFD differ significantly from this model of state-sponsored museum though they also seek to bind a community of constituents together. Tony Bennett, “The Exhibitionary Complex”, new formations 4 (1988). 

[7] Please see below for an explanation of terminology. “Northern Ireland” is a contested term as many from a nationalist/republican/socialist background want to call attention to the relatively recent (100 years) formation of the statelet of Northern Ireland and often prefer to use “North of Ireland” or “north of Ireland”.

[8] Roger I. Simon, The Touch of the Past: Remembrance, Learning, and Ethics, .9

[9] The term “Troubles,”, while widely used, has been critiqued as trivializing the conflict, diminishing what some would name a war with a coy pet-name.

[10] The terms Protestant and Catholic are problematic in this political context. Please see below.

[11] This is a contested term, used politically to distinguish between state and non-state forces and their perceived legitimacy.

[12] Eamonn McCann, “Statistics Show Derry Falling Further Behind.” Derry Journal Sunday 21 October 2018 2018. In 2015, Belfast’s per capita income was over £31,000 while Derry’s hovered around £15,000.

[13] Michael Sheils McNamee, “Revealed: Shock Food Bank Figures Show Worst Affected Counties of Northern Ireland.” Belfast Telegraph April 24 2018.

[14] This is a contested term used to distinguish between state and non-state forces and their perceived legitimacy.

[15] Graham Dawson, “Trauma, Place and the Politics of Memory: Bloody Sunday, Derry, 1972-2004,” History Workshop Journal 59 (2005): 161.

[16] Michael McCann, Burnt Out – How the Troubles Began (Mercier Press, 2019). 116.

[17] John Passmore Widgery, Report of the Tribunal Appointed to Inquire into the Events on Sunday 30th January 1972, Which Led to the Loss of Life in Connection with the Procession in Londonderry on That Day by the Rt. Hon. Lord Widgery. (London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office 1972).

[18] “The legacy of the Bloody Sunday killings: Bloody Sunday killings increased IRA recruitment, militant violence and led to huge rise in deaths in subsequent years” Tue 15 Jun 2010, The Guardian, Owen Bowcott

[19] Tony Doherty, 2 June 2019, personal communication, interview with the author

[20] A concurrent march took place in London, with support from Peter Gabriel, Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn, filmmaker Ken Loach, journalist John Pilger, poet Adrian Mitchell and Gerry Hunter and Billy Power of the Birmingham Six.

[21] I have taken the liberty of borrowing this phrase from Edward Said it to speak of the tropes and stereotypes that are still prevalent in representations of Ireland and of the conflict. Said is writing of the depiction of the Egyptian people by Edward William Lane in the 19tth century: “Lane’s objective is to make Egypt and the Egyptians totally visible, to keep nothing hidden from his reader, to deliver the Egyptians without depth in swollen detail.” Orientalism, Edward Said, Random House Vintage, 162

[22] Sandra Plummer “Pictures of Derry: Community Photography and the Visualisation of ‘the Troubles’” Pictures of War: The Still Image in Conflict since 1945. 2018; Jessica Scarlata Rethinking Occupied Ireland: Gender and Incarceration in Contemporary Irish Film. Syracuse University Press, 2014..

[23] Interviewees mentioned the People’s Museum in Manchester and the Civil Rights Memory Project of Little Rock Arkansas Central High School, but as places they had visited after the museum was established.

[24] Tony Doherty, 2 June 2019, personal communication, interview with the author; Robin Perceval 26 June 2019 personal communication, interview with the author

[25] Funded by the Department for Communities, Heritage Lottery, The European Regional Development Fund and the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, among others.

[26] Adrian Kerr “Sitting on the Fence: What’s the Point?” in The Innovative Museum: It’s Up To You… (MuseumsEtc 2013) p.293

[27] Battle of the Bogside occurred in August 1969 when tensions around the civil rights movement, sectarian policing and the annual Apprentice Boys of Derry (Loyalist) march boiled over, and British troops were deployed to the north after days of rioting in Derry’s Bogside

[28] This phrase is borrowed from Lisa Godson’s writing about the exhibition Proclaiming a Republic: The 1916 Rising at the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks. “Everyday objects animate the story of the Rising”, March 12, 2016 The Irish Times

[29] In spite of extensive testimony to the contrary, Saville found that Gerald Donaghey was “probably armed with nail bombs but was not a threat at the time that he was shot”. Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, UK Government Publications, 15 June 2010

[30] Adrian Kerr “Sitting on the Fence: What’s the Point?” in The Innovative Museum: It’s Up To You… (Edinburgh: MuseumsEtc 2013). p.302

[31] This follows Roger I. Simon’s ideas around historiographic poetics. The Touch of the Past: Remembrance, Learning, and Ethics (Palgrave Macmillan US, 2005).

[32] Roger I. Simon, The Touch of the Past: Remembrance, Learning, and Ethics (Palgrave Macmillan US, 2005).

[33] Tony Doherty, 2 June 2019, personal communication, interview with the author

[34] Soldier F is the ex-paratrooper who will be charged with the killing James Wray and William McKinney, as well as four counts of attempted murder. Soldier F is the only soldier from Bloody Sunday against whom charges will be brought by Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS).

[35] I am indebted to Glen Sean Coulthard’s writing in Red Skin, White Masks. Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (University of Minnesota Press, 2014) on the colonial politics of recognition among the First Nations people of Canada.Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (University of Minnesota Press, 2014) on the colonial politics of recognition among the First Nations people of Canada.

[36] Eamonn McCann, 2 August, 2019 personal communication, interview with the author

[37] The Bloody Sunday Trust was established in 1996, emerging from the work of the Bloody Sunday Initiative.

[38] Savita Halappanavar was an Indian woman, living in Ireland, whose death in 2012 galvanized support for the repeal of the constitutional amendment that banned abortion in Ireland.  She was denied an abortion following an incomplete miscarriage on the grounds that granting her request would be illegal under Irish law.

[39] Interview with anonymous activist, 29/5/19. This interview influenced many of the questions that appear at the end of this essay.

[40] https://www.museumoffreederry.org/content/introducing-derry-model Retrieved 12/09/2019

[41] Robin Perceval 26 June 2019 personal communication, interview with the author


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