Northern Ireland

Heartbreak of Bloody Sunday still exists 50 years on

Jean Hegarty was in Canada when she was told her teenage brother, Kevin McElhinney was killed. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire
Jean Hegarty was in Canada when she was told her teenage brother, Kevin McElhinney was killed. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

FIFTY years on, Jean Hegarty's overriding emotion about the "murder" of her brother Kevin McElhinney was that it was futile.

This Sunday her entire family will be in Derry for the anniversary of her younger brother’s death. For the first time in 50 years, as a family they will visit his grave.

From Philip Street in Derry, Kevin (17) worked at Lipton’s Store on Strand Road. On Bloody Sunday, he was just inches from safety, crawling away from the army lines, when he was shot dead. His older sister lived in Canada at the time and was busy bringing up her own family. Ms Hegarty left Derry when her brother was 14.

"I look back and I think he was like any other 14-year-old; he was a shy and awkward boy. He was very gentle. My mother was very ill and Kevin was the oldest of the ones at home so he was a great help to my father and mother," she recalled.

Her first awareness of Bloody Sunday came through the television news in Canada. However, on hearing the British army had shot “gunmen and bombers” (as claimed by the army), and having talked by phone to other Derry natives in Canada, she went to bed happy that the day had little to do with her.

"Then the next morning, I got a phone call from my auntie Eva to say Kevin was dead. I got a flight on the Monday night and I arrived home on Tuesday morning and it was mayhem when I walked into Philip Street. You know, I can't remember to this day was I home for one week or two.

"I have different memories. I remember my father asking me and my brother Cathal to visit the other families and going to the houses and there were queues outside but when they found out who we were we were brought right in.

"I didn't know any of the other victims except Gerry (McKinney, who grew up just yards from Ms Hegarty’s home)."

For years, she said she carried a guilt because of the British army and the state's insistence that all of the dead were gunmen or bombers.

"It was shocking and I didn't even admit it to myself but there was a wee doubt there; did Kevin do something he shouldn't have. I was innocent and I believed what I read in papers and accepted what authorities said," she said.

On returning to Derry to live, Ms Hegarty became involved in the campaign for justice for her brother and the Bloody Sunday victims. In 2010, that reached its culmination when Lord Saville announced all of the victims were innocent.

Of her brother, Lord Saville said: "We are sure that either Private L or Private M, members of the Composite Platoon who had taken up positions at the low walls of the Kells Walk ramp, shot Kevin McElhinney as he was crawling south from the rubble barricade away from the soldiers."

The words liberated Ms Hegarty.

"You have no idea, the importance of that in my life. It was something I grabbed onto; it really was; it was hugely important. A British law lord said Kevin was innocent; he was murdered and shouldn't have died and he called his killers liars; that was just so important," she said.

As her family gather for the anniversary, Ms Hegarty said she looked back with sadness and heartbreak and often thought what might have been.

"At the end of the day, this place is no more closely part of the United Kingdom and no closer to a united Ireland. I think my overriding emotion is about the futility of it all."