July 16, 2002

· Politics

The IRA issued a statement today apologizing to civilian victims of those killed on Bloody Friday, one of the earliest, and worst, atrocities of the Northern Ireland conflict. It happened on July 21st 1972. Ten days later, the IRA bombed Claudy, a quiet border town. The poet James Simmons wrote the “Ballad of Claudy” about that event. It is one of the best pieces of literature to come out of the Troubles. Here it is:

The Sperrins surround it, the Faughan flows by
At each end of Main Street the hills and the sky
The small town of Claudy at ease in the sun
Last July in the morning, a new day begun.

How peaceful and pretty, if the moment could stop
McIlhenny is straightening things in his shop
His wife is outside serving petrol and then
A child takes a cloth to a big window-pane

And McCloskey is taking the weight off his feet
McClelland and Miller are sweeping the street
Delivering milk at the Beaufort Hotel
Young Temple’s enjoying his first job quite well

And Mrs. McLaughlin is scrubbing her floor
Artie Hone’s crossing the street to a door
Mrs. Brown, looking around for her cat
Goes off up an entry, what’s strange about that?

Not much, but before she comes back to the road
The strange car parked outside her house will explode
And all of the people I’ve mentioned outside
Will be waiting to die, or already have died

An explosion too loud for your eardrums to bear
Young children squealing like pigs in the square
All faces chalk-white or streaked with bright red
And the glass, and the dust, and the terrible dead

For an old lady’s legs are blown off, and the head
Of a man’s hanging open, and still he’s not dead
He is shrieking for mercy while his son stands and stares
And stares, and then suddenly – quick – disappears

And Christ, little Katherine Aiken is dead
Mrs. McLaughlin is pierced through the head
Meanwhile to Dungiven the killers have gone
And they’re finding it hard to get through on the phone.

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