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29 Sept 2022

Bloody Sunday: 'Loss of my father a big tragedy' - Kevin McKinney

Gerry McKinney on of 14 murdered on Bloody Sunday

Ita McKinney at St Mary's Church, Creggan at the hearse of her husband, Gerry

Ita McKinney at St Mary's Church, Creggan at the hearse of her husband, Gerry

Kevin McKinney

Kevin McKinney was 11 years old when his father, Gerry (35), was murdered by British paratroopers in Derry's Bogside, on Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972.

Gerry was survived by his wife, Ita, and their children, Kevin, Aileen, Regina, Tracy, Martine, Fred and Mairead. Their youngest brother, Gerry was born eight days after their father was shot by Soldier G, at 18 minutes past 4, in Abbey Park.

When Gerry McKinney saw the British soldier, he stopped, put his arms in the air and said, “Don't shoot. Don't shoot”. When he was shot, the bullet went through his body and struck Gerard Donaghy, who was behind him.

In the approach to the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday, Kevin, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at 25, told Derry Now, the Saville Inquiry and its report, which was published on June 15, 2010, had helped his  family.

The Saville Inquiry was established to obtain a definitive version of the events of Bloody Sunday. It superseded the infamous Widgery Tribunal, which reported on April 19, 1972, and was branded a “whitewash”.

“Saville helped because we always knew the truth but we wanted the truth to come out. Everybody was murdered.

“Of all the people shot that day, my Da's case was the clearest. He was murdered. He had his arms up. We know this because of the way the bullet entered his body. He had been no threat to anybody. He was just murdered. Everybody was murdered. In my Da's case, even the Widgery Tribunal had said it was 'bordering on the reckless'.

“Saville and the British Government coming out and saying what they did only supported what we already knew. It didn't change my mind one iota but it did send out a signal to the Protestant community in Derry because some of them believed the spin, all of the dead were IRA men.

“According to my uncle Louis, my father's brother, who was with him when he died, the last words my Da spoke were, 'Ita and the wanes'. Maybe Louis was trying to give us a bit of comfort? I remember that day like it was yesterday. Fr Jimmy Doherty, who was our priest, came to the house.

"My granny, had also sent a priest from Pennyburn over with the news. The house just filled. My uncle Dinny and my granny arrived and all of the children were taken away, except Aileen and me because we were the oldest,” recalled Kevin, who now lives in Tooban.

Kevin's early years, before his father's death, are indelibly printed on his mind, the care and love of his father and mother his life-long touchstone.

He reminisced: “We moved a lot because of my Da's work. He worked with Avery as a mechanic. He was in the BSR as a tool maker, when it was going. He was an engineer, a very, very clever man, who could put his hand to anything. Just before he died, he had started up his own business, Tower Engineering, on Ferguson's Lane, off Bishop Street. My uncle Dinny and my uncle John would have worked for him, welding gates and railings.

“He also ran the Ritz roller-skating rink in the 1960s, down the Strand Road, where the house of Value used to be, nearly opposite the Carraig Bar, a big domed, wooden building. My Da was a fantastic skater. He was in competitions. He also would have done TV rentals too, with shops in Strabane and Derry, also in the 1960s. He had a lot of irons in the fire. He was away ahead of his time.

“My memories from before my father was killed are very strong, even today. We lived in Ballymena. We lived in Belfast. And every time we moved, we came back to Beechwood Avenue and lived with my [maternal] granny, May O'Kane. My Da's mother was Margaret and she lived in Governor Road. She was a lovely woman too, very wise, very switched on, very religious but she knew how to deal with situations. Her husband was George and May's husband's name was Charlie O'Kane.

“We moved into Knockdara House in the Waterside in 1968. It was a greenfield site, no houses. It seemed like a completely different world. I have really great memories from that time. We moved back to Beechwood Avenue in June 1972.

“We were also in Inishowen, temporarily, in 1968 because my Da thought it would be safer. My mother's uncle, Denis Crumlish, who lived in Marlborough Street, was married to Gertie (née McCormack) whose family had a farm in Carndonagh.”

Looking back, Kevin was proud of how well known his father was for his age, when he died.

Kevin said: “I only have to think about the number of sympathy cards and letters we got, from all over the world. He was a really involved person. Everybody seemed to know him and he was good at what he did.

“My Da was also working for McLaughlin's Engineering Firm when he died. He was an entrepreneur. He would just move from one thing to the next and he would keep going. He would just never stop. He was very, very switched on.

“He was into old cars too. When he died, he had a Rover P6 and a Hillman Minx, he had also had three Rileys at different stages over the 60s. He was always working away with them and me underneath with him. I remember doing a clutch with him at 10 years of age. He was a hard goer and a real family person, that's what you had to do in those days.

“Before he was killed, he was in the process of designing a house for us. His plan was to buy a piece of land and build a home for us. He had the drawing board up and he was drawing away. He was strict but fair. If we had to be told off, we were told off, but there was so much love and kindness.”

Kevin vividly remembered the last Christmas of his father's life.

“That would have been 1971,” he said. “I wanted World Cup Subbuteo, at that time Subbuteo came in a big pitch you laid out, but he couldn't get it. He got me five-a-side Subbuteo. He was getting something out of the car and was furiously waving me away from the window, that was my first realisation about Santa.”

Returning to Bloody Sunday, Kevin said his mother never got to grieve properly.

“That was a horrible day because at twenty past four, my Ma let out a big scream. She knew something was wrong because it was coming on the news that people had died. She was really, really distraught. She had a sense, a feeling something bad had happened. On the Saturday, he had come in from work with an EP he had bought, 'The Men Behind the Wire'. On the Sunday morning, he put it on the radiogram and he stood with his hands on my shoulders, in front of the fire, which was lit, and played it over and over again, until he had learned all the words.

“He left the house to go to work in McLaughlin's down the quay. He parked at my granny's at Beechwood Avenue and he went to the march with my uncle John and my Uncle Louis. My uncle John was with him when he was shot. My Da ran out and he put his hands up. John was coming out to him, and whatever way, whatever connection they made, they didn't say anything, but my Da made John believe don't come out because he knew he was getting shot. He knew it was happening.

Ita McKinney and her mother, May, at Iskaheen graveyard.

“That wrecked my uncle John's life for a long time. He took it bad. We got word that night about 7pm. My granny knew. She had been told. She was very calm about it.

"They actually thought my Da had had a heart attack because of the heaviness of the clothes he was wearing. He was wearing a suit and overcoat. It was a real cold crisp day. They did not see the blood when they took him into Altnagelvin. They tried to revive him but did not realise straight away he had been.”

Kevin's mother, Ita, was given Valium immediately she was told about his father's death.

He said: “I believe that's why my mother did not get a chance to grieve properly. She was on Valium for months and became addicted to it. She was distraught. Calming her was one thing but here she was now completely out of it.

“Daddy came home on the Monday. I remember him coming in and his coffin was laid out on the big table. When he was at school, my Da had been hit by a cane, which broke his thumb nail and it never grew again. His hands were crossed in the coffin and whatever way I looked at his hands, I said, 'That's not my Da' and that was my memory. I went outside to play football. I was disconnected.

“On Tuesday my Ma was in bed and she woke up screaming and she came down in the middle of the night looking for my Da. She couldn't find him. He was gone because the remains were lying in state in St Mary's Church in Creggan. She went ballistic. She did not know what had happened. The Valium had taken effect. Her reasoning skills were marred by the fact she was on drugs. That was hard.

“Wednesday was the funeral. When they were putting the coffin into the grave, my mother nearly went in after it. She was heavily pregnant at the time. The stress and trauma, hormonally, physically and mentally were horrendous.”

When his brother Gerry was born, Kevin said his granny took over and started to look after the family.

“We still had not the whole family together. It seemed like a month before everyone was back together. We moved back to Beechwood Avenue in June 1972,” he said.

“Age 11 to 17, when I left school, is a blank for me. Nothing registers. I can remember back to when I was a wane and that's because when my Da died, my whole thought process became remember and remember. It was important to me and special.

“The aftermath of Bloody Sunday was terrible. My Ma found it hard to cope and we were all young. Granny and Granda helped but we still had to close our front door and we weren't well off. My mother was trying to make ends meet.

“She was really out of it. She didn't get to grieve properly. She had a sense of loss she just couldn't fill. She was a 34-year-old widow. She was a beautiful woman. Before Bloody Sunday she was always dressed to the nines, always with her make-up on. She was devoted to my Da.”

Kevin said his saving grace was the fact his mother and father had taught them all to have respect for themselves, each other and the people they met.

Returning to his precious relationship with his father, Kevin said: “My Da was someone who was prepared to work hard and do what they had to do for their family. Their care of and love for us really helped all of us, to the point none of us are bitter 

“We haven't got a bitter bone in our body. I would have been, probably more than the rest of them, up until I was in my 20s but after that, I made decisions and learned to forgive and move on, even the soldier that shot my father.

“If I was going to blame anyone, it would be the British Government, it would be the political system, it would be the hierarchy. The soldier who shot my da was soldier G and he is dead.

“There is no question Bloody Sunday was a British Government decision. The paratroopers were sent into Derry, by Edward Heath [then British Prime Minister], and the British army, with one mission. They were going to teach Derry people a lesson.

“There were Catholics and Protestants on that march. That march was for Civil Rights. When you look back, my mother and father lived in a house in Beechwood Avenue, in 1964, with four families in it,” said Kevin.

Tragically, Kevin's brother, Gerry, was killed in a car accident in 1999. His wife, Rhonda, was also expecting their first child, Charlie.

Kevin is proud of the fact, Gerry, had an organ donor card and saved seven lives.

“Gerry's death broke my mammy. She became a recluse,” he said. “She never came to terms with any of it. She lived the life. She struggled. She suffered. PTSD without a doubt.

“She was sad and unhappy and ‘left on her own’ to rear eight children. Don't get me wrong, she was happy for us. She loved us to bits and did everything she could for us. We always fed and clothed. And over the last 20 years she became wiser and settled, but, Gerry's death was a blow. It was only in the last 10 years she would have been where she started to cope properly.” Kevin's mother passed away on August 6 last year.

“Bloody Sunday has been on my mind,” he said, ”Personally speaking, my Da's on my mind a lot of the time. Everything I do and everything I have is around what he instilled in us.

“I am not perfect. I could never walk in his shoes. I can't go through a day in my life without thinking about my Ma and Da and the whole togetherness we had with her before she died.

“We knew it was going to happen and we spent a lot of quality time with her. We were able to talk to her and she was able to say things to us and tell us how she felt. It was very personal, very involved and very heart wrenching as well, for the whole family.

“It is raw at the minute, especially coming up to Bloody Sunday, which I remembered privately all these years.

“Now I am remembering my Da and Ma all those years ago, putting it back together in Iskaheen, where the three members of our family are back together again.

“The loss of my father was a big tragedy for me but we have a really, really close bond as a family, my mother and father instilled in us and passed down. It is what my wife, Siobhan and I try to do with our children, Kathryn, Eimear, Bronagh, Gerry, Caólan, Mia, Kiegan and Laylagh.”

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