29 Sept 2022

Bloody Sunday made Ballagh determined to do something as an artist

Bloody Sunday made Ballagh determined to do something as an artist

Robert Ballagh's painting commemorating the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday is on public display at Derry's Guild Hall

Artist Robert Ballagh has said he felt “determined to try and do something as an artist” to draw attention to the atrocity of Bloody Sunday.

In a video produced by The Bloody Sunday Trust, Mr Ballagh said the events of January 30, 1972 when the British Army shot and killed 13 people in Derry on the day with a 14th victim dying from his wounds six months later, left him “traumatised”.

Robert produced a controversial visual piece at a gallery in Dublin to mark the killings back in September 1972 and, 50 years on, has produced a painting to commemorate those who were killed and wounded which is now on display at Derry's Guild Hall.

Mr Ballagh insisted the new artwork was to reflect and remind people of why there was a Civil Rights march that day, what the British Army did and their mindset towards ordinary Derry civilians.

He said: “I started off this picture almost two years ago. Obviously it was in response to the upcoming 50th anniversary which has now arrived upon us.

“I had no idea what I was going to do with the picture when it was finished. But eventually, I came into contact with the Bloody Sunday Trust and also Derry and Strabane Council. Eventually, we came into this idea of unveiling it and showing it in the Guild Hall, which as I say, couldn't have been a better venue.

“I'm of an age that I was very impressionable in 1972 and I was effectively almost traumatised when I looked at the news that night and saw what happened in Derry.

“Even then, I was determined to try and do something as an artist. In September 1972, I staged an installation in Dublin where I chalk-marked on the floor of a gallery 13 outlines of bodies and then poured real blood – which I had obtained from a friend who worked at a Dublin abattoir – on those victims.

“It was very controversial and challenging at the time. Very few people made artworks like that at the time but Bloody Sunday affected me so much that I knew I had to do something.

“So now fifty years later, that desire and that compulsion to do something returned and that pictured that is now hanging in the Guild Hall is a result of that compulsion.

“The picture, on one level, simply tells the story of that tragedy. I couldn't avoid using that iconic image of Father Daly and the others carrying the body of Jackie Duddy.

“I've included things in the picture to remind people – or to let people know who don't even remember that day – that this was a Civil Rights march. This was a march against Internment – which of course was a travesty in itself. As a consequence, there are references to the fact it was a Civil Rights march.

“There are other things that are included in the painting to remind people about (back) then and things that might be forgotten today.

“Like the families, I was very pleased that all the victims were found to be innocent. But the nagging doubt that I have is that nobody has been found proven to be guilty of anything – and that's the unanswered question.

“I included a small reference to that nagging doubt and that was the statement by Major General Robert Ford made sometime before Bloody Sunday.

“He suggested that several members of the 'Derry Young Hooligans' – as he called them – should be shot. That suggests to me that there were plans in train for something terrible to happen.

“I think we all deserve an answer to that nagging question.”

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