On Wednesday, July 17, 50 years on exactly from the day that Sammy Devenny died, his family will attend an anniversary Mass at St Eugene’s Cathedral in his memory.
Christine Robson (nee Devenny) was just nine-years-old in April 1969 when the RUC burst through the front door of her family home in William Street and launched an assault on her father, her siblings and others present at the time.
Speaking to the Derry News, Christine said: “Over the years, obviously what happened affected us greatly. There are nine of us and all of us have different views about it. The older one’s in the family witnessed the whole thing.
“I was very young, and I was upstairs with my mammy, and thank God I was protected from my father getting badly beaten, but the older one’s saw it and their journey has been different from mine. It’s been very, very painful for the older members of the family.
“Of course, it’s been painful for us all, but what they witnessed was awful. I didn’t see that.”
Asked what effect the attack and subsequent death of their father had on the children, Christine continued: “Well, we had to get on with our lives because we had a strong mother, who said ‘this is how it has to be now’ and she wouldn’t let us talk about it. It was her way of dealing with it. She had to raise us on her own and it was never, ever talked about.
“When we set down with Nuala O’Loan the Ombudsman, it was the first time we talked about it together as a family on the 30th anniversary. It wasn’t until then that we knew how it had affected each of us.
“So, we’ve been on a journey about it, but we didn’t let it consume our lives all the time. We did get on with getting married and having children. I’m a granny now as well. You do think about him, but you try to get on with life as best you can.”
Although she was very young at the time, the Derry News asked Christine if she ever thought about those who carried out the assault in 1969.
She said: “I always think about them, although I try not to, to be honest. My mother always thought they would have a conscience and they would come forward, because she was so good living herself. She would never have hurt anyone, so she thought that was the way that everybody acted.
“Through the years she thought they would come forward and admit to what they had done. My father was never going to be brought back, but someone saying sorry would have been nice.
“But, they’ve never come forward.”
However, apart from never having received an apology, the police in Northern Ireland have never actually officially admitted being in the Devenny household on the night in question 50 years ago.
Christine added: “That’s true. At times they’ve acted like we made it up. There’s been things said, terrible things like it was the IRA dressed up as policemen to discredit the RUC. We’ve heard ridiculous things like that over the years.
“Living with that is hard when your father. It was that terrible that they obviously didn’t want to address it.
“I often say to my husband, if mobile phones and social media had been available then and that incident had been recorded it would have been a terrible thing to see-slaughter in a family home full of children with the father trying to protect them.
“My mother hid all the photo’s of my father’s injuries. There were some terrible pictures taken straight afterwards by photographers who came to the house. They were so bad, we think my mother destroyed them.”
Above and beyond the horror of the incident itself, the Derry News also asked Christine what her memories of her father and her childhood are.
She said: “I’ve great memories. Up until that point, I have to say I had a really happy childhood. We were a very happy family. My mother and father made sure it was all about us. My father got car and did it up and took us to the beach all the time. I remember having a fantastic childhood.
“Up until the incident, we were allowed to play in William Street, at our front door. But as you got older we were allowed to go to Bull Park. I remember going there straight after he died. That was my haven. It got me away from thinking what was going on in the house.
“I actually used to say when I was in Bull Park, ‘when I go home, I know my daddy is going to be there.’
“I believe that’s how I survived his death on my own terms. I used to think, ‘when I go home he’ll be there and he’s not really dead and this was all a terrible dream.’
“At nine-years-old I didn’t know what death was. We were never faced with it. He was the first to die in our family. I did grasp it, so I kept saying ‘when I go home, he’ll be sitting in the chair.’ I think it was like a skill I developed to help me get over the death.
“I just wrapped myself up in the park with my friend Bernadette and that got me through to my teenage years. Then reality set in. He was really dead and then you block it out. But, when we talked to Nuala O’Loan it all came back for me and in the worst possible way because I relived it again. It was awful-a nightmare.”
Speaking about the upcoming anniversary Christine said: “We sat down together as a family. We’ve talked about this for a full year-from the oldest to the youngest and we knew we would have to mark the day.
“We want to do this, not just for ourselves, but for the people of Derry as well who have supported our family. We want to thank them and we thought the Mass was a nice way to do it. We will never forget him. It may be 50 years, and it’s a long, long time but it doesn’t seem that way to us.
“The people in Derry never forgot us. They’ve always been very supportive.”
Christine’s sister Collette was ten-years-old when the incident took place. The Derry News began by asking her if she and family believe that the RUC attack was the cause of his death despite medical opinion that said he had a previous heart condition.
She said: “Absolutely. What people don’t realise is that my daddy went into the hospital on the Saturday night and got out the following Wednesday.
“We were all sent out of the house. My uncle Jim took me to his house in Creggan, but I went to St Eugene’s School so every day, I came to the house to see what was going on and to my daddy and everyone else.
“When I went in he was sitting in the armchair and I waved into him because the room was packed. His face was blackened really badly, and eyes were badly swollen. I was glad to see him and he was glad to see me.
“I thought it was great he was home and then I went back up to my uncle Jim’s thinking I’ll be back home soon. The next day what happened was I ran into the house and there was nobody there apart from my uncle Harry who told me ‘your daddy took sick, he took a wee heart attack, but he’s going to be alright.’
“So, it was just a couple of days after the beating that he had his first heart attack. He was taken to hospital then rushed to the Royal in Belfast and was there for a few weeks. My birthday is on June 8 and I know he wasn’t back home then because my mammy had sent down presents for my birthday.
“He was sent back to Altnagelvin around the middle of June and we were allowed over to see him. It was one of those situations when we were told not to over excite him-be careful with him. Then he eventually recovered and got out of the hospital and we thought he was doing great.
“Then on July 17, he went to Buncrana with my granny and grandad and had a great day. We all went to bed and the next thing I could hear this terrible noise and thought ‘my God, what’s that?’
“It was my daddy taking a heart attack. He was dead before my mammy could even help him in any way at all. It was that sudden. It was just awful.
“Fr McCullagh came out of the Cathedral and put us all in car and took us all over to my granny’s house at Southend Park. They put us all in the bed beside my grandad who also had a bad heart.
“He was saying to Rosary and crying. It was desperate to see a man like my grandad crying, because what he was saying was that it should have been him because my daddy was so young. He was only 43.”
“So, even if the attack didn’t contribute to his death, their excuse was he must have had a bad heart before the beating. You don’t beat a man up who has a bad heart or anyone else. He was beat up in his own living room. He wasn’t out rioting.
“Over the years they’ve tried to justify what they did like that, but they’ll never be able to do that.
“What they’ve done is they’ve protected the people that carried out the beating that caused the death of my daddy all their lives by not releasing the files relating to it.
“Those who carried out the beating are obviously named in the files and that’s why they are not releasing them. We know that.
“But, they have a duty of care to us as well. My mother was left at 40-years-old with nine children to bring up with no support at all from the authorities.”
Collette also believes the locking of the files on the case by the Metropolitan Police around ten years until at least 2022 is a clear indication that those responsible for the assault were still alive at that point.
She said: “It’s pathetic really. It just shows that they are not genuine when they say that they want to deal with the legacy of the past because I don’t think that they do. They just keep kicking it down the road. They are going to keep blocking it. That’s what I think anyway.
“We will always seek justice. I think what you have to do first is resolve these things in your own mind. We’ve all got children and grandchildren that we have to raise, and while we’ll always pursue the truth about what happened when we can, we won’t let it consume our lives.
“I really admire people that fight to the bitter end, but I just can’t do that. We will pursue it if there’s a chance that we can-and always keep an eye on these closed files to make sure they are never destroyed. We hope will see them open in our lifetime, if not it will happen in our children’s lifetime.”
The 50th anniversary Mass in memory of Sammy Devenny will begin at 7pm on Wednesday, July 17 at St Eugene’s Cathedral.
CAPTION: Left to Right: Christine and Collette, daughters of Sammy Devenny.
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