Victim’s brother recalls bullets flying past his head on Bloody Sunday

·4 min read

A campaigner has told how he narrowly avoided being shot on Bloody Sunday, the same day that his teenage brother was killed.

John Kelly said the civil rights march in Londonderry on January 30 1972 was the first that 17-year-old Michael had ever attended.

He also said their mother had been concerned about Michael’s safety at the event, and called out to him shortly before he was shot dead.

Mr Kelly said: “I remember that day vividly. I remember us gathering in the Creggan. That was the last time I seen my brother alive.

“I spoke to him prior to it and told him to be careful. The fact is, he was never on a march before and he was very excited about it.

“I left him. He went his way with his friends, I went my way with my friends. There is actually film footage of Michael with Ivan Cooper at the very front of the march – it shows you how naive he was and how excited about the march itself.”

Mr Kelly said the march was initially jovial.

“The march was blocked and we were told the Army had set up 26 roadblocks around the area.

“The initial destination of the march was the Guildhall. We never reached there.

“The organisers of the march decided to take it into Rossville Street. Whilst we were there a small riot began – people were angry that they couldn’t finish the march.

“I decided to come into the Bogside to listen to the speeches. I was walking up Chamberlain Street and I met Barney McGuigan, who I knew because I worked with him. We stood and chatted for a couple of minutes, then I moved on, not realising Barney would be dead within 15 minutes.

“As we got into the Rossville courtyard, a shout went up that the Paras (Parachute Regiment) were moving in and people ran. I ran with everybody.

“I ended up at the front of the Rossville flats and that is when the shooting began, it was the first shot I heard.

“Naturally I took cover. As I lay there the shooting was ongoing. It was relentless, it was never-ending as far as I was concerned.”

Bloody Sunday prosecutions
Michael Kelly was killed on Bloody Sunday (Bloody Sunday Trust/PA)

He continued: “After a bit of time I realised I need to get out of here.

“I ran across Rossville Street and two bullets passed my head. I heard the whoosh of the bullets as they passed.

“Then there was a lull in the shooting. We looked across the street and saw a group of people so we decided to come back into the area. As we did so, two bullets passed in front of us. They started to shoot from the Derry walls.

“We took cover again. Eventually the shooting ended and we decided to go and join the crowd.

“As we stood watching I heard a call from behind me from a brother-in-law, and he told me Michael had been shot.

“I helped to carry Michael and put him in the ambulance. He was taken to the hospital where he was declared dead on arrival.”

Mr Kelly said his younger brother was “totally non-political”.

“He went to the march that day for the craic because his friends were going.

“My mother never got over Michael’s death. My mother went into a frame of mind that she remembered nothing for five years.

“The fact is that Michael asked my mother for permission to go on the march. It showed the respect that he had for her.

“My mother initially said no, because she feared for him.

John Kelly holds an image of his teenage brother Michael, who was killed on Bloody Sunday in 1972 (Liam McBurney/PA)
John Kelly holds an image of his teenage brother Michael, who was killed on Bloody Sunday in 1972 (Liam McBurney/PA)

“When he was a three-year-old boy, he picked up a virus which went to his brain and nearly killed him. He was in a coma for three weeks.

“The doctors said he was going to die, but my mother never gave up. Even the local priest asked my mother to give him up to God, and she refused to do so. He survived, he came back.

“She was more protective of Michael, that is the reason she refused to let him go.

“She actually followed him that day, to keep an eye on him.

“She lost sight of him and went to a flat and was looking out the window, looking for Michael.

“She saw him and called out to him. He never heard her and ran towards the barricade and was shot dead.”