By Dominic McGrath, PA
Nearly 50 years after their mother was shot on Bloody Sunday, the family of Peggy Deery have said it feels like it happened “yesterday”.
Mrs Deery would be the only woman shot on January 30th 1972, when 13 civil rights protesters were shot dead by British soldiers.
Another man shot by paratroopers on the day died four months later.
The widow and mother of 14 children survived, but with debilitating injuries that left her with a permanent limp.
Mrs Deery, who died in 1988 from a heart attack aged 54, will be among those remembered when the people of Derry gather to mark the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday later this month.
Her daughter Margaret, or Margie, has lived in Derry her entire life.
The anniversary, she said, will simply be another “grim” day.
“It’ll be another grim anniversary. Sad. A dark cloud over Derry. It always will be. And when you talk about it, it’s just awful. It’s like it happened yesterday. It’ll always be a sad day,” she told the PA news agency.
Margaret remembers clearly the events of that day.
“That day I looked after them, she didn’t return home. So a number came up to ring, and we rang it, and they said try the morgue, you might get her there. So we rang the morgue, the fella said, ‘Look, I’m not supposed to give out information, but there was a woman shot and she’s OK’.”
Her mother was not OK.
She spent several weeks in hospitals in Belfast and Derry, before being discharged.
“She was a great mother,” says Margaret.
“My father died when he was 37, so she was mother and father to us all. A brilliant woman.”
But the effects of Bloody Sunday and her injury would never leave her.
Margaret said: “After Bloody Sunday, she was just totally changed.
“We were looking after her, rather than her looking after us. It was tough.
“She wasn’t the same person. She needed care.
“Couldn’t cook. Couldn’t do anything. She just went into a depression, obviously after being shot I suppose.”
She says that her mother spoke about what happened that day, as she attended the civil rights march in the city.
“She spoke about the boy that shot her. She said she could pick him out of one hundred. He was that close. She did say to him, ‘Son, don’t shoot me again. I’m a widow, with my 14 children’.
“She was taken into some house, and they were going to airlift her and the Army came in, and she would not go in a helicopter. She thought they would have thrown her out.”
Life was difficult for the Deery family even before Bloody Sunday.
They lived in poverty, coping with financial uncertainty and the backdrop of the Troubles.
Mrs Deery’s husband had died from cancer in 1971. The toll of his illness had dominated family life in the years before his death.
Tragedy continued after 1972, as Mrs Deery tried to live a life with some semblance of normality.
Her son Paddy was killed in 1987 along with another IRA man when the bomb they were carrying exploded early.
Those years were difficult, remembers Margaret.
As the eldest girl, it fell to her to take on many of the household responsibilities.
“For me, personally, I had to grow up very quick. I had to look after the family. My mother was in hospital for about five months, so I had to look after them all. Me and Helen. It was hard, really hard. Especially in the Troubles, keeping them in, keeping them out of trouble. It was rough.”
Peggy Deery’s life was captured by Irish writer Nell McCafferty, who wrote about the struggles of the family in a book published in 1988.
In one passage, Ms McCafferty wrote: “Peggy Deery had thirteen children, and a dying husband, before she found herself settled into a home that had its own bathroom, own front door, and own grass patch.
“Her condition was one of absolute poverty. She joined the Civil Rights Movement. She gave birth to her last and fourteenth child. She named the girl Bernadette Devlin Deery, after the civil rights leader. The naming was an act of hope and defiance by a woman reborn.”
“The book was funny and sad,” recalls Margaret.
She still has a copy and passes it around among her extended family.
This year, a new play dramatising the events of Bloody Sunday will take to the stage in Derry.
Margaret does not know how to feel about it yet. It is already difficult to escape the memory of it.
“We actually saw her lying there, in one of the Bloody Sunday films,” she says.
The family do not need books or plays to remember their mother.
Margaret says that Peggy remains a constant topic of conversation among the children and grandchildren.
She said: “We just talk about her 24/7. You know, you’ve got another grandchild coming up to the age, and they go, ‘What happened to Granny Peggy and why did they do this’, and it’s hard to explain to them without making them bitter.
“They realise what kind of childhood I had, and they go ‘Mammy, how did you do it?’ I said it was normal, it had to be done. Couldn’t do it again, couldn’t go through that again, no.”
Bitterness and anger is something Margaret has fought against in her own children.
Yet the memory of Bloody Sunday still brings pain.
She said: “It feels like yesterday. It doesn’t feel 50 years. It definitely doesn’t. Even now, she’s missed so much.
“I have seven of my own and not one of them is bitter. But when they talk about Bloody Sunday, you can actually see them being angry. Which I don’t want.
“I don’t want them brought up the way I was brought up. It wasn’t a nice society, when we were brought up. So, mine actually, when they were younger, didn’t know whether they were Catholic or Protestant. That’s being honest.
“And thank God, it paid off because every one of them is great.”
The 50th anniversary comes as the British government plans to prohibit future prosecutions of military veterans and ex-paramilitaries for Troubles incidents pre-dating April 1998.
Margaret condemned the plans.
“The rules they would be making, they have never lost somebody or had somebody injured.
“It is pure raw in Derry today about Bloody Sunday. To me anyway, it feels like yesterday. The years just flew by. My mother lived for her children, the same as what I’m doing now. I just took after her.
“I cook for them and just doing the exact same things she done for us, before she was shot. She was just a great woman.”