Operation Motorman was designed to break Free Derry and other republican no go areas in the north of Ireland, and to remove support bases for republicans, but it failed. The war continued for more than two more decades, until the announcement of the first PIRA ceasefire in 1994.
By the time of the 1994 ceasefire 122 people had lost their lives here, including 73 civilians and republican volunteers and 49 members of the security forces. These figures include 33 civilians killed by British state forces. Two of those who died on hunger strike in 1981 – Patsy O’Hara and Mickey Devine – were from Free Derry.
Most of the civilians killed by state forces were labelled as gunmen and bombers at the time, but in recent years family campaigns have begun to force an admission of the truth. William McGreanery’s family eventually received an apology from the British Ministry of Defence and an admission that he was not armed when he was shot dead. A fresh inquest overturned the original findings in Daniel Hegarty’s case, and the coroner ordered a new police investigation, but the Public Prosecution Service then decided not to prosecute the soldier who killed him. New inquests were ordered in the cases of Kathleen Thompson, Manus Deery and Seamus Bradley, but they were postponed again and became caught up in the tangled web of unresolved issues from this era.
To date no British soldier or RUC officer has ever been charged with killing anyone in the Free Derry area, while in contrast there have been charges in around 25 per cent of the cases where the victims were members of the security forces.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s a series of talks – the Hume-Adams talks – were held in the Bogside, and these were pivotal in the process that led to the 1994 ceasefires and the eventual end of the conflict. Figures who had been key in the Free Derry era, such as John Hume and Martin McGuinness, were central to these talks.
And Free Derry Corner remained throughout all these years, the political and emotional epicentre of the area, a symbol of the years of struggle for civil rights and the years of armed conflict that followed. And it remains today as a symbol of the same, and as a marker for civil and human rights struggles around the world. It is still the symbol and the spirit of Free Derry.
An INLA colour party follows the funeral cortege of hunger striker Patsy O'Hara on 25 May 1981. Thousands attended his funeral in Derry. (Unknown)