Bernadette Devlin McAliskey The Blindboy Podcast Recorded 6 October 2018 and Published 13 November 2018

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The Blindboy Podcast
Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey
Ulster Hall Belfast
6 October 2018

October 5th 2018 was the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland. To mark this anniversary, Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubber Bandits hosted one of his awesome podcasts at Ulster Hall in Belfast on October 6th 2018. Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey was his guest. The house was sold out. The podcast is over two hours long. The Transcripts will be publishing the entire session with Bernadette – beginning to end. This transcript is Part 2 of 5. In this part Blindboy asks Bernadette to discuss the Irish-America she met in 1969 and to describe what it was like when the shooting started on Bloody Sunday.
(begins time stamp ~ 49:36)

Blindboy:  What, like, what was the reaction of Irish-America to that, like?

Bernadette:  Oooooh!

Blindboy:  ‘Cause I mean that’s – talk about embarrassing them, like!

Bernadette:  Well, first of all you have to remember not all – Irish-America isn’t homogeneous. There were Irish-Americans I worked with who were in progressive and liberal movements but Irish-America organised as ‘Irish-America’ was fairly conservative – people would be organised doing good work for the county but then they would be what I would now call ‘all-class alliances’ so the only thing they were really unified on was the county and the country and they certainly didn’t want to hear – they used to say: Don’t talk – we don’t want to hear anything about black civil rights, we don’t want to hear anything about socialism, we don’t want to hear anything about feminism – just tell us about Ireland.

Photo: The Irish News

And then I would say: Okay, I’ll tell you about Ireland – it’s full of socialists and feminists but – which was a lie, which was a lie – but I would talk about, talk about – I would try to say to them, because I couldn’t not, they would say things and you see, and I was young – I mean that’s not an excuse but as I was saying I was young. I’d never been there, I hadn’t been exposed to this and so I was mesmerised by it. I’d be sitting in a fairly comfortable New York home – not a wealthy New York home – but when you were coming from Tyrone to a comfortable New York home I kept mistaking them for small boarding houses. You know, like local country hotels or bed – because they had so many rooms in them and more toilets than I’d ever seen in my life. House with, you know – there were places in Northern Ireland that still had outside toilets and I was going and being put up by families who had four or five toilets, bedrooms with their own toilets, which are now commonplace but they weren’t then. And they had something else. Almost invariably they wad a woman who ‘helped’. And I discovered the woman who ‘does’ in America. These houses had a woman who ‘did’ – dishes, laundry, hoovering – she didn’t belong to them in that she wasn’t a family member. People in America didn’t wash their own dishes. But the woman would, almost invariably, be a woman of colour – Puerto Rican woman, a black woman. American feminists were usually white, middle-class professionals who also had a woman who did – and I would be talking to them and then I’d be drawing the parallels and then the people, I’d be sitting at their table or I’d be speaking at meetings to them, sounded like Orangemen sounded. They really did. The things they said about black people were things that the Loyalists said about Catholics – didn’t want to work, black people are poor because they don’t want to work, they’re poor because they’re stupid. They’re poor because they’re lazy. And I’d say: No, that’s – hang on a minute – that’s what people say about us, but we know that we’re not and you know that we’re not. So what makes you think that’s true about them?

Blindboy:  And how would they get when you would bring that up? When you’d confront them with that?

Bernadette:  They would be, you know, as people are. They would be uncomfortable. They would be angry. They would think you were ungrateful. Some of them would begin to change but mostly people would start to get defensive so when I – I led a trail – you know, some of the Hibernians and the Republicans of an ilk said that I ‘waved a trail of destruction across America’ that wasn’t sorted out ’til the man that’s not in the IRA went over with the blessing, went over with the blessing of the Democratic Party and put Humpty Dumpty together again.

And I think I was – that’s one of things which I find hard to forgive him and Sinn Féin – was that they went and put that inward-looking Irish-American thing back together again when I had, along with, not just on my own, helped to split it apart and make people see that, you know, if they were going to be on the side of justice or progress in Ireland they had to be on the same side in America or else they had to recognise that what they thought was patriotism and progress in Ireland was anti-Protestant bigotry and they needed to make up their mind which side they’re on.

Source: CAIN
Chapter 12 on the events of 1969

And so, you know, I gave the keys to the Panthers. I refused to meet – that was my other claim to fame – I refused to meet the mayor of Chicago because I was getting wise to this. You know, I had already done New York and Philadelphia, with a key under here and a bell under this arm, but when I arrived in Chicago the police were there and I thought: The game’s up. They’re waiting for you, Bernadette, you’re going to be sent home. But it was zoom! An escort, a police escort into Chicago city in this limousine and the person, I said: Where are we going? He said: We’re going, yes, we’re going to the mayoral reception with Mayor Daley. And I said: No, no we’re not. Because we called the chief of police in Doire ‘Mayor Daley’ for a nickname! Because of the 1968, young people here won’t remember that, but Mayor Daley, it was the Democratic Convention in Chicago for the American Democratic Party and the young students all protested at that…

Blindboy:  …Yeah, that’s where – people were shot at that protest. 

Chicago, 1968 The Whole World Is Watching Chant

Bernadette:  And they were shot and Mayor Daley called in the National Guard against them so I wasn’t meeting with that guy. And people came down – you know what that was like? Well, you wouldn’t but it was – I’m sitting, and I have to tell you at this point, I’m sitting in the clothes of a woman I didn’t know because

Claudia Dreifus
Raeanne Rubinstein
The East Village Other

I went over in jeans to America and they had difficulty finding a woman who was only five foot and Claudia Dreifus came into my life for three weeks because they found this young woman who kindly lent me her clothes for three weeks. So I’m sitting in somebody else’s good dress in the back of this posh limousine and these guys saying to me: You gotta get out. You gotta get out. You gotta get out and meet the mayor. I said: I’m not getting out. I’m not shaking hands with no Mayor Daley. I am not getting out. I’ve had enough of this shit. I’m not going anywhere. And they turned, they finally they gave up, they turned the limousine around, they took me straight back to the airport, they put me on, because they probably sorted that out, they put me on an aircraft and ‘officially’ – I never got into Chicago again. And that was the power of – now, I was in and out of Chicago on – but not with ‘official’ Irish-America and the Chicago Democratic Party.

Blindboy:   What was in it for – like why was these mayors – like what was in it for them? What did they want? Were they trying to appeal to the Irish-American vote? Were they trying to show? Because to me it sounds very performative, like.


NBC News Meet the Press
26 August 1969

It was showtime is really what it was for them. It was gathering up, it was consolidating the Irish-American vote. It was, it was – aye, it was showtime to them and it was money time. Because there was a lot of, when I was in America there was a lot chat you know about is the IRA, and there was hardly any IRA really about in ’69, but if the IRA was getting the money – the democratic people organising it, the Irish-American people organising it, the churches they were, you know, it was: One for her and one for us, and one for us and one for us and one for us and one for her – and I used to keep trying to get people to say: Look, you can’t be taking, taking money off people. I didn’t have money you see so always – I played Monopoly from as a child and I’ve always lived in fear of ‘Go To Jail Directly. Do Not Collect Two Hundred Pounds’. So there was something about all this throwing money and collecting money and gathering money which had nothing to do with me…

Blindboy:  …And was this cash, like actual?

Bernadette:  Oh, this was cash. And I’ll tell you what: You know, I stood in Detroit and all of the Ancient Order of Hibernians of America had gathered up and for one small moment I had a cheque in my hand for one million dollars and then it went to the church.

Blindboy: Oh, for fucks sake!

Bernadette: Exactly! Went to the church.

Source: Irish America Magazine

And the reason it went to the church was that I had refused to speak in the hall because they wouldn’t let the black kids in and they said it was a fire thing. (applause) And then I had a solution for that, said: Look, I usually speak outside anyway so why don’t we all go outside? I’m going to go outside and speak outside and then the rest of you can come out and there’ll be no problem. So then they were able to discover, see there was a balcony like here, there was nobody in – I was up here, I could see it – so then they let everybody in – the black kids all came in. And then, because you’re not wise when you’re young I did something that wasn’t wise in terms of, no, just in terms of putting a person in a position I shouldn’t have put them in which was there was a tenor singing John McCormick songs and singing, you know, I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen or whatever. It was lovely before it started but he was asked to come on and sing a song again to close it. So now all the black people had been allowed in and we’re all in there and the man came out and he said to me, you know, which was a nice thing to do, ‘What would you like me to sing? And I said: I’d like you to sing We Shall Overcome and I’ll sing it with you. And it was at that point that the colour of the tenor’s skin became important…

Blindboy:  …Yeah…

Bernadette:  … because he was black and I knew when I said it that I probably cost this man his job….

Blindboy:  … Oh, fuck. Okay, yeah…

Bernadette:  …If he doesn’t sing – what is he going to do? If he does sing what is he going to do? So I started to sing first then he joined in and you could feel the tension in that place and the singing started up here with the black, young people and then people in the crowd started to sing. But when I looked down amongst the dignitaries who had the best seats at the front only a very few brave people stood up. And when the singing was done an important person came up and took the cheque off me and said: I think that will be in safer hands – and it was sent home to the Catholic Church. I used to chase them every year to say: What did you do with the money? What did you do with the money? They got a million dollars for the rehabilitation of offenders or whatever it was. But people were much more interested in whether any of it – and just so that you don’t forget you know what was done with it? – and people, young people don’t know this today: When I gathered up as much of that money as I could it rebuilt Bombay Street which is the place, that’s where most of that money went – is the rebuilding of Bombay Street. (applause)

Blindboy:  We’re going to open the bar for you for about ten minutes and give you a little bit of an interval to have a pint. And then we’ll be back on in about ten minutes. Is that alright? (audience reacts)

Bernadette:   Thank you.

Blindboy:  One question I got asked and something I’d like to know: You were present at Bloody Sunday.

Bernadette:  Yeah.

Blindboy:   What was it like when the first shots were fired? What did that feel like?

Bernadette:   It’s funny that, you know, that there are things that you remember, traumatic things, and they don’t cause you trauma, and Bloody Sunday is one of those things that, whenever I think of it, and after Bloody Sunday up until we all had to go to Saville it’s very interesting that we never spoke of it. I remember talking to Eamonn McCann one day about, you know, whenever the Saville Enquiry started and both of us realising that we had – you know there had been some conversations between us over those years – we had never, ever spoken to each other about Bloody Sunday – ever. So you could see how, even though we weren’t aware of it, that we had all been traumatised by that day because of the way it happened and because of the enormity of what had happened and it’s what sets Bloody Sunday out apart from everything else. It was a day that by deliberate political strategy the British government decided to kill innocent civilians.

30 January 1972
Source: BBC

You know I’m not – and people didn’t believe you but you saw it with your eyes so you knew that’s what happened. And on that day we had all come down marching down the hill. And it wasn’t so much ‘marching’ – it was a big, steep hill so the steepness of the hill carries you down it. So the people who are the fittest get running to the front and the people who are least fit try to keep their footing to keep up with the march. So you’re kind of at a pace down the hill and as we came towards, because we we’re going to go Guild Hall Square, and we were coming down that street and that road was blocked and the plan was to turn and go to Free Derry Corner. And I was kind of, because I always used to – you’d be hulked up – you’d be at the front but because I walked slower than everybody else by the time you’d get to where you’re going I’d be at the back and then there’d be gossiping along the road and so they came back for me, I was only halfway down the hill, to say they needed me on the lorry at the front with the loudhailer to pull the crowd to Free Derry Corner – so that’s what I did.

The Original Free Derry Wall
January 1969

25 December 2018:
We Remember Liam Hillen
May He Rest in Peace
Source: The Derry Journal

And we had got the most of the crowd, now there were wee bit of rioting starting at the flash point where we weren’t allowed to proceed, but we had gotten over to Free Derry Corner and I was standing on a platform. Now, I don’t care what anybody says – I was higher than anybody else; everybody else was on the ground. I’m on the back of a lorry so I’m up above them and I know that the first shot I heard, I can still hear it, I’m standing there, on a lorry looking down like I’m looking down on these people, and somewhere here, I only heard it in my left ear, but somewhere there there was one single shot. And I heard it. And the only place it could have come from was the walls. And when they put all the Saville stuff together the only people up there were the soldiers. And that first, single shot I know came from there. Now Lord Saville said I imagined it or I was confused or whatever he thought I was doing – I was not. One single shot started the Doire firing.

And when that shot went off the next shots I heard of came from there. And I actually heard myself saying: Don’t – you know, because that was only one shot and this was a burst of shots and people got panicked and you could see them getting down – and I stated to say: Stand your ground and don’t run! They’re only firing over our heads. Because again, a bit like the 5th of October, the idea that they would not be firing over your head, that they’d be firing into the crowd to shoot people was unthinkable. But the words were only halfway out of my mouth when I could see down the back that right at the back people were beginning to scatter and crouch down. I could just see people, almost like a wave of people who were you know, you see people’s faces looking up are you and now they’re all – but it’s from the back and people are crouching and starting to run away and there’s more firing. So, it’s a very funny feeling. But almost as the first words are coming out of my mouth my brain is trying to get them back in because I’m telling the people not to run. And when they’re halfway out of my mouth I’m now telling them to stay down and stay crouched down so that the soldiers don’t think they’re standing up so I’m saying: Don’t run! They’re only firing over our heads. And then I’m saying: Get down! Stay down! And get clear away to safety. And that’s taking just them few minutes that I’m telling you now and I’m seeing people run away and then I have this sense and realisation: I’m still standing on the back of a lorry. And people – the place is nearly clear and then the penny drops with me – if I stand here I’ll be shot, too. And I get down under the lorry but I still have the mic in my hand, it all happens that quick. I’m holding a microphone and I’m saying: Don’t run. Do run. And then I’m under the lorry myself and I’m sitting underneath the wheel of it and by this time the place has cleared and I’m looking down that street and I can’t really see, ’cause you’re just seeing the whole way down, and I still have the mic and I see people who don’t seemed to have moved away down there and I’m saying:  Don’t be afraid but crawl away!  

And then I realise:   They can’t.   They can’t.

(ends time stamp ~1:12:00)