For the first two years of the Troubles, the area of the Catholic Bogside area beyond the original “Free Derry” mural was a notorious no-go area, the undisputed preserve of the IRA, its boundary marked by a gravestone-like monument declaring, “You are now entering free Derry”. This autonomy lasted until 1972, when the British army launched Operation Motorman; the IRA men who had been in the area were tipped off, though, and got across the border before the invasion took place.
To the right of the “Bernadette Devlin” mural in the Bogside stands a memorial pillar to the thirteen Catholic civilians killed by British paratroopers (a fourteenth died later of his wounds) on “Bloody Sunday”, January 30, 1972, in the aftermath of a civil-rights demonstration. The soldiers immediately claimed they had been fired upon, an assertion later disproved, though some witnesses came forward to report seeing IRA men there with their guns. The bitter memory of the subsequent Widgery Commission’s failure to declare anyone responsible for the deaths festered in Catholic Derry, and pressure was maintained on successive governments to reopen investigations. In 1999, after years of mounting demands for a full examination, the British government established the Saville Inquiry, which conducted its proceedings in Derry’s Guildhall until moving to Westminster in 2002. It finally reported in June 2010, concluding that the British Army’s actions were “unjustified and unjustifiable”, that all those killed or wounded were innocent victims and that some soldiers had committed perjury in giving their evidence. At the time of writing it is unclear whether any prosecutions will ensue.