A comprehensive perspective from a former British serviceman and students from Northern Ireland


BISMARCK, ND — “There’s many lost, but tell me who has won/The trench is dug within our hearts/And mothers, children, brothers, sisters torn apart,” are few of the angry words written by The Edge of the Dublin, Ireland, rock band U2 and famously portrayed in song by the group’s lead vocalist Bono during their War album’s opening track called “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”

Bloody Sunday memorial wall-paintings in Londonderry, Ulster, Northern Ireland

Bloody Sunday memorial wall-paintings in Londonderry, Ulster, Northern Ireland

The Bloody Sunday mentioned in the track refers to the massacre in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland, on January 30, 1972. British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilians, killing 14 of them during a protest march against internment. The song debuted 11 years later, in 1983, amid continued strife and violence in Belfast and that region of the United Kingdom — a period of conflict spanning from the late ‘60s to 1998 known as The Troubles.

“It is hard for anyone to imagine what all those involved in Northern Ireland went through from the beginning of The Troubles in 1969 to its end,” said Stephen Noakes, who was an eight-year-old Brit at the time of Bloody Sunday.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANoakes would later witness The Troubles first-hand as an Explosives Ordinance Disposal (EOD) specialist in Northern Ireland. For someone whose duty it was to go house to house looking for weapons — the memories are still vivid and the sounds are still real, “The children and their crying when we entered their houses to search for guns and explosives.” Noakes is retired from the British military and working towards getting his Master’s of Education degree at the University of Mary while teaching history at New River Community College in Virginia. “Small, frightened children who were innocent yet embroiled from such a young age. As a father of three children now, I’m deeply sad that others and I put them through such things. Those children now have children of their own and they are growing up without that constant fear or without that experience  — and I am glad of that.”

Bloody Sunday Memorial March 2007 in Derry, Northern Ireland

Bloody Sunday Memorial March 2007 in Derry, Northern Ireland

Noakes is sharing his experiences and other insight along with current students from Northern Ireland at the University of Mary’s convocation forum Friday, January 29 at 10 a.m. in Butler Auditorium. It falls on the 44-year anniversary of the actual event and is part of a weeklong symposium entitled Bloody Sunday: Stories of Violence and Hope from Northern Ireland — beginning Tuesday, January 26 and going through Sunday, January 31. These events are free and open to the public.

Schedule for Free Public Events:

Tuesday, Jan. 26: 6:30 p.m., Bloody Sunday film shown in O’Keefe Hall at the Casey Center with a follow-up panel discussion featuring Brigadier General David Anderson, (Ret.) and current coordinator for Military Student Services at the University of Mary.

Wednesday, Jan. 27: 10 a.m., Ecumenical service in Our Lady of the Annunciation Chapel. University of Mary Concert Choir will sing “Across The Bridge of Hope,” a piece composed from a poem written by a 12-year old Northern Ireland boy in 1998 who was later killed in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Omagh that same year.

Thursday, Jan. 28: 8 p.m.“Grounds For Belief” A talk by retired British serviceman Stephen Noakes. Following the presentation there will be live Irish music and an Irish breakfast served — both events in Chick’s Place.

Friday, Jan. 29: 10 a.m., Convocation: “Bloody Sunday: Stories of Violence and Hope from Northern Ireland” in Butler Auditorium. The panel will be made up of retired British serviceman Noakes and current University of Mary students from Northern Ireland or those who have spent extensive time there discussing The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Saturday, Jan. 30: 6:30 p.m., Bloody Sunday film shown a second time on the anniversary date of the 1972 Bloody Sunday (Jan. 30, 1972) with a follow-up panel discussion with retired British serviceman Stephen Noakes.

Sunday, Jan. 31: 9 p.m., A silent candle vigil procession will follow 8 p.m. Mass in Our Lady of the Annunciation to Annunciation Monastery in recognition of global peace and the culmination of a month of: Christian Prayer and Unity; Martin Luther King’s birthday; Bloody Sunday and the Respect For Life.

This is the first time Noakes has gone public about his experiences in Northern Ireland. But why has he waited until now?

“I have asked this question of myself several times and the answer is that it is time to use my experience in a positive way,” said Noakes.

“The reason why it’s important for the University of Mary to do this weeklong Bloody Sunday forum is to raise awareness of how places in the world can progress from violence to peace,” stated Dr. Mike Taylor, associate professor of Education at the University of Mary. “Possibly with this awareness we can employ similar strategies in our own communities where there is always the potential for violence. Just like Bono and the song suggests, we can be agents of change and cultural renewal while being advocates for justice and peace.”

According to an article published by Rock History 101, over the decades, as the U2 band grew in popularity around the world, Sunday Bloody Sunday became a staple of their live set and became the opening number of their two-song set for Live Aid. There are some who saw the song as a glorification of the violence and a call for revolution. But that was never the intention of the song, nor its authors. In order to thwart those ideas, with white flags waving behind him on stage, Bono would introduce the song by saying, “This song is not a rebel song. This song is ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday.’”

The article goes on to mention, while originally written as a call for peace in Ireland, the song has become and anthem to end all conflicts — centering on themes of coexisting.

During U2 performances in war-torn Sarajevo, or in Iran after deadly demonstrations, after 9/11 in America, and continued bombings in Northern Ireland, Bono would ask the crowd to “Turn this song into prayer.”

So the song, even today, is a reminder of the struggle that Martin Luther King endured during his march on Selma; a reminder of the hundreds of thousands of women and men, young and old who march for life in Washington D.C. every year; a reminder of the innocent lives lost today in free societies to street violence; a reminder of all those living in fear and subjected to the atrocities of terrorism in countries around the world.

When one is reminded of all the violence and conflicts going on in the world today, reflection can easily lead back to the “Sunday Bloody Sunday” lyrics.

“I can’t believe the news today. Oh, I can’t close my eyes and make it go away. How long – how long must we sing this song?”