The documentary we saw in class didn’t say much about Bernadette Devlin, the Catholic civil rights activist in Northern Ireland who was a major political opponent to Ian Paisley. I was curious about her role in the Troubles, and I found that as a member UK parliament from 1969 to 1974 she helped to form a slightly more moderate political party and militant group from Sinn Fein and the IRA. However, she brazenly supported the blanket protest, dirty protest and hunger strikes. These sympathies won her dangerous enemies, and in 1981 the UVF tried to kill Devlin and her husband in their home. Heany, as a Catholic in Northern Ireland, undoubtedly knew that his poems would be scrutinized for the same sympathies as Devlin’s and by the same enemies. What happened to Devlin over her life (she’s 66 now) really drives home for me the level of personal danger that came with getting involved in Northern Irish politics at the time, and may partly explain why Heany was so slow to touch such issues.
I read that on January 16, 1981, three men broke into Devlin’s house in Ulster, Northern Ireland, and shot her and her husband in front of their children. The shooters somehow got past the British troops stationed as guards around her house and kicked in the door, but were promptly arrested upon exiting the house after the shooting was done. The implications are that the British troops were in league with the shooters, sent by the UFF (Ulster Freedom Fighters, the militant branch of the UVF) and agreed to arrest them after Devlin and her husband were killed. This interview is from 1982, a year after the attack. The chillingly detached way with which Devlin talks about her injuries and the suspicious failure of the British guards to stop the gunmen speaks her devotion to her cause, and her acceptance that her opposition to Loyalists like Ian Paisley makes her an enemy of the British. A warning, the quiet, 4 minute interview may be disturbing to watch.