ICONIC IMAGE | 

Strabane woman (82) at scene of first Bloody Sunday massacre killing passes away

Then aged 31, May is clearly visible in the famous video footage of a stooping Fr Daly as he waved his handkerchief at paratroopers

Belfast Telegraph

A Strabane woman who found herself at the heart of the most iconic image of the Bloody Sunday massacre has died.

May O'Neill was behind Bishop Edward Daly, then Fr Daly, when he used his white bloodstained handkerchief to lead a group of people carrying Jackie Duddy away from Rossville Flats.

Then aged 31, May is clearly visible in the famous video footage of a stooping Fr Daly as he waved his handkerchief at paratroopers.

As the clip unfolds she is seen running up to the group carrying Jackie Duddy.

The mother of five, who lived at Hollyhill in Strabane, passed away on Friday. She was 82.

Speaking in 2016 following the death of Bishop Daly, Ms O'Neill recalled the grim scene on the streets of Derry in January 1972.

She said that as the priest led the band of five men, an ambulance stopped to take 17-year-old Jackie's lifeless body to hospital. She offered to go with him but on advice from Fr Daly, who warned her she faced being arrested, she stayed where she was.

Revealing how she was thrust into the centre of arguably the most enduring image of the conflict, the pensioner said, “I went to all the civil rights marches. We all did. I went to Belfast, Dungannon, Enniskillen, everywhere there was a march I was at it.

“I was there on Bloody Sunday like everyone else because we all thought it would be a peaceful march.

“But then the soldiers started firing into the whole crowd and didn't care who they killed. Anyone could have been shot that day.

“There was panic everywhere and I went to see if I could help. I saw Jackie Duddy being carried and a priest in front of it all. The soldiers were shooting away all the time and I said I would go in the ambulance with the young fella. But Fr Daly told me not to because I would be arrested.

“I was afraid but what could you do? You just had to keep going.”

May O'Neill, left in the headscarf, in the iconic image of Fr Edward Daly and a group of men carrying the body of Jackie Duddy on Bloody Sunday.

The footage of Fr Daly signalling with his handkerchief has been beamed around the world thousands of times in the 49 years since Bloody Sunday.

May O'Neill said such was the indiscriminate nature of the gunfire, the priest himself could have been killed.

“He risked his life that day. I remember them carrying Jackie Duddy and the bullets were still bouncing about all over the place. I would say that but for him waving that hankie, they would have shot him too.

“He was a great man. I met him many times in the years after and I remember speaking to him down in Foyle Hospice and I brought it up. He just said 'It's all over now and all we can do is pray for them'.

“He was just a really nice man and no matter where you were, he always had time to speak to you. He was a saint.”

Speaking following Ms O'Neill's death Strabane Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher described her as “most charming lady you could meet”.

He said, “May was always fun loving and entertaining. We would have had her up to Fountain Street Community Centre for various functions and she was always at the centre of the craic. People flocked around her, she was that kind of lady.”

Local Sinn Féin Councillor Michaela Boyle added, “Everybody that knew May loved listening to her stories of days gone by.

“There was always craic when May was around. Her charm and charisma was in abundance.”

May O'Neill's funeral will take place in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Strabane, on Monday, December 19 at 10am.


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