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Jean Hegerty - Woman of Courage

By Teresa Notarmaso

Jean Hegerty grew up in the Pennyburn neighborhood of Derry. As a child of the 50’s and 60’s, she lived in an integrated neighborhood of Catholics and Protestants, with four siblings.  The first inkling, she says, of any discrimination of Catholics was when she went on her first job interview.  Because one could not tell by her name (Elizabeth Jean) or the street she lived (Phillips Street), the interviewer asked her where she went to school. When Jean told the interviewer, “St. Patrick’s Primary School”, the interviewer ended the interview, saying that he did not hire Catholics.  Jean was not outraged or horrified by this. She went on to get another job.

In 1965, she left Northern Ireland for Canada with her husband, where she worked for the next few years. Then on one night in 1972, Jean received word that her brother, Kevin McElhinney, had been shot and killed in the Bloody Sunday civil rights demonstration in Derry. She returned for the funeral, and while on the plane ride back, her thoughts initially were of finding and killing the soldier who killed her brother.  

Upon return to Canada, Jean remained there but was still wondering more about why her brother was killed, and who had done such a thing. Meanwhile, the first inquiry (Widgery Inquiry) took place, and the results in 1972 maligned the victims of the Bloody Sunday incident, saying that those shot were guilty of terrorism (and worse).  

Recently, I asked Jean moving forward, whether the peace negotiated in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 would stand, and what would it take to have complete reconciliation.  Jean’s response: “Integrated schools, beginning with the education of our youngest children.  Jobs and a good standard of living for all.  And the ability to have a good education, which enlightens and provides the road to compassion.”  True words.

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