They came in their thousands to the commemoration in Londonderry yesterday, oblivious both to the cold and to those voices attempting to tell them that Bloody Sunday was multi-factorial, complicated, difficult.
They trudged their way down the route of the original march, from the Creggan into the Bogside, as has been done every year since 1972.
In that year, more than a dozen of those who made the journey did not realise they were marching to their deaths. Those who followed in their footsteps found nothing whatever complicated about the issue: the dead were murdered by the Paras. That's all.
Most of them listened to the speeches at Free Derry Corner, after their three-mile trek, but the main thing was the march itself. It serves as an affirmation of what every one of them believes without the slightest doubt: that the 14 dead of Bloody Sunday were innocent.
Nationalist Ireland knew that from the start and has never deviated from that belief.
Nothing that has emerged in the ensuing three decades has shaken that absolute confidence.
Nobody on the march believed Martin McGuinness fired the first shot or that 30 dead terrorists had been spirited away by the IRA, or that one of those shot was carrying nail bombs. All of that is just dismissed with scorn, with a Derry "Catch yourself on".
The people who believe that stuff are what they call Eejits, or are in denial, or are defending the indefensible actions of the Paras, they think.
They also believe that what the Government and judiciary did afterwards, in depicting the victims as gunmen and bombers, was equally inexcusable and indefensible.
According to a Londonderry journalist, this year's parade was the biggest of them all, swollen by the fact that the Saville tribunal is sitting in the city, by the two recent docu-dramas, and by all the new publicity.
The young, the old and the middle-aged marched, many of their faces ruddy on a cold, sodden, grey Derry day. It was not a solemn occasion, there was much chat and banter. "Here, d'you see Mars Bar or George? I'm looking for them," one man called. "No sign of Brendan? – Nah." A shivering youth complained: "You could snap my feet off at the ankles."
On the way down the hill there was much talk about the previous night's hangovers. "You're a bit livelier looking the day than you were last night." A woman in jeans with long curly hair called across the ranks to an abashed man.
The march symbolised both victimhood and republican militancy. Six-year-old boys stepped proudly beside the Martin Hurson Band, which commemorates a dead IRA hunger striker. A republican colour party, white shirts and black berets, black trousers tucked into big black boots, tramped along behind an array of flags.
The families of the victims were at the front. Fourteen of them in line abreast, each carrying a small white wooden cross bearing a name. The cross for Jack Duddy, who was 17 when he was shot in Rossville Flats, was in the hands of his sister Kay.
"I think we're maybe seeing light at the end of the tunnel," she said as she waited for Martin McGuinness to finish his television soundbites before the march could move on. "The lawyers at the tribunal try to put off the witnesses, but in the end that just helps to show they are telling the truth.
"I think that Saville is determined to do the job that he set out to do. I feel he's determined to get to the truth."
The march wound its way from the Catholic housing estates built on the hills by the Unionist administration anxious to deny nationalists control of the city. The elevated position gave the nationalists magnificent views that symbolised their political isolation.
Recently gained republican power was on show at the march, a discreet distance from the guys with the berets and boots. In a non-militaristic show of strength Martin McGuinness and other Sinn Fein MPs and Stormont ministers strode in a formidable line, a respectful gap left in front of them.
Mr McGuinness, second in command of the IRA in the city on Bloody Sunday, is now Northern Ireland Education Minister and an MP with an office at Westminster – still, he would say, a revolutionary, though no longer a violent one. The long republican march is still going on. It's diversion into politics providing rich political dividends.
The long campaign of the Bloody Sunday families is also still going on. Whatever happens at the Saville inquiry, that line of white crosses will for years to come be making its annual journey down from Creggan to the Bogside.Reuse content