McClean, (John) Raymond (1933–2011), medical doctor, civil-rights activist and humanitarian, was born on 18 January 1933 in Coleraine, Co. Londonderry, third in a family of three sons and one daughter of Charles McClean and his wife Kathleen (née King). Charles McClean, a trophy-winning contestant in Ulster motorcycle competitions, joined the Royal Flying Corps aged 17 during the first world war and became a flying instructor with the rank of captain. He and his wife were running the Provincial Hotel in Foyle Street, Derry city, by the time of his death in 1941 from a stroke, aged 41. Kathleen McClean then ran a similar smaller business in Greencastle, Co. Donegal, for a number of years before moving to Wales with her second husband, a veterinary surgeon, with whom she had a son.
Raymond lived in Derry from the age of 6, attending Rosemount primary school and St Columb's College, where he was a classmate of Edward Daly (qv), later bishop of Derry. An elder brother helped financially when Raymond went in 1951 to study medicine in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) in Dublin, but money was always a problem, and he had little in common with well-off Dublin students. However, with the aid of a supportive Derry cohort and his fierce competitiveness, he eventually carved himself a place: he became captain of the RCSI soccer and boxing teams, won the light middleweight Irish universities boxing championship, and played for the Irish universities soccer team.
Unusually, he played soccer semi-professionally with Holyhead Town in the Welsh league to support himself, even while progressing through demanding medical courses and examinations. For three years he took the ferry to Holyhead most weeks, and later played for Caernarfon Town (for £6 a week), and briefly for Sligo Rovers. After qualifying in 1958, he was a house surgeon first in Mercer's Hospital, Dublin, and then in the City and County Hospital, Derry, but joined the RAF as a medical officer, unabashedly to qualify for a £750 gratuity after three years' service. He served in postings in Aldergrove and in Bahrain. On 11 August 1960 he married Sheila McGuinness, from Derry (with Inishowen relatives), with whom he had a daughter and a son. When he left the RAF in 1963, they moved back to Derry, where he took a job as an assistant GP.
Growing awareness of the deprivations experienced by his patients in Derry, very largely caused, or at least exacerbated, by the gerrymandering, incompetence or overt sectarianism (or all three) of the unionist-run city corporation, quickly made McClean a forceful critic of the local and Stormont hegemony. In 1965 the Stormont Ministry of Health refused to appoint McClean to a permanent post in his medical practice, and he took a job as industrial medical officer in the Du Pont chemical factory at Maydown, outside Derry city. Though without formal training in occupational health, McClean adapted to the role, enjoying the challenge of researching the effects of chemical solvents and other substances on the workers, and pioneering new tests and testing equipment in the plant.
Meanwhile, political dissatisfaction and economic deprivation combined to produce social unrest in Derry. McClean felt impelled to join the campaign for civil rights, which started in Derry in 1968 with peaceful protests and marches demanding better housing and reform of the city's notorious corporation. He helped set up Derry Citizens Action Committee, and later was chairman of the Independent Organisation, a constituency support group for John Hume, who stood successfully in the 1969 Stormont election against the traditional nationalist Eddie McAteer (qv); in 1970 this organisation formed the nucleus of the SDLP in Derry. McClean learned about grassroots politics very quickly and, as a respected community leader, was involved in stewarding many marches and demonstrations in the late 1960s.
Politicised frustration and stalemate increasingly led to confrontation with the forces of the state, and the resulting violence changed everything. McClean began documenting the injuries people received in rioting, and after the attack on the People's Democracy march at Burntollet bridge (4 January 1969) and rioting in Derry, he gathered material for over forty cases to take to court. Like many others, McClean was angered by police action and inaction in situations in which innocent people were injured and killed, and also by the subsequent lack of official investigation. The evidence he gathered in January 1969 was never called for, and all too quickly events in the city moved on towards civic violence.
The first deaths in the Northern Ireland troubles took place in Derry in July 1969, and during 'the battle of the Bogside' (12–14 August 1969), McClean, other medics, nurses and first aid volunteers treated casualties in an improvised medical station at a disused sweet shop called Candy Corner; he reckoned over 1,000 people were treated. Like the Red Cross volunteer Aileen McCorkell (qv), McClean directed young volunteers to offer medical aid to all and any casualties; he was proud of the way that the catholic Order of Malta volunteers accepted that policemen (by then completely discredited and hated by Derry nationalists) were, if injured, to be dealt with like other victims.
Keenly aware of the effects of chemicals on human physiology, McClean was alarmed by the wide-scale deployment of CS gas in riots from August 1969, and realised that the police had not been trained in its use; afterwards clouds of the gas hung in the air for two days. It was clear to him that the harm to rioters and bystanders was far greater than was acknowledged. Using his industrial medicine contacts to look for the limited research into the subject, and also accessing a classified UK government military science report on the effects of the gas, he published a letter in the British Medical Journal (13 September 1969). He was outraged that the Himsworth report, published in 1969 and 1971, failed adequately to acknowledge his evidence and concerns.
McClean's medical training, as well as his personal reserves of courage and endurance, was tested to the limit on 'Bloody Sunday' (30 January 1972), when, in extreme danger from gunfire, he tended to the dying on the streets of Derry, with no effective means of treating the seriously injured. The next day, in response to a request from Cardinal William Conway (qv), he attended the post-mortems of the thirteen victims (a fourteenth person died several months later), which went on for over twelve hours, and which, despite his training, he found deeply disturbing. Forensic evidence about gunshot trajectories that McClean recorded from the post-mortems, and his own first-hand experiences of the event, convinced him that British army snipers had killed innocent men.
The hastily drawn up Widgery report of April 1972 failed to note his expert testimony, and McClean was appalled that it supported the army's version of events and exonerated the paratroopers. For the next twenty-six years, McClean supported the families of the victims in public efforts to get the British government to re-examine all the evidence properly. Two editions of his book The road to Bloody Sunday (1983, 1997) influenced public opinion and increased pressure for a new inquiry, as did his work along with campaigner Don Mullan and an American ballistics expert, Robert J. Breglio, recorded in Bloody Sunday: the Breglio report (1997). In 2010, after twelve years' work, Lord Saville presented the Report of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, which completely overturned Widgery's findings.
McClean's involvement with the families of victims extended to helping many affected by internment after 1971. He was an important supporter of the Internee Dependants' Committee, and in 1972 toured and spoke in the USA to raise funds and increase support from Irish America. In 1973 his involvement with Derry politics took a new turn when he was elected as an SDLP candidate for the Bogside in the newly reformed Derry City Council, and was unanimously chosen by councillors of both traditions to be mayor, the first catholic mayor for fifty years. He was re-elected to the council in 1977, but did not stand in 1981.
Still working as a GP in Derry, McClean, then in his late 50s, despite family and local commitments, decided in 1984 that he had to help as a medical volunteer in the devastating Ethiopian famine. He and a Derry friend, Paddy Doherty, spent several weeks in the shocking conditions of the refugee camp at Harbu, where hundreds were dying of malnutrition and disease. McClean himself contracted bacillary dysentery, but returned to Ethiopia in April 1985. After that second visit, he threw all his weight behind a novel twinning project, linking the city of Derry with a proposed new settlement in Kebele 37 in Addis Ababa. Promising colleagues in the charity Concern that Derry would raise £140,000 in two years, he involved Derry City Council and other partners in fund-raising initiatives, and spoke about the famine in local schools and clubs. Everyone in the city was made aware of Ethiopia and responded to collections with great generosity. McClean commented that Derry understood the suffering of post-colonial Ethiopia, and that famine was a real memory in Ireland, pointing to the famous skeleton on Derry's coat of arms. Money sent via Concern helped improve sanitation and water supply in Kebele 37, and in April 1987 McClean and the mayor of Derry, Noel McKenna, were present at the opening of new health facilities there. McClean clearly found the experience deeply engaging and even spiritually significant, and volunteered again for Concern in a Kurdish refugee camp in northern Iraq in May 1991 in the aftermath of the Gulf war.
McClean published A cross shared: Ethiopia–Derry: famine in Ethiopia, a personal experience (1988). This and his book on Bloody Sunday are useful and eloquent historical records, but are also moving autobiographical accounts, which reveal much of his personality and motivation. Acknowledging how difficult it was for him to see the suffering so unfairly wreaked upon resilient and innocent people in Derry and Harbu, he wryly noted that the humour, studied calm and 'extremely earthy language' of the old-school, sports-playing GP made up a part that he consciously played, enabling him to appear professional and dispassionate, but clearly his convictions and his sense of vocation were passionately held, and informed his whole career.
McClean's wife, Sheila (d. 2016), an art teacher and artist, was a member of the Royal Ulster Academy, and designed the badge for Derry Civil Rights Association. She and Raymond were closely involved together in Derry life and in political activism. Raymond McClean died after a long illness on 29 January 2011 in Derry. Many tributes were paid to him by local political and religious leaders. Poignantly, he died on the eve of the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, six months after his long campaign on behalf of the victims was at last vindicated, when the British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking in parliament, formally apologised to the fourteen victims of Bloody Sunday and their families.