The Freedom of the City Summary
The Freedom of the City describes the final hours of three deceased citizens of Northern Ireland who in 1973 were shot dead by British security personnel during a crackdown on a nationalist march. The play mingles two time frames, with the events of 1973 being presented in the context of a modern-day trial, where the corpses of the three dead protesters are displayed and the security personnel are being tried for the murder of the protesters.
The account of the day’s events begins with a British police officer who was present at the scene of the murders describing the protest as he remembers it, but the flashbacks begin just after the British army had fired tear gas in order to disperse the protesters. Skinner, who is the youngest of the three and a keen nationalist, shows Lily, a middle-aged mother of three, into the mayor’s parlor in Derry’s town hall. This is where the three inadvertently fled to following the release of the gas. He then assists Michael, who was shaken by the gas, into the office as well. While Lily and Skinner admire their luxurious surroundings, totally unaware of where they are, British soldiers close in on Derry’s town hall. All of a sudden, the protesters hear a demand that they come out of the town hall immediately.
The second act centers around the disagreements between the protesters as to their next course of action, with Michael arguing that as innocent unarmed protesters, they should simply obey the soldiers and Skinner replying with the somewhat fatalistic view that they are already doomed to die and so might as well stay where they are. The scene then skips to the funeral of the three protesters, who were indeed shot down by the soldiers upon emerging from the town hall. The play concludes with the judge’s verdict that the protesters had provoked their fate and that the security personnel involved were innocent. There is an implication, however, that the judge was disposed against the protesters, as at the beginning of the second act, he had expressed a somewhat unfounded assertion that the protesters had intended to enter the town hall and had nurtured questionable motives from the start.