Bloody Sunday (1972)
- For other incidents referred to by this name, see Bloody Sunday.
On Sunday January 30, 1972, in an incident since known as Bloody Sunday, 13 unarmed people were shot dead by British paratroopers after a civil rights march in the Bogside area of the city of Derry, Northern Ireland. The march was organized by Derry MP Ivan Cooper to protest the internment of Irishmen in Northern Ireland.
It is regularly said that this event triggered 30 years of IRA violence. The start of the IRA's war on Britain – and Irish people collaborating with them – had begun three years previously. However, prior to Bloody Sunday, the IRA was a much smaller and weaker organization. Memory of Bloody Sunday overshadows Bloody Friday, a day when the IRA detonated 22 bombs, in quick succession across the city of Belfast, killing 9 and injuring 130. 27 were planned to go off but five of them failed.
Table of contents
Events of the Day
The march's route had originally taken it to the Guildhall, but due to army barricades, it was redirected to Free Derry Corner. A small group of young men broke off from the main march and persisted in pushing the barricade and marching on the Guildhall. They attacked the British barricade with stones and shouted insults at the troops. At this point, teargas and rubber bullets were used against the aggressive civilians.
At a certain point, reports of an IRA sniper were heard in the British command center. The order to fire live rounds was given and one young man was shot and killed. The aggression against the British troops escalated, and eventually the order was given to move the troops out to chase the tail of the main group of marchers to the edge of the field by Free Derry Corner.
Despite a cease-fire order from command, several hundred rounds were fired directly into the fleeing crowds. 12 more were shot dead, many of them killed while tending the wounds of the fallen.
The perspectives and analyses on the day
Thirteen people were shot dead, with another man later dying of his wounds. The official army position was that the Paratroopers had reacted to the threat of gunmen and nail-bombs from suspected IRA members. However, many witnesses (including marchers, local residents, and British and Irish journalists present) challenge the army's account – their claims include that soldiers fired indiscriminately into the crowd, or were aiming at fleeing people and those tending the wounded. Some also claim that the soldiers were not fired upon. No British soldier was hit by any bullet, nor were any bullets recovered to back up their claims. In the rage that followed, the British embassy in Merrion Square in Dublin was burned by an irate crowd. Anglo-Irish relations hit one of their lowest ebbs, with Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Patrick Hillery, going specially to the United Nations in New York to demand UN involvement in the Northern Ireland troubles. However, since Britain has a veto on the UN's Security Council, this was never a realistic option.
It is sometimes claimed that British soldiers fired without cause and warning on a wholly peaceful march. In fact, a small segment of the march had broken off from the main march route and had begun to throw stones and yell insults at the British soldiers. The march had been redirected from the original destination (the Guildhall) to Free Derry corner, but a small group was intent of pushing forwards past the army barracades to the Guildhall, and some of those present at the time of the shooting were involved in throwing stones at the British troops and attacking barricades. While there were many IRA men present at the protest, all were unarmed as it was anticipated that the Paratroopers would attempt to "draw them out". Many of the Paratroopers who gave evidence at the Tribunal testified that they were expecting a gunfight and had been encouraged to "get some kills"
In the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday, the British government under Prime Minister Edward Heath established a commission of inquiry under the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery. His quickly-produced report supported the army's account of the events of the day. Scientific evidence presented to the inquiry implied that some of those shot had handled explosives. Similar evidence helped to convict the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, who spent years in jail as a result and were both later acquitted of all charges. Most Nationalists and witnesses to the event disputed the report's conclusions, and regarded it as a whitewash.
The Saville Inquiry
A second commission of inquiry, chaired by Lord Saville, was established in January 1998 to re-examine 'Bloody Sunday'. Hearings were concluded in November 2004, and the report is currently being written. The Saville Inquiry was a far more comprehensive study, interviewing a wide range of witnesses, including local residents, soldiers, journalists and politicians. Many believe that evidence so far has undermined the credibility of the original Widgery Tribunal report. Allegations were made that some bodies were placed next to guns and explosives, and other substances (including playing cards) have been found to cause false positives in tests for explosives. Some of the scientists responsible for the original reports to the Widgery Tribunal now dismiss their own findings, and the interpretation put on their findings. Lord Saville has declined to comment on the Widgery report, and has made the point that the Saville Inquiry is an inquiry into 'Bloody Sunday', not the Widgery Tribunal.
Evidence given by Martin McGuiness the deputy leader of Sinn Fein to the inquiry stated that he was in command of the Derry branch of the IRA and was present at the march. He also confirmed that he had been armed but could not answer questions about where he had been staying because it would compromise the safety of the individuals involved.
The impact of 'Bloody Sunday' on Northern Ireland divisions
Whatever truly happened that day, all sides agree that 'Bloody Sunday' marked a major negative turning point in the fortunes of Northern Ireland. When it arrived in Northern Ireland, the British Army was welcomed by Catholics as a neutral force, there to protect them from Protestant mobs and the RUC. After 'Bloody Sunday', many Catholics turned on the British army, seeing it no longer as their protector but as their enemy. Young Nationalists became increasingly attracted to violent republican groups. With the IRA and Sinn Féin having moved away from mainstream Irish nationalism/republicanism towards Marxism, a new breakaway organisation called the Provisional IRA, began to win the support of newly radicalised, disaffected young people.
In the following twenty years, the Provisional IRA and other smaller republican groups such as the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) mounted a campaign of what they described as 'war' on the British, by which they meant the RUC, the British Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment of the British Army (and, according to their enemies, the Protestant and Unionist community). With rival paramilitary organisations appearing in both the nationalist/republican and unionist/loyalist communities (the Irish National Liberation Army, a republican rival to the Provos, the Ulster Defence Association, Ulster Freedom Fighters, etc on the loyalist side), a bitter and brutal war took place that cost the lives of thousands. Terrorist outrages involved such acts as the killing of a Catholic pop band, the Miami Showband, by loyalists (who took them out of their van after a concert and shot them) to the massacre by the Provos of World War veterans and their families attending a war wreath laying in Enniskillen and the killing of a young child at Warrington in Britain.
With the official cessation of violence by some of the major terrorist organisations, and the creation of the power-sharing executive at Stormont Parliament Buildings in Belfast under the Good Friday Agreement, the Saville Tribunal's re-examination of what remains one of the blackest days in Northern Ireland for the British Army offers a chance to heal the wounds left by the events of the notorious 'Bloody Sunday' in January 1972.
This incident has been commemorated in the popular protest song by U2, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" in which the song begins by expressing the anger of the singer at the events before evolving into a call for all Christians, both Catholic and Protestant in Northern Ireland to abandon sectarianism and "claim the victory Jesus won, on a Sunday, Bloody Sunday" (i.e. to fight to achieve a genuinely Christian society through Jesus Christ's victory over death in the resurrection on Easter Sunday). In the popular live recording, Bono clearly states (during the intro), "This is not a rebel song", lest the song he misrepresented as pro-the Provisional IRA and Sinn Féin. (In the version from their 1988 concert film Rattle and Hum, Bono uses the song as a platform to denounce Irish-Americans who knew little about the real complexities of Northern Ireland but funded the Irish republican movement, and "the glory of dying for the revolution," leading the audience in a chant of "No more!").
The John Lennon album Sometime In New York City features a song also entitled Sunday Bloody Sunday, as well as the song Luck of the Irish, which, though more about the conflict in Ireland in general than Bloody Sunday, was inspired by the events of Bloody Sunday and those that followed.
The events of the day have also been dramatized in the two 2002 films, Bloody Sunday (starring James Nesbitt) and Sunday by Jimmy McGovern, the creator of Cracker. Their portrayal of events is much closer to the opinion of the protestors than the official explanation of events offered by the British Army.
- The Saville Inquiry
- The Bloody Sunday Trust
- CAIN Web Service
- Guardian Coverage
- BBC Coverage
- "Bloody Sunday" film from 2002
- "Sunday" film 2002
The events of the day
Contemporary newspaper coverage
- "13 killed as paratroops break riot" from The Guardian, Monday January 31, 1972
- "Bogsiders insist that soldiers shot first" from The Guardian, Tuesday February 1, 1972
Importance and impact
- Don Mullan (1997). Eyewitness Bloody Sunday. Wolfhound: Printing Press. ISBN 0–86327–586–9.
- Dr Raymond McClean (1997). The Road To Bloody Sunday (revised edition). Guildhall: Printing Press. ISBN 0–946451–37–0. (extracts available online)
- Eamon McCann (1998). Bloody Sunday In Derry. Brandon : Printing Press. ISBN 0863221394.