Bloody Sunday (1972)

From Academic Kids

For other incidents referred to by this name, see Bloody Sunday.
Derry civil rights association banner after shootings
Derry civil rights association banner after shootings

On Sunday January 30, 1972, in an incident since known as Bloody Sunday, 13 unarmed men and boys were shot dead and 14 others were wounded 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 Stormont MP Ivan Cooper to protest the internment of Irishmen, predominantly Catholic, in Northern Ireland.

It is regularly said that this event triggered 30 years of IRA violence. While the start of the IRA's war against British rule had begun three years previously prior to Bloody Sunday, the IRA had been a much smaller and weaker organization. Graffiti in Belfast prior to Bloody Sunday famously stated that IRA stood for I Ran Away. Memory of Bloody Sunday overshadows most other violent instances in the history of the recent troubles of Northern Ireland, arguably because it was carried out by the British Government and not paramilitaries.


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, a water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets were used to disperse the rioters. These confrontations between soldiers and youths were common, and observers reported that the rioting on the day was not intense.

At a certain point, reports of an IRA sniper were given to 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 mobilise the troops in an arrest operation, chasing out the tail of the main group of marchers to the edge of the field by Free Derry Corner.

Despite a cease-fire order from British HQ, over a hundred rounds were fired directly into the fleeing crowds by troops under the command of Major Ted Loden. 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, backed by the British Home Secretary the next day in the House of Commons, was that the Paratroopers had reacted to the threat of gunmen and nail-bombs from suspected IRA members. However, all eye-witnesses (apart from the soldiers), including marchers, local residents, and British and Irish journalists present, challenge the army's account - they maintain that soldiers fired indiscriminately into the crowd, or were aiming at fleeing people and those tending the wounded. and that the soldiers were not fired upon. No British soldier was hit by any bullet, nor were any bullets or nail-bombs 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.

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". MP Ivan Cooper had been promised beforehand that no armed IRA men would be near the march. Many of the Paratroopers who gave evidence at the Tribunal testified that they were told by their officers to expect 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. Many of the witnesses were prepared to boycott the inquiry as they lacked faith in his impartiality, but were eventually persuaded. 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 Irish people and witnesses to the event disputed the report's conclusions, and regarded it as a whitewash.

In January 1997, the English television station Channel Four carried a report on its news programme which suggested that members of the Royal Anglican Regiment had also opened fire on the protestors and could have been responsible for 3 of the 14 deaths.

The Saville Inquiry

Although British Prime Minister John Major had rejected John Hume's requests for a new inquiry into the killings, his successor, Tony Blair was more sympathetic. 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. The evidence so far has easily 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 the interpretations that were put on their findings by the Ministry of Defence. 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 did 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. British opposition leader Harold Wilson reiterated his belief that a United Ireland was the only possible solution to Ulster's Troubles. William Craig, then the Stormont Home Affairs Minister, suggested that the west bank of Derry should be ceded to the Republic of 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 Fin 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 critics, the Protestant and Unionist establishment). 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 unionist paramilitaries wearing British uniforms (who took them out of their van after a concert and shot them) to the unintended massacre by the Provos of World War veterans and their families attending a war wreath laying in Enniskillen and the accidental killing of two young children at Warrington in England.

With the official cessation of violence by some of the major paramilitary organisations, and the creation of the power-sharing executive at Stormont Parliament Buildings in Belfast under the Belfast Agreement, the Saville Tribunal's re-examination of what remains one of the blackest days in Ireland for the British Army offers a chance to heal the wounds left by the events of the notorious 'Bloody Sunday' in January 1972.

Artistic reaction

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 be misrepresented as pro-the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fin. (In the version from their 1988 concert film Rattle and Hum, Bono used the song as a platform to denounce Irish-Americans he believed 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 royalties from the second song were donated to the Official IRA (Lennon was of Irish descent).

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 and media witnesses than the official explanation of events offered by the British Army.

External links

The events of the day

Contemporary newspaper coverage

Importance and impact

Further Reading

fr:Bloody Sunday (1972) he:יום ראשון הארור it:Bloody Sunday (1972) nl:Bloody Sunday (1972) pl:Krwawa niedziela (Irlandia Północna 1972)


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