Bloody Sunday 1972

Bloody Sunday 1972

Bloody Sunday occurred on January 30th 1972 when the parachute regiment of the British army shot dead 13 Civil Right protesters on the streets of Derry.

By 1969 Northern Ireland was at breaking point, the British Army troops were deployed to stop the large scale rioting such as the Battle of the Bogside. Nationalists first welcomed the troops, seen them as peace keepers and who would protect them from a sectarian police force and Loyalists mobs. Their welcoming was very short lived.

The Civil Rights March of January 1972

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) organised a march to start at 3PM from the Bishops Field area of the Creggan. The march had already been deemed banned by the British government. From previous marches, the police force was ruthless against peaceful demonstrators as proven by the attack on a civil rights march at Burntollet bridge by the police and loyalist mobs. 

NICRA planned for the Derry march to walk down Creggan Hill, into William Street and onto the Guildhall Square, in the city centre area.

After Sunday mass thousands of people gathered in Creggan waiting for the march to proceed. Everyone was in good spirits and as the parade started there was approximately 15,000 people in attendance. The marchers were singing songs with some describing it as a carnival like event. As they reached the William Street area the British army had set-up barricades so the march was diverted into the Bogside and towards Free Derry Corner, a small area that was known as as ‘no-go area’ for the British forces.

The trouble begins at the army barricades

A number of youths broke away from the march and proceeded to try and pass the barricades. They hurled abuse at the British troops along with stones and in turn the troops fired back with rubber bullets, tear gas and a water canon. The riot wasn’t considered intense and skirmishes between the youth and army was nothing new.  The majority of marchers were still making their way down Creggan Hill and into the Bogside area. At first the British soldiers stood their ground at the barricades, then opened the barricades to allow armored Saracens pass at speed.

Paratroopers Storm The Bogside

The air in William street was full of C.S. gas, people made their way to the meeting point at Free Derry Corner to avoid the confrontation at the barricades but it was then they heard the distinctive sound of the armored Saracens.

Within a matter of minutes the British Paratroop Regiment jumped from their  Armored vehicles and opened fire into the fleeing crowds. They gunned down 14 unarmed civilians, most of who had their back to the soldiers as they tried to run.  Statements from witness’s described how the Paratroopers fired indiscriminately into the crowd.

One eyewitness statement was from Father Edward Daly, a highly respected priest who went onto become the Bishop of Derry.

“It was utterly disgraceful. They were firing lead bullets in all directions. There was nothing fired at them, I can say that with absolute certainty because I was there. The people were running in all directions. Most of them had their backs to them and they just opened fire.”

As Father Daly and 17 year old Jackie Duddy tried to flee from the violence Duddy was killed instantly after being shot from behind. A number of eye witnesses state the Paratrooper took up firing position and shot Jackie from behind.

The iconic footage of Father Daly waving a blood-stained white handkerchief escorting one of the fatally injured past British troops reflected how bad the situation had become in Northern Ireland and would fuel anger for many generations.

Civilians Murdered On Bloody Sunday

When the shooting stopped 26 unarmed civilians were shot. 14 were killed instantly and John Johnston would later die from his injuries.

Bernard McGuigan (41)
Gerard V. Donaghy (17)
Hugh P. Gilmore (17)
John F. Duddy (17)
James Mc Kinney (34)
James J. Wray (22)
John P. Young (17)
Kevin McElhinney (17)
Michael G. Kelly (17)
Michael M. McDaid (20)
Patrick J. Doherty (31)
William A. McKinney (27)
William N. Nash (19)
John Johnston (59)

The events of that day had been caught on camera by the press who had witnessed the tragedy first hand. Images sent shock waves around the world and also seen the fall of the Northern Ireland parliament, Stormont. Direct rule from England was brought in after the events of Bloody Sunday and the British Government set-up the Widgery Tribunal to find out about the events of that day. The tribunal was quickly seen as a farce with many of the facts & statements being overlooked.

The people of Derry never accepted the Widgery Tribunal and every year since 1972 they marched the same route as those did on Bloody Sunday.

Each year pressure was put on the British Prime Minister for a new inquiry but was refused year after year. It wasn’t until 1998 that Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister at the time, agreed to an inquiry are facing pressure from John Hume and 29 January 1998 U.K Prime Minister Tony Blair made a statement to the House Of Commons

“that a Tribunal be established for inquiring into a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely the events on Sunday 30 January 1972 which led to loss of life in connection with the procession in Londonderry on that day, taking account of any new information relevant to events on that day.”

The Saville Inquiry

The Saville Inquiry was established and by 15 June 2010 they released their final report

The firing by soldiers of 1 PARA on Bloody Sunday caused the deaths of 13 people and injury to a similar number, none of whom was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury.

British soldiers had concocted lies in their attempt to hide their acts.

Civilians had not been warned by the British soldiers that they intended to shoot

No stones and no petrol bombs were thrown by civilians before British soldiers shot at them, and that the civilians were not posing any threat.

After the publishing on the report the new British Prime Minister, David Cameron, stated in the House of Commons

Mr Speaker, I am deeply patriotic. I never want to believe anything bad about our country. I never want to call into question the behavior of our soldiers and our army, who I believe to be the finest in the world. And I have seen for myself the very difficult and dangerous circumstances in which we ask our soldiers to serve. But the conclusions of this report are absolutely clear. There is no doubt, there is nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.

To this day none of the members of the 1st Parachute Regiment has stood trail for their actions.

History Video of Bloody Sunday

The aftermath of Bloody Sunday

The events of Bloody Sunday is seen as one of the biggest political and military blunders the British ever made in Ireland. The result turned hundreds, if not thousands, of young men from all over Ireland to join the IRA,  taking Northern Ireland into a bloody 30 year conflict.

This article was first published on 04-08-2013 and last modified on 30-07-2017.

About the Author

Brian O’Neill
With a passion for traditional music Brian is never one to miss a good session. When not studying for exams he spends his time playing the bodhrán, something he's be doing since a kid. Brian is a regular contributor and author for YourIrish.com