By 1969 Northern Ireland was at breaking point and British Army troops were deployed to stop the large scale rioting such as the Battle of the Bogside. Nationalists welcomed the troops as they seen them as peace keepers and would protect them from a sectarian police force and Loyalists mobs, but the welcome was short lived.
The Civil Rights March of January 1972
Sunday January 30th 1972 started as any other Sunday in Derry but would end with tragedy and a population thrown into a dark backlash of opinion towards the British.
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 illegal by the British and from previous march’s the police force and the British proved too ruthless against peaceful demonstrators such as the attack on a civil rights march at Burntollet bridge.
The plan for the march was to walk down Creggan Hill, into William Street and onto the Guildhall Square, in the City Centre area. Over 15,000 people attended the march which proceeded from Creggan. 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 isolated itself from the Northern Ireland state 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 as only a small number of people had taken part, 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 until their Armoured Saracens passed the barricades at speed.
Paratroopers Storm The Bogside
The air in William street was full of C.S. gas so people were making their way to the meeting point at Free Derry Corner to avoid the confrontation at the barricades, it was then they could hear the distinctive sound of the Armoured Saracens that was heading towards the Bogside area.
Within a matter of minutes the British Paratroop Regiment jumped from their Armoured Saracens and opened fire into the fleeing crowds, gunning down 14 unarmed civilians. 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 would later go 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, 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, but it was quickly seen as a farce with many of the facts & statements being overlooked.
The people of Derry never accepted the Widgery Tribunal because of it being a farce and every year since 1972 they march the same route as those did on Bloody Sunday, even to this day the march is remembered with thousands in attendance.
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 behaviour 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 on that day.
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 and it resulted in hundreds of young men from all over Northern Ireland joining the IRA, taking Northern Ireland into a bloody 30 year conflict.
This article was first published on 04-08-2013 and last modified on 29-10-2015.