Bloody Sunday

A day that would leave 'an indelible impact on British and Irish history'

’Bloody Sunday’ refers to the events that took place in Derry on the afternoon of Sunday 30 January, 1972.

A Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) march had been organised to protest against the continuation of Internment without trial in Northern Ireland. An estimated 20,000 men, women and children took part in the march in a ’carnival atmosphere’.

The march was prevented from entering the city centre by members of the British Army. The main body of the march then moved to ’Free Derry Corner’ to attend a rally but some young men began throwing stones at soldiers in William Street. Soldiers of the Parachute Regiment, an elite regiment of the British Army, moved into the Bogside in an arrest operation. During the next 30 minutes these soldiers shot dead 13 men (and shot and injured a further 13 people) mainly by single shots to the head and trunk.

The soldiers responsible for the deaths and injuries that day insisted that they had come under sustained gun and bomb attack by members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and only fired at people in possession of weapons.

Those involved in the march, and those who witnessed the events, all provided evidence that ran contrary to the evidence given by the soldiers. According to these testimonies none of those killed or injured had any guns or bombs.

The events of ’Bloody Sunday’ caused massive shock and revulsion at an international level. Within Ireland the killings resulted in a dramatic increase in support for Republicanism in general and the IRA in particular. The appeal for a fresh inquiry into events on that day was a central demand of the relatives campaign for justice, and the events of ’Bloody Sunday’ remain an emotive issue.

Part of the reason for this difference is the fact that the Widgery Report into ’Bloody Sunday’, published by the British Government as an investigation into the events of the day, left doubts about the innocence of those killed and exonerated the soldiers involved in the killings. The conflict in Northern Ireland has seen serious loss of life and some grotesque atrocities perpetrated here, but Bloody Sunday stands alone in the nationalist psyche: in Derry it was state forces, in the form of the British Army, the very people who were meant to protect life and uphold law, order and justice, who carried out the killings.

In 1999, the British Government finally succumbed to the pressure of a massive campaign by the victims of Bloody Sunday to establish a new tribunal of enquiry into exactly what happened on the day. That enquiry, under the Chairmanship of Lord Saville, is currently sitting and its findings are due to be published in 2006. Perhaps then this tragic chapter of Irish history will appear to be closed but Bloody Sunday will forever be remembered for its indelible impact on British and Irish history.