Bloody Sunday (Domhnach na Fola) is the term used to describe an incident in Derry, Northern Ireland, on 30 January 1972 in which 26 civil rights protesters were shot by members of the 1st Battalion of the British Parachute Regiment during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march in the Bogside area of the city. Thirteen people, seven of whom were teenagers, died immediately, while the death of another person 4½ months later has been attributed to the injuries he received on the day. Two protesters were injured when they were run down by army vehicles. Many witnesses including bystanders and journalists testify that all those shot were unarmed. Five of those wounded were shot in the back.
Two investigations have been held by the British Government. The Widgery Tribunal, held in the immediate aftermath of the event, largely cleared the soldiers and British authorities of blame, but was criticised by many as a "whitewash including former chief of staff to Tony Blair, Jonathan Powell. The Saville Inquiry, established in 1998 to look at the events again (chaired by Lord Saville of Newdigate), has yet to report as of September 2008.
The Provisional Irish Republican Army's (IRA) campaign against Northern Ireland being a part of the United Kingdom had begun in the two years prior to Bloody Sunday, but perceptions of the day boosted the status of and recruitment into the organisation. Bloody Sunday remains among the most significant events in the recent troubles of Northern Ireland, arguably because it was carried out by the army and not paramilitaries, and in full public and press view.
Factional violence had become commonplace in Northern Ireland in an era that would be known as The Troubles. The root of the strife was the controversial Partition of Ireland in 1923, after which the primarily Protestant area of Northern Ireland remained a part of the United Kingdom while the rest of the island eventually became an independent republic. By the late 1960s, elements of the primarily Roman Catholic nationalist population of Northern Ireland and the primarily Protestant unionists were openly fighting one another, the chief agents being the Provisional Irish Republican Army and the Ulster Volunteer Force. Derry (whose very name was in contention, being referred to as Londonderry by unionists), situated near the border and having a Catholic majority, saw some of the greatest violence of this period.
On 8 July 1971 in Derry's Bogside two rioters were shot dead by soldiers in disputed circumstances. Soldiers claimed the pair were armed which was denied by local people, and moderate nationalists including John Hume and Gerry Fitt walked out of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in protest. A British Army memorandum states as a result of this the situation "changed overnight", with the Provisional IRA's campaign in the city beginning at that time after previously being regarded as "quiescent". In response to escalating levels of violence across Northern Ireland, internment without trial was introduced on 9 August 1971. In a quid pro quo gesture to nationalists, all marches and parades were banned, including the flashpoint march by the Protestant Apprentice Boys of Derry which was due to take place on 12 August. There was disorder across Northern Ireland following the introduction of internment, with 21 people being killed in three days of rioting. On 10 August Bombardier Paul Challenor became the first soldier to be killed by the Provisional IRA in Derry, when he was shot by a sniper on the Creggan estate. A further six soldiers had been killed in Derry by mid-December 1971. 1,932 rounds were fired at the British Army, who also faced 211 explosions and 180 nail bombs and who fired 364 rounds in return. Provisional IRA activity also increased across Northern Ireland with thirty British soldiers being killed in the remaining months of 1971, in contrast to the ten soldiers killed during the pre-internment period of the year. Both the Official IRA and Provisional IRA had established "no-go" areas for the British Army and RUC in Derry through the use of barricades. By the end of 1971, 29 barricades were in place to prevent access to what was known as Free Derry, 16 of them impassable even to the British Army's one-ton armoured vehicles. IRA members openly mounted roadblocks in front of the media, and daily clashes took place between nationalist youths and the British Army at a spot known as "aggro corner". Due to rioting and damage to shops caused by incendiary devices, an estimated total of £4 million worth of damage had been done to local businesses.
Many details of the day's events are in dispute, with no agreement even on the number of marchers present that day. The organisers, "Insight", claimed that there were 30,000 marchers; Lord Widgery, in his tribunal, said that there were only 3,000 to 5,000. In The Road To Bloody Sunday, local GP Dr. Raymond McClean estimated the crowd as 15,000, which is the figure used by Bernadette Devlin McAliskey in Parliament.
A wealth of material has been produced relating to the day, including numerous books and articles, as well as documentary films made on the subject.
The march's planned route had taken it to the Guildhall, but because of army barricades designed to reroute the march it was redirected to Free Derry Corner. A small group of teenagers broke off from the main march and persisted in pushing the barricade and marching on the Guildhall. They attacked the British army 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. Such confrontations between soldiers and youths were common, though observers reported that the rioting was not intense. Two civilians, Damien Donaghy and John Johnston, were shot and wounded by soldiers on William Street who claimed the former was carrying a black cylindrical object.
At a certain point, reports of an IRA sniper operating in the area were allegedly given to the Army command centre. At 4:07 pm Brigade gave British Parachute Regiment permission to go in to the Bogside. The order to fire live rounds was given, and one young man was shot and killed when he ran down Chamberlain Street away from the advancing troops. This first fatality, Jackie Duddy, was among a crowd who were running away. He was running alongside a priest, Father Edward Daly, when he was shot in the back. Continuing violence by and against British troops escalated, and eventually the order was given to mobilise the troops in an arrest operation, chasing the tail of the main group of marchers to the edge of the field by Free Derry Corner.
Despite a cease-fire order from the army HQ, over a hundred rounds were fired directly into the fleeing crowds by troops under the command of Major Ted Loden. Twelve more were killed, many of them as they attempted to aid the fallen. Fourteen others were wounded, twelve by shots from the soldiers and two knocked down by armoured personnel carriers.
Thirteen people were shot and killed, 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 eyewitnesses (apart from the soldiers), including marchers, local residents, and British and Irish journalists present, maintain that soldiers fired into an unarmed crowd, or were aiming at fleeing people and those tending the wounded, whereas the soldiers themselves were not fired upon. No British soldier was wounded by gunfire or reported any injuries, nor were any bullets or nail bombs recovered to back up their claims. In the events that followed, irate crowds burned down the British embassy in Dublin. 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".
Although there were many IRA men — both Official and Provisional — present at the protest, it is claimed they were all unarmed, apparently because it was anticipated that the Paratroopers would attempt to "draw them out". March organizer and MP Ivan Cooper had been promised beforehand that no armed IRA men would be near the march. One Paratrooper who gave evidence at the Tribunal testified that they were told by an officer to expect a gunfight and "We want some kills". In the event, one man was witnessed by Father Edward Daly and others haphazardly firing a revolver in the direction of the paratroopers. Later identified as a member of the Official IRA, this man was also photographed in the act of drawing his weapon, but was apparently not seen or targeted by the soldiers. Various other claims have been made to the Saville Inquiry about gunmen on the day.
This Sunday became known as Bloody Sunday and bloody it was. It was quite unnecessary. It strikes me that the Army ran amok that day and shot without thinking what they were doing. They were shooting innocent people. These people may have been taking part in a march that was banned but that does not justify the troops coming in and firing live rounds indiscriminately. I would say without hesitation that it was sheer, unadulterated murder. It was murder.
Two days after Bloody Sunday, Parliament adopted a resolution for a tribunal into the events of the day, resulting in Prime Minister Edward Heath commissioning the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Widgery to undertake it. Many witnesses intended to boycott the tribunal as they lacked faith in Widgery's impartiality, but were eventually persuaded to take part. Widgery's quickly produced report — completed within ten weeks (April 10) and published within eleven (April 19) — supported the Army's account of the events of the day. Among the evidence presented to the tribunal were the results of paraffin tests, used to identify lead residues from firing weapons, and that nail bombs had been found on the body of one of those killed. Tests for traces of explosives on the clothes of eleven of the dead proved negative, while those of the remaining man could not be tested as they had already been washed. Most Irish people and witnesses to the event disputed the report's conclusions and regarded it as a whitewash. It is now widely accepted that the nail bombs photographed on Gerard Donaghy were planted there after his death, and firearms residue on some deceased came from contact with the soldiers who themselves moved some of the bodies, or that the presence of lead on the hands of one (James Nash) was easily explained by the fact that his occupation involved the use of lead-based solder. In fact, in 1992, John Major, writing to John Hume stated:
The Government made clear in 1974 that those who were killed on 'Bloody Sunday' should be regarded as innocent of any allegation that they were shot whilst handling firearms or explosives. I hope that the families of those who died will accept that assurance.
Following the events of Bloody Sunday Bernadette Devlin, an Independent Socialist nationalist MP from Northern Ireland expressed anger at what she perceived as government attempts to stifle accounts being reported about the day. Having witnessed the events firsthand, she was later infuriated that she was consistently denied the chance to speak in Parliament about the day, although parliamentary convention decreed that any MP witnessing an incident under discussion would be granted an opportunity to speak about it in the House. Devlin punched Reginald Maudling, the Secretary of State for the Home Department in the Conservative government, when he made a statement to Parliament on the events of Bloody Sunday stating that the British Army had fired only in self-defence. She was temporarily suspended from Parliament as a result of the incident.
In January 1997, the United Kingdom television station Channel 4 carried a news report that suggested that members of the Royal Anglian Regiment had also opened fire on the protesters and could have been responsible for 3 of the 14 deaths.
On May 29 2007 it was reported that General Sir Mike Jackson, second-in-command of 2 Para on Bloody Sunday, said: "I have no doubt that innocent people were shot". This was in sharp contrast to his insistence, for more than 30 years, that those killed on the day had not been innocent.
Although British Prime Minister John Major rejected John Hume's requests for a public inquiry into the killings, his successor, Tony Blair, decided to start one. A second commission of inquiry, chaired by Lord Saville, was established in January 1998 to re-examine 'Bloody Sunday'. The other Judges were John Toohey QC, a former Justice of the High Court of Australia with an excellent reputation for his work on Aboriginal issues (he replaced New Zealander Sir Edward Somers QC, who retired from the Inquiry in 2000 for personal reasons), and Mr Justice William Hoyt QC, former Chief Justice of New Brunswick and a member of the Canadian Judicial Council. The hearings were concluded in November 2004, and the report is currently being written. The Saville Inquiry is a more comprehensive study than the Widgery Tribunal, interviewing a wide range of witnesses, including local residents, soldiers, journalists and politicians. The evidence so far has undermined to some extent the credibility of the original Widgery Tribunal report. 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 a judicial inquiry into 'Bloody Sunday', not the Widgery Tribunal.
Evidence given by Martin McGuiness, the deputy leader of Sinn Féin, to the inquiry stated that he was second-in-command of the Derry branch of the Provisional IRA and was present at the march. He did not answer questions about where he had been staying because he said it would compromise the safety of the individuals involved.
A claim was made at the Saville Inquiry that McGuinness was responsible for supplying detonators for nail bombs on Bloody Sunday. Paddy Ward claimed he was the leader of the Fianna Éireann, the youth wing of the IRA in January 1972. He claimed McGuinness, the second-in-command of the IRA in the city at the time, and another anonymous IRA member gave him bomb parts on the morning of 30 January, the date planned for the civil rights march. He said his organisation intended to attack city-centre premises in Derry on the day when civilians were shot dead by British soldiers. In response McGuinness rejected the claims as "fantasy", while Gerry O’Hara, a Sinn Féin councillor in Derry stated that he and not Ward was the Fianna leader at the time.
Many observers allege that the Ministry of Defence acted in a way to impede the inquiry. Over 1,000 army photographs and original army helicopter video footage were never made available. Additionally, guns used on the day by the soldiers that could have been evidence in the inquiry were lost by the MoD. The MoD claimed that all the guns had been destroyed, but some were subsequently recovered in various locations (such as Sierra Leone, Beirut, and Little Rock, Arkansas) despite the obstruction.
By the time the inquiry had retired to write up its findings, it had interviewed over 900 witnesses, over seven years, making it the biggest investigation in British legal history. The cost of this process has drawn criticism. In June 2003, the cost incurred so far in pursuit of the inquiry was given as £113.2 million. One year later in June 2004 the cost was given as £130 million. The total cost is expected to be around £155 million.
In mid-2005, the play Bloody Sunday: Scenes from the Saville Inquiry, a dramatisation based on the Saville inquiry, opened in London, and subsequently travelled to Derry and Dublin. The writer, journalist Richard Norton-Taylor, distilled four years of evidence into two hours of stage performance by Tricycle Theatre. The play received glowing reviews in all the British broadsheets, including The Times: "The Tricycle's latest recreation of a major inquiry is its most devastating"; The Daily Telegraph: "I can't praise this enthralling production too highly... exceptionally gripping courtroom drama"; and The Independent: "A necessary triumph".
Despite the controversy, all sides agree that 'Bloody Sunday' marked a major negative turning point in the fortunes of Northern Ireland. Harold Wilson, then the Leader of the Opposition in the Commons, reiterated his belief that a united Ireland was the only possible solution to Northern Ireland's Troubles. William Craig, then 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 Roman Catholics as a neutral force there to protect them from Protestant mobs, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the B-Specials. 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 Official IRA and Official Sinn Féin having moved away from mainstream Irish nationalism/republicanism towards Marxism, the Provisional IRA began to win the support of newly radicalised, disaffected young people.
In the following twenty years, the Provisional Irish Republican Army and other smaller republican groups such as the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) mounted an armed campaign against the British, by which they meant the RUC, the British Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) 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 Irish unionist/Ulster loyalist communities (the Ulster Defence Association, Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), etc on the loyalist side), the Troubles cost the lives of thousands of people. Incidents included the killing of three members of a pop band, the Miami Showband, by a gang including members of the UVF who were also members of the local army regiment, the UDR, and in uniform at the time, and the killing by the Provisionals of Second World War veterans and their families attending a war wreath laying in Enniskillen.
With the official cessation of violence by some of the major paramilitary organisations and the creation of the power-sharing executive at Stormont in Belfast under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the Saville Tribunal's re-examination of the events of that day is widely hoped to provide a thorough account of the events of Bloody Sunday.
The John Lennon album Some Time In New York City features a song entitled "Sunday Bloody Sunday", inspired by the incident, as well as the song "The Luck of the Irish", which dealt more with the Irish conflict in general. (Lennon was of Irish descent.)
Paul McCartney (also of Irish descent) issued a single shortly after Bloody Sunday titled "Give Ireland Back to the Irish", expressing his views on the matter. It was one of few McCartney solo songs to be banned by the BBC.
Christy Moore's song "Minds Locked Shut" on the album "Graffiti Tongue" is all about the events of the day, and names the dead civilians.
Brian Friel's 1973 play The Freedom of the City deals with the incident from the viewpoint of three civilians.
Willie Doherty, a Derry born artist has amassed a large body of work which addresses the troubles in Northern Ireland. "30th January 1972" deals specifically with the events of Bloody Sunday.