A Brief History of Bloody Sunday : 30th of January 1972

By Aaron Buckley

The path to Bloody Sunday has its roots in the beginning of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The conflict “is conventionally dated from the late 1960s” and considered by many to have ended with the Belfast agreement of 1998. The principal issues at stake during this time was whether Northern Ireland would remain part of the UK or re-join the Republic of Ireland and the relationship between the Protestant Unionist and Catholic Nationalist communities in the north.
The problem for Catholic’s in Northern Ireland was that the culture of the Northern state was sectarian. The civil rights campaign which began in the mid-1960s attempted to get reform of this by calling for an end to abuses in housing, electoral procedures and discrimination in employment. The Northern Ireland government accused the civil rights movement of being a political front for Republican and Communist organisation.
In an imitation of tactics used by the American Civil Rights Movement, the  NICRA (Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association) held marches, pickets, and protests to pressure the Government on the following areas:

  • one man, one vote
  • an end to gerrymandering
  • an end to discrimination in housing
  • an end to discrimination in jobs
  • the disbandment of the B-Specials

By March 1971, Chichester-Clark resigned and was replaced by Brian Faulkner. Unrest in the province had achieved a new level, prompting the new Prime Minister to reintroduce internment. On 9 August 1971. It was a disaster. Because it failed to capture any significant members of the IRA and in its focus on nationalist – rather than loyalist – suspects.
On “30th January 1972 in Derry” “a group of volunteers put together a march against internment” in Derry. The organisers’ original intention was that the march would form up on the Creggan Estate behind a coal delivery lorry carrying the main speakers and bearing a NICRA banner. The march would then make its way down to William Street on the edge of the Bogside, and on to the Guildhall in the city centre.

bls_clip_image002The RUC Chief  Superintendent Frank Lagan in the city “wanted the security forces to avoid confronting the Civil Rights marchers”. As a result of this he suggested that no action should be taken against the marchers, except photographing them with a view to prosecuting them later. The final decision was that the march would be allowed to go ahead, so organisers “led most marchers to free Derry corner instead” to prevent rioting in the city centre.
The police  plan saw this containment being achieved by 26  barriers cutting off all streets leading from the march route and preventing it “from marching to the Guildhall Square”. These would be erected in the early afternoon, before the march began. Each barrier would be manned by locally-garrisoned troops of 8 Bridgade and RUC officers. Army reinforcements were to be brought in.Although the plan saw no action being taken if the march stayed within the prescribed areas, if there was any attempt to breach the barriers or to attack the security services, the authorites could respond.
On the sunny afternoon of 30 January  “between ten and twenty thousand men, women and children” formed up on the Creggan. Led by the coal lorry, it made its way down to the Bogside, its numbers growing  as more people joined along the way. Moving down William Street “there was a confrontation”, when the lorry reached the junction with Little James Street and Rossville Street, it swung right and headed towards Free Derry Corner. Despite the efforts of stewards to guide the marchers to follow the lorry, a large number carried on along William Street towards Barrier 14.
At this stage at least one man attempted to pull aside one of the barriers, but was stopped by a steward as the crowd jeered the soldiers and RUC. Eventually the crowd in front of the barrier began to thin, and youths started to stone the troops, who responded with baton rounds and a water cannon. A canister of CS gas thrown from the crowd exploded in front of the water cannon, blocking the vision of its crew, who were not wearing gas masks, so it had to be withdrawn until the gas dispersed.
After an earlier look at the march route to determine the various points where 1 Para might launch their arrest operation, depending on which barrier was threatened, it had been thought that in the case of Barrier 14 it could be done over a wall on one side of William Street, just to the east of Little James Street, on the other side of which was the Presbyterian Church. This would have allowed the paratroopers to come around the rioters in a pincer movement, with other troops coming directly through Barrier 14 itself. However it was discovered that the top of the wall was covered in barbed wire, so a number of paratroopers was sent forward to cut it.
Shortly before 16:00, these paratroopers were spotted by youths in William Street, who began to pelt them with stones and bottles. The paratroopers opened fire, injuring 15 year-old Damien Donaghy, who had been throwing stones, and 59 year-old John Johnston, a passerby not involved with either the march was hit twice – died 4½ months later from his injuries. Shortly afterwards, a single rifle shot narrowly missed the wire-cutting party.
By this stage, although some rioters remained at Barrier 14, most had drifted away, while Rossville Street and the waste ground to the north of the Rossville Flats was still filled withsome marchers. As well as curious onlookers. At 4pm, while C Company of 1 Para moved through Barrier 14 on foot along William Street, a convoy of ten army vehicles moved through Barrier 12 and down Little James Street. This was led by two armoured trucks
One truck halted on the waste ground near Eden Place, while the second stopped in the courtyard of the Rossville Flats. The vehicles having come much further into the Bogside than was usual caused some panic amongst the crowd. Many civilians fled down Rossville Street towards Free Derry Corner, whilst others were caught in the courtyard of the Rossville flats. One officer moved north towards Chamberlain Street, where he fired three warning shots to disperse a “hostile crowd”. The rest of the troops began to make arrests, but they came under fire, and in the next ten minutes fired 42 rounds of live ammunition, leaving 17 year-old John Duddy dead in the courtyard.
The remaining army vehicles stopped in Rossville Street, although the Command truck – was moved to the north end of Rossville Flats when it came under fire. Some troops from moved east to Kells Walk. At Kells Walk, the paratroopers found themselves facing a standing on the rubble while others around them either sought cover or fled. Testifying later that they identified gunmen on the barricade, the paratroopers opened fire. By the time a ceasefire order was given, seven men had been shot dead or fatally wounded.
At this point a large group of civilians sheltering behind the Glanfada Park made their way into the courtyard via the north-east gap, closely followed by two more. A number of civilians were shot, either in the courtyard or between it and Abbey Park, four of them fatally: James Wray (22), Gerald McKinney (35), Gerald Donaghy (17), and William McKinney (26).
Across at the Rossville Flats, a group of civilians heard an injured man calling out for help, and 41 year-old Bernard McGuigan determined to go to his aid. Moving into the open and holding up a white hankerchief, McGuigan was immediately fatally shot in the head.
Thirteen people were shot and killed, with another man later dying of his wounds. The official army position, backed by the British Home Secretary, was that the paratroopers had reacted to the threat of gunmen from suspected IRA members. However, all eyewitnesses (apart from the soldiers), maintain and that the soldiers fired into an unarmed crowd. No British soldier was wounded or reported any injuries, no evidence was ever found to back up the British army claims. In the events that followed, angry crowds burned down the British embassy in Dublin. Irish and British had hit an all time low, 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”.

bls_clip_image003Although there were many IRA men 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 ordered stewards to “keep the peace on that day”. One paratrooper later gave evidence at 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 not seen by the soldiers. Various other claims have been made to the Saville Inquiry about gunmen on the day.
The city’s coroner, retired British Army Major Hubert O’Neill, issued a statement on 21 August 1973, at the completion of the inquest into the people killed. He declared: This Sunday became known as Bloody Sunday and bloody it was. “The event is sometimes called the Bogside Massacre” It was quite unnecessary. It strikes me that the Army ran amok that day.
“Immediately after the killings the British government announced the appointment of Lord Widgery, then Lord Chief Justice, to undertake an inquiry into the events of the day.” Widgery’s quickly produced report — completed within ten weeks and published within eleven – supported the Army’s account of the events of the day and “refused over 700 eyewitness accounts”. Most Irish people and witnesses to the event disputed the report’s conclusions. These conclusions were “hastily convened”.
“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.”



List of sources:

  1. Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Troubles
  2. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0280491/
  3. RTE,


  1. http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~irelandlist/sunbsun.html
  2. http://www.frogenyozurt.com/2009/03/bloody-sunday-january-30-1972
  3. Eamonn McCann (2006). The Bloody Sunday Inquiry – The Families Speak Out. London: Pluto Press
  4. CAIN, http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/events/bsunday/sum.htm
  5. Don Mullan (1997). Eyewitness Bloody Sunday. Wolfhound: Printing Press.
  6. P. Hayes and J. Campbell: Bloody Sunday trauma pain and politics.
Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Troubles
Bloody Sunday Trauma Pain and Politics by P. Hayes and J. Campbell
A Short history of The Troubles by Gordon Gillespie.
Bloody Sunday Trauma,Pain and politics by P. Hayes and J. Campbell
Don Mullan (1997). Eyewitness Bloody Sunday. Wolfhound: Printing Press.
Don Mullan (1997). Eyewitness Bloody Sunday. Wolfhound: Printing Press.
10Eamonn McCann (2006). The Bloody Sunday Inquiry – The Families Speak Out. London: Pluto Press
Bloody Sunday Trauma,Pain and politics by P. Hayes and J. Campbell
Bloody Sunday Trauma,Pain and politics by P. Hayes and J. Campbell
Don Mullan (1997). Eyewitness Bloody Sunday. Wolfhound: Printing Press