Bloody Sunday became the worst massacre of British citizens by British troops since 1819 at Peterloo.[1] According to Malcom Sutton’s An Index of Deaths from the Conflicts in Ireland 1969-1993, more people died in 1972 than any other year of the Troubles. 256 people died within the next six months compared to the 210 that died in the previous three years of the Troubles.[2] 

Bernadette Devlin

Tensions about Bloody Sunday began the next day in Parliament in London. Present in Derry on January 30, Bernadette Devlin wanted to discuss what she had witnessed. However, House of Commons protocol denied her the opportunity. In frustration, she crossed the room, and Devlin hit the British Home Secretary, Reginald Maulding, in the face.[3] Afterwards outside of Parliament, reporters talked to Devlin about the altercation.

Collapse of Stormont

According to a document from the Ministry of Defence from January 31, 1972, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had been active two weeks prior to January 30, 1972.[4] Also, this document showed the soldiers had orders to arrest any rioters at the corner of William Street and Rossville Street, and they should avoid the peaceful NICRA marchers.[5] In this way, the Stormont government tried to avoid the blame for this day.

In a speech two days after Bloody Sunday, Brian Faulkner, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, claimed the deaths could have been avoided if the protestors had followed the law and not marched. He also blamed the Republic of Ireland’s Prime Minister, Taoiseach Jack Lynch, for interfering in Northern Ireland to try and promote the reunification of the country after January 30.[6] Faulkner attempted to argue against the British government taking control of Northern Ireland under direct rule. However, his efforts failed because the British Prime Minister, Edward Heath, decided that Faulkner could not bring security or political progress to Northern Ireland, and in March 1972, Stormont collapsed, meaning the British government had direct rule over Northern Ireland.[7] Bloody Sunday greatly influenced Heath’s decision for direct rule.

Newry March

On February 6, 1972, a Civil Rights march occurred in Newry. Bernadette Devlin was also present at this march. One of the largest crowds to go to a Civil Rights march in Northern Ireland came to this march. The Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN) website has many pictures of both Bloody Sunday and the Newry march as well as documents about the Troubles.

According Tim Pat Coogan, a southerner, NICRA discouraged people from the Republic of Ireland from participating, but Coogan joined what he claimed to be 50,000 protestors in Newry.[8] In a meeting the day after Bloody Sunday, the Stormont government acknowledged that they knew of the march in Newry scheduled for the next weekend, and they recognized the threat of this march by stating the Army’s actions would not change concerning anyone breaking the law.[9] The size of this crowd showed the resilience of the people of Northern Ireland after such a tragedy.

[1] Douglas Murray, Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry (London: Biteback Publishing, 2011), 2.

[2] Don Mullan, Bloody Sunday: Massacre in Northern Ireland-The Eyewitness Accounts (Niwot: Robert Rinehart Publishers, 1997), 47-8.

[3] Feargal Cochrane, Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 42.

[4] Ministry of Defence, “Events in Londonderry on 30 January 1972,” 31 January 1972, Belfast: Deputy Keeper of the Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI),, 1.

[5] Ministry of Defence, “Events in Londonderry on 30 January 1972,” 2.

[6] B. Faulkner, “Speech by the Prime Minister, Mr. Brian Faulkner, addressing the Clevely Committee,” 1 February 1972, Belfast: Deputy Keeper of the Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI),, 1.

[7] David McKittrick and David McVea, Making Sense of the Troubles (Belfast: Blackstaff Press Limited, 2001), 82.

[8] Tim Pat Coogan, The Troubles: Ireland’s Ordeal 1966-1996 and the Search for Peace (Boulder: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1996), 144.

[9] n.a., “Conclusions of a Meeting of the Cabinet,” 31 January 1972, Belfast: Deputy Keeper of the Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI),, 2.