What happened on Bloody Sunday?

In August 1971, the Stormont government prohibited processions in Northern Ireland for six months under the Public Order Act, and February 8, 1972 marked the end of the six month period. According to Northern Ireland Prime Minister, Brian Faulkner, prolonging this ban would allow the security forces to continue to focus on internment to decrease the violence and defeat the Irish Republican Army (IRA) instead of being targets at processions by assassins. Faulkner claimed internment weakened the IRA.[1] Faulkner’s proposal went even further to say that the security forces would end any in-progress processions immediately, instead of allowing the processions to continue on the pavements as before. Disobeying this act would lead to six months imprisonment.[2]

Although the Stormont government banned processions, the January 30, 1972 civil rights march against internment occurred anyway. The march began in the Creggan area at around 3 PM. They had initially wanted to end in Guildhall Square, but the soldiers prohibited the crowd from entering the city centre. The marchers moved northeast from the Creggan area toward William Street. Turning right onto William Street, the marchers moved east toward Guildhall. The soldiers erected a barrier across William Street to block the city centre, making the crowd reroute southwest to Rossville Street. Some protestors threw stones at soldiers on William Street, and the soldiers fired rubber bullets, CS gas and water cannons in return.[3] Bloody Sunday became different from previous protests when snipers of the British Parachute Regiment, located on top of flats, began shooting into the crowd.[4] With the intent to arrest as many protestors as possible, the British Parachute Regiment moved down William Street and Rossville Street, and shooting began at 4:10 PM. The shooting lasted for twenty-five minutes.[5]

On what would later become known as Bloody Sunday, fourteen men died, with thirteen dying on January 30 and one dying in June due to trauma. These men varied in age from 17 to 59. The violence of the day killed six 17 year olds. Thirteen additional people suffered gunshot wounds. This group included Margaret Deery, a mother of thirteen children, and the first boy shot on this day, Damien Donaghy.[6] The British Parachute Regiment claimed that they had been fired upon first while the protestors maintained unarmed citizens had been shot at by the soldiers.[7] These deaths later became leverage between the Protestant majority and the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland.

[1] B. Faulkner, “‘Processions,’ Extract from Conclusions of a Meeting of the Cabinet,” 18 January 1972, Belfast: Deputy Keeper of the Records, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/proni/1972/proni_HA-32-2-44_1972-01-18.pdf, 1.

[2] B. Faulkner, “‘Processions,’” 3.

[3] BBC, "Bloody Sunday in maps," BBC News, last modified March 17, 2010, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/northern_ireland/8572763.stm.

[4] Feargal Cochrane, Northern Ireland: The Reluctant Peace (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 62-3.

[5] BBC, "Bloody Sunday in maps," BBC News.

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

[7] BBC, "Bloody Sunday in maps," BBC News.

What happened on Bloody Sunday?