Bloody Sunday depicted on a facade

Bloody Sunday, 1972

Bloody Sunday depicted on a facade

The expression Bloody Sunday refers to a sad episode in Northern Irish history. It refers to the events of Sunday 30 January 1972 in Derry, Northern Ireland, where 14 peaceful demonstrators were killed by British army fire. That day was recorded as a black day in history, and caused a real outcry following the massacre of innocent people….

History of Bloody Sunday

A pacifist march that turns into a nightmare

January 30, 1972: A march was organized by the NICRA. It had to start from Creggann’s Central Drive to cross the Bogside district via the bridge that runs along the district and end at Guildhall Square. Ivan Cooper, is at the head of this peaceful march, and advocates equal rights between Catholics and Protestants. Despite his dialogue with the Unionist authorities and his attempts to negotiate with the British police, the demonstration was declared illegal by the English authorities.

This event will therefore be under high surveillance.

At the mouth of William Street there are about 100 men of the RUC, and unusually, British Army paratroopers have come with their tanks to help them. On the demonstrators’ side, around 2 p.m., in the face of this deployment of force, rumours were circulating about a possible change in the route of the march. At 2:20 pm the crowd grew in size, everyone invited friends, relatives and neighbours to join the movement. It is under the cheers that the procession descends towards 14h40 the Brandywell district.

A crowd of 10,000 peace-loving participants under heavy guard…

The crowd was close to 10,000 when the first demonstrators passed by the Bogside Inn at about 3:25 p.m. and the entire width of William Street, including the sidewalks, was occupied. March organizers caught up with the front of the march, which now ran into army and police roadblocks at the junction with Rossville Street.

And from the top of the platform, the leaders ask the crowd to gather at Free Derry Corner. Nearly all of them go up Rossville Street to the place where the meeting with Bernadette Devlin will take place. There is some confusion as some of the crowd is not aware of the new instructions.

The slogans will be followed for about twenty minutes by insults and the throwing of various and varied objects. The soldiers respond with rubber bullets. The rioters retreat and charge back behind corrugated iron sheets as shields. Riot cannons come into play, and CS grenades are fired into the crowd by the army. It was now 3.40 p.m. and John Johnston and Damien Donaghey collapsed on William Street wounded by assault rifle fire from the first parachute battalion.

Early witnesses understand that this time it is not just a police crackdown. From the rostrum, the leaders call for calm from the population and not to respond to the provocation. The news is spreading like wildfire, the army is firing live ammunition. Tanks loaded with paratroopers burst into Rossville Street. The slaughter begins then…

William Mac Christal (witness): I was on Chamberlain Street behind a gang of kids throwing rocks. I saw across Rossville Street, on the ground, a weeping Saracen, I ran to the housing developments when I heard shots coming from William Street, a bullet whistled over my head and lodged in the wall across the street. Someone had just been shot. I saw Father Daly leaning over the body of a young man. There was another man assisting him. I ran over to offer my help, I knelt down, the army was shooting at us over our heads. The bullets were coming from our backs and would hit the wall in front of us. When I got there I saw no weapon, no gun, no nail bomb or stone bomb near the body. We transported the body across High Street to Waterloo Street. We laid him down without his coat and Mr. MacCloskey covered him with a quilt. By that time he was dead. His name was Jackie Duddy.

A. Mac Guinness (witness): I was about three feet away from my friend Damiens Donaghey, when he collapsed to the ground, his blood was coming out of his body. He had just been hit, he hadn’t done anything, he hadn’t thrown a single stone. He was just watching the Kells Walk protest with me.

The Victims of Bloody Sunday

  • John Johnston, age 59. The first shot, he did not die until several days later.
  • Jack Duddy, 17. Killed while running across Rossville Street.
  • Michael Kelly, 17 years old. Shot in the stomach, he died after several minutes.
  • James Wray, 22 years old. Was injured crossing Glenfada Park. Shot at close range.
  • Gerald McKinney, 35. Shot in the chest on his way to the soldiers with his hands over his head at Glenfada Park.
  • William McKinney, age 26. Killed while rescuing Gerald MacKinney.
  • Gerald Donaghey, 17. Shot in the abdomen. Died on the way to the hospital.
  • John Young, 17. Shot in the head.
  • Michael McDaid, 20 years old. Same fate as John Young in the same place.
  • William Nash, 19 years old. Still in the same spot on Rossville Street, receives a bullet to the chest.
  • Patrick Doherty, 31 years old. Bullet entered his buttocks, passed through his stomach and exited his chest. He dies instantly.
  • Bernard McGuigan, 41. The bullet enters the back of his head and kills him instantly.
  • Hugh Gilmour, 17. The bullet passes right through him as he crawls down Rossville Street.
  • Kevin McElhinney, 17 years old. The bullet travels through his body, entering through his anus and exiting through his shoulder.
  • Patrick O’Donnel, Patrick McDaid, Alex Nash, Patrick Campbell, Peggy Deery, Daniel McGowan, Michael Bridge, Michael Quinn, Joseph Mahon, Joseph Friel and Michael Bradley were shot and injured.

Controversial versions

Two versions exist:

  • according to the British, the paratroopers came under fire from the IRA and returned fire,
  • according to the demonstrators, the British Army deliberately fired into an unarmed crowd.

A quick investigation by a commission cleared the British army of any responsibility for responding to IRA fire. However, no weapon was found at the scene, nor were there any traces of explosives on the victims. Moreover, all the victims were among the demonstrators: no soldiers were killed or wounded that day. This version of events has therefore long been subject to doubt.

The day, now written into history as Bloody Sunday, marks a new stage in the Northern Ireland conflict. The ranks of the IRA swelled after the massacre. The British army lost credibility in the minds of the Republicans, who no longer saw it as an intervention force but as a repressive force in the same way as the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

On May 16, 1997, Channel 4 aired a documentary by reporters Lena Ferguson and Alex Thomson in which four soldiers anonymously reveal that the paratroopers fired the gun from the hip into the crowd, contradicting the official claim that the shots were aimed at specific, hostile targets.

Due to criticism of the British version of the event, Minister Tony Blair had the investigation into the events reopened in 1998. The inquiry was assigned to Justice Mark Saville, assisted by Canadian and Australian judges. Between 1998 and November 2004, 921 witnesses were audited and 1555 written testimonies were examined. Several soldiers will confess to having lied in their previous depositions and admit that the victims were unarmed.

So much more to discover...

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