On what quickly became known as Bloody Sunday ( 30 January 1972) – no doubt echoing Dublin’s Bloody Sunday of November 1920, 13 protesters at a civil rights march were shot dead by troops from the British Army’s Parachute Regiment (1 Para). On 16 June 1972 a further protester died from wounds sustained on Bloody Sunday. This memorial on Rossville Street in the Bogside, where the deaths occurred, is to the 14 dead.
While not detracting from the significance of the other 3,000 odd who lost their lives in Northern Ireland’s 30 year “Troubles”, these 14 deaths were particularly significant in that this was the greatest number of people to be killed by the British Army during the Troubles.
Derry Coroner, Huber O’Neill, shortly after the event declared the deaths as “sheer unadulterated murder” – a view shared by those present on the day. In February 1972 an inquiry, headed by Lord Chief Justice Widgery, exonerated the Army and confirmed that the entire British establishment stood by the soldiers actions on the day. In 1992 the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign was launched with the demand that the matter be reopened with a view to receiving a formal acknowledgement of the innocence of the victims and the prosecution of those responsible for their deaths. The Lord Saville inquiry was launched in 1998 and concluded in 2010 that all the dead and wounded were innocent. All of those shot were unarmed, and the killings were both “unjustified and unjustifiable”. Blame was ascribed to one officer, Derek Wilford, who had ‘deliberately disobeyed’ orders, and a number of rank and file solders.
While the IRA had started its campaign in 1969 and secretly sponsored the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) (which led the banned march on 30 January 1972) and violence had been steadily increasing, the majority nationalist hope had been that a non-violent campaign for change via the NICRA would suffice in unseating the Unionist Government in Northern Ireland.
Increased violence saw the introduction of internment without trial on 9 August 1971 and the banning of marches and parades including that traditionally held on the 12 August by the Apprentice Boys of Derry. Between the 9th and 12th of August 1971 21 people were killed in rioting and in the remaining months of the year 30 British soldiers had been killed. No-go areas had been declared and enforced by paramilitaries in Derry with the IRA openly mounting roadblocks for media consumption.
To say that the situation was extremely tense by the 30 January 1972, when NICRA decided to proceed with its banned march against interment without trial, would be an understatement. Authorities on the day decided that the march could go ahead so long as it remained in Catholic areas but it could not go to the Guildhall. Army barricades were erected to prevent access to the Guildhall and march organisers redirected it to Free Derry Corner. A small group, of mainly teenagers, broke off from the main march and decided to push ahead to the Guildhall.
What happened next is a matter of great debate (and outside the scope of this short review) but suffice to say that within a few hours 13 protesters were dead and another would not recover from wounds sustained on the day.
IRA members were, by their own admission, present on the day. The Saville inquiry concluded that while Martin McGuinness, second-in-command of the Derry City brigade of the Provisional IRA (who went on to become Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland in 2007), “engaged in paramilitary activity” during Bloody Sunday, and had probably been armed, there was insufficient evidence to make any finding other than they were “sure that he did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire”.
Bloody Sunday marked a turning point in the Troubles – a point were armed action and violence replaced civil disobedience. The immediate impact was a swelling in the number of IRA volunteers. Whether this shift to violence would have happened anyway is a matter of conjecture. Bloody Sunday certainly impacted on the timing of the shift.
The tragic events of Bloody Sunday have frequently been recorded in song and poetry, enacted on the stage, in television dramas and in movies many times since 1972 and will remain in the minds of those affected for many years to come.
The Bloody Sunday Memorial was unveiled on the 26 January 1974 by Mrs B Bond from the Derry Civil Rights Association. It is a fairly simple limestone obelisk on a round raised platform listing the names and ages of the dead and firmly ascribing blame for the deaths by adding “who were murdered by British Paratroopers on Bloody Sunday 30th January 1972”.
The fence and gate were subsequently added to the memorial to create a small garden of remembrance. The gate is usually unlocked.
Address: Rossville Street, Bogside
Directions: On the east side of Rossville Street not far from Free Derry Corner and the Hunger Strike Memorial
This entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on many trips to Londonderry/Derry. I suggest you continue with my next entry – The Museum of Free Derry – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my introductory entry – The City on the Foyle.