[ Early Ireland ]
 [ The Anglo-Norman period ]
 [ Early Tudor period ]
 [ The Reformation ]
 [ Fitzgerald & O'Neill wars ]
 [ Early Stuart kings ]
 [ Cromwellian Settlement ]
 [ Williamite war and the  Protestant ascendancy ]
 [ Revolutionary influences ]
 [ The Union ]
 [ Home Rule crisis & WW I ]
 [ Irish Revolution ]
 [ Partition of Ireland ]
 [ Irish civil war ]
 [ Cosgrave government ]
 [ De Valera period ]
 [ Éire ]
 [ Republic of Ireland ]
 [ Bloody Sunday ]
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History of Ireland
Previous Chapter
 

 
[ Chapter 19 ] - [ Bloody Sunday ]
 

In Ireland, for 50 years the term "Bloody Sunday" evoked a memory of November 21, 1920, when 14 British secret service men were simultaneously killed by the Irish Volunteers in their Dublin homes, and in retaliation Auxiliary police killed 12 spectators and players and injured 60 others at a Dublin football match.

But since Sunday January 30, 1972 the term has been reapplied to the shooting of 26 men, 13 fatally, by the British Army in Derry following a banned march protesting against internment (imprisonment without trial). British troops had been sent into Northern Ireland in 1969 to support the local police in a period of rising civil disturbances but their presence in itself inflamed feelings and they had become the target of attacks by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Internment was introduced in 1971. Civil rights campaigners sought to protest against the measure by organising a march. The Chief Superintendent of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), Frank Lagan, had recommended that in order to avoid serious violence the proposed march be allowed to proceed, but that the marchers be photographed with a view to possible prosecution.

However at that point in time the commander of the 1st Parachute Regiment had already received orders to prepare for service in Derry and their subsequent intervention followed military orders to undertake the arrest operation that led to the shooting. The circumstances of the shooting are controversial. The incident provoked widespread criticism and protests and was followed soon after by the suspension of the Northern Ireland parliament at Stormont and the imposition of direct rule from the British parliament in Westminster.

The British Ministry of Defence claimed that the soldiers began to fire only after two sets of high velocity shots were fired at them and a nail bomb was about to be thrown, adding that they "fired only at identified targets-at attacking gunmen and bombers". However, seven months after the event the Coroner investigating the deaths-a former British officer, Major Hubert O'Neill-stated: "I would state without any hesitation that it was sheer unadulterated murder." 

Twenty years later British Prime Minister John Major admitted in the House of Commons that those who were killed "should be regarded as innocent of any allegation that they were shot while handling firearms or explosives". 

The controversy over the shooting was intensified by the manner in which Lord Chief Justice Widgery carried out his inquiry in the aftermath of the affair. On the occasion of his appointment, in response to a reminder given by the then British Prime Minister Edward Heath that in Northern Ireland there was a propaganda as well as a military war, he proposed that the "inquiry be restricted to what actually happened in those few minutes when men were shot or killed; this would enable the Tribunal to confine the evidence to eyewitnesses". 

However in carrying into practice even this limiting decision the Lord Chief Justice actually confined his examination of eyewitness statements collected and submitted by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association to 10 out of 700 such statements, selected for him by his staff. The enquiry also failed to deal with allegations from eyewitnesses that soldiers on the Derry Walls overlooking the area also opened fire-allegations that have since been confirmed by the discovery of a recording of contemporary Army radio communications.

For all these reasons, and because of the continuing negative impact on Northern nationalist opinion of the way in which the Widgery Tribunal acted, a new Tribunal was established on January 29, 1998, to inquire further into this episode, taking into account new relevant information. Its chairman is Lord Saville of Newdigate, assisted by two Commonwealth judges.


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