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Associated Press
Pallbearers carry one of 13 coffins of Bloody Sunday victims to a graveside during a funeral in Derry, Northern Ireland, Feb. 2, 1972.

On This Day: 13 Irish Catholic Marchers Killed on Bloody Sunday

January 30, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Jan. 30, 1972, British soldiers opened fire on Catholic marchers in Derry, Northern Ireland, killing 13 people and fatally wounding another.

Bloody Sunday Started With Civil Rights March

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was created in 1967 to protest jobs, housing and voting rights discrimination against Catholics by the unionist-controlled Stormont government. Two NICRA marches in Derry in 1968 and 1969 had ended in violence.

In 1971, Stormont introduced the policy of internment, which allowed it to arrest and imprison suspected Irish Republican Army militants without trial. In protest of internment and the mistreatment of prisoners, the NICRA scheduled a march for Jan. 30, 1972, through Derry.

The march’s original destination was the Guildhall in the unionist section of the city, but the British troops established barricades to keep the march in the nationalist section. A group of marchers broke through barricades and attacked British soldiers with stones and other objects.

British soldiers responded by pushing into the Catholic Bogside area, where the march was continuing in peace. They began firing into the crowd and chased fleeing marchers down side streets. The violence lasted for a half-hour, after which 13 marchers lay dead and many more were injured.

“Where, only moments before, thousands of men and women had been milling around, drifting slowly towards a protest meeting to be held at Free Derry Corner, there was only a handful of bleeding bodies, some lying still, others still moving with pain, on the white concrete of the square,” wrote The Guardian.

The events of Bloody Sunday reinvigorated support for the IRA, plunging the area deeper into sectarian violence, terrorism and guerrilla warfare. “Not since the executions that followed Dublin's 1916 Easter Rising have Catholic Irishmen, North and South, been so inflamed against Britain and so determined to see Ireland united in one republic at last,” wrote Time.

Historical Context: The Troubles

Bloody Sunday was a significant event of the Troubles, a period of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland stretching from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Northern Ireland was formed in 1921 following the Anglo-Irish War, when six northern counties of Ireland were split off from the newly independent south. The Protestant majority was able to control the government through gerrymandering and pass discriminatory laws against Catholics.

In the 1960s, the Catholic minority organized both violent and non-violent resistance, sparking civil unrest that continued over the next three decades. Paramilitary groups on both sides became active, most notably the Provisional IRA and the Ulster Volunteer Force. Over 3,500 people were killed during the Troubles through bombings, shootings and other violent attacks.

Bloody Sunday Inquiries

Following the events of Bloody Sunday, the British government formed an inquiry headed by Lord Widgery. The Widgery Tribunal, which was completed in April 1972, backed the soldiers’ account, determining that the protesters had fired on the troops and created a “dangerous situation.” No charges were brought against the British soldiers.

The findings of the tribunal were widely criticized by the Catholic community, which deemed it to be a whitewash. In 1998, British Prime Minster Tony Blair opened a second investigation, the Saville inquiry, to further examine the incident. Although the proceedings of the Saville Inquiry concluded in 2004, the final report was not issued until June 2010.

The report determined that the actions of the British soldiers were unjustifiable. It found that a paratrooper fired first shot, and that though there was some provocation by the IRA, the paratroopers fired on civilians they knew posed no threat. Furthermore, it revealed that soldiers had lied to cover up their actions.

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