On the morning of Sunday January 30th 1972 in Derry, the day was like any other Sunday, people attended mass then had their family breakfasts, no one knew of the impending doom that would be set upon the streets just hours later.
With the introduction of internment a few months prior to January, hundreds of Catholic homes were raided and often the eldest males in the household were dragged away to internment camps without a trail or conviction.
Their crime ?
Simply being suspected of being involved in the civil rights movement of being an IRA member by living within republican strongholds. By the time internment had ended nearly 2000 people were detained.
To this point both state and the arms of the state such as the Army and RUC had pushed fabricated notions that the civil rights movement was just a republican front, all in an effort to rally loyalist support to physical confront civil rights marches as they passed through loyalist areas, this was seen in the likes of Burntollet bridge in 1969 where the civil rights procession was lead towards loyalist mobs by the police. The mobs attacked protestors with iron bars and bats with nails in them, even going as far as throwing people off the bridge.
With the political backdrop of the early years of the Civil Rights movement many were fearful of their family members taking part in the march in Derry because just a week prior the Army had violently dispersed an anti internment march which took place on McGilligan beach, just a short distance away from an internment camp, this time it was different as the police had been given backup by the parachute regiment who were bussed in from Belfast. It was evident the response to the civil rights movement was now becoming extremely hostile despite being led at times by reputable politicians such as Ivan Cooper and John Hulme who were dedicated to peace.
By the time the afternoon had arrived thousands of people made their way towards the Creggan estate of the city. Despite the valid fears of previous weeks, people were determined to take a stand and deliver equality for the nationalist working class population unbroken by previous events.
There’s often a huge misconception among the general population of the UK when it comes to the organising of events for Bloody Sunday which can only be blamed on the lack of education on the subject. It’s often said this was organised by the factions of the IRA, when the reality of the situation was that those factions were asked to stay away and not take part on the March, which became the official orders for both factions.
As the March set off at 15:00 and made its way towards Southway images and videos taken from his point convey the sheer size of the demonstration as it moved down into the Bogside via the winding roads from Creggan, with joyous chants of “We Shall Overcome” filling the Free Derry air.
However as the procession reached deep into the Bogside as they made their way towards the Guildhall Square the march was brought to a halt by the RUC who were being overlooked by the burgundy berets of the parachute regiment who had flooded onto the Walls of the city and its town centre.
It was at this point a decision was made by the leaders of the March to turn and make their way to the infamous Free Derry corner. By this point a small group of youths had broke away to challenge the RUC’s tyranny, after all they were stopping thousands of the cities people from rightfully protesting at the council chambers. Armed with stones, the small group gallantly challenged the orders of the state.
By the time the March had made its way to Free Derry corner the army had decided to invade the Bogside. Due to the sheer size of the procession the organisers could see the army coming in from their platform on the back of a lorry and had encouraged the protestors to not move and stand their ground. Within a matter of seconds the distinct sounds of rifle fire echoed in the streets and those calls to stand their ground were swiftly change to cries of “get down” and “get to cover”. Even at this point it was beyond imaginable that the Army would be discharging live rounds at peaceful protestors.
The panic and commotion had set in, the parachute regiment were engaged in what seemed to be a free for all firing at protestors and into homes of the Bogside. Creating a pathway of destruction and death.
In the personal accounts of victims in the Saville Inquiry we hear how one protestors laid down and pretended to be dead as he heard soldiers approaching, soldiers who took up firing positions aimed at the dead bodies before moving on. We hear how soldiers planted evidence on bodies such as nail bombs and ammunition in an effort to tarnish the victims names and justify their actions. We hear how those who were injured were picked up and dumped onto dead bodies as they cleared the area, including one account where a young female was ran over by a six wheeler saracen, picked up with spinal injuries and left for dead beside some of her neighbours.
As the afternoon came to a close 13 men and children lay dead on the streets of Derry, with scores of others wounded and left for dead.
Immediately the state set out on a propaganda mission presenting lies to the British public about how they came under fire from IRA snipers and how this was a great success despite turning guns on what the British state would claim as their own population, this was supported by the creation of the Widgery tribunal which took place a few months later and completely whitewashed over the events of that day.
Despite what was being claimed by the state, tapped telephone recordings from the command room at Ebrighton Barracks reveal that the commanding officers of the day like Ford and Jackson revelled in the mess they have created despite one officer stating “it’s chaos there’s about 9-15 dead “ to which the rent was “there’s nothing wrong with that Alan”. Even with this information they felt that their higher command would congratulate a job well done.
The legacy of Bloody Sunday is one of hurt and sorrow, Derry lost fathers, sons and brothers whose family have set out on a journey of justice which we saw some light shed through the findings of the Saville Inquiry, for others on the day the journey for justice continued until the commanding officers alongside the soldiers are brought to justice and stripped of their accolades for that day.
On the 49th anniversary of Bloody Sunday we remember those who lost their lives in the fight for civil rights and those who were injured as a result.
We remember Patrick “Paddy” Doherty, Gerald Donaghey, John “Jackie” Duddy, Hugh Gilmour, Michael Kelly, Michael McDaid, Kevin McElhinney, Bernard McGuigan, Gerard McKinney, William McKinney, William Nash, James Wray, John Young and John Johnston
May the families continue successfully in their struggles for justice 49 years on.