The road to Bloody Sunday began 27 years ago, October 5, 1968, when 500 civil-rights demonstrators marching along Duke Street in Derry were baton-charged and beaten off the streets by the sectarian RUC. In 1968, the only answer the Stormont regime could give to the raising of the banner of civil rights by the nationalist people of the six counties was naked repression.
By January 30, 1972, the only thing that had changed was the length to which the Unionists and the British government were prepared to go to intimidate nationalist protesters from the streets. In the interim, CS gas, water cannon, rubber bullets-even internment without trial and martial law-had failed.
The march in Derry on January 30, 1972, was one of nine marches organized that month by the Civil Rights Association and Northern Resistance Movement to protest against internment (introduced in August 1971). At the same time, a blanket ban had been imposed on street demonstrations by the Stormont regime, making all civil-rights marches illegal. When a group of protesters marched along Magilligan beach on January 22nd to the internment camp there, they were savagely batoned by British occupation forces. It was a foretaste of what was to come if the nationalist people still chose to defy British rule.
This they planned to do on Sunday, January 30th, by marching in their thousands from Bishops field in the Creggan Estate to the Guildhall in Derry city center.
In the days after the attack on the Magilligan protesters, the Derry
CRA released a defiant statement saying:
Just as the violence used
by the RUC in the march on Duke Street strengthened the determination
of the people to use their rights peacefully on the streets, so this
latest act of violence by the authorities strengthens the will of the
people of Derry to march in peaceful protest on Sunday next.
A crowd of around 10,000 left the Bishops field that day, swelling to
twice that figure by the time it had covered the 3-mile route to the
Bogside. The day was sunny but cold. There was no sense of impending
doom. Indeed, as the (English) Guardian's newspaper
correspondent, Simon Winchester, noted,
The mood seemed almost
ebullient, with mothers wheeling prams, children weaving here and
there, laughing, joking, playing pranks on the television men, and
generally adding to an air of a Derry carnival.
The first hint that this mood was to be cruelly shattered came at William Street, where the advance of the crowd was blocked by a British-army barricade.
As the crowd turned backwards to reconvene the proposed rally at Free Derry Corner (where Bernadette Devlin McAliskey and Fenner Brockway were to speak), CS gas, water cannon and rubber bullets were unleashed by the occupation forces from the 1st Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. Minutes later, at approximately 4:17 p.m., just as Bernadette Devlin was about to speak, a hail of bullets came whizzing along Rossville Street without warning, fired at the large crowd standing at the barricade outside Rossville Flats.
Without realizing what was happening, attendees dived to the ground for cover, stunned and panic-stricken. Others ran to the shelter of the stairwells of Rossville Flats. Those caught in the open at the barricade along Rossville Street were cut down by the deadly accuracy of British snipers.
Within seconds, with Saracen armored cars sweeping into the courtyard of the apartment buildings and British soldiers (from the Royal Anglian Regiment) raking the Bogside with bullets from positions atop of the Derry walls, the entire area became a killing ground. For twenty minutes the firing continued, with momentary lulls. Anyone who moved was mercilessly picked off by British snipers. White handkerchiefs were ignored, and fire was concentrated on anyone attempting to go to the aid of the injured. To move at all was to invite certain death.
Of the 13 who died during those 20 minutes (another victim, John Johnston, was to die six months later from his wounds) James Wray, Gerald McKinney, Gerard Donaghy and William McKinney were murdered at Glenfada Park, where they ran to escape the hail of bullets down Rossville Street. Their escape route was cut off by other paratroopers firing down from the corner of Frederick Street. Wray was wounded twice, and lay, unable to move, in the open, as others tried to reach him. His father said:
One man saw him move and knew my lad was only injured. So he made
an attempt to get out to him, and as he approached, the army opened
fire on him. His body was lying there as a trap and anybody who went
to save him was going to be shot. Minutes later, as Jim looked up,
they shot him, from a distance of nine feet, in his back as he lay in
As others continued to flee, Gerald McKinney stood holding his hands above his head when a soldier approached him and, at pointblank range, shot him in the chest. Kevin McElhinney was on his hands and knees.
Paddy Doherty had gone out to pick up one of the wounded, when he himself became a target. The same with 17-year-old Michael Kelly and 41-year-old Bernard McGuigan.
Michael Kelly's father recalled in the Derry Journal of
February 1st, 1972,
My young fellow saw a man of about 50 years
getting hit, and he ran to see what he could do for him. As he ran
towards him, he [Kelly] was shot in the stomach. It was the first time
at a march in his life.
Bernard McGuigan, holding up a white handkerchief to walk out to save Paddy Doherty, was shot in the base of the skull. When 19-year-old William Nash was shot at the barricade along Rossville Street, his father Alex went to his aid. Alex Nash was shot twice in the chest while bending over his wounded son, shouting at the soldiers to stop.
Not far away, in the shelter of the barricade, 17-year-old John Young
was dragging himself, wounded, towards the door of the Rossville Flats
with onlookers screaming from the windows,
Come on lad, come on,
you're nearly there. John Young never made it; he was another
victim of Bloody Sunday. Bloody Sunday shook nationalist Ireland to
the core. When the news of the mass murder broke, a tidal wave of
anger and revulsion swept all of Ireland.
The British authorities responded swiftly with a major international propaganda offensive through the media and the Widgery Tribunal whitewash.
No paratrooper was ever brought to trial for the murders, however. In
fact, their commander that day was decorated the following year by the
Engish queen. There were to be no official apologies, no media
outpourings of grief and outrage, no national appeals for sympathy for
the innocent victims of Bloody Sunday. Only contempt. As Simon
Thanks to the propaganda merchants, and half a
dozen lazy hacks, Bloody Sunday became a closed book.
Yet, despite the neat PR job the British establishment have done covering up the facts about Bloody Sunday, they have never been able to shake the conviction of the thousands of survivors of that day that Bloody Sunday was a shoot-to-kill operation, a massacre, planned and executed with cold blooded intent.
As the father of one of the Bloody Sunday victims, Jim Wray, put it:
The British planned at cabinet level to put our people off the
streets, to shoot them if necessary. They were prepared to take that
chance, they took that chance, and they gave us Bloody Sunday.
And, as the solitary stone monument in the Bogside attests, six of the Bloody Sunday victims were 17 years of age. The British were shooting to kill Irish children.
Few could have known that the journey that began in Derry's Duke Street on October 5, 1968, was to end with a blood-soaked civil-rights banner lying in aBogside gutter on January 30,1972.
Yet, 27 years on from Duke Street, the risen nationalist people are still marching-through more shoot-to-kill executions, judicial whitewashes and crown-force cover-ups-and they are still carrying their banners.