Bloody Sunday: A Massacre During A Civil Rights March

By | September 4, 2021

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British troops marching arrested citizens toward detention on Bloody Sunday 30th January 1972 (Photo by William L. Rukeyser/Getty Images)

In 1969, Derry, the second largest city in Northern Ireland was struggling with poverty and inequality between the Nationalists (who were in the majority) and the Unionists. Despite the Nationalist majority, because of gerrymandering and discriminatory laws against the Catholics, the Unionists maintained leadership in all council roles. In addition to poverty, the housing conditions were terrible; Catholics wanted improvement.

The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) began as a non-partisan organization, and included Unionists. However, Sinn Fein and the Official IRA began to have more influence. The NICRA aimed to defend and protect freedoms and rights of all citizens, highlight abuses of power, demand guarantees for freedom of speech, assembly, and association, and inform the public of their rights. In an attempt to wipe out the NRA, internment with trial was introduced in Northern Ireland on August 9, 1971, so anyone suspected of being a member of a terrorist organization could be arrested on the spot. Many innocent people were arrested and the British army arrested some people in their homes. Despite the fact that marches were banned as of January 18, 1972 in Northern Ireland, the NICRA organized marches against internment. One of these marches, on January 30, 1972, would become known as Bloody Sunday.

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Earlier march of NICRA. Source: (Your Irish Culture).

Trying To Avoid Conflict

They were asked to change the route of the march to contain it in the Catholic area of Derry, part of which was called Free Derry, as it was a “no-go” area for the British Army. Barricades kept military vehicles from entering the area, and IRA members regularly openly carried weapons there. The situation angered the British Army, who vowed to use tougher measures to control the situation. They introduced the Parachute Regiment, an elite group which employed more severe methods than the regular British soldiers. On Bloody Sunday, the Parachute Regiment was deployed to deal with anticipated riots. Out of concern for the possibility of violence, the IRA was asked to not participate.