Bloody Sunday was one of the most recent key events in the centuries-long struggle between Ireland and Britain. This struggle began in the 1600s, when English and Scottish immigrants started settling in the Northern Ireland area. Along with this wave of immigrants, Oliver Cromwell had invaded Ireland, and the British government imposed penal laws on the Irish, including loss of rights for not belonging to the Anglican Church of Ireland
Being that it was a highly Catholic country, not being allowed to practice their faith upset the Irish and caused strain between them and Britain. In 1916, the Irish declared independence, and then fought a revolution against the British. In 1949, Ireland became its own republic. Yet, the six counties in the north that make up Northern Ireland still remain in the power of the UK. Because of the persistent British occupation in Northern Ireland, combined with the continuous unfair treatment of the Irish Catholic nationalists, tensions in Northern Ireland still persist. For more information on the centuries old struggle, visit the BBC website to see an account of the history of Irish/British relations from after Cromwell’s conquest and an overview of Irish/British relations prior to the 1600s.
Bloody Sunday was one of the key events of the Troubles, a period in Northern Ireland’s history (1968-1998) where there was much civil unrest due to the British control (unrest similar to America’s civil rights movement). Because of this unrest, the nationalists had resurgences of the paramilitary groups (i.e. Provisional Irish Republican Army). The British loyalists had their military, law enforcement, and paramilitary groups (i.e. Ulster Volunteer Force). To learn more about the extent of the Troubles before and after Bloody Sunday, check out an interactive history from the Guardian.
On Bloody Sunday, a civil rights protest made its way through the streets of Derry. British troops had set themselves up with street barricades, which prevented the demonstrators from going along their intended route. Some protesters decided to adjust their route accordingly, while others began throwing rocks at the British barricade. These soldiers then used tear gas on the crowd and began arresting demonstrators. The soldiers claimed they were being shot at and bombed by protesters, but the report finds no such evidence of fire power at the scene.
As the soldiers followed the demonstrators, they began firing at the protesters. The Saville report found that, although the soldiers said they were only shooting at those who had shot at them, the soldiers had actually started shooting, although they were completely unthreatened when they began shooting. This shooting ended with 14 deaths and 13 injuries. Photographs and eyewitnesses show that, of those that were killed, none were armed. While one of the killed did have bombs in his pockets, there is no evidence suggesting he was going to use them. While Saville found that a couple of the shootings were “understandable” because of the possibility of paramilitary groups with weapons emerging, the shootings were unjustified. Sadly, some of the dead even made gestures of surrender before they were unmercifully shot. To see the path of the demonstration and information about the deceased, visit an interactive map at the Guardian website.
Because of this event, hostility increased in Northern Ireland. What was released in the Saville inquiry was still unknown. Thus, the tensions between both parties were amplified (because it was unknown who held the fault), along with the nationalists already deeply rooted mistrust of the British holding power in Northern Ireland. Bloody Sunday also brought the Troubles to an international spotlight. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton made measures toward helping to ease the tensions between the British and the Irish nationalists while in office. Media such as songs by U2, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney also brought Bloody Sunday to an international level.
Growing up Irish Catholic, I had already known about how the British had been occupying Ireland and treating the natives terribly. I grew up being taught to say “damn him to hell” every time Oliver Cromwell’s name was mentioned. I had always known of the injustices among the native Irish Catholics. My dad always told me how our ancestors could not practice their religion because of the penal laws. After listening to U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, I was gathering more of an understanding of the situation. I really became interested in learning much more about Ireland’s past. Every chance I had to write a research paper, I always headed straight to the Irish, and the plight they’ve endured. I would feel such a strong pull to Ireland that, for a time I wanted to go there and assist in any situation related to the Troubles.
Today, when I saw the news, the first thought that popped into my head was “Finally.” I was glad that they had published what I knew instantly when I started learning about Bloody Sunday. Personally, I’m very happy that this new inquiry by Saville has been released and shows the true nature of the situation (an outline of major points in the Saville report, with a comparison to the previous Widgery report, can be found at the Guardian website).
I do not say this because I wish shame and guilt on the British. I’m just pleased at the findings because it means that maybe now those who are still against the Irish Catholics can see that the nationalists are not the problem. The Troubles were a two-way street, and all parties need to be held accountable. Hopefully now, everyone can see that the nationalists were just trying to fight to regain their home and their freedom. Ultimately, I hope this inquiry causes the UK and Ireland to re-asses the Northern Ireland situation in a peaceful manner. I hope that, one day, Ireland can be whole again.