Bloody Sunday was the culmination of several years heightened tensions. The Civil Rights movement organised a march to reaffirm their anger at the manner in which the people of Northern Ireland were being treated. The majority of the marchers were nationalists, fed up of the discrimination they felt they were being subjected to with regards housing, voting and over recent months internment and the house to house searches conducted by the army and police in predominantly nationalist areas.
The March began peacefully but tension rose as the marchers were prevented from going further by an army blockade, set up to prevent the march continuing. Tempers frayed as the armed forces and the leaders of the march could come to no compromise over how the protest could continue. Some members of the crowd threw stones at the army which escalated, according to some sources, into a more serious disturbance.
What happened next is subject to many different interpretations. The armed forces did open fire. They hit 26 people. 13 of these people died on the day, one other perished later from his wounds. Why the armed forces opened fire is the subject of much debate.
Explaining the actions of the paratroopers is extremely difficult. They claim that they returned fire, suggesting that paramilitary groups may have been present. Many of the protestors and independent eyewitnesses do not validate this claim though, these accounts suggest that the armed forces opened fire without any provocation. An alternative explanation is that they panicked. The paratroop regiment wasn’t trained for crowd control situations, had been under attack from the IRA and may simply have over reacted to the use of violence against themselves.
It strikes me that the Army ran amok that day and shot without thinking what they were doing. They were shooting innocent people. These people may have been taking part in a march that was banned but that does not justify the troops coming in and firing live rounds indiscriminately. I would say without hesitation that it was sheer, unadulterated murder.
The official coroner for the City of Derry/Londonderry, retired British army Major Hubert O’Neill. 21st August 1973.
“I was in the front line of the march as the march approached the barricade erected by the military in William Street. There were a few exchanges, a few throws of stones, not very heavy, and afterwards, about three or four minutes, the Army moved up with this water cannon and sprayed the whole crowd with coloured water. Then the crowd dispersed.
“Successively, it returned and threw some more stones: nothing as I have seen in other places in Northern Ireland, nothing really very heavy. After which gas was used massively by the Army, and the crowd dispersed towards the meeting place, which was at Free Derry Corner. As the crowd was moving away, I would say about a couple of thousand people – completely peaceful because they had been drenched with gas and they could hardly breathe, and many were sick – suddenly in the area behind Free Derry Corner – Rossville flats, I think it is called, the big square in front of those flats – the Army, the paratroopers, moved in on Saracens.
“And other paratroopers followed on foot, and they jumped out. The people were thinking they would be given another dose of gas and scattered very hurriedly and they really fled towards Free Derry Corner. The Army jumped out and they started shooting in all directions. I took pictures of this, I took recordings of this, and there is no doubt whatsoever that there wasn’t the slightest provocation.
“There hadn’t been one shot fired at them. There hadn’t been one nail bomb thrown at them. They just jumped out and, with unbelievable murderous fury, shot into the fleeing crowd.”
Fulvio Grimaldi, an Italian journalist present at the march.
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