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Into History: Northern Ireland and Bloody Sunday, 50 years later

  Joeana Cera Matthews

Since 1972, there have been yearly memorial services commemorating the lives lost during the incident. This year's service saw families of the victims retracing the path of the 1972 civil rights march through the Derry.

On 30 January, Northern Ireland commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday massacre. BBC called it one of the "darkest days of the Northern Ireland Troubles." It is also considered one of the worst violence between Northern Ireland's Catholic nationalists and the British-loyal Protestant unionists. While the former wanted a united Ireland, the latter did not. Also called the "Bogside Massacre," the massacre eventually led to the instalment of the Bloody Sunday Monument at the site where the incident happened.
 
The Bloody Sunday massacre: A brief background
On 30 January 1972, Sunday, a civil rights march was organized by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association. It was in opposition to Catholic nationalists being detained without a trial. There was a ban on protests; nonetheless, 15000 protesters took to the streets and marched towards the city centre from the Creggan area of Londonderry (Derry). As army barricades blocked the marchers, many of them were redirected. Meanwhile, youths began pelting stones at the barricade, forcing the troops to engage. Following a minor skirmish, 13 people were killed, while 15 were injured due to the soldiers' firing. 

The violence caused an uproar in Derry; the British Embassy in Dublin was set on fire by an aggravated crowd. The next day, an inquiry was declared - the Widgery Tribunal (led by Lord Widgery), to probe into the issue. However, the inquiry depended on the soldiers' account, who maintained that they aimed elsewhere and not at the protestors; the victims' families refused the above account. 

The Bloody Sunday led to increased recruitment to the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), which fought against terror in Northern Ireland. Eventually, these developments led to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. During the same year, a second inquiry headed by Lord Saville began on the Bloody Sunday massacre. 

Finally, in 2010, the inquiry concluded that the killings were "unjustified and unjustifiable". The UK government apologized for the loss of lives and the administration's denial of their responsibility.  
 
50 years later: Remembering 30 January 1972
Since 1972, there have been yearly memorial services commemorating the lives lost during the incident. This year's service saw families of the victims retracing the path of the 1972 civil rights march through the Derry. It was also characterized by crowds lining up the streets, supporting these families as they walked to the Bloody Sunday Monument. Children tagged along holding white roses and portraits of the victims. 

For the first time ever, an Irish premier, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, participated in the memorial service. After a private meeting with the victims' relatives, Martin assured: "I believe that the full process and justice of the courts should be deployed… It is important because time is moving on too for many, many families, and families need closure." However, the victims' families remain infuriated by the fact that no one was held accountable or convicted for the murders. 

Meanwhile, the massacre also influenced culture. Musicians U2, Bono and The Edge released a song on the day called "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which later on became quite popular. On the anniversary, an acoustic version of the same was released. The commemoration also witnessed an actor from a TV drama hosting a music and poetry performance which, according to Deutsche Welle, "involved the choral rendition of the US civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome"."

On 29 January, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated in Parliament that the massacre was "one of the darkest days in our history" and called on the country to learn from its past. It is as Fintan O'Toole, a columnist from The Irish Times, states: "Bloody Sunday, the 10-minute massacre that lasted decades."
 
Three lessons
First, the trigger to conflicts. The Bloody Sunday Massacre proved that attacking or killing civilians is the easiest way to initiate a conflict. Prior to the massacre, civil rights protests had only occasionally turned violent; however, post the incident, these protests became armed and dangerous. The IRA gunmen were approached by Catholics in huge numbers. Overreacting to an already troublesome issue triggered the public leading to a rebellion that ended with the loss of thousands of lives.

Second, the power struggle. The massacre led to the realization that real power was in the "barrel of a gun" and not in unanimity or consensus. Nonetheless, citizens were disputed over the ambiguity provided by the administration regarding the investigation and later when their actions failed to match their words.

Third, the cost of truth. The 12-year-long inquiry cost the British government close to a fortune. The lawyers alone received a massive GBP 190 million after dealing with only 14 of the approximately 3700 killings that occurred during Northern Ireland's "Troubles". Critics of the second inquiry question whether such an investment was worth the effort while others accuse them of insensitivity.


About the author 
Joeana Cera Matthews is a postgraduate scholar from the Department of International Relations at the University of Mysore. She is currently a Visiting Research Scholar at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. 

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