What really happened on Bloody Sunday?

Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class from www.HowStuffWorks.com.

Katie Lambert: Hello, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Katie Lambert.

Sarah Dowdey: And I'm Sarah Dowdey. Today's subject is pretty serious, and it's been in the news a lot lately. To me, it's always fascinating when something that happened in the past makes headlines because of new archeological insight or new medical analysis or just the most thorough review of buried facts you could possibly do. I think it's interesting because it gives people the chance to revisit a story that they may have only learned about in textbooks or films. It gives people a chance to revisit history.

Katie Lambert: And let us see what history really is, which of course, is something that's subject to interpretation and not ever as final as it may seem to us. We've done so many episodes where there are huge blanks in the information that's out there. They definitely are harder for us to research.

Sarah Dowdey: Mad Trapper Rat River.

Katie Lambert: Marie Laveau, but there's some of your favorites, and a lot of those blank spots aren't ever going to be filled, but others can still come to light. That's what we're talking about today.

Sarah Dowdey: Our subject today would have been a very different kind of episode had we recorded it one week earlier because it would've been before the release of the Saville Report, which is this 5,000-page blow-by-blow account of the events of Bloody Sunday, and it's really shined so much light on a murky period in history.

Katie Lambert: The BBC says the reports length and depth may have, "in any other context rendered it a purely academic and historic document, but in the context of Northern Ireland, this report is alive with the lessons of history."

Sarah Dowdey: But first, as always, we better go back a little bit and find out what happened before we can really understand this report and its significance. In 1969, British soldiers had arrived in Northern Ireland to protect Catholics after all the rising tensions there were creating a lot of trouble. By 1972, Irish nationalists believed that the British were just there as occupying forces. They wanted them out of the country. It wasn't long before Northern Ireland's unionist government started to inter suspected paramilitaries without trial, something that was making people very upset. Another civil right that was taken away was the right to march, to protest, and people were getting really tired of this.

Katie Lambert: So on January 30th, 1972, a civil rights group in Londonderry had decided to stage a peaceful mass demonstration to protest the ban. The march was organized by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, and its organizers really meant for it to be peaceful, although riots at the time were a frequent event. They even contracted republican factions and urged them to hold back any violence and allow the demonstration to take place in peace, but as Sarah mentioned, tensions were high.

Sarah Dowdey: Just a few days earlier, tow Londonderry policemen had been killed, so many people were really on edge. Others - and we'll include a lot of young people in this group too - were just out there to be together and take part in this protest. One of the injured women later recounted that she had gone to hang out with her friends and show off her new coat, so don't think of this protest has having every single person involved at the height of distress and ready to be violent. It wasn't quite like that.

Katie Lambert: The 10,000 people marched toward Guildhall Square, but they found it barricade because in anticipation of trouble, the first battalion of the parachute regiment had been sent from Belfast to Derry, and the recent report suggested that perhaps this was the wrong group to try to maintain the peace with since they were known for their force. So when the crowd hit the barricade, most turned toward Free Derry Corner, and others stayed on course! That's when a riot began, typical in that the protesters threw stones and the troops fired rubber bullets and a water cannon. But the troops had orders to arrest as many people as possible, and the violence began to escalate.

Sarah Dowdey: Shots rang out, and within half an hour, 13 protesters were dead, and 14 were injured, one of whom died later of his wounds. A lot of the dead are really young boys about 17 years old. The most famous image of the event is one of those boys, a 17-year-old named Jackie Duddy who was mortally wounded. There is a famous picture of him being rushed out of the crowd with a priest in front of him waiving a white handkerchief as a flag.

Katie Lambert: From those 30 minutes of violence, many questions arose. Who fired first? Were the dead men armed or innocent civilians? Who was responsible? In inquiry was immediately ordered by Prime Minister Edward Heath and was led by the Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Widgery. He quickly produced a 60-page report concluding that while the dead didn't have weapons on their dead bodies, they may have been armed before that, or may have fired weapons before. It also concluded that the demonstrators had definitely fired the first shots, which necessitated the army's response.

Sarah Dowdey: People are understandably outraged by this conclusion. The Derry coroner said the deaths were unadulterated murder, so there was no question about what most of the people involved felt about this incident. For the next several decades, nationalists and relatives of the victims, and just people interested in seeing justice carried out pushed for a new inquiry. The violence spread too. The events of Bloody Sunday really pushed the state of Northern Ireland into catastrophe.

Katie Lambert: Blood Sunday basically ended these nonviolent approaches to civil rights as more people began to support the IRA, which advocated force assignment to the U.K. to get them out of Northern Ireland.

Sarah Dowdey: Only a few weeks after the incident, the prime minister had suspended Parliament in Belfast and posed direct British Rule. Only six months after the event, the provisional IRA came out really hard. They detonated 20 bombs over Belfast killing nine people, mutilating 130 people, and over the next few decades, at least 3,600 people die in these troubled times between the two countries.

Katie Lambert: This direct rule lasted until 1998 with the Good Friday Peace Pact which helped deescalate the violence. Prime Minister Tony Blair also marked the peace by commissioning an inquest to the event which had sent the trouble spiraling out of control, which was Blood Sunday.

Sarah Dowdey: The inquest produced a report, which was the Saville Inquiry, which was led by the judge Lord Saville and took 12 years to research. It called 1,400 witnesses and cost $280 million. I'd like to thank the New York Times for converting that figure into dollars for me. At least one man, Mickey McKinney, who was the brother of one of the victims, attended every day of the hearings, which is unbelievable - hearings that go on for 12 years. Just imagine how much that would dominate your life. He even commuted to London for a time when they had moved the case there because they were concerned about the safety of some of the people testifying.

Katie Lambert: This inquiry completely recreated the events of the 30th. Most important, it answered those lingering questions. It concluded that none of the victims had posed a threat, that the first shot came from the British army, and that while there was some firing from Republican paramilitaries mixed in with the crew, it didn't warrant shooting unarmed civilians, and also that none of the soldiers had fired in response to people throwing projectiles, something the soldiers' lawyers had long claimed.

Sarah Dowdey: Then in this remarkable speech that happened just a few days before we're recording this, the still new prime minster, David Cameron, apologized before Parliament saying that the Bloody Sunday shootings were "both unjustified and unjustifiable" and that "what happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and hurt that day, and a lifetime of loss. Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces. For that, on behalf of the government, and indeed our country, I am deeply sorry." So very powerful words to come from the prime minister to Parliament! They were viewed by news people all over the world, and most importantly, people in Northern Ireland.

Katie Lambert: Yeah, met with cheers. People in London Derry were congregating with photos of the victims and ripping up the old Widgery report to celebrate what he was saying.

Sarah Dowdey: The report really does give a lot of new insight into what actually happened, specific details. As I said earlier, it's really a blow-by-blow thing. The summary of the report is 60 pages. That's how long the old report is. That gives you a pretty good example of how detailed is is, but one of the things we get a better sense about is the order things progressed in, and we know that the parachute regiment had orders to arrest rioters, but the orders from ground commander Brigadier Pat MacLellan had been to make arrests only when the rioters were separate from the marchers, to split up those two groups. Instead, Colonel Derek Wilford pursued arrests in the crowd where there was no way to tell who was who, who was a rioter, who was trying to flee the scene, and meanwhile, an anonymous Lieutenant fired shots over the head of the crowd, which was a really big mistake because it sent his own fellow soldiers into panic. They didn't know where the shots were coming from. Imagine, in the middle of a riot they have the fog guns going off, the water hoses. You can't tell what's going on, and they hear these bullets start to fire.

Katie Lambert: The report noted the "soldier's reacted by losing their self-control and firing themselves, forgetting or ignoring their instruction and training, and failing to satisfy themselves that they had identified targets posing a threat of causing death or serious injury." They likely believe that they were firing at provisional or official IRA members, but in reality, only one of those killed, Gerald Donahue, was even a member of the group's youth wing.

While he was "probably" carrying nail bombs, the report still calls his death unjustified and concluded that one victim was shot while crawling away and that another was shot at while already dying.

Sarah Dowdey: Already several of the soldiers who had not fired shots rejected this report's criticism of Wilford saying that some senior official had to be blamed, and it happened to be Wilford. What's really interesting about the report is its acknowledgment of the shootings' future impact on the relations between England and Northern Ireland. It goes pretty in-depth with that. One quote is "What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the provisional IRA, increased national resentment and hostility toward the army, and exacerbated the violent conflicts of the years that followed." It's really acknowledging all that comes from this single 30-mintue incident.

Katie Lambert: So the Saville report helped settle some long-held questions about who was responsible. It also gave family members the chance to - many of them are getting up in front of crowds and saying the name of their loved one, the victim, and being able to say "innocent" after it. They all knew they were innocent, but now you've got that official word that they didn't do anything wrong. But there's at least one big question left. Should the soldier's and their commander face criminal prosecution? The decision rests with Northern Ireland's public prosecution service, something Cameron alluded to in his speech. It's likely that new information will come out on this by the time we publish this episode. In fact, this story was updating as Sarah was researching.

Sarah Dowdey: It's also interesting to note that this report has been ready for a short time at least. The former prime minister, Brown, actually kept back the results until the country's May elections were over because he was afraid the results, whatever they may be, would cause some sort of trouble Cameron also alluded to the overall history of Britain in Ireland during this time period, trying to point out that 1,000 soldiers and policemen had been killed during the conflicts and that this was a terrible anomaly out of the regular service that was going on. He also said that you did not defend the British army be defending the indefensible. "We do not honor all those who have served with distinction in keeping the peace and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth."

Katie Lambert: So it's interesting to see such a candid document come out and have a prime minster talk about it in such an honest way. I guess we can only hope it works to promote future peace and not do anything to hinder it.

Sarah Dowdey: After all, like Bono says - the U2 song "Bloody Sunday" is not a rebel song. That wraps up what we know today bout Bloody Sunday, although, of course, that may change. That brings us to listener mail. One listener wrote us about a podcast we did a while back around Saint Patrick's Day, Brian Boru. He said, "I know it's been a while since you did your podcast about Brian Boru, but there's one important aspect of his success that you missed, and that's slavery. "Ireland at the time, those defeated in battle, would surrender and accept the overlordship of their victor and go home to lick their wounds and give military support to their new overlord until the next time they felt strong enough to oppose him. "When Brian's delcache captured Limerick from the Vikings, they had a much more lucrative option available to them. They sold their vanquished opponents into slavery, and whatever Brian's dislike of the Vikings of Limerick, he was happy to use them to destroy his enemies. "To be defeated in battle by Brian Boru could easily mean being marched to Limerick in chains, loaded on board a Viking ship and finding yourself the property of a Spanish or North African moor. For Brain, it meant a defeated enemy need not be of any future concern. His war chest would be filled with foreign gold, and his potential enemies would have to think very carefully about opposing him. I wish I could remember my sources, but unfortunately, I can only pass it on as top-of-the-head information, which may interest you but can be used." We are using it in listener mail. If you'd like to email us, we're at HistoryPodcast@HowStuffWorks.com, but that's not the only way to get in touch. We're also on Twitter at MissedinHistory, and we have a Facebook fan page where we'll keep you updated on what we're doing and what we're researching. As always, feel free to visit our home page at www.HowStuffWorks.com.

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