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In 1912 the British Government passed the Home Rule Bill granting Ireland limited self-rule with the provision for progressive independence in the same manner as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This was fiercely resisted by Irish Unionists (overwhelmingly Protestant Irish people with a British identity) who feared they would discriminated against in a Home Rule Ireland by Irish Nationalists (overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Irish people who identified themselves as non-British). This lead to huge political violence killing thousands of people between 1916-23 resulting in a partitioned Ireland with the 26 southernmost counties (the Irish Free State) being granted a greater degree of Home Rule which eventually led to a fully independent Irish Republic and the 6 most northeast counties (Northern Ireland) remaining as part of the United Kingdom. Throughout Northern Irelands history the IRA (Irish Republican Army) had tried to use terrorism to force Northern Ireland into a united Irish republic but by the late 1960s was largely moribund.
The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association was inspired by the African American Civil Rights movement. It campaigned for an end to discrimination against Irish Nationalists and Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland in terms of jobs, council housing and Gerrymandering, the term for drawing of electoral boundaries to benefit Unionist parties (Irish Unionists and Protestants in the Irish Republic also faced discrimination but by the 1960s had been reduced to a tiny minority). However many Unionists saw NICRA as a front for the IRA pointing out that many IRA members and other republicans also participated in it and that it campaigned for the abolition of anti-terrorist laws and disbandment of the Ulster Special Constabulary (the B-specials, a part time police anti-terrorist force). A series of clashes between marchers and Unionist counter-protesters (Loyalists) followed and gradually descended into full scale sectarian rioting between the communities, terrorist murders and the eventual deployment of the British Army in an attempt to halt the killing. As the conflict progressed NICRA was severely criticized for campaigning for the release of IRA but not Loyalist prisoners and for never campaigning against IRA violence (allegations were even made that armed IRA members sometimes accompanied NICRA marches). After Bloody Sunday NICRA gradually faded from prominence as terrorism escalated and the British government imposed direct rule from London.
(Londonderry, stressing the link with Britain is the favoured name by Unionists, Derry by Nationalists). By 1972 the Bogside area of the city was dubbed a No-go area by the British government, not allowing troops or police to enter for fear of sparking major bloodshed. This incensed Unionists and the security forces with armed IRA members openly setting up roadblocks and using the Bogside as a base to launch a bombing campaign against the citys commercial heart and kill soldiers and police officers. In addition troops were regularly attacked by rioters whom they were forbidden to pursue and arrest, dubbing themselves Aunt Sallies (target dolls which were pelted at fairground stall games). The government banned a proposed NICRA march to the town centre fearing it would be attacked by Loyalists and result in rioting and widespread criminal damage to the area.
After the shootings the British government appointed Judge Widgery to investigate what had happened. However many Irish Nationalists boycotted the inquiry, not least because to have testified they would have incriminated themselves in rioting and the IRA members present in terrorist crimes, the Troubles still raging at the time. Widgery would eventually conclude that the soldiers actions were justified although their firing bordered on the reckless and that those killed had been armed in the course of the afternoon. However Widgerys conclusions were based largely on forensic evidence which was later proven to be unreliable. The conclusion that many of the dead had been using firearms was based on tests which indicated their hands were smeared in gunshot residue (gunpowder and tiny fragments of bullet metal). Subsequent experiments proved this could have been the result of cross contamination from the soldiers who carried their corpses into the morgue who would have been covered in such substances after taking part in the firefight.
After the conclusion of the Troubles a new inquiry was announced by Prime Minister Tony Blair, eventually becoming the longest and most expensive public inquiry in British history. Lord Saville eventually concluded that there was no justification for the shooting of any of those killed and that those responsible were essentially guilty of murder. However it also heard testimony from numerous members of the Official IRA who confirmed they were present with arms in the area at the time, several of them admitting they fired on the army.
The Saville Inquiry explored this issue in enormous detail and came to the conclusion that there was no evidence to support this idea and any suggestion to the contrary is unsustainable. The IRA at first admitted the dead man was one of their junior members, then retracted that admission, then admitted it again. Official IRA witnesses testifying at the inquiry admitted that they had shared out nail bombs amongst other weapons that afternoon, confirming their presence in the area.
Unknown and unlikely to ever be satisfactorily resolved. The first 2 soldiers who opened fire both stated that they shot at a man about to throw a nail bomb. The man in question, Damien Doherty changed his story several times but admitted to the Saville Inquiry that he had been picking up a smoking object from the ground when hit, claiming it was a spent plastic bullet or CS cartridge. The second man shot was standing nearby and hit by a bullet which either missed or passed through Doherty. Witnesses known as OIRA 1 and 2 stated that they opened fire on soldiers on the city walls, reputedly in retaliation for the shooting of Doherty although this motivation was queried by Lord Saville who concluded that there was no doubt there was other paramilitary gunfire in this sector before soldiers of 1 PARA went into the Bogside.
Becoming less and less likely with each passing day. Many of the soldiers and witnesses involved have died whilst there is practically no photographic or forensic evidence. Many of the surviving witnesses would not be able to testify in a court of law without incriminating themselves in rioting or terrorist activities. What is more after 44 years it would be practically impossible for witnesses to identify individual soldiers who were identically dressed and only seen at long distance.
Overwhelmingly the first battalion of The Parachute Regiment but not exclusively. Soldiers of the Royal Artillery based at a petrol garage testified they traded fire with at least 3 gunmen and this was confirmed by an OIRA witness at the Saville inquiry. A sniper of the Royal Anglian Regiment based on the city walls testified that he shot and wounded a gunman aiming a rifle who subsequently fled. He was later identified as a notorious OIRA member who refused to be taken to hospital for his gunshot wound and later refused to testify to the Saville Inquiry.
Bloody Sunday prompted a massive upsurge in IRA attacks, attracting many more recruits into their ranks and prompting a corresponding rise in support for the Loyalists who launched revenge attacks. 1972 would be the bloodiest year of the Troubles with over 400 people killed. Throughout the 70s the British government repeatedly tried to find a political solution to end the violence but to no avail. However by the end of the decade the security forces had managed to reduce the death toll to roughly 100 a year and this would continue for the next decade and half, the Loyalists outkilling the IRA for the first time in the first half of the 1990s. In 1995 the IRA announced a ceasefire swiftly followed by the Loyalists and in 1997 the Good Friday agreement had both Loyalists and Republicans destroy their weapons in return for the release of their prisoners and participation in the exclusively peaceful democratic process.
Irish Nationalists consider Bloody Sunday to be the ultimate example of British brutality and a uniquely appalling crime in the history of the Troubles. Irish Unionists consider Bloody Sunday to have been given undue attention compared to the far greater numbers of people killed by terrorists both before and after and propose a blanket amnesty for the security forces actions during the Troubles.
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