On Sunday, January 22, 1905, during the Russo-Japanese War, a group of several hundred workers led by a Father Gapon marched in protest in Moscow. They desired to put forth a petition at the Winter Palace. The tsar Nicholas II ordered his troops to open fire. Over 100 were killed and many more were wounded. Further revolts would follow and this massacre was named Bloody Sunday.

The first incident in Irish History to be termed Bloody Sunday occurred on November 21st 1920. British troops, specifically the irregular Black and Tans, marched onto the pitch at Croke Park, Dublin during a Gaelic Football match and began firing into the crowd. 13 people were killed.

This atrocity was in retaliation to an attack that morning by the IRA (not the IRA you're thinking of - please see my writeup), in which 14 men suspected of being British Secret Service agents were killed. This type of tit-for-tat action was characteristic of the conflict, but this particular incident was heinous enough to mark the low point in the bloody War.

The use of a tank or armoured car by the British is apocryphal, but is a curiously persistent myth. In the film "Michael Collins", Neil Jordan portrayed the incident as involving an armoured car, presumedly to heighten the contrast between the sporting occasion and the massacre to follow, and now people often refer to the use of tank or tanks on Bloody Sunday. What strikes me as curious is that people seem to be suggesting that the use of tanks makes the atrocity even more horrific than had tanks not been used. Personally, I can't think of anything more despicable than troops firing at random into the crowd at a sporting occasion, and the enormity of the crime does not depend on what the troops were armed with.

The facts of the second Bloody Sunday, on January 30th 1972, are still (as Omega Hunter rightly pointed out in a now-deleted writeup), under dispute, with a new full-scale inquiry (the Saville Inquiry) underway. However, what is known is that British soldiers, members of the Parachute Regiment, shot and killed 13 unarmed men in the city of Derry. The men were part of a crowd taking part in a Civil Rights demonstration, which came under fire from British Troops stationed on nearby rooftops. As Omega Hunter points out, the British Troops did believe they came under fire, but if so they did a particularly poor job of "responding accordingly", as the people they killed were certainly not part of any violent action. It has since emerged that neither the Provisional IRA and Official IRA were present, having given undertakings to the organisers of the march to stay away.

Another thing that is known about this latter incident is that it had the effect of massively swelling the ranks of the Provisional IRA, laying the seeds for the catastrophic decades of conflict to follow.

A possible correction to Woundweavr's writeup. Everything he said is true with the possible exception of, "The tsar Nicholas II ordered his troops to open fire." Nicholas II was not in St. Petersburg at the time of the demonstration. Short of any standing orders given to the palace guard (which haven't been found if they were documented), he couldn't have given an order to fire.

This is how the event has been described in the books I have read. As always, history is murky territory, so I may be wrong.

It's important to note the effect of Bloody Sunday on Russian mass psychology in the days leading up to the Revolution. Throughout Russia, there existed a myth of the good tsar, that while local officials and bureocrats and ministers might be corrupt and cruel, the tsar was fundamentally a good man who cared for his people- down to the least peasant. Peasant folk tales are full of stories of the tsar coming to the rescue, when no one else will. "If the tsar only knew", was a commonly heard phrase when Russians gathered to talk of the injustices in their communities, and in the government as a whole. There was a feeling that the tsar was a good ruler who had been isolated from his people by outside forces.

Curiously, Tsar Nicholas II seems to have believed this myth himself to a certain degree. Though a weak ruler prone to leaving affairs in the hands of others, and unwilling to contradict their words (old Russian Joke: "Who's the most powerful man in Russia?" Answer: "The last man to talk to the tsar!"), Nicholas felt that if he was free to rule as a good old fashioned Muscovite autocrat, he would soon have the country in order. Of course, he never got the chance.

Bloody Sunday went a long way towards dispensing with the myth of the good tsar. To the workers and peasants of WWI era Russia, it didn't matter if the tsar himself gave the orders or not. What mattered was that his personal troops had fired on "his" peasants, as they came to try and present him with a list of their troubles. Finally given the chance to see their troubles directly, the tsar had shot at them rather then hear their pleas and help them. Tsar Nicholas, his image already tarnished by things like his wife's support of Rasputin and the trampling of a number of supporters at his coronation, was forever marked in the public mind as a tsar who had sought the death of his own people, rather than hear their grievances. Bloody Sunday radicalized people who had previously felt that the monarchy could work alongside a constitutional or democratic system, and undoubtably hastened the demise of the tsar.

Currently the Bloody Sunday inquiry still has a long way to go. Over 350 civilians have been questioned thus far. There are still members of the RUC, British army and politicians to be questioned. Recently, the cost of the inquiry was shown to have risen above £60 million ($84 million). This has been to the anger of many Unionist and non-Irish MPs, who have asked for something to be done to limit the cost. Though few would argue that the inquiry should be stopped, many would claim that short of a fudge to please one side or the other, there is little point in wasting money on something where a decisive conclusion cannot be reached.

The facts are that on 30th January, 1972, 13 people were shot and killed by British paratroopers in Londonderry. Though at the time it was claimed that many of the dead were suspected terrorists, most were certainly civilians. Though a few may have had links to the IRA, none were armed.

The problem is establishing why the soldiers opened fire. As no soldiers have been questioned yet, we cannot be sure. The facts are that a few days previously, two members of the RUC had been shot by terrorists. The soldiers were therefore in a state of heightened fear - they could well be next. Certainly, they were tired of being used for target practice.

No one can claim that the soldiers were intent on killing. Earlier on, as statements from civilians show, both the RUC and army had acted with restraint towards a relatively small group of thugs, who had been throwing rocks and bricks at the barracades. The shooting, when it started, was likely to have been some idiot private loosing his cool, thinking that he had seen someone draw a gun.

On the terrorist side, it has long been claimed that no members of the IRA had been present, armed. Though it has come to light that Martin McGuinness had taken weapons from an armoury that day, he denies that they were handed out. No one will be able to be sure if there was any IRA involvement, short of someone coming forward, though currently it seems unlikely.

This tragedy was an accident. An awful one and one that could have been averted by better control from the commanders and discipline from those who started the shooting, but an accident none the less. What was worse was that the 13 deaths put the peace process back. However it is wrong to blame the army entirely. Some of the biggest culprits were the Protestant politicians who governed Northern Ireland at the time. Not only had they banned the march to the Guildhall, but they had caused the unrest by making Catholics second-class citizens, through gerrymandering and restriction of civil rights. There are two other things that E2 users should know.

1) I'm an Anglo-Irish Catholic (1/3 Irish), so please don't discount my views if you're Catholic Irish (North or Republic).
2) Ironically, the Catholics (I don't include myself as I don't live in Northern Ireland) had begged the army to come to Northern Ireland in force in the 1960s, after they suffered violence at the hands of Protestants.

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