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Bloody Sunday (Ireland 1920)

Bloody Sunday is a term used to describe two controversial events in Irish history, the killings of marchers in Derry in 1972 (see Bloody Sunday (1972)) and the massacre of players and people attending a gaelic football match in Croke Park in Dublin in 1920.

Table of contents
1 The Background
2 Bloody Sunday
3 Aftermath
4 Additional Reading

The Background

The latter Bloody Sunday had its origins in the Irish War of Independence (1919-21), which followed the formation of an unilaterally declared Irish Republic and its self-declared parliament, Dáil Éireann. The army of the self-declared 'republic', the Irish Republican Army waged a guerrilla war against the Royal Irish Constabulary, the police force of Ireland under British rule. In response, the British Government formed its own paramilitary forces, the Black and Tans known by its nickname which was a result of its uniform, and the Auxiliary Cadets generally known as the Auxiliaries. The behaviour of the Black and Tans immediately became controversial (one major critic was King George V) for their brutality and violence towards not just the IRA but Irish people in general, but it was the Auxiliaries that were responsible for the Bloody Sunday massacre.

On November 21 1920, Irish republican minister and head of the Irish Republican Brotherhood Michael Collins ordered the assassination of what was known as the 'Cairo Gang', fourteen British Intelligence officers sent to infiltrate Irish nationalist organisations. This action severely crippled British intelligence in Ireland and caused consternation among forces of the Crown. Their response was 'Bloody Sunday'.

Bloody Sunday

The Dublin gaelic football team was scheduled to play the Tipperary team on November 21 1920 in Croke Park, the Gaelic Athletic Association's major football ground. One of the British auxiliaries involved in 'Bloody Sunday' recalled that they tossed a coin over whether they would go on a killing spree in Croke Park or loot Sackville Street (Dublin's main street, now called O'Connell Street) instead.

Despite the general unease in the Dublin as news broke of the killings by the IRA the previous day, a war-weary populace continued with life. Approximately 10,000 spectators went to Croke Park for the match. However within minutes of the start of the game, an airplane flew over the ground and a red flare was shot from the cockpit. Auxiliaries began raiding the ground while an officer on top of the wall fired a revolver shot. After a burst of gunfire, the crowd began to stampede away from the gunfire. Two football players, Michael Hogan and Jim Egan, were shot. A young Wexford man who attempted to whisper an Act of Contrition into the dying Hogan's ear was also shot dead.

The casualties included Jeannie Boyle, who had gone to the match with her fiancee and was due to be married five days later, and John Scott, who was fourteen and so mutilated that it was initially thought that he had been savagely bayoneted. The youngest victims were aged 10 and 11.

The actions of the Auxiliaries, like indeed much of their actions and the actions of the Black and Tans, were unauthorised and were greeted with horror by the Dublin Castle-based British authorities. In an effort to cover up the nature of the behaviour by forces of the Crown, a press release was issued which claimed:

A number of men came to Dublin on Saturday under the guise of asking to attend a football match between Tipperary and Dublin. But their real intention was to take part in the series of murderous outrages which took place in Dublin that morning. Learning on Saturday that a number of these gunmen were present in Croke Park, the crown forces went to raid the field. It was the original intention that an officer would go to the centre of the field and speaking from a megaphone, invite the assassins to come forward. But on their approach, armed pickets gave warning. Shots were fired to warn the wanted men, who caused a stampede and escaped in the confusion.


The behaviour of the Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans during the Irish War of Independence, most of it unsanctioned and unapproved, helped turn the Irish public against the Crown. Leading British politicians and the King made no secret of their horror at the behaviour of forces of the Crown. The mass murder of men, women and children, both spectators and football players, made international headlines, damaging British credibility. A combination of the loss of the Cairo Gang, which devastated British Intelligence in Ireland, and the public relations disaster that was 'Bloody Sunday', severely damaged the cause of British rule in Ireland and increased support for the republican ministry under Eamon de Valera. The events of Bloody Sunday have survived in public memory. The Gaelic Athletic Association named one of the stands in Croke Park the 'Hogan Stand' in memory after Michael Hogan, one of the murdered football players.

Additional Reading