Bloody Sunday Centenary
Read the history of Bloody Sunday, this year the State refuses to allow commemorations for the victims of British occupation on the centenary of the massacre.
By 1920, British intelligence had improved its ability to gather information about the republican movement, and it posed a serious threat to insurgents. The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) was bolstered by war veterans, commonly known as the Black and Tans, and the new Auxiliary Division of the RIC whose role was to conduct counter-insurgency operations.
Michael Collins, the IRA’s director of intelligence, had established the Squad, a special unit created to target members of the British intelligence such as plain-clothes detectives from the G Division, who held files on known IRA members. He had also built up a network of civilian informants including dock workers, cleaners and secretaries who fed him information about the British intelligence.
Collins sanctioned a plan to eliminate, in one operation, a large number of the British intelligence network in Dublin. In the weeks leading up to what became Bloody Sunday, Collins used his network of spies, particularly Lily Mernin, a typist in Dublin Castle, to gather names and addresses of undercover British officers. A list of targets was created. Due to the size of the planned operation, members of the Dublin Brigade were called in to support Collins’ Squad.
On the night of November 20, 1920, the units involved were briefed on the plans at secret locations around Dublin including Gardiner Street, Gloucester Street and Parnell Square. After the briefings, Dick McKee, commanding officer of the Dublin Brigade, and Peadar Clancy, its vice-commandant, were arrested by the Auxiliaries at their hideout on Gloucester Street.
Conor Clune, a civilian and Gaelic League member, who was visiting Dublin from Co Clare, was arrested in a sweep of Vaughan’s Hotel, which was a known IRA meeting place.
Timeline of a day of bloodshed
8.15am: The groups involved in the attacks set out, as recalled by Paddy Daly, a member of the Squad who helped organise them.
9am: The series of killings of members of the British intelligence network began. Eleven British officers, two auxiliary cadets and two civilians were killed in Dublin’s south inner city. Two British intelligence officers survived, three were wounded and four who were targeted could not be found.
9.20am: General FP Crozier was passing 22 Mount Street with a group of Auxiliaries when they heard shooting. They ran to the house, where a group of IRA men led by Squad member Tom Kehoe burst through the door and shot two Auxiliaries before escaping. Volunteer Frank Teeling was caught while trying to escape and sent to Dublin Castle.
9.30am: Within half an hour, the killings were finished.
10am-11am: Soon news of the killings reached the British administration at Dublin Castle. They suspected that the IRA might be using the Dublin-Tipperary football match at Croke Park as a cover, so planned a search operation as the crowds left the ground that afternoon.
11.30am: The first game of the day at Croke Park, a Dublin Intermediate Championship match between Dún Laoghaire Commercials and Erin’s Hope, began. The game was followed by a meeting of administrators from across the country to discuss the rule that banned GAA players playing soccer and rugby.
Midday: A large crowd was expected at the Dublin vs Tipperary match. News of that morning’s killings had reached GAA general-secretary Luke O’Toole at Croke Park. Shortly before its scheduled start, three officers of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA advised cancelling the game. They had received a tip-off from a Dublin Metropolitan Police sergeant that a raid would take place at the ground. O’Toole talked to association officials Dan McCarthy, James Nowlan, Andy Harty and Jack Shouldice about cancelling the match but they decided not to. To call off the game at short notice when spectators were already gathering could have implicated the GAA in that morning’s events, and an announcement to leave the stadium might have led to a panic and crush at the exits.
2.45pm: The match was scheduled to begin at 2.45 but was delayed by 30 minutes as the crowd was still entering Croke Park. Estimates of the size of the crowd have varied between 5,000 and 15,000. The game was arranged after Tipperary men challenged Dublin to a match via the Freeman’s Journal. The game was advertised as a benefit for an ‘injured Gael’ and was later described by Shouldice as a fundraiser for the Irish National Aid and Volunteers’ Dependants’ Fund. About £500 was raised from a percentage of ticket sales.
3.15pm: As the game began, armoured lorries carrying a mix of RIC, military and Auxiliaries commanded by Major EL Mills began to arrive and took up positions surrounding the ground on Clonliffe Road and Jones’s Road outside the main entrance and at the Canal Bridge outside Croke Park.
3.20-3.25pm: Five to ten minutes after the throw-in an aeroplane flew over Croke Park and circled the ground twice before flying in the direction of the Phoenix Park.
3.26pm: The British authorities’ intention was to announce by megaphone before the end of the game that spectators were to be searched as they left. However, shots were fired almost immediately after the they reached the stadium. The British initially claimed that the IRA had fired first, but this has been disputed by historians.
Crown forces by Russell Street Bridge shot 11-year-old William ‘Perry’ Robinson as he sat in a tree and 10-year-old Jerome O’Leary as he sat on a wall watching the match. Around the same time, British forces entered Croke Park from the Canal End turnstiles and opened fire indiscriminately on the crowd.
Spectators and players rushed to all four exits but were stopped by the army, causing a series of crushes around the stadium. It was a scene of confusion and panic.
Many spectators were injured in the stampede and three died: Jane Boyle, who had first been shot, fell and was trampled, and James Teehan and James Burke were trampled as they tried to escape.
Some were injured by the railings as they tried to leave, including Michael Feery, who later died of his wounds.
Hundreds of people risked the 20ft drop along the Cusack Stand side and jumped into the adjoining Belvedere Sports Grounds. Patrick O’Dowd was shot dead while attempting this.
Many players on the pitch were near the Hogan Stand and ran to dressing-rooms or escaped over the gates quickly. About six players, including Tipperary full-back Michael Hogan, hit the ground instead and crawled on all fours towards the fence at Hill 60 (now Hill 16). Hogan was shot and died close to the edge of the field. Tom Ryan was shot while whispering the Act of Contrition in Hogan’s ear. Tom Hogan, James Matthews and Joe Traynor were also shot dead and John ‘Billy’ Scott was killed by a ricocheting bullet.
Daniel Carroll managed to escape the grounds of Croke Park but was fatally shot in the leg in nearby Russell Avenue.
Major Mills called for the police on the road to cease fire and Major Dudley stopped the shooting inside Croke Park.
In about 90 seconds of sustained fire, 50 rounds of ammunition had been discharged from a machine gun and a further 228 rounds from smaller weapons. Nine people died immediately, five more died later of their injuries and over 65 people were injured.
5pm-5.30pm: The last spectators and the Tipperary team were searched and released from Croke Park.
11pm: Bloody Sunday ended at Dublin Castle, the headquarters of the British administration. High-ranking IRA officers Dick McKee and Peadar Clancy and civilian Conor Clune, who had been arrested the previous evening, were being held in the guardroom because there was no room in the cells. All three were shot at 11pm for allegedly attempting to escape. Family members who saw the bodies in a hospital mortuary reported that there were signs of torture on the bodies of Clancy and McKee.
The shocking events of Bloody Sunday made headlines all over the world and marked a turning point in the War of Independence. The killing of innocent civilians in Croke Park further alienated the Irish public from the British Crown.
Collins had succeeded in penetrating and doing serious damage to the British intelligence operation in Ireland. Just a week later, on November 28, a flying column of the Cork Brigade commanded by Tom Barry killed 17 of 18 Auxiliaries at Kilmichael.
These events boosted morale and showed that the British services were not unbeatable. Violent events like these continued until both sides agreed to a ceasefire on July 11, 1921.
Catherine Holmes, MA in public history, UCD