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Report of the The Bloody Sunday Inquiry
- Volume II - Chapter 14

The beginning of the march

Chapter 14: The beginning of the march

14.1 The civil rights march began at Bishop’s Field, where people began to gather from about 2.00pm onwards.

14.2 The march set off at about 2.45pm, taking a roundabout route through the Creggan, down Central Drive, to the east along Linsfort Drive, into Iniscarn Road and Rathlin Drive, then into Southway and along into Lone Moor Road. The march turned at the Brandywell Recreation Ground into Brandywell Road and then up Lecky Road, turning left up Westland Street, into Lone Moor Road and then past St Eugene’s Cathedral and down William Street to the junction with Rossville Street. The route of the march to this point is depicted on the following map and photograph.

14.3 The day was cold but bright and sunny. Many witnesses described the march as having a carnival atmosphere, though some were apprehensive and many regarded it as a serious matter because of the importance of its political message.1A lot of people were well dressed (many having previously been to church) and there was singing of “We shall overcome” and the like. Several witnesses said that they had no qualms about participating despite the risk of a mandatory sentence of imprisonment for doing so, believing, as they did, that the Government had no right to ban them from marching in their own city, and sensing that this would be an historic day in which popular protest against perceived injustice could make its point by sheer weight of numbers. Many of those who attended were seasoned marchers; others attended for the first time because they saw it as important to stand up and be counted. In some cases their willingness to take part was strengthened by the fact that respected community figures were going on the march and that Lord Brockway, a life peer and civil rights campaigner, was to speak. The majority of people on the march were intent on making a peaceful protest. They came from all walks of life, including people with no political persuasion and those accompanied by their children. As well as Londonderry residents, marchers came from Belfast and elsewhere. Kevin McCorry, the chief organiser, came from Belfast.

1 In his first written statement to this Inquiry, Charles McDaid said that an anonymous female caller had telephoned his wife on the morning of 30th January 1972, leaving a warning that he should not attend the march because “the paras are coming in and coming in shooting” (AM161.1). In his oral evidence, he said that he knew the identity of the caller; she was Jean Manning who, he said, was in January 1972 a telephonist employed by the RUC at Strand Road Barracks (Day 60/126-128). Subsequently, the Inquiry obtained evidence that indicated that Jean Manning (who is now deceased) had not commenced employment as a police telephonist until March 1973. Jean Manning’s sister confirmed that Ms Manning had not been in any form of employment in January 1972 (AS47.1; Day 422/75). We are accordingly of the view that there was no such conversation and consider that Charles McDaid’s memory must have been playing tricks on him. We are sure that Jean Manning made no such telephone call.

14.4 At the same time there were a substantial number of people on the fringes of the march who saw it not as a means of protesting for civil rights, but as an opportunity to engage in rioting against the troops. As one witness put it:1My attitude to the march was ‘fuck civil rights, fuck the British army we are going to the Guildhall’.” Others said that they had “no intention of poncing about on a march”,2 for example, and were intent on rioting because they wanted revenge for what had happened at Magilligan Strand the previous weekend. So they marched with clubs and similar weapons, concealed under coats, because had the weapons been seen by other people on the marchwe would have been lynched ”.3 According to a note in the Sunday Times newspaper archive,4 Bernadette Devlin (now Bernadette McAliskey) expressed the view that it was obvious from the word go at Bishop’s Field that half the people on the march were aiming on violence. In her evidence to us, Bernadette McAliskey denied that she had said any such thing, but in our view she may well have done so.5

1 AM97.1

2 AM37.6

3 AM421.1

4 KD4.5

5 Day 112/41-43

14.5 A flatbed coal lorry initially led the march. This was driven by Thomas McGlinchey, from a well-known republican family and at the time also a member of the Provisional IRA.1 It seems that the lorry had originally belonged to his brother, who had been interned in August 1971; the lorry had then been acquired or used by Thomas McGlinchey for the family coal business.2 There were several people on the lorry, some holding up a Civil Rights Association banner. The marchers increased in number as the march proceeded, particularly when it got to the Brandywell area of the city, where it met with a large crowd. There is no doubt that those organising the march wanted the lorry to continue to lead, but despite efforts by stewards to achieve this, at about this stage many joined the march in front of the lorry, as can be seen in the following photograph.3

1 AM249.1

2 AM247.1; AM250.1; X4.21.1-2

3 KM2.5; KM2.24; Day 129/111

14.6 Many witnesses were surprised by the size of the turnout, though the estimates of the numbers who marched varied. Daniel McGuinness, who was on the march, told us1 that he had made an estimate based on the fact that when he reached the bottom of Westland Street, the banner at the head of the march was turning right along Lone Moor Road, and that when he got to the top of Westland Street and looked back, the end of the column of people was just entering the bottom of Westland Street. Judging the distance from the bottom to the top of Westland Street to be about 500 yards, and taking the marchers to be about 15 across the street, and at intervals of a yard, he reached a figure of about 15,000 marchers. Others gave a similar figure, and the RUC put the number at 10,000,2 though a report from Colonel Welsh in the helicopter at 1542 hours described the crowd as very spread out and in his view numbering only in the region of 2,000.3 In the light of all the evidence, we are satisfied that well over 10,000, and possibly as many as 15,000, marched in Londonderry on that day, many joining the march along its route.

1 Day 96/36

2 W124 serials 302 and 305

3 W124 serial 326

14.7 As the march reached the end of Lone Moor Road, turned right into Creggan Street and approached William Street, it got close to Army Barriers 7, 9 and 11. Here stewards lined up along the side of William Street to prevent the crowd from approaching these barriers, and though the soldiers there were subjected to jeers and insults from the crowd, there were no reported incidents of violence.1

1 Day 298/64; W121 serial 251; W122 serials 257-259 and 262

14.8 The following photograph, taken from William Street, shows the marchers passing the end of Francis Street. Barrier 9 can be seen in the background.

14.9 The march entered William Street from Creggan Street at about 3.15pm. Among the famous photographs of the march coming down William Street is the following.

14.10 The soldiers closed the barriers as the march approached. Barriers 7, 9 and 11 were closed at about 1526 hours and Barriers 12 and 13 at about 1531 hours.1 Barriers 14, 15, 16 and 17 seem to have been closed a short time earlier.2

1 W121 serials 248 and 253

2 W120 serial 229