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Dublin's Bloody Sunday
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Dublin's Bloody Sunday

Dublin’s Bloody Sunday, 1920
Overview of Chapter 9 of ‘Courage and Conflict: forgotten stories of the Irish at war’

‘Armed forces of the Crown kill player and spectators in Croke Park’
‘Agonising Scenes on Football Field’
‘Eleven or twelve persons, including a woman, killed, and from eighty to one hundred wounded’
‘Eleven officers of the Crown killed’
- Headlines from the Freeman’s Journal and Irish Independent, 22nd November 1920

The path to Dublin’s Bloody Sunday had been a long one. The Irish political party Sinn Féin had inaugurated the first Dáil Éireann (Irish Parliament) in January 1919, a body which was quickly proclaimed an illegal organisation by the British Government. Over the next twelve months the two competing governments began a struggle for control of the country. That year also saw a slowly rising level of violence that continued throughout the early months of 1920. The British Government responded with the Government of Ireland Bill which would spend the year working its way through the British Parliamentary system. This bill, which would partition the island on its passage into law at the end of 1920, was hated by all sections of society in Ireland, outside of Unionism in the northeast of the country. As such, the bill did nothing to improve the situation in Ireland. Nor did the British Government’s decision to begin recruitment to the Royal Irish Constabulary (police-force) in early 1920 to form what would be popularly termed the Black and Tans.

They made their first appearance in Ireland around April and May 1920, quickly earning a reputation for lawlessness and violence. Across Ireland and later the world, reprisals in Ireland became a newspaper headline as the Crown forces, generally the police, responded to IRA ambushes with attacks on people and property. World attention had been focused on Ireland by a particularly large reprisal in the town of Balbriggan during September 1920. While all this had been happening, the IRA and the Crown forces had been fighting an increasingly violent intelligence war. Over the autumn of 1920 the IRA’s Dublin Brigade utilised every source of intelligence it could muster; from moles within the police, to maids in hotels and lodging houses, to secretaries of military officials and many more. Slowly the IRA and its Chief of Intelligence, Michael Collins, began to develop a dossier on over sixty individuals that would be whittled down to some twenty by late November 1920.

The attacks were planned to begin at 9.00am on the 21st November 1920. Courage and Conflict tells the story of Bloody Sunday by explaining the war between the IRA and the Crown forces. It explains how the day progressed and tells the story of the IRA volunteers who undertook the mission to assassinate members of British intelligence. The book also examines the work that these British agents were conducting in Ireland. That morning a series of mini battles broke out all over Dublin but the violence of that day would not end with the attacks on the British agents. The police and the British army would, later that day, make a raid for weapons on Croke Park, a stadium on Dublin’s north-side. On that afternoon, a Gaelic football match was taking place and the stadium was filled with supporters of Dublin and Tipperary. The raid would turn into a disaster and ended with the police firing on the crowd, leaving thirteen people dead. The book uses new documentary evidence to explain how this happened and who was to blame. Dublin’s Bloody Sunday was a shocking and pivotal moment in the Irish War of Independence, a war that forever changed the relationship between Ireland and Britain. Courage and Conflict examines what happened on that remarkable day.