This Day in History – November 13th, 1887

1887 Bloody Sunday

On Sunday, November 13th, 1887 approximately 30,000 people gathered in Trafalgar Square in London; they were “mostly respectable spectators,” but a core of 10,000 protestors left the Square to march down various streets. The protest had been organized by the Social Democratic Federation, and one of its most notable marchers was Fabian playwright George Bernard Shaw. The demonstration was in protest of continued unemployment, coercion in Ireland and to demand the release of MP William O’Brien, imprisoned for incitement as a result of an incident in the Irish Land War.

Bloody Sunday 2Two thousand police officers and 400 troops had been deployed to stop the protestors, and when the two met violence and arrests ensued in what has become known as the legendary Bloody Sunday. Hundreds of protestors were arrested, but not until after many were injured by police truncheons and under the hooves of police horses. There were both infantry and cavalry present. Although the infantry were marched into position with bayonets fixed, they were not ordered to open fire and the cavalry were not ordered to draw their swords. The injuries were felt on both sides, many of the protestors were “armed with iron bars, knives, pokers and gas pipes”. A contemporary report noted that 400 were arrested and 75 persons were badly injured, including many police, two policemen being stabbed and one protester bayonetted.

The Bloody Sunday of 1887 and its aftermath were significant events in the history and the mythology of the British and Irish Left but they were also crucial media events. They formed a high point for the interest of the media and middle-class commentators in the “social question”, largely embodied in the condition of the East End of London.

85 years later there was another Bloody Sunday, sometimes called the Bogside Massacre, on January 30th, 1972 in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland, in which 26 civil rights protesters and bystanders were shot by soldiers of the British Army. Thirteen males, seven of whom were teenagers, died immediately or soon after, while the death of another man four-and-a-half months later was attributed to the injuries he received on that day. Two protesters were also injured when they were run down by army vehicles. The incident occurred during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march; the soldiers involved were members of the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment.

In 1983 out of remembrance for the massacre, Irish rock band U2 released the single “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” from the album War. The song hauntingly captures the repulsion, injustice, and anger of that day and its consequences.

Please be advised that the dramatization accompanying this song contains strong and disturbing images of violence.

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