1903: Tom Horn Feast Day of St. Cecilia, patron of music

1920: Bloody Sunday in Ireland

November 21st, 2010 Headsman

Sunday, Nov. 21 in 1920 was “Bloody Sunday” in Ireland, a date begun with the IRA execution of British agents in Dublin, and concluded with three IRA men killed in British custody.

Thirty-one people lost their lives on this 1920 Bloody Sunday, a signal event of the Irish War of Independence; the thirteen of them who were British intelligence officers or assets targeted for an en masse morning liquidation suffices to qualify the affair for these grim pages.

“Executions”, assassinations or otherwise, the killings were ordered by Irish revolutionary Michael Collins in the escalating dirty war between his Irish Republican Army and the Black and Tans dispatched by London to crush the IRA.

My one intention was the destruction of the undesirables who continued to make miserable the lives of ordinary decent citizens. I have proof enough to assure myself of the atrocities which this gang of spies and informers have committed. If I had a second motive it was no more than a feeling such as I would have for a dangerous reptile. By their destruction the very air is made sweeter. For myself, my conscience is clear. There is no crime in detecting in wartime the spy and the informer. They have destroyed without trial. I have paid them back in their own coin.

-Michael Collins, on the executions

There were a couple of hitches in the plan: most particularly, that out of an initial list of 50 targets, Collins had been forced by his own government to trim to 35 … and then his hit teams “only” actually managed to get about a third of them.

And, of course, it drew a British rampage that day, most famously at a football match at Croke Park* concluding when Dirk McKee, Peadar Clancy and Conor Clune were killed that evening in a British police station — “trying to escape.”

But in all, the day was a coup for the Republicans, who crippled British intelligence in Dublin and gave any future recruits grave reason to think twice about the engagement, while reaping a public relations bonanza both domestic and international from the indiscriminate English response against civilians.

Occurring as it did while the fight for Ireland everywhere intensified — and that fight culminating in Ireland’s independence** — 1920’s Bloody Sunday is a sacred day for Irish nationalism.

Just to be clear, however, this is not the Bloody Sunday of U2 “Sunday Bloody Sunday” fame, which was an altogether different bit of carnage in 1972. “Bloody Sunday” actually has a disturbingly populous Wikipedia disambiguation page, with at least four Ireland-related entries and others from Turkey, Canada, South Africa, and points beyond.

* An England-Ireland rugby match in that stadium in 2007 grabbed headlines for its associations this date; you can see the respective anthems played before a respectful Irish crowd here.

** Leading, of course, to further assassinations, including Michael Collins’s own, and the internecine Irish Civil War.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,England,Espionage,Execution,History,Ireland,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Soldiers,Spies,Summary Executions,Terrorists,Wartime Executions

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4 thoughts on “1920: Bloody Sunday in Ireland”

  1. Les Johnson (O,Sullivan) says:

    A Tribute to my Great Uncle Joseph O,Sullivan ,and Reggie Dunne , as they were given orders to kill the Field Marshall Hughes who was responsible for the black & Tans .
    My Great Uncle Joseph only had a wooden leg after fighting for England in WW1 . He most certainly knew his fate at the age of 22 when He & Dunne assassinated the Field Marshall in England under orders of War . They were unfairly tried ,convicted and hung in 7 weeks after the killing of the Field Marshall . Their defence being it was an order and act of war were dismissed . They never got a fair trial .
    The bodies of Dunne and my Great Uncle Joeseph lay now at rest in a memorial for Irish Martyrs in Dublin .
    I yearn to view his gravesite .

  2. John Dorney says:

    Nick it was a Gaelic football match, not hurling, between Dublin and Tipperary.

    Like the article. Always felt that we in Ireland prefer to gloss over the morning of that particular day and talk about the perversely comforting events of the afternoon.

    My take here http://www.theirishstory.com/2010/06/24/four-bloody-sundays/

  3. Nick Coleman says:

    Actually not a “football match” at Croke Park. It was a hurling match, with hurling being one of the primary Gaelic Athletic Association games that were part of the nationalist revival.

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