Bloody Sunday: The Northern Ireland Civil Rights March, 1972
On his first professional assignment for Magnum, photographer Gilles Peress captured this powerful image while covering the Northern Ireland Civil Rights marches in Derry, Northern Ireland. The date was January 30, 1972.
As the planned march progressed toward the Guildhall, the demonstration found itself face to face with an army barricade. With tensions rising, protesters pushed the barricades and threw stones at soldiers. Military water canons and tear gas escalated quickly to live rounds, with British paratroopers opening fire and shooting 26 protesters and bystanders. When the smoke cleared, 13 men lay dead, 7 of them teenagers.
As details emerged, the recklessness of the soldiers' actions became more evident: all those shot were unarmed, two protesters were run over by army vehicles, and five civilians were shot in the back. The initial investigation cleared the British soldiers of blame, causing widespread backlash. Findings from a subsequent inquiry lasting 12 years were finally released in 2010, stating that killings were "unjustified and unjustifiable" and prompting Prime Minister David Cameron to make a formal apology on behalf of the United Kingdom.
In a later interview, Peress would recall the day's events:
"I’m trying to remember my emotions–I know that at one point I was shooting and crying at the same time. I think it must’ve been when I saw Barney McGuigan dead. By the time I had reached him, people were still huddling by the telephone box, protecting themselves from the shooting. He was alone. Then a priest [Father Tom O'Hara] arrived and started to give him the Last Rites. I remember taking a few pictures then. I remember I was crying as I was doing it. I remember that I didn’t want to intrude too much, but that at the same time I felt this obligation to shoot, to document. It is always the same f***ed-up situation: you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t….This was the first time I saw what a real war weapon can do. I mean the destruction, the impact of it. Up until then, I thought that bullets killed you but they would kill you kind of neatly. You understand what I’m saying? This was the first time I realized the terrible destruction that those things create."