Modern British History

Palgrave master series

by Norman Lowe

Chapter 32

Crisis in Northern Ireland

Study this extract from a journalist’s eye-witness account of ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Londonderry, 30 January 1972, and then answer the questions that follow.

The trouble began when a big civil rights procession organized by the Civil Rights Association, defying the Northern Ireland government’s ban on marches, approached a barbed-wire barricade in William Street. The procession, estimated at 7,000 to 10,000 strong, had intended to march to the Guildhall to hold a protest meeting against the continuation of internment. Some of the younger members, despite appeals from stewards, began to throw bottles, stones and bricks at the British troops. As the missiles became heavier, a water cannon filled with purple dye was sprayed on the demonstrators.... they continued pelting the troops who replied with rubber bullets; the demonstrators lobbed canisters of CS gas among the troops. A few minutes later men of the Parachute Regiment leapt over the barricades and chased the demonstrators. As stated, 13 civilians were killed and 16 wounded. The army insisted that fire had been opened on snipers only after the troops themselves had first been fired on. Demonstrators and relatives of those killed strongly denied this, declaring that those taking part in the march had been completely unarmed.

Source: Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, January 1972.


  1. Explain what the writer of the extract means by the phrases in italics: (i) ‘the Civil Rights Association’ (5 marks); (ii) ‘the continuation of internment’. (5 marks)
  2. Using the information in Chapter 32, explain why British troops were sent to Northern Ireland in 1969. (8 marks)
  3. Using the evidence in the extract and the information in Chapter 32, explain why the British troops reacted so violently on 30 January 1972. (7 marks)
  4. In what ways does this extract demonstrate the difficulties facing historians when they try to write about the situation in Northern Ireland? (5 marks)
  5. As a result of ‘Bloody Sunday’ the British government suspended the Northern Ireland parliament and imposed direct rule on the province (March 1972). However, the government wanted to restore the Northern Ireland parliament as soon as possible. Explain why it had been impossible to do this by 1997. (20 marks)
(Total 50 marks)