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The funeral procession of the victims of "Bloody Sunday."
The funeral procession of the victims of "Bloody Sunday."
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Timeline of '72: Northern Ireland facing 50-year anniversary of Troubles' bloodiest year

The 50-year anniversary of Bloody Sunday, Bloody Friday and several other atrocities will take place in 2022.
Jan 2nd 2022, 8:00 PM 19,204 48

NORTHERN IRELAND IS facing into a very difficult year of commemorations as it marks the 50-year anniversary of the bloodiest year of The Troubles.

The eruption of violence was unleashed when Bloody Sunday took place at the end of January and by the end of the year over 470 people had been killed, the majority of whom were civilians.

As well as the major events outlined in the timeline below, numerous killings and violent incidents took place throughout the year, often occurring several times per week and per day.

Here is a non-exhaustive timeline of some of the events likely to be remembered and spoken about this year.

January

17 January 1972: Seven republican internees escape from the Maidstone prison ship in Belfast lough.

22 January 1972: British Army soldiers fire rubber bullets and use tear gas on an anti-internment march at Magilligan strand in Derry. Several thousand people take part in the demonstration.

Bloody Sunday, 30 January 1972: 13 demonstrators are shot dead by British Army soldiers from the 1st Parachute regiment during a civil rights march in Derry. A 14th victim dies several months later after having been shot by a paratrooper.

Taoiseach Jack Lynch recalls Ireland’s ambassador to the UK and declares 2 February a national day of mourning.

February

2 February 1972:  The funerals of 11 of the victims of Bloody Sunday take place in Derry. Prayer services are held across Ireland to coincide with the funerals.

Tens of thousands of people march to the British Embassy in Dublin. The protesters carry 13 coffins and black flags. The embassy is attacked with stones and bottles and then burnt to the ground.

22 February 1972: Seven people (six civilians and an army chaplain) are killed after the Official IRA detonates a bomb outside the headquarters of the British Army’s 16th Parachute Brigade in Aldershot, England. 

24 February 1972: Northern Ireland’s Minister of State for Home Affairs, John Taylor, is seriously wounded in an Official IRA assassination attempt in Armagh.

March

4 March 1972: Two Catholic civilians are killed and over 130 people injured as The Abercorn Restaurant in Belfast is bombed. The IRA are believed to have been involved  but do not claim responsibility.

20 March 1972: Six people, including two policemen and a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (a regiment of the British Army), are killed after the IRA dentonates a bomb on Belfast’s Donegall Street. Approximately 100 other people are injured.  

belfast-northern-ireland-march-1972-british-army-troops-manning-barricades-during-the-troubles-image-shot-1972-exact-date-unknown British Army Troops manning barricades in Belfast in March 1972. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

24 March 1972: British Prime Minister Edward Heath announces the suspension of the Northern Ireland government and implements direct rule from Westminster.

April

6 April 1972: The Scarman Report into the causes of violence during the summer of 1969 is published. It finds that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) had been seriously at fault on a number of occasions. 

15 April 1972: Official IRA leader Joe McCann is killed by British soldiers close to his home.

19 April 1972: The Widgery tribunal of inquiry into events of Bloody Sunday exonerates the British Army because the demonstration had been illegal. The findings cause outrage – it becomes known as the “Widgery Whitewash” – and it leads to a 26 year campaign for a new independent inquiry.

22 April 1972: 11 year-old Catholic boy, Francis Rowntree, is killed by a ‘rubber bullet’ fired by the British Army. This was the first death to result from the use of the rubber bullets in Northern Ireland.

apr-04-1972-londonderry-scene-masked-i-h-a-gunmen-check-all-cars-and-vans-entering-the-bogaide-and-creggan-areas-of-londonderry-it-is-called-the-no-go-area-because-british-troops-will-not-en An IRA checkpoint entering the Bogside and Creggan areas of Derry, 'no go' zones for British Army troops. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

May

14 May 1972: A 13-year old Catholic girl was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries in Ballymurphy, Belfast.

21 May 1972: The Official IRA kills British Army soldier William Best, who was originally from Derry. The shooting of the 19-year old provokes anger and over 200 people attend a protest the following day.

26 May 1972: The government in the Republic establishes the Special Criminal Court to allow for non-jury trials.

June

3 June 1972: A Protestant demonstration in Derry, against the creation of “no-go” areas in the city, ends in violence.

13–15 June 1972: The Provisional IRA proposes a ceasefire. The SDLP act as intermediaries and submit it to the British government, which accepts the terms. The ceasefire comes into effect on 26 June.

July

7 July 1972: Provisional IRA leaders hold secret talks with British government officials, including Northern Ireland Secretary of State William Whitelaw, in London. The talks fail.

9 July 1972: The ceasefire ends after a confrontation between British Army soldiers and Catholics who had been intimidated into leaving their homes by loyalist paramilitaries.

Five Catholic civilians are shot dead by the British Army in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast. 

Bloody Friday, 21 July 1972: 22 IRA bombs explode in the space of 75 minutes, killing nine people and seriously injuring approximately 130 others. There are also numerous hoax warnings which add to the chaos.

31 July 1972: The British Army enters and dismantles the ‘no-go’ areas of Belfast and Derry in ‘Operation Motorman’. It is the biggest British military operation since the 1956 Suez crisis. 

The IRA exploded three car bombs in Claudy, Co Derry, killing nine people.

shoppers-are-seen-in-the-centre-of-belfast-today-where-they-are-being-checked-and-searched-by-troops-a-warning-notice-tells-pedestrians-that-army-control-is-operating-in-the-heart-of-the-citys-shop Shoppers being searched by troops in Belfast on 31 July. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

August

7 August 1972: Seven people are killed in separate incidents across Northern Ireland.

22 August 1972: Nine people, including three IRA members and five Catholic civilians, are killed after an IRA bomb explodes prematurely at a customs post in Newry, Co Down.

26 August 1972: Six people are killed in three incidents across Northern Ireland.

September

10 September 1972: Three British soldiers are killed and four injured in an IRA landmine attack near Dungannon, Co Tyrone.

14 September 1972: Two people are killed and one mortally wounded as the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) bomb the Imperial Hotel in Belfast.

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25 September 1972: The Darlington conference on the future of Northern Ireland opens in England. The SDLP refuses to attend because of the operation of internment.

27 September 1972: Five people are killed in separate incidents across Northern Ireland. One of the victims is 19-year-old catholic civilian Daniel Rooney, who was shot dead by an undercover member of the British Army.

30 September 1972: Six people are killed in separate incidents in Belfast.

October

6 October 1972: Sinn Féin’s headquarters in Dublin is closed down by Gardaí under the Offences Against the State Act.

12 October 1972: Armed robbers steal £67,000 from the AIB branch on Dublin’s Grafton Street, in the largest such theft in Ireland at the time. Two brothers, Kenneth and Keith Littlejohn, are convicted of the robbery in July 1973. At their trial, the Littlejohns claim they worked for the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

16-17 October 1972: Two loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) members are killed after being run over by British Army vehicles during riots in East Belfast. The UDA declares that the British Army and government are now its enemies. UDA members open fire on the British army in several areas of Belfast.   

24 October 1972: Two Catholic men are found dead on a farm near Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh. The so-called ‘pitchfork killings’ are initially believed to have been carried out by loyalists. However, it is later revealed that the men were killed by British Army soldiers. Three soldiers are jailed for the killings in 1981.

31 October 1972: Two Catholic children (aged four and six) are killed by a loyalist Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF) car bomb on Belfast’s Ship Street. Two other people are killed in separate incidents in Belfast.

November

19 November 1972: IRA leader Seán MacStiofáin is arrested in Dublin. On 25 November he is sentenced to six months imprisonment for membership of an illegal organisation.

26 November 1972: Dozens of people are hospitalised after a bomb is exploded outside a cinema in Dublin city centre. A report later finds that the bombing was likely carried out by republican subversives in response to a government “crackdown on the IRA and their associates”.

28 November 1972: Four people are killed in separate incidents in Derry and Fermanagh.

December 

1 December 1972: Two people are killed and 127 other are injured after two car bombs are denotated in Dublin city centre. No organisation claims responsibility for the attack and blame initially falls on the IRA. However, much later, suspicion falls on the Ulster Volunteer Force.

The Dáil is debating the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Bill as the explosions take place. The amendment aims to give the State much greater powers against the IRA – it allows for suspected members of paramilitary groups to be sentenced on the word of a Garda superintendent.

Following the explosions Fine Gael drops its opposition to the bill and the amendment is passed.

7 December 1972: Widowed mother of 10 Jean McConville is kidnapped and murdered by the Provisional IRA. She is secretly buried in Co Louth after being accused by the IRA of passing information to British forces. The exact date of the kidnapping and murder is unclear, but it is believed to be 7 December.

20 December 1972: Five civilians are shot dead during a loyalist paramilitary gun attack in the Waterside area of Derry.

The Diplock Commission recommends establishing non-jury trials in Northern Ireland and giving soldiers powers to arrest and detain suspects. The recommendations are included in the 1973 Emergency Powers Act.

28 December 1972: Two children (aged 15 and 16) are killed in a loyalist bomb attack in the village of Belturbet, Co Cavan. Loyalists also explode bombs in Clones, Co Monaghan, and Pettigo, on the border between Donegal and Fermanagh.

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Céimin Burke

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