More than 30 people are killed or fatally wounded in a day of violence in Dublin on November 21, 1920, during the Irish War of Independence. It goes down in Irish history as the first “Bloody Sunday,” though unfortunately not the last.
Through the centuries the British have crushed Irish revolutionary movements through the use of spies and informers. Michael Collins, Minister for Finance of the Irish Republic, head of the secretive Irish Republican Brotherhood and Irish Republican Army (IRA) Chief of Intelligence, is in the process of beating the British at their own game. The day begins in the early morning hours with an IRA operation, organised by Collins, to assassinate members of the “Cairo Gang” – a team of undercover British intelligence agents working and living in Dublin. IRA members go to a number of addresses and kill or fatally wounded 16 men, mostly British Army intelligence officers. Five other men are wounded.
When word of the success of the operation gets back to Collins, knowing the caliber of the men in England‘s infamous “Black and Tan” force, he sends a message to the Gaelic Athletic Association, telling them to cancel that day’s Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary. However, it is too late and the match goes on.
Later that afternoon, lashing out blindly, the Black and Tans surround Croke Park during the match and move in. Their supposed purpose is to attempt to capture members of Sinn Féin who might be in the crowd, but they soon open fire indiscriminately on the players and spectators. They kill or fatally wound fourteen civilians and wound at least sixty others before members of the Auxiliary Division, another brutal force created to crush the Irish insurrection, finally manages to get them to cease-fire.
That evening, two Irish republicans and members of Collins’ squad, Dick McKee and Peadar Clancy, who had helped plan the earlier assassinations, along with a third man, a civilian named Conor Clune, who happened to be caught with the others, are beaten and shot dead in Dublin Castle by their captors, who claim they were killed during an escape attempt.
Overall, Bloody Sunday is considered a victory for the IRA, as Collins’s operation severely damages British intelligence, while the later reprisals do no real harm to the guerrillas but increase support for the IRA at home and abroad.
(Pictured: The headline of the Dublin Evening Herald reads ‘Latest Stories about Irish Tragedies’, 22nd November 1920. The newspaper reports on the massacre at a Croke Park football match, shootings in Dublin, and the discovery of a priest’s corpse in a Galway bog. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)