Bloody Sunday: ‘I heard a sharp crack and knew I had been hit. I fell forwards. Everything went black…’

Bloody Sunday in 1972 was a pivotal moment in the Troubles, extinguishing as it did the peaceful civil rights movement and paving the way for decades of violent, deadly conflict.

he civil rights march in question took place on January 30, 1972, in Derry. The march ended in bloodshed when troops from Britain’s 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment opened fire on unarmed marchers, leaving 13 dead and a further 18 wounded. The Bloody Sunday Inquiry later confirmed that all those targeted had not been armed and posed no threat when shot. One man died later in June 1972, becoming the 14th victim. Seven of those shot dead were teenage boys; two were excited about their first civil rights march. One of them, Jackie Duddy, was my uncle. He was 17.

On Bloody Sunday weaves a narrative of personal reflection and testimony from more than a 110 witnesses and people who were affected. This extract from the book joins the events of that day in Glenfada Park, where two men were shot dead and a further five injured by the paras.

Joseph Friel (20) was shot and wounded as he tried to make his way home. Daniel Gillespie (32) was hit by a bullet in the head and fell unconscious. Schoolboy Michael Quinn (17) was wounded by a bullet in the shoulder that exited through his face as he tried to escape the soldiers’ advance. William McKinney (27) was then shot in the back and killed as he tried to help the wounded, the same bullet wounding Joe Mahon (16).

Nearby, Patsy O’Donnell (41) was wounded as he threw himself across a woman to protect her from firing. At the alleyway entrance to Abbey Park, Jim Wray (22) was on the ground and already wounded by the first burst of fire when he was shot again in the back at close range.

A former para identified only as Soldier F was charged in 2019 with the murder of Wray and McKinney and the attempted murder of O’Donnell, Friel, Quinn and Mahon. The prosecution case stalled last year, with families currently awaiting a High Court decision on the case against Solider F, as well as other soldiers. As it stands, Soldier F remains the only British serviceman to have been charged with murder over Bloody Sunday.

Joe Friel:

The crowd was squealing, crying, roaring and shouting. I saw sheer unadulterated terror on people’s faces. I froze momentarily, then ran back towards the Rossville Flats to home. There were so many people packed into the doorway, I couldn’t get in. I could still hear shots being fired.There was no pattern to the shots. There was complete chaos. I crossed to Glenfada Park in sheer fear.

Danny Gillespie:

I saw a group of about eight people coming into Glenfada Park North. Some were carrying Michael Kelly. He was obviously dead. I heard more shooting. I began to run towards Rossville Street to try to get away. I heard a sharp ‘crack’ and I knew that I had been hit. I fell forwards. Everything went black.

Denis Bradley [formerly Father Bradley, curate at Long Tower Parish]:

I hadn’t seen paratroopers before. They were different looking, bigger, tougher and taller, more physical and aggressive. They didn’t talk to you like other soldiers. Their blackened faces struck me as odd as it was daytime. I had seen soldiers with blackened faces, but only during night operations.I remember another soldier starting firing from the hip or waist in a southerly direction. I remember being horrified.

Joe Friel:

I ran along Glenfada Park. People were running with me to get out. Everyone was panicking. I could see soldiers. The soldier in front was moving forward at no great pace and was firing. He had his gun in front of him just above waist height and was moving it from side to side — not swinging it, just moving it a few inches from left to right. The other soldiers weren’t firing their weapons. I heard three shots. I felt a slight blow to my body, no harder than a tap by a couple of fingers. I looked down and could see blood. Within a second or two, a big gush of blood came out of my mouth. I shouted, ‘I’m shot, I’m shot!’

Joe Mahon, a civil rights marcher aged 16:

As we ran up towards Abbey Park, they just started firing. The only one I saw firing was holding the gun at his hip and just firing into the crowd. Next thing I knew I was lying on the ground. Then I heard a voice behind me, who I later found out was William McKinney, who said: ‘I’m hit, son, I’m hit!’.

Denis Bradley:

The soldier was just shooting, not particularly at anyone. The angle of fire seemed to me slightly over people’s heads. I didn’t think the soldier had lost his head. I didn’t think he was going to shoot me. He didn’t say anything to me.

Patsy O’Donnell:

Just at the corner, there was a woman crouching behind the fence. I saw a soldier take aim in my direction and I threw myself on top of her. I heard the crack on the wall behind me and looking round I saw a hole, and I saw the top of my coat torn. I said; ‘I’m hit.’ We rolled around the corner to the yard and sat there with Fr Bradley. I had been shot in the shoulder.

Danny Gillespie:

I regained my senses. Two young boys were helping me to my feet. The tall boy was shot and I heard him groan. He fell on top of me and pushed me back onto the ground. He was lying over my legs and I rolled so he fell off me, and got up. I ran west. There was jelly-like blood running across my face and into my eyes. My legs were like jelly.

Joe Mahon:

I was just lying there and saw one paratrooper when I heard a woman’s voice saying, ‘Lie still – pretend you’re dead.’ That woman saved my life. Just as the paratrooper approached me, God rest Jim Wray, he went to move, and the paratrooper stopped and fired twice more right into his back. Then he moved on. After a while, he came back and actually stood over Jim. He took his mask and helmet off and I will never forget his face. Just as he was walking off, he saw me and aimed. I turned away, when a young Knight of Malta [the volunteer first-aid organisation] came running out and saved me. The soldier just walked away laughing.

Joe Friel:

I staggered and three fellows grabbed me and took me to the Murrays’ house in Lisfannon Park. I was carried inside and was laid in the front room. I was continuing to throw up blood and I remember apologising for throwing up on the carpet. There were two medics there. There was a crowd in the house who all knelt around me and started saying the rosary.

Patsy O’Donnell:

The soldiers arrived immediately, with guns pointed at us, ordered us up and marched us down Glenfada Park. They ordered hands up and I couldn’t put my right hand up because my right shoulder was shot, and they butted me with their rifles and eventually I got my arm up.

Michael Quinn:

I ran across towards the alleyway leading to Abbey Park, and as I was nearing the entrance, I felt myself being struck upon the right cheek by a bullet. I felt a very hard thump in the face. I could see the flesh and blood coming out of me. I stumbled, but got up and ran through the alleyway. Had I not been running bent over, I would not be here now. I subsequently discovered that the bullet had struck me on the shoulder. I stumbled but made it to the gap.

Frances Gillespie:

Daniel was injured in the head. He was brought to the front door and I was standing there and saw him coming into the street with another man. His face was covered with blood – I thought half of his face was blown off him. I still didn’t recognise him with all the blood. He cried and cried, saying they’d killed ‘wains … bits of wains’.

Danny Gillespie:

My wife Frances was at the door. Mr Moran and Mr Canavan asked her for a cloth so that they could help clean me up. I sat down and cried. I was very shaken and very angry. Later, I went to Vinny Coyle’s house for treatment. There was a doctor and a Knight of Malta there. They shaved my head so that the wound could be cleaned. I still have a groove where the bullet passed.

Joe Mahon:

I have a guilt— I never shouted to Jim Wray to lie still and that’s what really has been in the back of my mind all these years. I saw the para approaching, and I didn’t warn Jim Wray, and they murdered him. I felt like a coward. I should have told him to keep still. They can’t say Jim Wray was throwing stones or armed; he was on his stomach.

Around the corner, crowds sheltered from the gunfire as Gerald Donaghey (17) and Gerard McKinney (35) were shot dead in Abbey Park. According to a brother-in-law of McKinney’s, John O’Kane, who saw him being shot, ‘He shouted, “No, no, don’t shoot” before he fell, then he blessed himself and he said, “Jesus, Jesus” before he died.’ The same bullet killed both men.

Dr Raymond McClean:

I found a man, Gerald McKinney, being tended by two young boys. On examination, I found that he was already dead. Several other people had been shot and were in houses. In the first house I found Michael Kelly [17], who had an entry bullet wound. I could not find any exit wound. Michael was already dead when I examined him. Lying beside Michael was Jim Wray, who had two entry gunshot wounds on the right side of his back. Jim was also dead.

Next door I found William McKinney lying on the floor. He was quite conscious when I examined him. He was pale and shocked, but extremely calm. He said to me very calmly; ‘I’m going to die, doctor, am I?’ I lied a bit and said; ‘You have been hit badly, but if we can get an ambulance and get you to hospital quickly, I hope you will be alright.’ I stayed with William until he died.

On Bloody Sunday: A New History of the Day and Its Aftermath by Those Who Were There by Julieann Campbell is published by Monoray, £25

Belfast Telegraph