Belfast's Bloody Sunday was a day of violence in Belfast on 10 July 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. Over a four day period, 22 people were killed, 16 of them on 10 July itself. Another 70 people were badly wounded and 200 houses were destroyed.
Belfast saw almost 500 people die in political violence in the period 1920-1922. The violence in the city broke out in the summer of 1920, when - in response to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) shooting dead a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) detective in nearby Lisburn - 7,000 Catholics were driven from their jobs in the Belfast shipyards and over 50 people were killed in rioting between Catholics and Protestants.
However, violence in Belfast waned until the following summer of 1921. At the time, Irish Republican and British authorities were negotiating a Truce to end the conflict, but fighting flared up in Belfast. On 10 June, the IRA ambushed three RIC constables on the Falls Road, fatally wounding one. Over the following three days, 14 people lost their lives and 14 were wounded in fighting in the city; including three Catholics who were taken from their homes and killed by uniformed police.
Low level attacks continued in the city over the next month until another major outbreak of violence that led to "Bloody Sunday".
The events of July 1921:
On 8 July, the RIC attempted to enter the mainly Catholic and republican area around Union Street and Stanhope Street. However, they were confronted by about 15 IRA volunteers in a firefight that lasted over three hours.
The following day, 9 July, the IRA ambushed an armoured police truck on Raglan Street, killing one RIC man, injuring two more and destroying their armoured car. Around 14 IRA men took part in the operation. They had been alerted to the police presence by local residents banging dustbin lids to warn the IRA of the RIC patrol.
This sparked an outbreak of ferocious fighting between Catholics and Protestants in west Belfast on the following day, Sunday 10 July, in which 16 civilians (11 Catholics and 5 Protestants) lost their lives and 161 houses were destroyed. Of the houses destroyed, 150 were Catholic.
Gun battles raged all day along the sectarian 'boundary' between the Falls and Shankill Roads and rival gunmen used rifles, machine guns and hand grenades in the clashes. Gunmen were seen firing from windows, rooftops and street corners. A "Loyalist mob, several thousand strong" attempted to storm the Catholic Falls Road, carrying petrol and other flammable materials.
Another four people died over the following two days. While the IRA was involved in the violence, it did not control the actions of the Catholic community. An IRA officer reported that "the Catholic mob is almost beyond control".
The violence occurred only one day before a truce between the IRA and British forces formally ended the conflict - though in the north the official truce did not end the fighting. IRA members later recalled, "The Truce was not observed by either side in the north". The leader of the Belfast IRA's Active Service Unit, Roger McCorley, stated that "the Truce lasted six hours only".
The New York Times characterised the fighting as "a three-fold fight between Sinn Féin and Unionist snipers and Crown forces". It added, "In the extent of material damage to property, Sunday's rioting can be compared to the Dublin Rising in 1916".
At the time the day was referred to as "Belfast's Bloody Sunday". However the title of "Bloody Sunday", is now more commonly given in Ireland to events in Dublin in November 1920 or Derry in January 1972.
A strict curfew was enforced in Belfast after the violence, to try to ensure the Orange Order's Twelfth of July marches passed off peacefully.
Directly after the violence, on 11 July, the Commandant of the IRA's 2nd Northern Division, Eoin O'Duffy, was sent to Belfast by the organisation's leadership in Dublin to liase with the British authorities there and try to maintain the Truce. He said, "I found the city in a veritable state of war. The peal of rifles could be heard on all sides, frenzied mobs at every street corner...and ambulances carrying the dead and dying to hospitals". He organised IRA patrols to try to restore order in Catholic areas and announced that IRA action would cease except in self defence. However, this temporary ceasefire only lasted until the end of August.
The violence of the period in Belfast was cyclical, and the events of July 1921 were followed by a lull until a three day period starting on 29 August, when another 20 lives were lost in the west and north of the city.
The conflict in Belfast between the IRA and Crown forces and between Catholics and Protestants continued until the following summer, when the northern IRA was left isolated by the outbreak of the Irish Civil War in the south and weakened by the rigorous enforcement of internment in Northern Ireland.