If any single day can sum up a war the events of Bloody Sunday in Dublin, 99 years ago today, do just that.
Early in the morning the Irish leaders of the War of Independence; Michael Collins and Cathal Brugha, despatched IRA squads to assassinate a list of 35 British Intelligence Officers and informers.
There were mistakes made, and many failures, but when the smoke settled 14 men were killed and six were wounded, one mortally. Two of the killings were mistakes, what the military today terms “collateral damage”. One IRA volunteer was captured, but later escaped. Another was injured; shot in the hand.
The work of the morning was highly effective in dismantling the British Intelligence operation. Many of the surviving intelligence agents holed up in Dublin Castle and were unable to carry out further work for fear of their lives. The list of targets clearly demonstrated that the secrecy of the agents had been compromised.
The retaliation by the British was a complete and utter Public Relations disaster. Dublin and Tipperary were playing a football match in Croke Park that afternoon. The British forces thought that it would be a good idea to drive into a football stadium and announce by megaphone that all men were to be searched.
One and a half years previously the British under General Dyer slaughtered over 400 civilians in Amritsar in the Punjab, India. In that context it is inconcievable to believe that British Authorities thought it might be a good idea to send armed men into a football stadium. But they did.
They never got to announce their intention to the crowd. A column of British soldiers approached from Clonliffe road to the North. A mixed column of Black and Tans, regular RIC and led by Auxiliaries approached from the Canal end to the South. The Black & Tans started shooting as soon as they entered the ground.
The result was predictable. A mad scramble to safety by the crowd and loss of all control of both the crowd and of the Crown forces. The combined troops and police fired 114 rounds of rifle ammunition, 50 rounds of machine gun ammunition from an armoured car stationed outside the ground and the revolver ammunition was not documented. The machine gunner at least had wits enough to fire in the air over the heads of the crowd.
Seven were shot to death, one of whom was the Tipperary Goal Keeper; Michael Hogan. Five more were mortally wounded and died later. Two more were trampled to death. Dozens more were shot, wounded and survived and many more were wounded in the scramble to safety.
None of the security forces was killed or wounded in the action.
Later that night three men who were being detained in Dublin Castle as suspects in planning the assassinations were shot to death, supposedly while trying to escape.
Bloody Sunday removed any final sympathy for the Crown position that might have lingered in even the most West British parts of leafy south county Dublin. The behaviour of the Black & Tans was recognised as the actions of rabid dogs, unordered, and “exceeding the demands of the situation”.
The finding of the British military courts of enquiry were suppressed, and some of the senior British Officers on the ground resigned their commissions in protest at Government’s tacit support of the actions of both Military and Police forces on the day.
That was the day Britain lost Ireland.