1877 – Bloody Sunday

Published by Mali Kakembo on

Ireland bloody sunday

The History Of Today - Bloody Sunday

Ireland bloody sunday

This day in history, the first Bloody Sunday was fought. Here’s some background, and what we might learn from it.

In 19th century Ireland, a small handful of English families owned almost all land. Millions of tenants used this land to grow food for survival. A share of the fruits of this labour was forcibly taken by the landowner.

Landowners received a portion and from their English estate chose who to sell it on to. They leeched so venomously that from 1850-1870 that they took the modern equivalent of £40 billion in rent, whilst under 5% of that was ever reinvested. The government of Ireland received less in tax.

As markets developed, landowners realised that they could be making more by fencing off farms and dedicating them to livestock.

Few of the people living off the land were happy about that plan. Radical groups like the Irish National Land League formed to protect homes and livelihoods. Increasingly defiant militant farmers met evictions.

The brutality peaked with the Great Potato Famine

In 1945 Ireland produced a surplus of food despite disease damaging crops. Westminster’s policy of Laissez-Faire capitalism meant landlords exported most of it for profit. Warnings of the impending disaster fell on deaf ears in parliament.

By 1949, a quarter of Ireland’s population was no longer. One million died of famine, and as many had emigrated to flee the impoverishment. England like America received large numbers of refugees seeking safety from poverty.

Historians disagree on whether this atrocity was a deliberate quelling of resistance against landlords or an unfortunate side effect of capitalism. Indisputably, it stoked the fire of anti-landlord rage.

1877 Bloody Sunday

Organisations like the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) were on the rise around Europe. Through various avenues, they aimed to fetter or abolish the poverty thriving under capitalism.

Irishman William O’Brien was one of the few MPs fighting for the cause. He dedicated most of his life to bringing justice and emancipation to those being bled dry. When his role in a rent strike led to his imprisonment, anger boiled over.

Over 10,000 Irish and English descended through London’s Trafalgar square in 1887. They refused to accept worsening work conditions and the continued humiliation of Ireland.

They demanded O’Brien’s release and despite 400 arrests, saw the MP freed soon after, before bringing a lifeline to Ireland’s victims.


In 2019, Britain is still governed by Conservatives who commit to laissez-faire capitalism. It continues to enrich a small group, with London having 95 billionaires (more than any other city on the planet). This drags the GDP per person up to an impressive €53,000, far above Northern Ireland’s €23,000.

The exploitation now discriminates by nationality less though.

The absentee landlordism that plagued Ireland is now rearing its ugly head in London. The wealthy come from across the globe enjoying the metropolitan playground. They buy and develop homes with one functional purpose. To fetch a higher price in the future.

Whilst 170,000 people in the capital remain homeless and 9,000 sleep on the streets, 24,000 homes have been empty “long-term”. The distorting effects of the profit incentive have seen rents spiral and an increasing number of people with nowhere to call home every week.

What would the bloody Sunday marchers do?

They’d be kicking up a fuss. In 1877, police arrested 400 people during the march. They made ground though. Not long after, they won O’Brien’s release and he went on to spearhead the movement for 1903’s Land Act. This transferred 9 million acres of land to tenants, helping them loosen their exploiter’s shackles.

If groups like the SDF were as active today, they wouldn’t be happy to see a continuation. People who’ve spent years participating in communities can be ejected for profit by someone who’s never visited.

Bloody Sunday’s marchers would be envious of the organisational power and the turnout that Extinction Rebellion has whipped up across Britain. Although the performance of XR has been eye-catching, the lack of class consciousness dampens its focus. With profit-driven climate change threatening an increasing number of homes, who is the anger focused on?

As capital continues to transcend national boundaries and possibly becomes supra-planetary, Bloody Sunday’s question is still unanswered. Who’s using the land, and why should someone else own it?

Mali Kakembo

I'm an enthusiastic journalist at MaliKakembo.co.uk that geeks out over hip-hop and history in my free time. In my own time, I play football poorly and daydream of skiing more often.