The Shankill Bomb – Never Forgotten

The Shankill Bomb

23rd  October 1993

Irish News - Shankill.jpg

The Shankill Road bombing was carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on 23 October 1993 and is one of the most notorious incidents of the Troubles in Northern Ireland

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Shankill Bombing

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Tomorrow marks the 27  anniversary of the Shankill Bomb and as usual my thoughts are with the innocent victims of this brutal attack and their families who have been sentence to a lifetime of grief and bereavement .

The pain of losing someone loved never really goes away , it just becomes more bearable as time crawls on  and we find comfort in memories that  we relive a thousands time a year.

The Shankill Bomb was one of the pivotal moments of my “journey” through the  Troubles and coming from the Shankill community I felt the grief in a personal way . I had known many of the victims and had been in the same class as Michael (Minnie) Morrison  in secondary school and I knew Evelyn his girlfriend from living in Glencairn.

Death and executions were almost an everyday event during the “worse” years of Troubles and living in Loyalist West Belfast we were on the front line and with the various paramilitaries living and operating amongst us , there was no escape from the slaughter that was ripping Northern Ireland apart. I have lost count of how many people I have known that have died or been murdered as a direct result of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

And everyone a wasted life

But the Shankill bombing had a profound effect on me and although I was living in London at the time , my heart was firmly in Belfast , as my community came to terms with this savage attack.

When the first reports of the bomb started coming in I felt an overwhelming sense of dread and as I watched the news unfold my first instinct was to worry about my  family  back in Belfast. I immediately  made contact with them and thankfully they were all safe and well , although a few of them had been in the vicinity of the explosion and had helped in the recuse effort immediately  after the bomb.

I had also known  the brother of the bomber Begley , although he was in no way a friend or acquaintance.

In the mid eighties I had enrolled in a YTP and this was based off the Crumlin Road in Belfast and Catholic’s were also attending the programme. Strange though it may seem this was my first time in close proximity to my catholic counterpart’s ( apart from rioting) and to be honest the two sides didn’t really mix , they done their thing and we done ours.

But it was a learning curve for me and I was able to see the “enemy” up close for the first time and I  judged him to be as smelly and disgusting as I had been taught all my life. But deep down as I grew older and wiser I came to the realization they really weren’t that different from us, apart from their political and religious identities.

There was a guy called Begley from Ardoyne on the same programme and my memory of him was that  he was smelly, dirty  and looked unwashed. When the name and picture of the Shankill bomber was first released I immediately made the connection , as he was the spitting image of his brother and he also looked dirty and unwashed. Although I have no sympathy or time  for the Begley brothers I acknowledge their family have also been sentence to a life time of grief and bereavement and perhaps that is the price karma demands for the action of their son/brother.

Karma always collects  its debts!

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shankill-bomb-collage

The Innocent Victims

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The Shankill Bomb

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20th anniversary of the Shankill Bomb we talk to the victims’ families

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The Shankill Road bombing was carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on 23 October 1993 and is one of the most notorious incidents of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The IRA intended to assassinate the leaders of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), who were to be meeting in a room above Frizzell’s fish shop on Shankill Road, Belfast. Two IRA members were to enter the shop disguised as deliverymen, then force the customers out at gunpoint and plant a time bomb with a short fuse. However, when the IRA members entered the shop with the bomb, it exploded prematurely. One of the IRA members was killed along with a UDA member and eight Protestant civilians.[1] More than fifty people were wounded. Unbeknownst to the IRA, the meeting had been rescheduled.

The Ulster loyalist Shankill Road had been the location of other bomb and gun attacks, including the Balmoral Furniture Company bombing in 1971 and Bayardo Bar attack in 1975, but the 1993 bombing had the highest casualties and resulted in a wave of revenge attacks by loyalists. In the week that followed, loyalists killed 14 civilians, almost all of them Irish Catholics. The deadliest attack took place in Greysteel, where UDA members opened fire in a pub frequented by Catholics, killing eight civilians and wounding 13.

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The  Shankill Bomb

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The Innocent Victims

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23 October 1993

4
John Frizzell, (63)


John Frizzell,  (63)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by bomb which exploded prematurely in shop, during attack on the upstairs Ulster Defence Association (UDA) office, Shankill Road, Belfast.

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23 October 1993

_45418618_sharon226
Sharon McBride, (29)


Sharon McBride,  (29)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by bomb which exploded prematurely in shop, during attack on the upstairs Ulster Defence Association (UDA) office, Shankill Road, Belfast.

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23 October 1993

NWS_20131023_NEW_006_29372561_I4
Michael Morrison, (27)


Michael Morrison,  (27)

Protestant
Status: Ulster Defence Association (UDA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by bomb which exploded prematurely in shop, during attack on the upstairs Ulster Defence Association (UDA) office, Shankill Road, Belfast.

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23 October 1993

6
Evelyn Baird, (27)


Evelyn Baird,  (27)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by bomb which exploded prematurely in shop, during attack on the upstairs Ulster Defence Association (UDA) office, Shankill Road, Belfast.

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23 October 1993

2
Michelle Baird, (7)


Michelle Baird,  (7)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by bomb which exploded prematurely in shop, during attack on the upstairs Ulster Defence Association (UDA) office, Shankill Road, Belfast.

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23 October 1993

11
Leanne Murray, (13)


Leanne Murray,   (13)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by bomb which exploded prematurely in shop, during attack on the upstairs Ulster Defence Association (UDA) office, Shankill Road, Belfast.

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23 October 1993

3
George Williamson, (63)


George Williamson,   (63)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by bomb which exploded prematurely in shop, during attack on the upstairs Ulster Defence Association (UDA) office, Shankill Road, Belfast.

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23 October 1993

10
Gillian Williamson, (49)


Gillian Williamson,   (49)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by bomb which exploded prematurely in shop, during attack on the upstairs Ulster Defence Association (UDA) office, Shankill Road, Belfast.

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23 October 1993

5
Wilma McKee, (38)


Wilma McKee,  (38)

Protestant
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by bomb which exploded prematurely in shop, during attack on the upstairs Ulster Defence Association (UDA) office, Shankill Road, Belfast.

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The Bomber

23 October 1993

Begley, Thomas (23)

Catholic
Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)
Killed by bomb which exploded prematurely in shop, during attack on the upstairs Ulster Defence Association (UDA) office, Shankill Road, Belfast.

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Background

During the early 1990s, loyalist paramilitaries drastically increased their attacks on the Irish Catholic and Irish nationalist community and – for the first time since the beginning of the Troubles – were responsible for more deaths than republicans.[2][3] The UDA’s West Belfast brigade, and its commander Johnny Adair, played a key role in this. Adair had become the group’s commander in 1990.

The UDA’s Shankill headquarters was above Frizzell’s fish shop on the Shankill Road.[4][5] The UDA’s Inner Council and West Belfast brigade regularly met there on Saturdays.[4][6][7] Peter Taylor says it was also the office of the Loyalist Prisoners’ Association (LPA), and on Saturday mornings was normally crowded, as that was when money was given to prisoners’ families.[8] According to Henry McDonald and Jim Cusack, the IRA had the building under surveillance for some time.[4] They say that the IRA decided to strike when one of their scouts spotted Adair entering the building on the morning of Saturday 23 October 1993.[4] Later, in a secretly-recorded conversation with police, Adair confirmed that he had been in the building that morning.[5]

The bombing

The IRA’s Belfast Brigade launched an operation to assassinate the UDA’s top commanders, whom it believed were at the meeting.[4][5] The plan was for two IRA members to enter the shop with a time bomb, force out the customers at gunpoint and flee before it exploded; killing those at the meeting.[4] As they believed the meeting was being held in the room above the shop, the bomb was designed to send the blast upwards. IRA members maintained that they would have warned the customers as the bomb was primed.[9] It had an eleven-second fuse, and the IRA explained that this would have allowed just enough time to clear the downstairs shop but not enough for those upstairs to escape.[6][7]

The operation would be carried out by Thomas Begley and Seán Kelly, two relatively young IRA members from Ardoyne. They drove from Ardoyne to the Shankill in a hijacked blue Ford Escort, which they parked on Berlin Street, around the corner from Frizzell’s. Dressed as deliverymen, they entered the shop with the five-pound bomb in a holdall.[5] It was shortly after 1PM on a Saturday afternoon and the area was crowded with mostly women and children.[10] Whilst Kelly waited at the door, Begley made his way through the customers towards the counter, where the bomb detonated prematurely.[9] Forensic evidence showed that Begley had been holding the bomb over the refrigerated serving counter when it exploded.[11] Begley was blown to pieces and nine other people[9]—including the owner John Frizzell, his daughter Sharon McBride, 13-year-old Leanne Murray and UDA member Michael Morrison—were killed in the blast. His common-law wife Evelyn Baird and seven-year-old daughter Michelle were also killed as was another couple, George and Gillian Williamson, and Wilma McKee.[12] The force of the blast caused the old building to collapse into a pile of rubble. The upper floor came down upon those inside the shop, crushing many of the survivors under the rubble, where they remained until rescued some hours later by volunteers and emergency services. About 57 people were injured.[6] At the scene during the rescue operation were several senior loyalists, including Adair and Billy McQuiston. The latter had been in a pub on the nearest corner when the bomb went off.[2][8] Among those rescued from the rubble was the badly-wounded Seán Kelly.[4]

Unknown to the IRA, the UDA meeting had ended early[7][5] and those attending it had left the building before the bomb exploded.[5][4] McDonald and Cusack claim that Adair and his men had stopped using the room for important meetings, allegedly because a sympathiser within the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) told Adair that the police had it bugged.[4]

Aftermath

Scene of the bombing, as of 2011

There was great anger and outrage in the Shankill in the wake of the bombing. Billy McQuiston told journalist Peter Taylor that “anybody on the Shankill Road that day, from a Boy Scout to a granny, if you’d given them a gun they would have gone out and retaliated”.[8] Many Protestants saw the bombing as an indiscriminate attack on them.[6] Adair believed that the bomb was meant for him.[6] Two days after the bombing, as Adair was driving away from his house, he stopped and told a police officer “I’m away to plan a mass murder”.[13] In the week following the bombing, the UDA and UVF launched a wave of “revenge attacks”, killing 14 civilians.[12] The UDA shot a Catholic delivery driver in Belfast after luring him to a bogus call just a few hours after the bombing. He died on 25 October.[14] On 26 October, the UDA shot dead another two Catholic civilians and wounded five in an indiscriminate attack at a Council Depot on Kennedy Way, Belfast.[12] On 30 October, UDA members entered a pub in Greysteel frequented by Catholics and again opened-fire indiscriminately. Eight civilians (six Catholics and two Protestants) were killed and 13 were wounded. This became known as the Greysteel massacre. The UDA claimed it was a direct retaliation for the Shankill Road bombing.[2] Michael Stone and another UDA member said that Adair also vowed to launch simultaneous attacks on Catholics attending mass in Belfast. The day after the attack (Sunday), the security forces were sent to guard all Catholic churches in Belfast. A UDA member said that a carload of gunmen were sent to attack Holy Family Catholic Church on the Limestone Road, but called off the attack due to the high security.[6] Adair denied the claims.[6] The UVF shot dead a Catholic man in Newtownabbey and two Catholic brothers in Bleary.[12]

At Begley’s wake, a British soldier fired upon a group of mourners standing outside Begley’s home. The soldier fired twenty shots from a passing Land Rover. Among those wounded was republican activist Eddie Copeland, who needed extensive surgery. The court heard that the soldiers had been shown a photograph of Copeland before being sent on patrol. The soldier who fired the shots, Trooper Andrew Clarke, was jailed for ten years for attempted murder.[15][16] Begley was given a well-attended republican funeral in west Belfast.[17][18] Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin, used “unusually strong language” in condemning the bombing, saying it was wrong and could not be excused. However, he was criticised for being a pall-bearer at Begley’s funeral.[10][19] David McKittrick and Eamonn Mallie wrote that if Adams had shunned the funeral it would have been “the end of him as a republican leader”. They explain that it would have severely damaged his credibility within the republican movement and made it difficult for him to secure an IRA ceasefire.[20] Others, such as Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and RUC Chief Constable Hugh Annesley, agreed with this view.[21]

Seán Kelly, the surviving IRA member, was badly wounded in the blast, having lost his left eye and unable to move his left arm.[9] Upon his release from hospital, however, he was arrested and convicted of nine counts of murder, each with a corresponding life sentence. In July 2000, he was released under the terms of the Belfast Agreement.[9] In an interview shortly after his release, he said he had never intended to kill innocent people and regrets what happened.[9]

Relatives of those killed in the Shankill Road bombing adopted different positions during the 20th anniversary commemorative events in 2013.

See Greysteel

See Shankill Bomb

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7 thoughts on “The Shankill Bomb – Never Forgotten

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