Tag Archives: Balmoral Furniture Company Bombing

Balmoral Furniture Company Bombing – 12.25 pm 11th December 1971

Balmoral Furniture Company Bombing

11 December 1971

 

balmoral funiture plaque

The Balmoral Furniture Company bombing was a paramilitary attack that took place on 11 December 1971 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. A bomb exploded without warning outside a furniture showroom on the Shankill Road in a predominantly unionist area, killing four civilians, two of them babies.

 

retaliation for the bombing of McGurk’s

The bombing is one of the catalysts that spark a series of tit-for-tat bombings and shootings by loyalists and republicans  that made the 1970s the bloodiest decade in the 30-year history of The Troubles .

It is widely believed that the bombing was carried out by members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in retaliation for the bombing of McGurk’s pub a week earlier, which killed 15 Catholic civilians. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) had carried out that bombing.

See : McGurk’s Pub Bombing

The bombing happened on a Saturday when the Shankill was crowded with shoppers, creating bedlam in the area. Hundreds of people rushed to help British Army troops and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) rescue survivors trapped under the rubble of the devastated building.

According to journalist Peter Taylor, the bomb site was

“reminiscent of the London Blitz”

during World War II. The attack provoked much anger in the tight-knit Ulster Protestant community and many men later cited the bombing as their reason for joining one of the two main Ulster loyalist paramilitary organisations: the illegal UVF or the then-legal Ulster Defence Association(UDA).

 

Tommy_lyttle.jpg

Tommy Lyttle

Four such men were Tommy Lyttle, Michael Stone, Sammy Duddy, and Billy McQuiston.

The bombing was one of the catalysts that sparked the series of tit-for-tat bombings and shootings by loyalists, republicans and the security forces that made the 1970s the bloodiest decade in the 30-year history of the Troubles.

 

– Disclaimer –

The views and opinions expressed in these pages/documentaries are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.

 

The Bombing

The bombing took place in the heart of the loyalist Shankill Road

 

shankill rd

At 12.25 pm on 11 December 1971, when the Shankill Road was packed with Saturday shoppers, a green car pulled up outside the Balmoral Furniture Company at the corner of Carlow Street and Shankill Road.

The shop was locally known as “Moffat’s” although Balmoral Furniture Company was its official name.  One of the occupants got out, leaving a box containing a bomb on the step outside the front door. The person got back into the car and it sped away. The bomb exploded moments later, bringing down most of the building on top of those inside the shop and on passersby outside.

Four people were killed as a result of the massive blast, including two babies—Tracey Munn (2) and Colin Nichol (17 months) who both died instantly when part of the wall crashed down upon the pram they were sharing.

Two employees working inside the shop were also killed: Hugh Bruce (70) and Harold King (29).[4] Unlike the other three victims, who were Protestant, King was a Catholic.  Bruce, a former soldier and a Corps of Commissionaires member, was the shop’s doorman and was nearest to the bomb when it exploded.

Nineteen people were injured in the bombing, including Tracey’s mother.  The building, which was built in Victorian times, had load-bearing walls supporting upper floors on joists. It was thus unable to withstand the blast and so collapsed, adding to the devastation and injury count.

 

Balmoral bomb

The bombing caused bedlam in the crowded street. Hundreds of people rushed to the scene where they formed human chains to help the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) free those trapped beneath the rubble by digging with their bare hands. Peter Taylor described the scene as “reminiscent of the London Blitz” in World War II.

One witness was Billy McQuiston, who had been walking down the Shankill with a friend when they heard the blast. Rushing to the scene, McQuiston later recounted what he saw and felt upon reaching the wrecked building:

 

Related image

Women were crying. Men were trying to dig out the rubble. Other men were hitting the walls. One person was crying beside you and the next person was shouting ‘Bastards’ and things like that. I didn’t actually see the babies’ bodies as they had them wrapped in sheets, but the blood was just coming right through them. They were just like lumps of meat, you know, small lumps of meat.

All these emotions were going through you and you wanted to help. There were people shouting at the back, “Let’s get something done about this”. To be perfectly honest with you, I just stood there and cried, just totally and utterly numb. It wasn’t until I got back home that I realised, this isn’t a game. There’s a war going on here. These people are trying to do us all in. They’re trying to kill us all and they don’t care who we are or what age we are. Because we’re Protestants, they are going to kill us so we’re going to have to do something here.

The angry crowd at the scene shared McQuiston’s dismay and anger against the Provisional IRA, whom they automatically held responsible for the bombing. They also sought to retaliate against any Catholic they happened upon. A Protestant man nearby made a remark about the bombing, and someone who overheard it mistook the speaker for a Catholic and shouted out:

“He’s Catholic!”.

A mob of about one hundred men and women ran towards him and began kicking and punching him until he was left unconscious. It took the RUC and British troops half an hour to rescue him from his attackers.

Aftermath

 

balmoral funiture plaque

A mural showing the Balmoral bombing and other IRA attacks carried out on the Shankill Road

Although nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, the Provisional IRA was immediately and widely blamed.

In his book Loyalists, Peter Taylor explained that the Provisional IRA bombed Balmoral in retaliation for the McGurk’s Bar bombing one week earlier, which had killed 15 Catholic civilians.

This theory is supported by Susan McKay. Billy McQuiston, along with many other Protestant men who had been on the Shankill at the time of the explosion, immediately joined the Ulster Defence Association (UDA).

Image result for uda flag

Others included Sammy Duddy, Michael Stone, and Tommy Lyttle.  Lyttle, who became brigadier of the UDA West Belfast Brigade, was not there but his wife and two daughters were near the bomb when it went off. They received no injuries, but his daughter Linda said that Lyttle:

 

“took it personally”.

 

Jackie McDonald, the incumbent South Belfast UDA brigadier, worked as dispatches manager for the Balmoral Furniture Company.  The leader of the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF, the name the UDA used to claim attacks), John White, who was convicted of the double murder of Senator Paddy Wilson and Irene Andrews in 1973, used the Balmoral bombing as justification for these killings and others.

See:  Senator Paddy Wilson and Irene Andrews

Within a month of the bombing, the UDA had restructured, adopting a more military structure and establishing a thirteen-member Security Council under Charles Harding Smith to co-ordinate activity.

Michael Stone would go on to perpetrate the Milltown Cemetery attack in 1988, which was caught on camera. Another Protestant man, Eddie Kinner, had been at the scene following the explosion. He lived around the corner from Balmoral. He sought revenge against the IRA and later joined the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

Image result for uvf flag

 

He later spoke about his reactions to the Balmoral bombing in an interview with Peter Taylor:

“On that occasion, if somebody had handed me a bomb to plant it anywhere you want in the Falls, I would have done it”,

adding that he had no qualms about taking somebody else’s life.

Within a week of the attack, the UVF retaliated by planting a bomb at Murtagh’s Bar on the Irish nationalist Springfield Road in west Belfast. A 16-year-old Catholic barman, James McCallum, was killed.

See:  18th December – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

The building which housed Balmoral’s Furniture Company was formerly “Wee Joe’s Picture House”, dating from the 1930s. Taking its name from “Wee” Joe McKibben, one of three owners of the cinema (which was nicknamed the “Wee Shank”), it was said locally that it cost a jam jar to get in on account of the fact that patrons could go to McKibben’s other place of business, a grocery shop, and swap an empty jam jar for a ticket to the cinema.

The edifice was demolished after the bombing.

Although a youth on the Shankill had seen the green car and person who planted the device, the bombers were never apprehended nor was anyone ever charged in connection with the attack.

The McGurk’s Bar bombing was the catalyst that sparked a series of tit-for-tat bombings and shootings by loyalist and republican paramilitaries that would help make the 1970s the bloodiest decade in the 30-year history of the Troubles.

The Balmoral bombing was not the first paramilitary attack in the Shankill Road area. On 29 September 1971, the Four Steps Inn pub had been bombed by the Provisional IRA, resulting in the deaths of two men.

It would not be the last either. In August 1975, the Provisional IRA carried out a shooting and bombing attack against the Bayardo Bar on Aberdeen Street, which killed three men and two women – one aged

A deadlier attack took place on 23 October 1993 when a two-man IRA unit from Ardoyne carried a bomb into Frizzell’s Fish Shop on the Shankill. The device detonated prematurely, killing one of the bombers and ten of the customers.

 

Image result for shankill bomb

See Shankill Road bombing 

Balmoral as a company was also established as a target by this attack and in October 1976 its premises in Dunmurry were blown up in another bomb attack. Three IRA volunteers were arrested not far from the scene of this attack with one, Bobby Sands, imprisoned for possessing a gun as a result.

Sands’ fellow hunger striker, Joe McDonnell, was also arrested following this incident. Sands and McDonnell had jointly planned the bomb attack.

See: Events to commemorate Shankill Road Bomb anniversary

 

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McGurk’s Bar bombing – On 4 December 1971

McGurk’s Bar Bombing

 

On 4 December 1971, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), an Ulster loyalist paramilitary group, detonated a bomb at McGurk’s Bar in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The pub was frequented by Irish Catholics/nationalists.

The explosion caused the building to collapse, killing fifteen Catholic civilians—including two children—and wounding seventeen more. It was the deadliest attack in Belfast during the Troubles.

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McGurk’s Bar Bombing: Loss of Innocence

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Despite evidence to the contrary, the British security forces asserted that a bomb had exploded prematurely while being handled by Irish Republican Army (IRA) members inside the pub, implying that the victims themselves were partly to blame. A report later found that the police (Royal Ulster Constabulary) were biased in favour of this view, and that this hindered their investigation.

The victims’ relatives allege that the security forces deliberately spread disinformation to discredit the IRA. In 1977, UVF member Robert Campbell was sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the bombing and served fifteen years.

The bombing sparked a series of tit-for-tat bombings and shootings by loyalists and republicans, which would help make 1972 the bloodiest year of the conflict.

McGurk’s Bar bombing
McGurks bombing.jpg

A British soldier surveys the aftermath of the bombing
Location Corner of North Queen Street and Great George’s Street, Belfast,
Northern Ireland
Date 4 December 1971
20:45 (GMT)
Target Irish Catholics
Attack type
Time bomb
Deaths 15
Non-fatal injuries
17
Perpetrator Ulster Volunteer Force

Disclaimer 

The views and opinions expressed in these pages/documentaries are soley intended to educate and provide background information to those interested in the Troubles of Northern Ireland. They in no way reflect my own opinions and I take no responsibility for any inaccuracies or factual errors.

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Spotlight – The Mcgurk’s Bar Bombing

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Background

McGurk’s (also called the Tramore Bar) was a two-storey public house on the corner of North Queen Street and Great George’s Street, in the New Lodge area to the north of Belfast city centre. This was a mainly Irish nationalist and Catholic neighbourhood, and the pub’s regular customers were from the community.

The pub was owned by Patrick and Philomena McGurk, who lived on the upper floor with their four children.

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was formed in Belfast in 1966, declaring “war” on the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Until 1971, however, its actions were few and it:

 

“scarcely existed in an organisational sense”.

 

The British Army was deployed in Northern Ireland following the August 1969 riots, which are usually seen as the start of the Troubles. In December 1969 the IRA split into two factions: the ‘Official’ IRA and Provisional IRA. Both launched armed campaigns against the British Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and the government of Northern Ireland.

During 1971, the violence gradually worsened. There were daily bombings and shootings by republicans, loyalists and the security forces. During the first two weeks of December, there were about 70 bombings and about 30 people were killed.

On 2 December, three republican prisoners escaped from Crumlin Road prison, not far from McGurk’s. Security was tightened and there was a heavy RUC and British Army presence in the area over the next two days.

Eyewitnesses asserted that the checkpoints around McGurk’s were removed just an hour before the attack.

The bombing

Plaque near the site of the bombing listing those killed

 

On the evening of Saturday 4 December 1971, a four-man UVF team met in the Shankill area of Belfast and were ordered to bomb a pub on North Queen Street. According to the only convicted bomber—Robert Campbell—they were told not to return until the job was done. Campbell said that their target had not been McGurk’s, but another pub nearby.

It is believed this was a pub called The Gem, which was allegedly linked to the Official IRA. The 50 pounds (23 kg) bomb was disguised as a brown parcel, which they placed in a car and drove to their target. Campbell says they stopped near The Gem at about 7:30pm, but could not gain access to it because there were security guards outside.

After waiting for almost an hour, they drove a short distance to McGurk’s. At about 8:45pm, one of them placed the bomb in the porch entrance on Great George’s Street and rushed back to the car.

It exploded just moments after they drove off. Campbell implied that McGurk’s had been chosen only because it was:

“the nearest Catholic pub”.

The blast caused the building to collapse. Bystanders immediately rushed to free the dead and wounded from the rubble. Firefighters, paramedics, police and soldiers were quickly on the scene. Fifteen Catholic civilians had been killed—including two children and a further seventeen wounded. The rescue effort lasted many hours.

The Victims

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04 December 1971


Philomena McGurk,   (46)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed in bomb attack on McGurk’s bar, junction of Gt. George’s Street and North Queen Street, New Lodge, Belfast.

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04 December 1971


Maria McGurk,  (14)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed in bomb attack on McGurk’s bar, junction of Gt. George’s Street and North Queen Street, New Lodge, Belfast.

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04 December 1971


James Cromie,   (13)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed in bomb attack on McGurk’s bar, junction of Gt. George’s Street and North Queen Street, New Lodge, Belfast.

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04 December 1971
John Colton,  (49)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed in bomb attack on McGurk’s bar, junction of Gt. George’s Street and North Queen Street, New Lodge, Belfast.

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04 December 1971


Thomas McLaughlin,   (55)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed in bomb attack on McGurk’s bar, junction of Gt. George’s Street and North Queen Street, New Lodge, Belfast.

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04 December 1971
David Milligan,  (53)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed in bomb attack on McGurk’s bar, junction of Gt. George’s Street and North Queen Street, New Lodge, Belfast.

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04 December 1971


James Smyth,  (58)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed in bomb attack on McGurk’s bar, junction of Gt. George’s Street and North Queen Street, New Lodge, Belfast.

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04 December 1971


Francis Bradley,  (62)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed in bomb attack on McGurk’s bar, junction of Gt. George’s Street and North Queen Street, New Lodge, Belfast.

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04 December 1971


Thomas Kane,   (48)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed in bomb attack on McGurk’s bar, junction of Gt. George’s Street and North Queen Street, New Lodge, Belfast.

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04 December 1971


Kathleen Irvine,   (53)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed in bomb attack on McGurk’s bar, junction of Gt. George’s Street and North Queen Street, New Lodge, Belfast.

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04 December 1971


Philip Garry,  (73)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed in bomb attack on McGurk’s bar, junction of Gt. George’s Street and North Queen Street, New Lodge, Belfast.

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04 December 1971


 Edward Kane,   (29)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed in bomb attack on McGurk’s bar, junction of Gt. George’s Street and North Queen Street, New Lodge, Belfast.

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04 December 1971


Edward Keenan, (69)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed in bomb attack on McGurk’s bar, junction of Gt. George’s Street and North Queen Street, New Lodge, Belfast.

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04 December 1971


Sarah Keenan,  (58)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed in bomb attack on McGurk’s bar, junction of Gt. George’s Street and North Queen Street, New Lodge, Belfast.

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04 December 1971


Robert Spotswood,   (38)

Catholic
Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)
Killed in bomb attack on McGurk’s bar, junction of Gt. George’s Street and North Queen Street, New Lodge, Belfast.

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Within two hours of the blast, a sectarian clash had erupted nearby at the New Lodge–Tiger’s Bay interface The British Army and RUC moved in and a gun battle developed.

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Enter a caption

Major Jeremy Snow

In a despicable act the IRA shot Major Jeremy Snow as he attended the scene. He died of his injuries four days later on the 8th December .

 

Jeremy Snow was at the Royal Fusiliers headquarters a short distance away from the scene of the explosion when the bomb went off. Such was the strength of the blast that the soldiers initially thought that it was their building which had come under attack. Snow began organising the rescue operation but quickly handed this over to Major Mike Dudding who, using a loudhailer, organised a human chain of volunteers to remove the rubble.

At around 10pm a crowd of Protestants began gathering in the New Lodge/Tiger’s Bay area intent on mocking the Catholic victims of the blast. Before long a Catholic crowd of around 100 gathered and the two groups began trading insults and throwing stones at one another. Sensing trouble, Jeremy Snow called up a reserve platoon and, having decided that the crowds were getting out of hand, decided to separate the two groups at North Queen Street. At 10.30pm, as he alighted from his vehicle at Hillman Street a quarter of a mile from the scene of the bombing, he was shot and wounded in the neck by an Irish Republican Army sniper. He was placed on a stretcher and taken by armoured ambulance to the Royal Victoria Hospital. His wife was at his bedside when he died from his wounds four days later.

One of the soldiers from his Company wrote:-

“Major Snow was my company commander. Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. I was with the Major the day of the incident. We were plodding along, like you do, when a civilian asked for directions. As Major Snow crossed the road to go to him, he was gunned down.

He was a lovely bloke, a real gent and we all had the utmost respect for him. We were all gutted when it happened. I met my wife to be at his memorial service and we have been together for 30 years and to this day we do not forget the sacrifice he made. He was one of the many casualties we had to bear to make N.I. the safe and secure place it is today… I salute you Sir…”

He was Mentioned in Despatches for his services in Northern Ireland which was announced by St James’s Palace on the 23rd of May 1972.

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A British Army officer, Major Jeremy Snow, was shot by the IRA on New Lodge Road and died of his wounds on 8 December.  Two RUC officers and five civilians were also wounded by gunfire. Eventually, five companies of troops were sent into the district and they searched almost 50 houses.

Meanwhile, the UVF team had driven to a nearby pickup point where they dumped their car. They walked to the area of St Anne’s Cathedral and were picked up by another. They were driven back to the Shankill and met the man who had ordered the attack in an Orange Hall, telling him that:

“the job has been done”.

Among those killed were Philomena and Maria McGurk, wife and 12-year-old daughter of the pub owner Patrick McGurk. Patrick and his three sons were seriously injured. Shortly after the attack, McGurk appeared on television calling for no retaliation:

“It doesn’t matter who planted the bomb. What’s done can’t be undone. I’ve been trying to keep bitterness out of it.”

See: Balmoral Furniture Company Bombing