William ” Frenchie ” Marchant
1948 – 1987
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.
William “Frenchie” Marchant (c. 1948 – 28 April 1987) was a Northern Irish loyalist and a high-ranking volunteer in the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).
He was on a Garda list of suspects in the 1974 Dublin car bombings which left a total of 26 people dead and close to 300 injured. Marchant was allegedly the leader of the Belfast UVF unit known as “Freddie and the Dreamers” which hijacked and stole the three cars which were used in the bombings.
Nine days after the bombings he was arrested and interned at the Maze Prison in relation to the bombings. When questioned by detectives regarding the latter he refused to answer. He was never brought to trial due to lack of evidence. Marchant held the rank of major in the UVF’s A Company, 1st Battalion Belfast Brigade. He was shot to death by a Provisional IRA volunteer from a passing car as he stood outside “The Eagle” chip shop below the offices where the UVF Brigade Staff had their headquarters on the Shankill Road.
Dublin car bombings
Two units from the UVF’s Belfast and Mid-Ulster Brigades exploded three no-warning car bombs in Dublin’s city centre on 17 May 1974, the third day of the Ulster Workers Council Strike.
This was a general strike in Northern Ireland called by hard-line unionists, who opposed the Sunningdale Agreement and the Northern Ireland Assembly which had proposed their sharing political power with nationalists and planned a role for the Republic of Ireland in the governance of Northern Ireland. The explosions occurred almost simultaneously during evening rush hour resulting in the deaths of 26 people, mostly young women; close to 300 people were injured, many maimed and scarred for life.
According to former British soldier and psychological warfare operative Colin Wallace, the bombings had been organised by Billy Hanna, the Mid-Ulster Brigade’s commander at the time.
The three cars used in the attacks had been stolen and hijacked that morning in Belfast by a UVF unit known as “Freddie and the Dreamers” (named after the 1960s English pop group) allegedly led by Marchant, and then, according to the 1993 Yorkshire Television documentary The Hidden Hand: The Forgotten Massacre, driven to a farm in Glenanne, County Armagh. This farm, which had been used to make and store the bombs, was owned by Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) reservist James Mitchell of the Glenanne gang.
Dublin Monaghan Bombings 1974 – First Tuesday -1993
After the cars were delivered to the waiting bomb unit, the latter drove them across the border down to the Coachman’s Inn pub carpark. Journalist Joe Tiernan suggested that the cars were driven directly to the North Dublin carpark, with only one stop in Portadown by one of the cars to collect David Alexander Mulholland, one of the alleged bombers.
It was at the carpark that the three bombs, which had been transported in a chicken lorry by senior Mid-Ulster UVF member Robin “the Jackal” Jackson, were placed inside the boots of the cars by Hanna and Jackson. The cars – a metallic green 1970 model Hillman Avenger and blue Austin 1800 Maxi – that ended up in Parnell Street and South Leinster Street had been hijacked while the metallic blue mink Ford Escort which detonated in Talbot Street had been stolen from Belfast’s docks area. All three cars had retained their original registration numbers.
The Hidden Hand: The Forgotten Massacre named Marchant as having been on a Garda Síochána list of suspects as the leader of the gang which obtained the bomb cars.
Ninety minutes after the Dublin blasts, another car bomb exploded in Monaghan, causing a further seven deaths. A detective from Dublin’s Store Street Garda Station received confidential information that Marchant had masterminded both the Dublin and Monaghan attacks.
On 26 May, he was arrested by the Northern Ireland security forces under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provision) Act 1974 and interned at the Maze Prison on an Interim Custody Order partly on suspicion of having participated in the car bombings. He was interrogated by detectives but refused to reply to any questions relating to the Dublin bombings.
Marchant and the others who had also been interned as suspects in the attacks, were never brought to trial due to lack of evidence. The RUC Special Branch, in a reply dated 23 July 1974 to an earlier Garda enquiry regarding Marchant, stated that Marchant “was our guest for a number of hours (and CID) but with negative result”.
The Barron Report which was the findings of the official investigation into the car bombings commissioned by Irish Supreme Court Justice Henry Barron confirmed that Marchant was named in the Garda files as the leader of the gang which provided the bomb cars. Colin Wallace briefed the media without attribution, identifying Marchant as the person responsible for the car hijackings and theft, based on his own information.
In a written statement to Justice For the Forgotten (an organisation of victims and relatives seeking justice for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings), Wallace maintained that Marchant was “identified to [British] Army Intelligence as a Special Branch source being run by a named officer”. When queried by the organisation’s legal team, Wallace qualified the statement by adding:
“That’s right, that was my belief…there were a number of Special Branch people who at this time appeared to have very close links with various loyalist groups. I’m not saying for good or ill, but certainly had close links with key loyalists. Marchant may well have been an informant, but I don’t know”.
Many years later, journalist Peter Taylor questioned Progressive Unionist Party politician and former senior Belfast UVF member David Ervine about UVF motives for bombing Dublin in 1974. He replied they [UVF] were “returning the serve”. Although Ervine said he had nothing to do with the bombings, he said they were carried out to make Catholics in the Republic suffer as Protestants in Northern Ireland had been suffering as the result of the IRA bombing campaign.
As of 2015, nobody has ever been convicted of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.
In the mid-1980s Marchant was one of a number of leading UVF figures arrested on the evidence of William “Budgie” Allen, a UVF member who turned supergrass and provided evidence on the activities of a number of his fellow members.
Initially held in 1983, Marchant was granted bail in order to marry although he failed to return and was eventually rearrested after a high speed pursuit through the Shankill Road.
Based on Allen’s evidence Marchant faced a number of charges, including the attempted murder of a member of Gerry Adams’ family. However, although he was held in custody for eighteen months, Marchant was released from prison in 1985 after the Allen trial collapsed.
Although he had appeared before Belfast’s Crumlin Road Crown Court, the case against him and the others had collapsed when the judge decided Allen’s evidence was “”totally unreliable”. Allen was declared persona non grata by the UVF, who announced that he would be killed if he left his hiding place in England, although Marchant surprisingly announced that he personally forgave Allen.