Tag Archives: McGurk’s Bar bombing

Military Reaction Force – Counter Insurgency Unit

The Military Reaction Force

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The views and opinions expressed in this documentary and page 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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The Military Reaction Force, Military Reconnaissance Force or Mobile Reconnaissance Force (MRF)was a covert intelligence-gathering and counter-insurgency unit of the British Army active in Northern Ireland, during the Troubles/Operation Banner. The unit was formed during the summer of 1971  and operated until late 1972 or early 1973. MRF teams operated in plain-clothes and civilian vehicles, equipped with pistols and sub-machine guns.

They were nominally tasked with tracking down and arresting, or killing, suspected members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The MRF also ran double agents within the paramilitary groups and ran a number of front companies to gather intelligence. In October 1972, the Provisional IRA uncovered and attacked two of the MRF’s front companies—a mobile laundry service and a massage parlour—which contributed to the unit’s dissolution. One former member of the unit has described it as a “legalised death squad“.

It has also been accused of colluding with illegal loyalist paramilitaries and carrying out false flag attacks. The MRF was succeeded by the SRU (or 14 Intelligence Company) and, later, by the FRU

Origins and structure

The MRF was established in the summer of 1971. It appears to have its origins in ideas and techniques developed by British Army Brigadier Sir Frank Kitson, who had created “counter gangs” to defeat the Mau Mau in Kenya. He was the author of two books on counter-insurgency tactics: Gangs & Counter Gangs (1960) and Low Intensity Operations (1971). From 1970 to 1972, Kitson served in Northern Ireland as commander of the 39th Infantry Brigade. It has been claimed that he was responsible for establishing the MRF and that the unit was attached to his Brigade.

The MRF was based at Palace Barracks in the Belfast suburb of Holywood. The MRF’s first commander was Captain Arthur Watchus.  In June 1972, he was succeeded as commander by Captain James ‘Hamish’ McGregor. It was split into squads, each of which was led by a Senior NCO who had served in the Special Air Service (SAS), Special Boat Service (SBS), the Royal Marines or the Parachute Regiment. The unit consisted of up to 40 men, handpicked from throughout the British Army. It also included a few women. nAccording to military sources, the MRF would have up to nine soldiers deployed at any one time, with nine more on standby and the others resting.

Modus operandi

In March 1994, the UK’s Junior Defence Minister Jeremy Hanley issued the following description of the MRF in reply to a parliamentary written question: “The MRF was a small military unit which, during the period 1971 to 1973, was responsible for carrying out surveillance tasks in Northern Ireland in those circumstances where soldiers in uniform and with Army vehicles would be too easily recognized”.

Martin Dillon described the MRF’s purpose as being “to draw the Provisional IRA into a shooting war with loyalists in order to distract the IRA from its objective of attacking the Army”.

Many details about the unit’s modus operandi have been revealed by former members. One issued a statement to the Troops Out Movement in July 1978. In 2012–13, a former MRF member using the covername ‘Simon Cursey’ gave a number of interviews and published the book MRF Shadow Troop about his time in the unit. In November 2013, a BBC Panorama documentary was aired about the MRF. It drew on information from seven former members, as well as a number of other sources.

The MRF had both a “defensive” surveillance role and an “offensive” role.  MRF operatives dressed like civilians and were given fake identities and unmarked cars equipped with two-way radios.  They patrolled the streets in these cars in teams of two to four, tracking down and arresting or killing suspected IRA members.

They were armed with Browning pistols and Sterling sub-machine guns. Former MRF members admitted that the unit shot unarmed people without warning, both IRA members and civilians, knowingly breaking the British Army’s Rules of Engagement. Former MRF members claim they had a list of targets they were ordered to “shoot on sight”, the aim being to “beat them at their own game”  and to “terrorise” the republican movement. According to Cursey, the unit was told that these tactics had British Government backing, “as part of a deeper political game”.

He said his section shot at least 20 people:

“We opened fire at any small group in hard areas […] armed or not – it didn’t matter. We targeted specific groups that were always up to no good. These types were sympathisers and supporters, assisting the IRA movement. As far as we were concerned they were guilty by association and party to terrorist activities, leaving themselves wide open to the ultimate punishment from us”.

Cursey mentions two occasions where MRF members visited pubs and “eliminated” IRA members. One member interviewed for the BBC’s Panorama, Soldier F, said “We were not there to act like an army unit, we were there to act like a terror group“.

Soldier H said “We operated initially with them thinking that we were the UVF“, to which Soldier F added: “We wanted to cause confusion”.  Another said that their role was “to draw out the IRA and to minimise their activities”. They said they fired on groups of people manning defensive barricades, on the assumption that some might be armed. The MRF member who made a statement in 1978 opined that the unit’s role was one of “repression through fear, terror and violence”. He said that the unit had been trained to use weapons favoured by the IRA. 

Republicans argued that the MRF deliberately attacked civilians for two main reasons: firstly, to draw the IRA into a sectarian conflict with loyalists and divert it from its campaign against the state; and secondly, to show Catholics that the IRA could not protect them, thus draining its support.

The MRF’s surveillance operations included the use of front companies (see below) and disguises. Former members claim they posed as road sweepers, dustmen and even homeless meths-drinkers while carrying out surveillance. The MRF is known to have used double agents referred to as ‘Freds’. These were republican or loyalist paramilitaries who were recruited by British Military Intelligence. The Freds would work inside paramilitary groups, feeding back information to the MRF. They were also ferried through Belfast in armoured cars, and through the gunslit would point-out paramilitary individuals of note. Through this method the MRF compiled extensive photographs and dossiers of Belfast militants of both factions.

According to Cursey, the MRF also abducted and interrogated people for information. They used shock treatment on prisoners to force them to give information. This involved immediately breaking one of the suspects’ arms and threatening to break their other arm. Cursey says that they then “dropped them off at the roadside for the uniformed forces to pick up later”.

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BBC Panorama – Shoot to kill, lethal force

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Attacks on civilians

In 1972, MRF teams carried out a number of drive-by shootings in Catholic and Irish nationalist areas of Belfast, some of which had been attributed to Ulster loyalist paramilitaries. At least fifteen civilians were shot. MRF members have affirmed the unit’s involvement in most of these attacks. There are also allegations that the unit helped loyalists to carry out attacks.

McGurk’s Bar bombing

On 4 December 1971, the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) detonated a time bomb at the door of McGurk’s public house in Belfast. The pub was frequented by Irish Catholics/nationalists.

The explosion caused the building to collapse, killing fifteen Catholic civilians and wounding seventeen more. It was the deadliest attack in Belfast during the Troubles.[ The book Killing For Britain (2009), written by former UVF member ‘John Black’, claims that the MRF organized the bombing and helped the bombers get in and out of the area.

Two days before the bombing, republican prisoners had escaped from nearby Crumlin Road Prison. Security was tightened and there were many checkpoints in the area at the time. However, locals claimed that the security forces helped the bombers by removing the checkpoints an hour before the attack.

One of the bombers—Robert Campbell—said that their original target had been The Gem, a nearby pub that was allegedly linked to the Official IRA. It is claimed the MRF plan was to help the UVF bomb The Gem, and then blame the bombing on the Provisional IRA. This would start a feud between the two IRA factions, diverting them from their fight against the security forces and draining their support. Campbell said that The Gem had security outside and, after waiting for almost an hour, they decided to bomb the nearest ‘Catholic pub’ instead. Immediately after, the security forces claimed that a bomb had accidentally exploded while being handled by IRA members inside McGurk’s.

See: McGurk’s Bar Bombing

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‘Secret British Army hits’ on IRA Watch extracts from BBC expose

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Whiterock Road shooting

On 15 April 1972, brothers Gerry and John Conway—both Catholic civilians—were walking along Whiterock Road to catch a bus. As they passed St Thomas’s School, a car stopped and three men leapt out and began shooting at them with pistols. The brothers ran but both were shot and wounded.

Witnesses said one of the gunmen returned to the car and spoke into a handset radio. Shortly after, two armoured personnel carriers arrived and there was a conversation between the uniformed and the plainclothes soldiers. The three vehicles then left, and the brothers were taken by ambulance to the Royal Victoria Hospital. The British Army told journalists that a patrol had encountered two wanted men, that one fired at the patrol and that the patrol returned fire.

In a 1978 interview, a former MRF member claimed he had been one of the gunmen. He confirmed that the brothers were unarmed, but claimed his patrol had mistaken the brothers for two IRA men whom the MRF were ordered to “shoot on sight”.

Andersonstown shootings

On 12 May 1972, the British government announced there would be no disciplinary action against the soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday. That night, MRF teams shot seven Catholic civilians in the Andersonstown area.

Patrick McVeigh

An MRF team in an unmarked car approached a checkpoint manned by members of the Catholic Ex-Servicemen’s Association (CESA) at the entrance to Riverdale Park South. The CESA was an unarmed vigilante organization set up to protect Catholic areas. The car stopped and then reversed. One of the MRF men opened-fire from the car with a sub-machine gun, killing Catholic civilian Patrick McVeigh (44) and wounding four others.

The car continued on, turned, and then drove past the scene of the shooting. All of the men were local residents and McVeigh, who was shot through the back, had stopped to chat to the CESA members as he walked home. He was a married father of six children. The British Army told journalists that gunmen in a passing car had fired indiscriminately at civilians and called it an “apparently motiveless crime”. The car had come from a Protestant area and had returned the same way. This, together with the British Army statement, implied that loyalists were responsible.

An inquest into the attack was held in December 1972, where it was admitted that the car’s occupants were soldiers belonging to an undercover unit known as the MRF. The soldiers did not appear at the inquest but issued statements to it, claiming they had been shot at by six gunmen and were returning fire. However, eyewitnesses said none of the CESA members were armed and this was supported by forensic evidence. The MRF members involved were never prosecuted.

Former MRF member ‘Simon Cursey’ claimed the unit fired on the men because they included IRA members who were on their ‘wanted’ list. However, there is no evidence that any were in the IRA. An MRF member stated in 1978 that the British Army’s intention was to make it look like a loyalist attack, thus provoking sectarian conflict and “taking the heat off the Army”.

Minutes before the shooting at the checkpoint, two other Catholic civilians had been shot nearby by another MRF team. The two young men—Aidan McAloon and Eugene Devlin—had got a taxi home from a disco and were dropped off at Slievegallion Drive. As they began walking along the street, in the direction of a vigilante barricade, the MRF team opened fire on them from an unmarked car. The MRF team told the Royal Military Police that they had shot a man who was firing a rifle. Witnesses said there was no gunman on the street and police forensics experts found no evidence that McAloon or Devlin had fired weapons.

Two weeks later, on 27 May, Catholic civilian Gerard Duddy (20) was killed in a drive-by shooting at the same spot where Patrick McVeigh was killed. His death was blamed on loyalists.

Killing of Jean Smith

Jean Smith

On the night of 9 June 1972, Catholic civilian Jean Smith (or Smyth) was shot dead on the Glen Road. Jean was a 24-year-old mother of one. She was shot while sitting in the passenger seat of a car at the Glen Road bus terminus. As her male companion turned the car, he heard what he thought was a tyre bursting. When he got out to check, the car was hit by a burst of automatic gunfire. Smith was shot in the head and died shortly after. Her companion stopped a passing taxi and asked the driver to take her to hospital. However, the taxi was then stopped by police and diverted to Andersonstown RUC base, where they were held for several hours.

The security forces blamed the killing on the IRA. In October 1973, however, the Belfast Telegraph published an article suggesting that Smith could have been shot by the MRF. Documents uncovered from the British National Archives reveal that the MRF fired shots in the area that night. They claim to have fired at two gunmen and hit one of them.

The Belfast Telegraph article also suggested that Smith could have been shot by the IRA, who fired on the car thinking it was carrying MRF members. The IRA deny this and claim that it was not in the area at the time of the shooting.

Two weeks after Smith’s killing, the MRF fired on a car at the same spot, wounding four people.

Glen Road shooting

On 22 June 1972, the Provisional IRA announced that it would begin a ceasefire in four days, as a prelude to secret talks with the British Government. That afternoon, MRF members in an unmarked car shot and wounded three Catholic men standing by a car at Glen Road bus terminus. A man in a nearby house was also wounded by the gunfire. Shortly after, the MRF unit’s car was stopped by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and they were arrested. Inside was a Thompson sub-machine gun, “for years the IRA’s favourite weapon”.

One of the MRF members—Clive Graham Williams—was charged with attempted murder. He told the court that two of the men had been armed and one had fired at the MRF car. He claimed he was returning fire. Witnesses said that none of the civilians were armed and that it was an unprovoked attack. Police forensics experts found no evidence that the civilians had fired weapons. However, key witnesses were not called to give evidence in person and Williams was acquitted on 26 June 1973.

He was later promoted and awarded the Military Medal for bravery.

St James’s Crescent shooting

On the night of 27 September 1972, the MRF shot dead Catholic civilian Daniel Rooney and wounded his friend Brendan Brennan. They were shot from a passing car while standing on a street corner at St James’s Crescent, in the Falls district. The British Army told journalists that the two men fired at an undercover patrol and that the patrol returned fire. It further claimed that the two men were IRA members. The IRA, the men’s families, and residents of the area denied this, and Rooney’s name has never appeared on a republican roll of honour. An inquest was held in December 1973. The court was told that forensic tests on the men’s hands and clothing found no firearms residue. The six soldiers involved repeated the British Army’s claim, but they did not appear at the inquest. Their statements were read by a police officer and they were referred to by initials. In 2013, former MRF member ‘Simon Cursey’ again claimed that they were returning fire, but said that only one of the men was armed.

New Lodge Six

There are also allegations that the MRF was involved in a drive-by shooting in the Catholic New Lodge area on 3 February 1973. The car’s occupants opened fire on a group of young people standing outside a pub on Antrim Road, killing IRA members James Sloan and James McCann and wounding others. The gunmen drove on and allegedly fired at another group of people outside a takeaway. In the hours that followed, a further four people—an IRA member and three civilians—were shot dead in the area by British snipers. The dead became known as the “New Lodge Six”.

In June 1973, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association issued advice on how to behave in the event of being “shot by MRF/SAS squads”, saying for example that people should “pretend to be dead until the squad moves away”.

Front companies

The MRF ran a number of front companies in Belfast during the early 1970s. They included Four Square Laundry (a mobile laundry service operating in nationalist West Belfast) and the Gemini massage parlour on Antrim Road.[36]The MRF also had an office at College Square. All were set up to gather intelligence on the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Irish nationalist movement.

A Four Square van visited houses in nationalist West Belfast twice a week to collect and deliver laundry. One “employee” (a young man) drove the van while another (a young woman) collected and delivered the laundry. Both were from Northern Ireland. Four Square initially gathered customers by offering “discount vouchers”, which were numbered and colour-coded by street.

Clothes collected for washing were first forensically checked for traces of explosives, as well as blood or firearms residue. They were also compared to previous laundry loads from the same house—the sudden presence of different-sized clothes could indicate that the house was harbouring an IRA member. Surveillance operatives and equipment were hidden in the back of the van or in a compartment in the roof. Further intelligence was gathered by staff observing and “chatting” to locals whilst collecting their laundry.

Kevin McKee

However, in September 1972 the IRA found that two of its members—Seamus Wright and Kevin McKee—were working for the MRF as double agents. Under interrogation, McKee told the IRA about the MRF’s operations, including the laundry and the massage parlour. The leaders of the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade ordered that the companies immediately be put under surveillance. This surveillance confirmed that McKee’s information was correct.

The IRA later took Wright and McKee to South Armagh, where they were “executed” as spies. Their bodies have not been recovered and were cases considered by the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains.

See: IRA Nutting Squad

October 1972 attacks

Following these revelations, the leaders of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade planned an operation against the MRF, which was to take place on 2 October 1972. The 2nd Battalion would attack the Four Square Laundry van and the office at College Square, while the 3rd Battalion would raid the massage parlour. At about 11:20AM[ on 2 October, IRA volunteers ambushed the Four Square Laundry van in the nationalist Twinbrook area of West Belfast. Four volunteers were involved: one drove the car while three others did the shooting..

They shot dead the driver, an undercover British soldier of the Royal Engineers, and machine-gunned the roof compartment where undercover operatives were thought to be hiding. The other Four Square employee—a female operative from the Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC)—was collecting and delivering laundry from a nearby house at the time. The residents, who thought that loyalists were attacking the van, took her into the house and kept her safe. The woman was later secretly invested at Buckingham Palace with an MBE.

About an hour later, the same IRA unit raided College Square but found nobody there. Meanwhile, a unit of the 3rd Battalion made for the room above the massage parlour, which they believed was being using to gather intelligence. They claimed to have shot three undercover soldiers: two men and a woman. According to some sources, the IRA claimed to have killed two surveillance officers allegedly hidden in the laundry van, and two MRF members at the massage parlour.

However, the British military only confirmed the death of the van driver on that day. Brendan Hughes said that the operation “was a great morale booster for the IRA and for the people that were involved”.

The MRF, realising its undercover operations were blown, disbanded the units and was itself disbanded shortly afterwards.Nevertheless, the incident was believed to have prompted the establishment of a new undercover intelligence unit: the 14 Intelligence Company (also known as “The Det”).

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4th December – Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

Key Events & Deaths on this day in Northern Ireland Troubles

4th December

Wednesday 4 December 1968

Following a civil rights march in Dungannon there was a violent clash between Loyalists and those who were taking part in the march.

Saturday 4 December 1971 McGurk’s Pub Bombing

Fifteen Catholic civilians were killed when Loyalist paramilitaries exploded a bomb at The Tramore Bar, better known as McGurk’s bar, in North Queen Street, north Belfast. The bomb had been planted by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). Four of those killed were women (including the owner’s wife and 14 year old daughter). [This attack was one of the worst single incidents during the Northern Ireland conflict. Only one of the bombers, the driver of the getaway car, was ever convicted. Immediately after the bombing, and for some time later, the security forces and various official sources maintained that the bomb had gone off inside the bar, implying that it was being prepared by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and thus represented an ‘own goal’.]

See McGurk’s Bar Bombing

Tuesday 4 December 1973

Francis Pym, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, held a meeting with Ian Paisley, then leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Paisley stormed out of the meeting having been told that Loyalists would not be invited to participate in the Sunningdale conference but could come to put their point of view. [ Sunningdale. ]

Saturday 4 December 1976

The annual conference of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) debated a motion calling on Britain to declare its intention of withdrawing from Northern Ireland. The motion was defeated by 158 votes to 111.

Sunday 4 December 1983

Undercover soldiers of the Special Air Service (SAS) shot dead two members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) near Coalisland, County Tyrone.

Tuesday 4 December 1984

Douglas Hurd, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, told the Northern Ireland Assembly that Unionists would have move their political position in order to find an accommodation with Nationalists.

Wednesday 4 December 1991

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded a bomb, estimated at 1,200 pounds, in Glengall Street in Belfast. The bomb caused extensive damage to the Grand Opera House which is close to the headquarters of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). Peter Brooke, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, again met the leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland to try to begin all-party talks. John Major, then British Prime Minister, travelled to Dublin, Republic of Ireland, to meet with Charles Haughey, then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister). This was the first visit by a British Prime Minister since 1980. The two leaders agreed to hold biannual meetings.

Friday 4 December 1992

John May (Sir), previously a Court of Appeal judge, published a report into the wrongful convictions of the Maguire family (‘Maguire seven’). The May Report called for the establishment of a review tribunal to look into cases of alleged miscarriages of justice.

Monday 4 December 1995

The home of a Catholic family in west Belfast, which faced a Protest housing estate, was attacked by Loyalists for the 56th time in nine years. John Hume, then leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), and David Trimble, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), led their respective parties in political talks in Belfast.

Wednesday 4 December 1996

Two Catholic families were forced to leave their homes in the mainly Protestant Ballykeel Estate, Ballymena, after petrol bomb attacks on their houses. David Ervine, then leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP), said that he would support Catholics trying to get to mass at Harryville, Ballymena. [Ervine did not appear at Harryville but suggested that there should be dialogue instead of confrontation.]

Thursday 4 December 1997

Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF), and Martin McGuinness, then Vice-President of Sinn Féin (SF), held a meeting with the Speaker of the House of Commons. The Speaker refused their request for office facilities because they had not taken their seats as this would have involved taking the Oath of allegiance to the Queen. Pearse McCauley (32) was charged in a court in Dublin with the capital murder of Gerry McCabe, then a Detective in the Garda Síochána (the Irish police), in Adare on 7 June 1996.

Saturday 4 December 1999

The interlocutor appointed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) held a meeting with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) at an undisclosed location. Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF), welcomed the meeting and called for reductions in the number of British troops in Northern Ireland. A man from Lurgan, County Armagh, was charged with the murder of Elizabeth O’Neill in Portadown on 5 June 1999. The annual Lundy’s Day parade held by the Apprentice Boys of Derry (ABD) passed off without serious trouble.

Monday 4 December 2000

John Hume, then leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), stepped down as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) at Stormont. Hume was then a Member of Parliament (MP) and a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and said that he needed to reduce his workload.

Tuesday 4 December 2001

The British Army defused a bomb (estimated at 35 kilograms of home-made explosives) which was found under a railway line at Killeen Bridge near Newry, County Down, close to the border with the Republic of Ireland. The operation brought a six-day security alert in the area to an end. The track between Newry and Dundalk, County Louth, Republic of Ireland, had been closed since Thursday 29 November 2001 after police had received a number of telephoned bomb warnings

. A man was beaten in a paramilitary ‘punishment’ attack close to the Conlig reservoir near Bangor, Conuty Down, at approximately 9.30pm (2130GMT). The man had been abducted earlier in Bangor and driven to the reservoir where he was beaten with baseball bats and sticks. He was later taken to hospital with a broken ankle, broken finger, and other injuries to his body and arms.

A memorial was unveiled in north Belfast to mark the 30th anniversary of a Loyalist paramilitary bombing in which 15 men, women, and children, died. The bomb had been planted by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) at The Tramore Bar (McGurk’s bar) in North Queen Street on Saturday 4 December 1971.

[Only one of the bombers, the driver of the getaway car, was ever convicted. Immediately after the bombing, and for some time later, the security forces and various official sources maintained that the bomb had gone off inside the bar indicating that it was being prepared by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and thus represented an ‘own goal’.]

See McGurk’s Bar Bombing

Bairbre de Brún (SF), then Minister of Health, announced additional funding of £250,000 to try to reduce teenage pregnancies in Northern Ireland. The region has one of the highest rates in Europe. In 1995, there were 1,434 pregnancies to teenagers in the province, but this figure rose to 1,795 in 1999. The money was to be spent on projects that support action on teenage pregnancy.

Tom Constantine, then Oversight Commissioner for Policing Reform, said that there had been an excellent start to the reforms of the police service but that he had concerns about a lack of progress in some areas. Constantine was appointed to oversee the implementation of the changes which are required to transform the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) into the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Jane Morrice (NIWC), then deputy speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, introduced a motion calling for the Euro to be given dual currency status in Northern Ireland because of its land border with the Republic of Ireland. The Euro is due to be introduced into the Republic on 1 January 2002. The Assembly did not support the motion.

It was disclosed that Peter Mandelson, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, had written an article for the January 2001 issue of ‘GQ’ magazine in which he stated that the British government had “no stomach” to fight the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He also said that Gerry Adams, then President of Sinn Féin (SF), could see a United Ireland in his lifetime.

[Later John Reid, then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, dismissed the views and said that there was nothing inevitable about a change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.]

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Remembering all innocent victims of the Troubles

Today is the anniversary of the death of the following  people killed as a results of the conflict in Northern Ireland

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die

– Thomas Campbell

To the innocent on the list – Your memory will live  forever

– To  the Paramilitaries  –

There are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for.

18  People lost their lives on the 4th December  between 1971 – 1983

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See McGurk’s Bar Bombing

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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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04 December 1972


Bernard Fox, (16)

Catholic
Status: Irish Republican Army Youth Section (IRAF),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot while standing at the junction of Brompton Park and Crumlin Road, Ardoyne, Belfast

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04 December 1983
Colm McGirr,  (23)

Catholic
Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot by undercover British Army (BA) members, while walking across field towards arms cache, off Cloghog Road, near Coalisland, County Tyrone.

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04 December 1983


Brian Campbell, (19)

Catholic
Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: British Army (BA)
Shot by undercover British Army (BA) members, while walking across field towards arms cache, off Cloghog Road, near Coalisland, County Tyrone.

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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