Tag Archives: Operation Motorman

The Claudy Bombing – IRA Priest Murders 9 Innocent People With Bomb In Claudy

The Claudy Bombing

The Claudy bombing occurred on 31 July 1972, when three car bombs exploded mid-morning on the Main Street of Claudy in County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The attack killed nine civilians, and became known as “Bloody Monday”.[1] Those who planted the bombs had attempted to send a warning before the explosions took place. The warning was delayed, however, because the telephones were out of order due to an earlier bomb attack.[2] The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) issued an immediate denial of responsibility,[2][3] and later claimed that “an internal court of inquiry” had found that its local unit did not carry out the attack.[4]

claudy news paper headline

Claudy Bomb IRA Victims

On 24 August 2010, following an eight-year investigation, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland published a report into the bombing, which stated that the Royal Ulster Constabulary believed in the early 1970s that Father James Chesney, a local Roman Catholic priest, was the IRA’s quartermaster and Director of Operations of the South Derry Brigade.[5] The report found that the possibility of his involvement in activities including the Claudy bombing was covered up by senior police officers, government ministers and the Roman Catholic hierarchy.[6]

On the 40th anniversary of the bombing, former Provisional IRA leader Martin McGuinness described the events of that day as “appalling and indefensible” and “inflicted on totally innocent people”[7]

On 31 July 1972 at about 4:00 am,[8] the British Army had begun Operation Motorman. This was an operation to regain control of the “no-go areas” (areas controlled by Irish republican paramilitaries) that had been established in Belfast[9] and Derry. The bombing of Claudy may have been a response to this operation.[2]

Shortly before 10:00 am, three car bombs were placed in the centre of the village, which was busy with shoppers at the time. Initial police investigations found that a car was seen travelling from Claudy at 10:00. It had stopped at the nearby village of Feeny, where a passenger tried to use the public telephone box, which was out-of-order. The car then travelled to Dungiven where it stopped on the Main Street. Two men got out and went into separate shops to use the telephones, which were also out of order following a bomb attack at the local telephone exchange. The men then asked the shop assistants to tell the police at Dungiven that there were three bombs in Claudy, but by this time the first bomb had already detonated.[10]

The first bomb, hidden inside a stolen Ford Cortina, exploded at 10:15 outside McElhinney’s bar and store on Main Street.[10] Six people were killed by this bomb; among the dead were an eight-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy.[11] A second bomb, hidden inside a stolen Morris Mini Van parked outside the post office on Main Street,[10] was spotted by a police officer, who then began directing people away from the area towards Church Street. At 10:30, a bomb hidden inside a stolen Mini Van detonated outside the Beaufort Hotel on Church Street.[10] The bomb outside the post office exploded almost simultaneously, killing three people, including a 16-year-old boy injured in the first blast.[11]

Victims

Elizabeth McElhinney

Elizabeth was serving petrol at a pump outside McElhinney’s pub on Main Street when the first car bomb exploded nearby.

The 59-year-old nurse was killed instantly.

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Joseph McCloskey

Joseph McCluskey

Joseph, 39, was also killed instantly in the first explosion.

A father of seven, he had taken his four-year-old son into the village to buy a newspaper.

His son survived the explosion

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Kathryn Eakin

Kathryn Eakin

Eight-year-old Kathryn was cleaning the windows of her family’s shop when the first bomb went off. She died instantly.

Her mother, Merle, saw a bomber leave what would be the second bomb beside their shop, not knowing what horror it would bring to her family.

“When he stepped out of that car, he saw Kathryn standing at that window,” she said.

“He should have shouted at her. But he didn’t, he just walked away.”

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Rose McLaughlin

Rose McLaughlin

Rose was injured in the first explosion. The 52-year-old mother of eight died three days later on 3 August.

She owned a shop on Main Street and was hit by shrapnel while talking to a customer.

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Joseph  ( Patrick ) Connolly

Fifteen-year-old Patrick, who was in Rose McLaughlin’s shop, was injured by flying metal from the first explosion.

He was flown to Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry, but died eight days later on 8 August.

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Arthur Hone

Arthur Hone

Arthur was the final person to die as a result of the first bomb. The 38-year-old father of two died from his injuries on 13 August.

A keen musician who worked in Londonderry, he had stayed at home that day.

He was hit by shrapnel as he stood in Elizabeth McElhinney’s shop.

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David Miller

David Miller

David died when the third bomb outside the Beaufort Hotel exploded. He was 60-years-old.

He had helped the injured after the first explosion, but when the second device was discovered by police he, along with many others, was directed into the path of the third explosion.

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James McClelland

Sixty-five-year-old James was also instantly killed as the third bomb exploded. He too had been helping the injured aftert he first explosion

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William Temple

William Temple

William, 16, had travelled to Claudy from Donemana in County Tyrone. He was a milkman’s helper and his round included the village.

He had been injured by the first explosion, but was killed instantly in the third.

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Investigations

RUC investigation

The Derry Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army denied involvement at the time of the attack.[2] Derry politician Ivan Cooper (of the Social Democratic and Labour Party), however, claimed in 2002 that the IRA and Father James Chesney (a Catholic priest from the nearby parish of Desertmartin) were involved in the attack. Cooper stated:

Within a couple of days, a man lurked like a scared rabbit outside one of my constituency offices. He told me the IRA was behind the bomb and I had every reason to believe him. He gave no names and I asked no names. That is the way it was then. It was dangerous to know too much. But several months later, I became aware of the identities and I have absolutely no doubt that Father Jim Chesney was involved.[2]

The type and colour of car used by those who gave the bomb warning were rare in Northern Ireland at that time. In the first week of August 1972, the RUC arrested a suspect (called “Man A”) who owned a similar car. He provided an alibi, however, that he had been at Chesney’s home in Bellaghy at the time. Chesney and another person corroborated the man’s alibi and he was released after being questioned. According to the Ombudsman’s report, when Chesney was stopped at a police checkpoint in September 1972, a sniffer dog found traces of explosives in his car. The police officers involved in the original police investigation suspected the following:

  • that the alibi had been prepared beforehand;
  • that “Man A” was an IRA member and had played a key role in the bombing; and
  • that Chesney was the quartermaster and “director of operations” for the South Derry IRA and had also been involved in the bombing.

In October 1972, police intelligence alleged that Chesney had formed an “independent group of the IRA”.

Some time after the bombing, Chesney was questioned by the then Bishop of Derry Neil Farren, and later again by Farren’s successor Bishop Edward Daly. At both times, Chesney denied any involvement. Chesney served in the parish of Cullion from July 1972 until November 1972. He was then hospitalised and spent a period of recovery in County Donegal. In December 1973, he was transferred to the parish of Convoy in County Donegal. Although he often crossed the border into Northern Ireland, he was never arrested and never faced a police interview.

A 2004 loyalist mural on Lower Newtownards Road in Belfast making reference to the bombing. It shows a priest wearing a balaclava and holding a bomb.

[12]

PSNI investigation

No person was arrested for the bombings at the time, but following calls for a new inquiry, a fresh investigation was started by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in 2002. As part of the investigation, the police uncovered documents showing that the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Willie Whitelaw discussed Chesney’s involvement with Cardinal William Conway. The actions of two other Catholic priests, Patrick Fell and John Burns, were also examined.[13]

On 30 November 2005, the PSNI detained four people in connection with the bombing.[14] They were, however, released without charge the next day and denied involvement.[15] Among those arrested was the then Sinn Féin MLA Francie Brolly,[16] who subsequently secured an out-of-court settlement in a legal action against the police.

Police Ombudsman report

On 24 August 2010, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland published a report into the bombing which concluded that the British government and the Roman Catholic Church had conspired to cover up Chesney’s alleged involvement.[17] The report stated:

The arrest of a priest in connection with such an emotive atrocity at a time when sectarian killings in Northern Ireland were out of control and the province stood on the brink of civil war was feared, by senior politicians, as likely to destabilise the security situation even further. A deal was therefore arranged behind closed doors to remove Fr Chesney from the province without provoking sectarian fury.[17]

According to the report by Al Hutchinson, the Police Ombudsman,

The RUC’s decision to ask the government to resolve the matter with the Church and then accept the outcome, was wrong. The decision failed those who were murdered, injured and bereaved in the bombing. The police officers who were working on the investigation were also undermined. I accept that 1972 was one of the worst years of the Troubles and that the arrest of a priest might well have aggravated the security situation. Equally, I consider that the police failure to investigate someone they suspected of involvement in acts of terrorism could, in itself, have had serious consequences.[18]

The report found the following:

  • Detectives believed Father Chesney was the IRA’s director of operations in southern County Londonderry and was a prime suspect in the Claudy attack and other paramilitary incidents.[18]
  • A detective’s request to arrest Chesney was refused by an Assistant Chief Constable of RUC Special Branch who instead said that “matters are in hand”.[18]
  • The same senior officer wrote to the government about what action could be taken to “render harmless a dangerous priest” and asked if the matter could be raised with the Church’s hierarchy.[18]
  • In December 1972, William Whitelaw met the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal William Conway, to discuss the issue. According to a Northern Ireland Office official, “the Cardinal said he knew the priest was ‘a very bad man’ and would see what could be done”. The church leader mentioned “the possibility of transferring him to Donegal”. In response to this memo, RUC Chief Constable Sir Graham Shillington noted: “I would prefer transfer to Tipperary.”[18]
  • An entry in Cardinal Conway’s diary on 4 December 1972 confirmed that a meeting with Whitelaw had taken place and stated that there had been “a rather disturbing tete-a-tete at the end about C”.[18]
  • In another diary entry two months later, the Cardinal noted that he had discussed the issue with Father Chesney’s superior and that the superior “had given him orders to stay where he was, on sick leave, until further notice”.[18]

Whitelaw died in 1999, Cardinal Conway in 1977, Sir Graham in 2001 and Father Chesney (aged 46) in 1980.[18]

Memorial

Claudy bombing memorial statue by Elizabeth McLaughlin

A memorial to those killed and injured by the bombing was erected on Claudy’s Main Street in 2000, consisting of a bronze figure of a kneeling girl, created by sculptor Elizabeth McLaughlin, mounted on a stone plinth. A number of plaques commemorating the victims are affixed to the wall enclosing the statue.[19] The statue was damaged on 20 October 2006 when vandals knocked it from the plinth.[20

31st July Deaths & Events in Northern Ireland Troubles

31st  July

Key Events & Deaths on this day in Northern Ireland Troubles Claudy Bomb

Monday 31 July 1972 ‘Operation Motorman

Prior to the military operation 4,000 extra troops were brought into Northern Ireland to take part in the dismantling of barricades on the boundaries of ‘no-go’ areas.

It turned out to be the biggest British military operation since the Suez crisis. Some 12,000 British troops supported by tanks and bulldozers smashed through the barricades. Two people, a Catholic teenager and a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), were shot by the British Army during the operation in Derry.

The number of house searches and the number of Catholics interned were to increase over the coming months.

Claudy Bomb

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) exploded three car bombs in Claudy, County Derry killing six people instantly while a further three people died of their injuries over the next 12 days. Five of those who were killed were Catholic civilians while the other four were Protestant civilians.

The first bomb exploded at approximately 10.15am close to McElhinney’s Bar on Main Street, Claudy. Three people died at the scene. At approximately 10.30am there were two further bomb explosions.

The first was outside the Beaufort Hotel, Church Street – three people were killed by the explosion.

The last bomb exploded outside the Post Office on Main Street. This bomb had been spotted earlier by a police officer and a member of the public. No one was killed by this bomb but some of the people cleared from Main Street had moved around the corner to Church Street and were caught in the blast outside the Beaufort Hotel.

Claudy Bomb Victims

See Claudy Bombing

Tuesday 31 July 1973

First Assembly Meeting The new Northern Ireland Assembly met for the first time amid noisy scenes of protest.

Thursday 31 July 1975

Miami Showband Killings / ‘Miami Massacre

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) carried out a gun and bomb attack on the members of the Miami Showband. Three members of the band were killed and one seriously injured during the attack. Two members of the UVF gang were also killed when a bomb they were handling exploded prematurely. The Miami Showband had been playing at ‘The Castle Ballroom’ in Banbridge, Count Down.

Five members of the band left in their minibus and travelled south on the main dual-carriageway. The minibus was stopped by what appeared to be a Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) checkpoint at Buskhill, near Newry. However the checkpoint was bogus and was being operated by approximately 10 members of the UVF – at least four of whom were also members of the UDR.

The members of the band were ordered out of the van and told to line up by the side of the road. Two UVF men then planted a bomb into the van.

The bomb exploded prematurely killing the two UVF members. At this point the other UVF members opened fire on the band musicans. Francis (Fran) O’Toole (29), the lead singer with band and famous for his good looks, was shot 22 times in the face while he lay on his back on the ground. Two other band members Anthony Geraghty (23), who was shot four times in the back, and Brian McCoy (33), shot nine times, both died at the scene.

Another member of the group was shot with a ‘dum-dum’ bullet and seriously injured but survived. The two UVF men who died were Harris Boyle (22) and Wesley Somerville (34); both were also members of the UDR. [There was speculation after the event that the UVF had tried to hide the bomb on the minibus with the intention of the bomb exploding after the members of the van had resumed their journey. It would then have been claimed that the members of the band were transporting explosives on behalf of the IRA.

In 1976 two members of the UDR were sentenced to prison for their part in the attack. They received life sentences but were later released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement

The HET report found that Robin Jackson (aka ‘the Jackal’), a leading mid-Ulster member of the UVF, had been linked by fingerprints to one of the weapons used. Jackson later claimed in police interviews he had been tipped off by a senior RUC officer to lie low after the killings. RUC headquarters was told about this claim, but no action was taken. The HET report said that Jackson claimed that he was told that his fingerprints had been found on a silencer attached to a Luger pistol used in the murders. The HET said the murders raised “disturbing questions about collusive and corrupt behave.

See Miami Showband Killings

Sunday 31 July 1994

Two UDA Men Killed by IRA

Joe Bratty

Joe Bratty (33) and Raymond Elder (32), both members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), were shot and killed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) while they were walking along Ormeau Road, Ballynafeigh, Belfast.

Thursday 31 July 1997

A bomb, estimated at between 500 and 1,000 pounds, was left by the Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA) in the grounds of Carrybridge Hotel, near Lisballaw, County Fermanagh. The British Army defused the bomb.

The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) announced that it would carry out a review of the electoral system in the region following numerous allegations of fraud during both the last general election and local government elections

The NIO also announced that Andy Wood, who had been chief Press Officer at the NIO for 14 years, was resigning. In the House of Commons it was revealed that David Fell, then head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, would be given £1,000,000 in a lump sum retirement settlement together with £42,188 per annum for six years. iour”.

Friday 31 July 1992

Channel 4 and Box Productions were fined £75,000 in the High Court in London for failing to reveal the source of information for a programme entitled ‘The Committee’ broadcast on 2 October 1991.

The programme claimed that there was an ‘inner circle’ in the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) which was colluding with Loyalist paramilitaries in the killing of Catholics.

A subsequent book on the controversy, also entitled ‘The Committee’, was not released in the United Kingdom (UK) by the American publishers who feared libel proceedings

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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.

24 People lost their lives on the 31st of   July between 1970– 1994

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31 July 1970

Daniel O’Hagan,  (19)

Catholic

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: British Army (BA)

Shot during street disturbances, New Lodge Road, Belfast.

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    31 July 1972

 Daniel Hegarty, (15)

Catholic

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: British Army (BA)

Shot while walking along Creggan Heights, Creggan, Derry.

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   31 July 1972

Seamus Bradley,  (19)

Catholic

Status: Irish Republican Army (IRA),

Killed by: British Army (BA)

Shot, Bligh’s Lane, Creggan, Derry.

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    31 July 1972

 Kathryn Eakin,   (8) Protestant

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Killed when car bomb exploded outside McElhinney’s Bar, Main Street, Claudy, County Derry. Inadequate warning given.

See Claudy Bombing

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   31 July 1972

 Elizabeth McElhinney, (59)

Catholic

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Killed when car bomb exploded outside McElhinney’s Bar, Main Street, Claudy, County Derry. Inadequate warning given.

See Claudy Bombing

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   31 July 1972

 Joseph McCloskey  (38) Catholic

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Killed when car bomb exploded outside McElhinney’s Bar, Main Street, Claudy, County Derry. Inadequate warning given.

See Claudy Bombing

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    31 July 1972

Rose  McLaughlin,   (52) Catholic

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Injured when car bomb exploded outside McElhinney’s Bar, Main Street, Claudy, County Derry. She died 3 August 1972. Inadequate warning given.

See Claudy Bombing

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   31 July 1972

 Joseph Connolly,   (15)

Catholic

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Injured when car bomb exploded outside McElhinney’s Bar, Main Street, Claudy, County Derry. He died 8 August 1972. Inadequate warning given.

See Claudy Bombing

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   31 July 1972

Arthur  Hone,  (38) Catholic

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Injured when car bomb exploded outside McElhinney’s Bar, Main Street, Claudy, County Derry. He died 12 August 1972. Inadequate warning given.

See Claudy Bombing

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   31 July 1972

 James McClelland,  (65)

Protestant

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Killed when car bomb exploded outside Beaufort Hotel, Church Street, Claudy, County Derry. Inadequate warning given.

See Claudy Bombing

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    31 July 1972

 David  Miller (60)

Protestant

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Killed when car bomb exploded outside Beaufort Hotel, Church Street, Claudy, County Derry. Inadequate warning given.

See Claudy Bombing

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   31 July 1972

William  Temple, (16)

Protestant

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Killed when car bomb exploded outside Beaufort Hotel, Church Street, Claudy, County Derry. Inadequate warning given.

See Claudy Bombing

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  31 July 1975

Fran O’Toole,   (27) nfNI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)

Member of Miami showband. Shot shortly after their minibus was stopped at bogus vehicle check point, Buskhill, near Newry, County Down.

See Miami Showband Killings

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   31 July 1975

Brian  McCoy, 33)

Protestant

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)

Member of Miami showband. Shot shortly after their minibus was stopped at bogus vehicle check point, Buskhill, near Newry, County Down.

See Miami Showband Killings

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   31 July 1975

 Tony Geraghty  (23) nfNI

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)

Member of Miami showband. Shot shortly after their minibus was stopped at bogus vehicle check point, Buskhill, near Newry, County Down.

See Miami Showband Killings

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   31 July 1975

 Harris  Boyle,  (22)

Protestant

Status: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)

Also Ulster Defence Regiment member. Killed in premature explosion while planting bomb on minibus belonging to Miami showband, Buskhill, near Newry, County Down.

See Miami Showband Killings

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   31 July 1975

  Wesley Somerville  (34)

Protestant

Status: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF),

Killed by: Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)

Also Ulster Defence Regiment member. Killed in premature explosion while planting bomb on minibus belonging to Miami showband, Buskhill, near Newry, County Down.

See Miami Showband Killings

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   31 July 1976

 Thomas Cush,   (52)

Protestant

Status: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Shot by sniper while standing at security barrier, Church Street, Lurgan, County Armagh.

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  31 July 1979

 George  Walsh,   (51)

Protestant

Status: Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC),

Killed by: Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)

Shot from passing car while sitting in stationary car, outside Armagh Courthouse, Armagh.

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   31 July 1981

Thomas  Harpur,   (30)

Protestant

Status: ex-Royal Ulster Constabulary (xRUC),

Killed by: Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)

Shot while visiting friend’s home, Mount Sion, Ballycolman, Strabane, County Tyrone.

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   31 July 1981

 Peter  Doherty (36)

Catholic

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: British Army (BA)

Shot by plastic bullet at his home, Divis Flats, Belfast.

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    31 July 1990

 John Judge,  (34)

Catholic

Status: Civilian (Civ),

Killed by: Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF)

Shot outside his home, Valleyside Close, off Springfield Road, Belfast.

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   31 July 1994

 Joe  Bratty,   (33)

Protestant

Status: Ulster Defence Association (UDA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Shot, while walking along Ormeau Road, Ballynafeigh, Belfast.

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   31 July 1994

Raymond  Elder,   (32)

Protestant

Status: Ulster Defence Association (UDA),

Killed by: Irish Republican Army (IRA)

Shot, while walking along Ormeau Road, Ballynafeigh, Belfast.

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Bloody Friday Background & Documentary – 21st July 1972

.Bloody Friday is the name given to the bombings by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Belfast on 21 July 1972. Twenty-six bombs exploded in the space of eighty minutes, killing nine people (including two British soldiers) and injuring 130. The majority of these were car bombs, driven to their detonation sites that same day.

Attack type
26 bombs
Deaths 9
Non-fatal injuries
130
Perpetrator Provisional IRA (Belfast Brigade)

Bloody Friday is the name given to the bombings by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Belfast on 21 July 1972. Twenty-six bombs exploded in the space of eighty minutes, killing nine people (including two British soldiers) and injuring 130. The majority of these were car bombs, driven to their detonation sites that same day.

The bombings were partly a response to the breakdown of talks between the IRA and the British government. Since the beginning of its campaign in 1969, the IRA had carried out a concerted bombing campaign against economic, military and political targets in Northern Ireland.

It carried out a total of 1,300 bombings in 1972. Bloody Friday was the spur for Operation Motorman, launched by the British Army ten days later.

– Disclaimer – 

The views and opinions expressed

in this documentary/ies /post/s 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 an inaccuracies or factual errors .

I am a pacifist and abhor all violence , but I am also proud of my Protestant heritage and culture and our right to remain part of the United Kingdom. Don’t mean I hate Catholics or wish any harm on them , it simply means I’m a peace loving loyalist that is happy with the statue quo. 

Just Saying

Overview

In late June and early July 1972, a British government delegation led by William Whitelaw held secret talks with the Provisional IRA leadership. As part of the talks, the IRA agreed to a temporary ceasefire beginning on 26 June. The IRA leaders sought a peace settlement that included a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland by 1975 and the release of republican prisoners. However, the British refused and the talks broke down.

The ceasefire came to an end on 9 July. It is also speculated the the bombings were in response to the shooting deaths of innocent Catholic Civil rights marchers on 30 January 1972 known as Bloody Sunday.

“Bloody Friday” was the IRA’s response to the breakdown of the talks. According to the IRA’s Chief of Staff, Seán Mac Stíofáin, the main goal of the bombing operation was to wreak financial harm. It was a

“message to the British government that the IRA could and would make a commercial desert of the city unless its demands were met”.

Some also saw it as a reprisal for Bloody Sunday in Derry six months earlier. The attack was carried out by the IRA’s Belfast Brigade and the main organiser was Brendan Hughes, the brigade’s Officer CommandingA total of 26 bombs were planted and, in the resulting explosions, eleven people were killed and a further 130 civilians injured, many horrifically mutilated.

At the height of the bombing, the middle of Belfast

“resembled a city under artillery fire; clouds of suffocating smoke enveloped buildings as one explosion followed another, almost drowning out the hysterical screams of panicked shoppers”.

Of those injured, 77 were women and children.

The Belfast Brigade claimed responsibility for the bombings and said that it had given warnings to the security forces (through the local media) before the bombs exploded. It said that the press, the Samaritans and the Public Protection Agency “were informed of bomb positions at least 30 minutes to one hour before each explosion”.

Mac Stíofáin said that

“It required only one man with a loud hailer to clear each target area in no time” and alleged that the warnings for the two bombs that claimed lives were deliberately ignored by the British for “strategic policy reasons”.

The security forces also received hoax warnings, which “added to the chaos in the streets”. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army only effectively cleared a small number of areas before the bombs went off. Furthermore, because of the large number of bombs in the confined area of Belfast city centre, people evacuated from the site of one bomb were mistakenly moved into the vicinity of other bombs.

Thirty years after the attack the IRA formally apologised for harming civilians.

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Bloody Friday Documentary

This excellent production from BBC NI was shown to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Bloody Friday. Bloody Friday is the name given to the bombings by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Belfast on 21 July 1972. Twenty-two bombs exploded in the space of eighty minutes, killing nine people (including two British soldiers) and injuring 130.

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Timeline

The accounts of the events that appeared in the first editions of local and national newspapers were, naturally enough, somewhat confused about the details of the events of the day. The timetable below is approximate and given in BST (GMT+1). The details are based on a number of accounts.

  • ~2:10 pm (Smithfield Bus Station)

A car bomb exploded in an enclosed yard at Smithfield Bus Station, causing extensive damage to the surrounding area.

  • ~2:16 pm (Brookvale Hotel)

A bomb (estimated at 50 pounds (23 kg) of explosive) exploded at the Brookvale Hotel on Brookvale Avenue. The bomb was left in a suitcase by three men armed with sub-machine guns. The area had been cleared and there were no injuries.

Some sources give the time of this bombing as 2:36 pm.

A suitcase bomb (estimated at 30 pounds (14 kg) of explosive) exploded on the platform, wrecking the inside of the station and blowing the roof off. Some sources give the time of this bombing as 3:03 pm.

A car bomb exploded at the Star Taxis depot on Crumlin Road. Nearby were the houses of the Crumlin Road Prison warders and the prison itself.

Some sources say that there were two bombs and that they exploded at 3:25 pm.

Aftermath of the Oxford Street bomb showing the body of one of the victims being shovelled into a bag

  • ~2:48 pm (Bus depot, Oxford Street)

A carbomb exploded outside the Ulsterbus depot on Oxford Street, the busiest bus station in Northern Ireland. An Austin 1100 saloon car loaded with explosives had been driven to the rear of the depot. The blast resulted in the greatest loss of life and the greatest number of casualties. Some of the victims’ bodies were torn to pieces by the blast, which led authorities to give an initial estimate of 11 deaths.

The area was being cleared but was still crowded when the bomb exploded. Two British Army soldiers, Stephen Cooper (19) and Philip Price (27), were near the bomb when it detonated and were killed outright. Three Protestant civilians who worked for Ulsterbus were killed: William Crothers (15), Thomas Killops (39) and Jackie Gibson (45). One other Protestant Ulsterbus employee, who was a member of the Ulster Defence Association, was also killed in the blast: William Irvine (18).

Crothers, Killops and Irvine had been in the vicinity of the car bomb helping to search for the device at the moment it exploded, killing the three men instantly. Bus driver Jackie Gibson was killed after having completed his bus route just minutes before the blast. Almost 40 people suffered injuries. Some sources give the time of this bombing as 3:10 pm.

A van bomb exploded in the station’s bus yard. Four buses were wrecked and 44 others damaged. The nearby Murray’s Tobacco Factory in Sandy Row was also damaged.

  • ~2:50 pm (Ulster Bank, Limestone Road)

A car bomb (estimated at 50 pounds (23 kg) of explosive) exploded outside the Ulster Bank on Limestone Road. The area had not been cleared and there were several injuries.[1] Some sources give the time of this bombing as 2:40 pm.

A car bomb (estimated at 50 pounds (23 kg) of explosive) exploded outside the station. There was much damage to property but no serious injuries.

A car bomb (estimated at 160 pounds (73 kg) of explosive)[13] exploded on the Queen Elizabeth Bridge. There was some damage to the structure of the bridge.[1]

  • ~2:57 pm (Liverpool ferry terminus, Donegall Quay)

A car bomb (estimated at 50 pounds (23 kg) of explosive) exploded at the Belfast–Liverpool ferry terminus at Donegall Quay. The nearby Liverpool Bar was badly damaged.

  • ~2:57 pm (Gas Department offices, Ormeau Avenue)

A car bomb (estimated at 50 pounds (23 kg) of explosive) exploded outside the offices of the Gas Department, causing extensive damage.

  • ~2:59 pm (Garmoyle Street)

A parcel bomb, which had been planted by armed men, exploded at the premises of John Irwin seed merchants. The building was wrecked.

  • ~3:02 pm (Agnes Street)

A car bomb (estimated at 30 pounds (14 kg) of explosive) exploded outside a group of houses on Agnes Street, a loyalist area off the Shankill Road. Those in the area did not receive a warning but there were no serious injuries.

  • ~3:04 pm (M2 motorway bridge, Bellevue)

A car bomb (estimated at 30 pounds (14 kg) of explosive) partially exploded on the bridge over the M2 motorway at Bellevue in north Belfast. As the bomb only partially detonated, nearby buildings were not damaged.

  • ~3:05 pm (Filling station, Upper Lisburn Road)

A car bomb exploded at Creighton’s filling station, setting the petrol pumps ablaze.

  • ~3:05 pm (Electricity substation, Salisbury Avenue)

A car bomb exploded at an electrical substation at the junction of Salisbury Avenue and Hughenden Avenue. The substation and surrounding houses were badly damaged.

  • ~3:05 pm (Railway bridge, Finaghy Road North)

A lorry bomb exploded on a railway bridge at Finaghy Road North.

A bomb (estimated at 30 pounds (14 kg) of explosive) exploded on a footbridge over the railway at Windsor Park football grounds. Concrete sleepers were blown on to the line, blocking it.[1] Some sources give the time of this bombing as 2:09 pm.

  • ~3:12 pm (Eastwood’s Garage, Donegall Street)

A car bomb (estimated at 150 pounds (68 kg) of explosive) destroyed Eastwood’s Garage on Donegall Street.[17] There were several injuries.

  • ~3:15 pm (Stewartstown Road)

A bomb, thought to have been abandoned on the Stewartstown Road, exploded but caused no serious injuries.

  • ~3:15 pm (Cavehill Road)

A car bomb (estimated at 50 pounds (23 kg) of explosive) exploded outside a row of single storey shops near the top of Cavehill Road, north Belfast. The shops were in a religiously-mixed residential area. Those in the area had not received the bomb warning. Two women and a man died in this blast. Margaret O’Hare (37), a Catholic mother of seven children, died in her car.

Her 11-year-old daughter was with her in her car and was badly injured. Catholic Brigid Murray (65) and Protestant teenager Stephen Parker (14) were also killed. Many others were seriously injured. Stephen Parker’s father, the Rev. Joseph Parker, was only able to identify his son’s body at the mortuary by the box of trick matches in his pocket, and the shirt and scout belt he had been wearing. Some sources give the time of this bombing as 3:20 pm.

  • ~3:25 pm (Railway line near Lisburn Road)

A bomb exploded on the railway line near the Lisburn Road.

  • ~3:30 pm (Grosvenor Road)

A bomb (estimated at 50 pounds (23 kg) of explosive) exploded at the Northern Ireland Carriers depot on Grosvenor Road. There were no serious injuries.

Reactions and consequences

According to former RUC officer Jack Dale a large group of people in the republican Markets area had

“jeered and shouted and yelled” as if each explosion was “a good thing”.

Speaking in the House of Commons on 24 July, Home Secretary William Whitelaw called the bombings:

“appallingly bloodthirsty”.

He also drew attention to the Catholic victims, and mentioned the revulsion in the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere. Leader of the Opposition Harold Wilson described the events as “a shocking crime against an already innocent population”.

The Irish Times wrote,

“The chief injury is not to the British Army, to the Establishment or to big business but to the plain people of Belfast and Ireland. Anyone who supports violence from any side after yesterday’s events is sick with the same affliction as those who did the deed.”

Television images of fire-fighters shovelling body parts into plastic bags at the Oxford Street bus station were the most shocking of the day.

Twenty-five years later, a police officer who had been at Oxford Street bus station described to journalist Peter Taylor the scene he came upon in the wake of the bombing:

“The first thing that caught my eye was a torso of a human being lying in the middle of the street. It was recognisable as a torso because the clothes had been blown off and you could actually see parts of the human anatomy. One of the victims was a soldier I knew personally.

He’d had his arms and legs blown off and some of his body had been blown through the railings. One of the most horrendous memories for me was seeing a head stuck to the wall. A couple of days later, we found vertebrae and a rib cage on the roof of a nearby building. The reason we found it was because the seagulls were diving onto it. I’ve tried to put it at the back of my mind for twenty-five years.”

In 1972, 479 people died in the Troubles, more than in any other year of the conflict. Ten days after the bombings the British Army launched Operation Motorman, to retake IRA-controlled areas in Belfast and Derry. There were also several revenge attacks by loyalists.

The City of Belfast Youth Orchestra set up a Stephen Parker Memorial Trust in memory of teenager Stephen Parker, who had been a music student and played the French Horn in the orchestra at the time he was killed. Stephen had also been posthumously awarded the Queen’s Commendation for bravery as he had died while trying to warn others about the car bomb left outside the row of shops on Cavehill Road.

Irish republican reaction

For the IRA, and the Belfast Brigade in particular, it was “an operation gone awry”. Brendan Hughes, Officer Commanding of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade, viewed the attack as a disaster. He described his reaction in an interview organised by Boston College:

“I was the operational commander of the ‘Bloody Friday’ operation. I remember when the bombs started to go off, I was in Leeson Street, and I thought, ‘There’s too much here’. I sort of knew that there were going to be casualties, either [because] the Brits could not handle so many bombs or they would allow some to go off because it suited them to have casualties. I feel a bit guilty about it because, as I say, there was no intention to kill anyone that day. I have a fair deal of regret that ‘Bloody Friday’ took place … a great deal of regret … If I could do it over again I wouldn’t do it.”

On 16 July 2002, the Provisional IRA issued a statement of apology to An Phoblacht, which read:

See Bloody Sunday

Sunday 21 July marks the 30th anniversary of an IRA operation in Belfast in 1972 which resulted in nine people being killed and many more injured.

While it was not our intention to injure or kill non-combatants, the reality is that on this and on a number of other occasions, that was the consequence of our actions.

It is therefore appropriate on the anniversary of this tragic event, that we address all of the deaths and injuries of non-combatants caused by us.

We offer our sincere apologies and condolences to their families.


Please visit the autobiography section of this blog if you would like to read extracts from my forthcoming book – Belfast Child.

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