A ceremony to mark the 41st anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings is being held in Dublin today. Relatives and survivors are using the commemoration to repeat their calls on the British Government to release documents about the attacks. It is 41 years this weekend since three car bombs in Dublin, and a fourth in Monaghan, exploded without warning, injuring almost 300 people and killing 34, including an unborn baby, the greatest loss of life on a single day of the Troubles.
Calls on the British government to release files on the Dublin Monaghan bombings at the 41st anniversary ceremony pic.twitter.com/yiCS6yi0Z8
— Samantha Libreri (@SamanthaLibreri) May 16, 2015
It was the worst atrocity of the Troubles and the worst mass murder in Britain or Ireland in the past forty years: three car bombs in Dublin, one in Monaghan on Friday, May 17, 1974 and it happened forty one years ago this weekend. There were no warnings given. Now the victims and families of those who died in the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings are to sue the British government in Belfast. They say the attacks were carried out by loyalists with government collusion and that there was a massive cover-up.
last year then Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore added his voice to the calls for justice. “As we approach the 40th anniversary of the Dublin/Monaghan bombings, I renew the call on the British Government, our partner in the peace process and the joint guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and its related agreements, to allow access on an agreed basis by an independent international judicial figure to the original documents in their possession relating to the bombings,” he said.
It may surprise many that the greatest number of civilian casualties in terrorist bombings in Ireland during the “Troubles” in the 70’s and 80’s occurred not in Northern Ireland but in the Republic 41 years ago his weekend, mainly in my hometown of Dublin.
The Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 17 May 1974 were a series of car bombings in Dublin and Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland. The attacks killed 33 civilians and wounded almost 300 – the highest number of casualties in any one day during the conflict known as The Troubles. A loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), claimed responsibility for the bombings in 1993. The month before the bombings, its status as a proscribed organisation in the United Kingdom was lifted by Merlyn Rees, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. There are various credible allegations that elements of the British security forces colluded with the UVF in the bombings.
No warnings were given before the bombs exploded. Three exploded in Dublin during rush hour (killing 26 people and an unborn child) and one exploded in Monaghan ninety minutes later (killing 7 people). Most of the victims were young women, although the ages of the dead ranged from five months to 80 years.
When the smoke cleared that fine Friday night thirty-three were killed and 300 injured. Among the dead were a pregnant mother and two little babies, Jacqueline Doyle, 17 months, and Anne Doyle, 5 months, along with their mother and father. The Dublin bombs were timed to go off together on that busy Friday night in Dublin when a bus strike meant that far more people than usual were walking about the capital.
At approximately 17:30 on Friday 17 May 1974, without prior warning, three car bombs exploded almost simultaneously in Dublin’s city centre at Parnell Street, Talbot Street, and South Leinster Street by the wall of Trinity College during the evening rush hour. The locations of the bombs in three busy streets at rush hour over a half mile of Dublin’s City Centre were designed both to maximise panic and casualties. They were constructed so well that one hundred per cent of each bomb exploded upon detonation. Twenty-three persons died in these explosions and three others died as a result of injuries over the following few days and weeks. Many of the dead were young women originally from rural Irish towns employed in the civil service. An entire family from central Dublin was killed. Two of the victims were foreign nationals: an Italian man, and a French Jewish woman whose family had survived the Holocaust. Most of the bodies were blasted beyond recognition, including one which was decapitated. There were approximately 300 people injured, many of them horrifically mutilated. I was in Phibsboro, about a mile from Dublin’s City Centre, when the bombs exploded and I can remember the distinctive dull thud of the explosions to this day.
At the time of the bombings Northern Ireland was virtually at a standstill in a strike organised by The Ulster’s Workers Council (UWC) in protest at the Sunningdale Agreement between the British and Irish Governments. In Northern Ireland, Sammy Smyth, then press officer of both the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and the Ulster Workers’ Council (UWC) Strike Committee, said: “I am very happy about the bombings in Dublin. There is a war with the Free State and now we are laughing at them”
There were belatedly two inquiries in the Republic into the bombings, one The Barron Inquiry being a judicial enquiry. They ran into the same problems as Sir John Steven’s Inquiry into British Security Forces collusion with Loyalist Paramilitaries. But the Barron Inquiry nevertheless concluded;
“It is likely that the farm of James Mitchell at Glenanne [An RUC Reserve Officer] played a significant part in the preparation for the attacks. It is also likely that members of the UDR and RUC either participated in, or were aware of those preparations.”
From the inquiries and the testimony of former members of British Intelligence who worked in Northern Ireland, Colin Wallace, Fred Holroyd and RUC Officer John Weir, there is a consistent picture that points in the same direction that members of the Police (RUC) and UDR (Ulster Defence Regiment – a “full time” British Army Reserve Unit in Northern Ireland) and the UVF Loyalist Paramilitary Group were largely interchangeable and, from the Barron Inquiry;
“UDR staff instructor William Hanna was assisted in carrying out the Dublin bombings by Robin Jackson (UVF, Lurgan) and David Payne (UDA, Belfast). He says that Stewart Young (UVF, Portadown) had been involved in carrying out the Monaghan bombing – adding that he heard this from Young himself as well as from others in the group. He said that explosives for all four bombs were supplied by a named UDR officer.”
Whatever the truth about collusion Loyalist Paramilitaries never carried out similar attacks before or since. The area of Ulster around Glenanne bounded by Lurgan and the associated towns of Portadown and Craigavon made up what was known as the “murder triangle”; an area known for a significant number of sectarian incidents and fatalities during The Troubles.
Screen grab of U2 on stage in Vancouver + Dublin/Monaghan photos + JFF logo as backdrop. London, set the truth free! pic.twitter.com/F1lVErHIEg
— Pat Finucane Centre (@FinucaneCentre) May 15, 2015
The cars had been hijacked or stolen in Belfast earlier that day and driven to a parking lot near Dublin Airport where the explosives were packed into the car. The Monaghan bomb car was stolen in Portadown, Co Armagh – a hotbed of Loyalism. It went off killing seven. Its purpose was said to be to draw Irish police from the border to the town so that the bombers could escape back.
No-one has ever been charged with the attacks in Dublin and Monaghan. The cover-up has continued to the present day. An Irish judicial inquiry into the killings was abandoned when the British government refused to hand over evidence. Now the families are determined to take the case to court in Belfast seeking that and all other information. Whether the truth will ever come out remains to be seen but 40 years afterwards in my home town of Dublin the memory of the victims still cries out for justice.