seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

The Deal Barracks Bombing

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deal-barracks-bombingThe Deal barracks bombing, an attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on the Royal Marines School of Music building at the Royal Marine Depot in Deal, England, takes place on September 22, 1989. The building collapses, killing eleven marines from the Royal Marines Band Service and wounds 21 others.

Throughout the 1980s, the IRA has been waging a paramilitary campaign against targets in Britain and Northern Ireland with the stated aim of achieving the separation of Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom. These operations have included an attempt to kill British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 and a similar attack on a military band in London in 1982.

At 8:22 AM on September 22, 1989, a 15 lb. time bomb detonates in the recreational centre changing room at the Royal Marines School of Music. The blast destroys the recreational centre, levels the three-story accommodation building next to it, and causes extensive damage to the rest of the base and nearby civilian homes. The blast is heard several kilometres away, shaking windows in the centre of Deal, and creating a large pall of smoke over the town. Most of the personnel who use the building as a barracks have already risen and are practising marching on the parade ground when the blast occurs. These marines witness the buildings collapse and many of the personnel are in a state of shock for days afterwards.

Some marines remain behind in the building and thus receive the full force of the explosion. Many are trapped in the rubble for hours and military heavy lifting equipment is needed to clear much of it. Kent Ambulance Service voluntarily agrees to end its industrial strike action to aid those wounded by the blast. Ten marines die at the scene with most trapped in the collapsed building, although one body is later found on the roof of a nearby house. Another 21 are seriously injured and receive treatment at hospitals in Dover, Deal, and Canterbury. One of these men, 21-year-old Christopher Nolan, dies of his wounds on October 18, 1989. Three of those killed are buried nearby at the Hamilton Road Cemetery in Deal.

The IRA claims responsibility for the bombing, saying it is a continuation of their campaign to rid Northern Ireland of all British troops who have been deployed there since 1969. Many British people are shocked at the attack, carried out on a ceremonial military band whose only military training is geared towards saving lives.

The British Government also condemns the IRA’s attack. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher makes a statement from Moscow, where she is on an official visit, saying that she is “shocked and extremely sad.” Leader of the Official Opposition, Neil Kinnock, describes the attack as an “awful atrocity” and says, “Even the people who say they support what the IRA calls its cause must be sickened by the way in which such death and injury is mercilessly inflicted.”

One week after the bombing, the staff and students of the School of Music march through the town of Deal, watched and applauded by thousands of spectators. They maintain gaps in their ranks to mark the positions of those unable to march through death or serious injury.

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