seamus dubhghaill

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


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Northern Ireland Forensic Science Laboratory Bombing

A Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) van bomb explodes outside the Northern Ireland Forensic Science Laboratory (NIFSL) on the Newtownbreda Road on the outskirts of Belfast late in the evening of September 23, 1992. It is one of the biggest bombs detonated in a residential area of Northern Ireland. The blast comes after a temporary lull in an IRA bombing campaign.

The 2,000 lb. (900kg) bomb goes off outside the laboratory at Newtownbreda while Army bomb disposal experts are moving in to investigate a large, abandoned van. The alarm is raised when the IRA makes a telephone warning saying that it has planted a “massive van bomb.”

The device reduces every room to rubble. It also causes damage, in some cases severe, to more than 700 homes and other premises. One estimate puts repair costs after the blast at about £20 million.

The wrecking of the laboratory is a blow to the authorities, because the blast destroys valuable forensic evidence for use in the prosecution of terrorist suspects. But on a personal level it is a traumatic night for hundreds of families who live through the explosion and face the task of repairing their homes.

The blast is unusually loud and destructive. It shakes Belfast and is heard for miles around. Many people living some distance away are convinced the explosion had been outside their door. One man who lives 10 miles away believes his home is under attack and goes outside with a golf club to investigate.

Emergency staff say the area affected is one of the largest they had ever known, with damage reported up to a radius of a mile and a half. But the brunt of the damage is suffered by Belvoir Park, a model and almost incident-free largely Protestant housing estate built by a public authority but now largely privately owned, which is separated from the laboratory by a dual carriageway.

Up to 50 homes are demolished. In one experience which is typical of many, a 65-year-old widow who lives alone is watching television when the bomb goes off. Much of the plaster ceiling collapses while the window shatters into fragments and showers the room. An immediate power cut plunges the house into darkness. She escapes with only a slight cut to the head.

After the explosion people roam the darkened estate in cars and on foot, checking for relatives and friends while police officers help tend those suffering from shock and injuries. No one is seriously hurt. A number of pet cats and dogs panic and run off into the night.

In the early hours of September 24, rain pours through damaged roofs, making life even more difficult for families involved in immediate repair work. At 5:00 AM, almost eight hours after the blast, workmen are still engaged in boarding up broken windows.

(From: “Damage in huge blast put at 20m pounds: A Belfast housing estate counts the cost of an IRA bomb which may have destroyed vital criminal evidence” by David McKittrick, Ireland Correspondent, The Independent, http://www.independent.co.uk)


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Birth of Joe McDonnell, Irish Hunger Striker

joseph-mcdonnellJoseph (Joe) McDonnell, a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born on Slate Street in the lower Falls Road of Belfast, Northern Ireland on September 14, 1951. He dies after 61 days on hunger strike during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

McDonnell is one of ten children. He attends a nearby Roman Catholic school. He marries Goretti in 1970 and moves into her sister’s house in Lenadoon. There are only two Catholic houses in this predominantly Ulster Protestant housing estate, and their house is attacked on numerous occasions.

McDonnell is arrested in Operation Demetrius and, along with Gerry Adams and others, is interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone. He is later moved to HM Prison Maze in County Down for several months. Upon release, he joins the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade. He meets Bobby Sands during the preparation for a firebomb attack on the Balmoral Furnishing Company’s premises in Dunmurry. During the ensuing shoot-out between the IRA and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army, both men, along with Séamus Finucane and Seán Lavery, are arrested. McDonnell and the others are sentenced to 14 years in prison for possession of a firearm. None of the men accept the jurisdiction of the court.

McDonnell agrees with the goals of the 1981 Irish hunger strike, namely: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to organise their own educational and recreational facilities and the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.

Although McDonnell is not involved in the first hunger strike in 1980, he joins Bobby Sands and the others in the second hunger strike the following year. During the strike he fights the general election in the Republic of Ireland, and only narrowly misses election in the Sligo–Leitrim constituency. He goes 61 days without food before dying on July 8, 1981. He has two children. His wife takes an active part in the campaign in support of the hunger strikers.

McDonnell is buried in the grave next to Bobby Sands at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast. John Joe McGirl, McDonnell’s election agent in Sligo–Leitrim, gives the oration at his funeral. Quoting Patrick Pearse, he states, “He may seem the fool who has given his all, by the wise men of the world; but it was the apparent fools who changed the course of Irish history.”

McDonnell is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia and is also commemorated in The Wolfe Tones song, “Joe McDonnell.”

 


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Mitchell Returns to Belfast to Save the Peace Process

george-mitchellFormer United States Senator George Mitchell returns to Belfast on September 13, 1999 in a bid to prevent the Northern Ireland peace process from coming apart at the seams.

The soft-spoken but firm Mitchell leads a review of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which he played a crucial part in brokering. The aim is to halt a renewed drift to violence by pro-British Protestant and pro-Irish Catholic paramilitaries, and to persuade the two communities to begin cooperating in the province’s elected assembly.

“The peace process is mired in mistrust on both sides of the sectarian divide,” says a British government official, who declines to be identified. “It will need somebody of Mr. Mitchell’s political caliber and neutrality to find a way forward.” The future role of the Northern Ireland police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), will be “part of the tangle [Mitchell] has to unravel,” the official adds. The 92% Protestant force, in a society where Catholics make up 42% of the population, is widely seen as requiring urgent attention.

The Protestant political leaders are unwilling to accept the good faith of Sinn Féin, the political ally of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). They are also attacking Northern Ireland Secretary of State Mo Mowlam for having refused to acknowledge that republican paramilitaries have breached the cease-fire despite several violent incidents and the discovery of an alleged plot to send arms to the IRA from the United States.

Mowlam’s decision enraged David Trimble, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s main Protestant political party and first minister-designate in a devolved Belfast government. Trimble and his senior lieutenants called for her to be fired. Trimble also launches a bitter attack on the Patten Commission after a leaked report indicates it would recommend allowing active IRA members to join the RUC police force.

Mitchell’s main contribution to the peace process has been to insist that the issue of decommissioning terrorist arms must be addressed in parallel with talks on future political structures in Northern Ireland. But he still has to find a formula that will satisfy Unionists for the IRA to begin handing in its weapons and explosives. Trimble and other Protestant leaders insist the IRA must agree to decommission before Sinn Féin is allowed to join a devolved Belfast government. Sinn Féin says that was not part of the 1998 peace accord.

Most worrying for Mitchell is the recent outcry over IRA tactics that makes a solution to the problem of law and order all the more important. The IRA is known to use threats and so called “punishment beatings” to maintain law and order in areas under its control, where RUC forces dare not tread. Six Catholic youths are in hiding in Britain after being threatened with violence, even death, if they remained in Northern Ireland.

According to the RUC, the youths have been targeted because of their refusal to accept the authority of sectarian paramilitaries in the areas where they live. Vincent McKenna, spokesman for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Bureau, says, “The IRA thinks it has the right to police its own areas, and it is determined to punish anyone critical of the political direction of the Sinn Féin leadership.” He adds that since the Belfast agreement was signed 16 months earlier, 757 young people have been “exiled” by the IRA and Protestant paramilitary groups.

Mowlam reportedly says that if the Patten Commission can come up with a blueprint for the police that gives Catholics a larger role in legitimate law enforcement, the scope for policing by paramilitary groups will be reduced.

(From: “Mitchell returns to N. Ireland tinderbox,” The Christian Science Monitor, September 2, 1999)


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The Storming of Ballina

michael-kilroyDuring the Irish Civil War, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) under Michael Kilroy take Ballina, County Mayo, in a surprise attack on September 12, 1922 while the National Army troops there are at a Mass service for a comrade killed in the fighting.

In Mayo, Republicans organise themselves into Flying Columns of thirty-five men. The Columns are usually named after their Commanders such as Dr. John Madden in the West, Frank Carty in the Ox Mountains or Tom Carney in East Mayo. Each Column contains an explosives specialist, machine gunners, signalers, first aiders and riflemen. The field of operations is considerably wide. This causes considerable confusion among National Army Garrisons in the main towns of County Mayo. When they eventually reach the sites of ambushes, railways blown up or outposts attacked, the Republican Columns are long gone.

The Republicans also undertake large-scale operations such as “The Storming of Ballina” which occurs on Tuesday, September 12, 1922. The Republicans attack while the majority of the National Army Garrison is at a funeral Mass. Using a captured armoured car the Republicans fight their way through the town clearing key buildings as they go. A large mine is detonated at the town post office with the resulting shockwave throwing people through the air and shattering windows in the nearby streets. The Republicans celebrate their victory by relieving many of the shops of their goods. The Republicans then divide their forces in two. One Unit under Michael Kilroy heads west out towards Belmullet. The other Unit heads to a Republican HQ and supply dump at Lough Talt.

Brigadier-General Lawlor gathers all available National Army Forces in County Mayo for a counter strike against the Republicans. Two separate National Army Columns set out from Ballina. The first, under Brigadier-General Lawlor pursues the Republicans heading for Lough Talt. The Republicans fight a strong rearguard action through the Ox Mountains as they withdraw from Lough Talt. The fighting, which continues throughout the day, sees Lawlor wounded twice and one of Mayo’s own heroes of the War of Independence, Commandant-General Joe Ring, killed in action.

Meanwhile, Brigadier-General Neary leads a second National Army Column after General Kilroy’s retreating Column across north Mayo. Neary’s men run straight into a classic IRA ambush at Glenamoy. Six National Army troops are killed and many captured along with forty-five to fifty rifles. The National Army troops are in such a disheveled state Kilroy orders them fed and released. It is a valuable insight into the morale of the army facing the Republicans. Uniforms including underwear, boots and food are in short supply. Many have not been paid for weeks.

The Republican operations at Ballina, Lough Talt and Glenamoy boost their morale but leaves the National Army Commanders bitter and out for revenge. This bitterness is soon reflected in combat. National Army troops begin mixing ground glass with the gunpowder in their rifle rounds. In response, the Republicans began using “dum-dum” or expanding bullets.

(From: Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland, http://www.stairnaheireann.net, September 12, 2017 | Pictured: Michael Kilroy)


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The Tullyvallen Massacre

tullyvallen-orange-hallThe Tullyvallen massacre takes place on September 1, 1975, when Irish republican gunmen attack an Orange Order meeting hall at Tullyvallen, near Newtownhamilton in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. The Orange Order is an Ulster Protestant and unionist brotherhood. Five Orangemen are killed and seven wounded in the shooting. The “South Armagh Republican Action Force” claims responsibility, saying it is retaliation for a string of attacks on Catholic civilians by Loyalists. It is believed members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out the attack, despite the organisation being on ceasefire.

On February 10, 1975, the Provisional IRA and British government enter into a truce and restart negotiations. The IRA agrees to halt attacks on the British security forces, and the security forces mostly end their raids and searches. There is a rise in sectarian killings during the truce. Loyalists, fearing they are about to be forsaken by the British government and forced into a united Ireland, increase their attacks on Irish Catholics/nationalists. They hope to force the IRA to retaliate and thus end the truce. Some IRA units concentrate on tackling the loyalists. The fall-off of regular operations causes unruliness within the IRA and some members, with or without permission from higher up, engage in tit-for-tat killings.

On August 22, loyalists kill three Catholic civilians in a gun and bomb attack on a pub in Armagh. Two days later, loyalists shoot dead two Catholic civilians after stopping their car at a fake British Army checkpoint in the Tullyvallen area. Both of these attacks are linked to the Glenanne gang. On August 30, loyalists kill two more Catholic civilians in a gun and bomb attack on a pub in Belfast.

On the night of September 1, a group of Orangemen are holding a meeting in their isolated Orange hall in the rural area of Tullyvallen. At about 10:00 PM, two masked gunmen burst into the hall armed with assault rifles and spray it with bullets while others stand outside and fire through the windows. The Orangemen scramble for cover. One of them is an off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer. He returns fire with a pistol and believes he hit one of the attackers. Five of the Orangemen, all Protestant civilians, are killed while seven others are wounded. Before leaving, the attackers also plant a two-pound bomb outside the hall, but it fails to detonate.

The victims are John Johnston (80), James McKee (73) and his son William McKee (40), Nevin McConnell (48), and William Herron (68) who dies two days later. They all belong to Tullyvallen Guiding Star Temperance Orange Lodge. Three of the dead are former members of the Ulster Special Constabulary.

A caller to the BBC claims responsibility for the attack on behalf of the “South Armagh Republican Action Force” or “South Armagh Reaction Force,” saying it is retaliation for “the assassinations of fellow Catholics.” The Irish Times reports on September 10: “The Provisional IRA has told the British government that dissident members of its organisation were responsible” and “stressed that the shooting did not have the consent of the organisation’s leadership.”

In response to the attack, the Orange Order calls for the creation of a legal militia, or “Home Guard,” to deal with republican paramilitaries.

Some of the rifles used in the attack are later used in the Kingsmill massacre in January 1976, when ten Protestant workmen are killed. Like the Tullyvallen massacre, it is claimed by the “South Armagh Reaction Force” as retaliation for the killing of Catholics elsewhere.

In November 1977, 22-year-old Cullyhanna man John Anthony McCooey is convicted of driving the gunmen to and from the scene and of IRA membership. He is also convicted of involvement in the killings of Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier Joseph McCullough, chaplain of Tullyvallen Orange lodge, in February 1976, and UDR soldier Robert McConnell in April 1976.


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Assassination of Lord Louis Mountbatten

assassination-of-lord-mountbattenLord Louis Mountbatten is killed on August 27, 1979 when Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) terrorists detonate a 50-pound bomb hidden on his fishing vessel, Shadow V. Mountbatten, a war hero, elder statesman, and second cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, is spending the day with his family in Donegal Bay off Ireland’s northwest coast when the bomb explodes. Three others are killed in the attack, including Mountbatten’s 14-year-old grandson, Nicholas. Later that day, an IRA bombing attack on land kills 18 British paratroopers in County Down, Northern Ireland in what becomes known as the Warrenpoint ambush.

The assassination of Mountbatten is the first blow struck against the British royal family by the IRA during its long terrorist campaign to drive the British out of Northern Ireland and unite it with the Republic of Ireland to the south. The attack hardens the hearts of many British against the IRA and convinces Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government to take a hardline stance against the terrorist organization.

Mountbatten, the son of Prince Louis of Battenberg and a great-grandson of Queen Victoria I, enters the Royal Navy in 1913, when he is in his early teens. He sees service during World War I and at the outbreak of World War II is commander of the 5th Destroyer Flotilla. His destroyer, the HMS Kelly, is sunk during the Battle of Crete early in the war. In 1941, he commands an aircraft carrier, and in 1942 he is named Chief of Combined Operations Headquarters. From this position, he is appointed Supreme Allied Commander for South East Asia Command in 1943 and successfully conducts the campaign against Japan that leads to the recapture of Burma.

In 1947, Mountbatten is appointed the last Viceroy of India, and he conducts the negotiations that lead to independence for India and Pakistan later that year. He holds various high naval posts in the 1950s and serves as chief of the United Kingdom Defense Staff and chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Meanwhile, he is made Viscount Mountbatten of Burma and a first earl. He is the uncle of Philip Mountbatten and introduces Philip to the future Queen Elizabeth. He later encourages the marriage of the two distant cousins and becomes godfather and mentor to their first born, Charles, Prince of Wales.

Made Governor and then Lord-Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight in his retirement, Mountbatten is a respected and beloved member of the royal family. His assassination is perhaps the most shocking of all horrors inflicted by the IRA against the United Kingdom. In addition to his grandson Nicholas, 15-year-old boat hand Paul Maxwell and the Dowager Lady Brabourne, Nicholas’ grandmother, are also killed. Mountbatten’s grandson Timothy, Nicholas’ twin brother, is injured as is his daughter, Lady Brabourne, and the twins’ father, Lord Brabourne.

The IRA immediately claims responsibility for the attack, saying it detonated the bomb by remote control from the coast. It also takes responsibility for the same-day bombing attack against British troops in County Down, which claims eighteen lives.

IRA member Thomas McMahon is later arrested and convicted of preparing and planting the bomb that destroyed Mountbatten’s boat. A near-legend in the IRA, he is a leader of the IRA’s notorious South Armagh Brigade, which kills more than 100 British soldiers. He is one of the first IRA members to be sent to Libya to train with detonators and timing devices and is an expert in explosives. Authorities believe the Mountbatten assassination is the work of many people, but McMahon is the only individual convicted. Sentenced to life in prison, he is released in 1998 along with other IRA and Unionist terrorists under a controversial provision of the Good Friday Agreement.

(From: This Day In History: Mountbatten killed by IRA, by the editors of History.com, July 21, 2010, http://www.history.com)


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20th Anniversary of the 1981 IRA Hunger Strikes

hunger-strike-20th-anniversaryOn August 12, 2001, loyalist protesters block a main road in north Belfast to prevent the republican Wolfe Tone Flute band from joining a parade in the Ardoyne district commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 1981 Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger strikes.

The 20-minute blockade of the Ligoniel Road is in response to the local branch of the loyalist Apprentice Boys of Derry organisation being refused permission to drive their bus past the nationalist Ardoyne the previous day.

Billy Hutchinson, the Progressive Unionist Party Assembly member for Belfast North says, “Nationalists are saying that the Apprentice Boys can’t come down the Crumlin Road on a bus because it is seen to be a parade.” He adds further, “I think loyalists are saying if the Apprentice Boys can’t go down on a bus why should the Wolfe Tone band be allowed to go down on a bus?”

On August 11, police officers prevent the Ligoniel Walker Club of the Apprentice Boys of Derry from driving their bus down the Crumlin Road past the Ardoyne shops because it constitutes a parade and breaches a ruling by the Parades Commission. The club is prevented by the Commission from marching through the area and tries in vain to broker a last minute compromise to use their bus.

Gerry Kelly, Sinn Féin Assembly member for Belfast North, describes the loyalist protest as a “nonsense,” adding he does not believe that nationalist residents had objected to the organisation using their bus. “That is a decision the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) took on the ground. I don’t think there would have been a problem from the people of Ardoyne,” he adds.

The Apprentice Boys vow to seek a judicial review into the decision to prevent them from traveling through the area to get to their main parade in Derry.

After a six and a half hour stand-off, Apprentice Boys representative Tommy Cheevers brands the Parades Commission a “farce.”

(From: “Hunger strike march blocked by loyalists” from The Irish Times, Sunday, August 12, 2001 | Photo credit: PA:Press Association)


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The Ealing Bombing

ealing-bombingThe Real Irish Republican Army (IRA), a dissident Irish republican organisation and splinter of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, detonates a car bomb containing 100 lbs. of homemade plastic explosives in Ealing, West London, England on August 3, 2001.

The bomb is in a grey Saab 9000 near the Ealing Broadway station, restaurants and pubs on Uxbridge Road, which explodes shortly after midnight, injuring seven people. Debris from the blast spreads more than 220 yards. The bomb is timed to target leaving karaoke pub-goers, but while most escape injury, the explosion still causes significant damage to property, estimated to be around £200,000. The adjacent Ealing Broadway shopping centre is also damaged by flooding arising from the water main under the car bomb being ruptured.

Experts regard the bomb to be designed to look spectacular on CCTV for the purposes of “armed propaganda” rather than to cause large numbers of injuries. However, anti-terrorist detectives claim that the attack is planned to be a massacre and to cause as much carnage as the Omagh bombing three years earlier.

The bombing is the last successful Irish republican bombing on British soil outside Northern Ireland, of whom dissidents have waged an armed campaign since the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, ending the Troubles.

The attack is condemned by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and others. It also comes during a crucial time for the Northern Ireland peace process with disagreements regarding the Provisional IRA’s decommissioning process. The attack comes months after the Real IRA bombed the BBC Television Centre three miles away. Two days prior to the attack, a 20 kg Real IRA bomb is discovered at Belfast International Airport. After Ealing, the bombers target a new attack on Birmingham on November 3, which ultimately fails.

In November 2001, three men, Noel Maguire, Robert Hulme and his brother Aiden Hulme, are arrested in connection with the Ealing, BBC and Birmingham bomb attacks. They are all later convicted at the Old Bailey on April 8, 2003. Robert and Aiden Hulme are each jailed for twenty years. Noel Maguire, whom the judge says played “a major part in the bombing conspiracy,” is sentenced to twenty-two years.

Two other men, James McCormack of County Louth and John Hannan of Newtownbutler, County Fermanagh, had already admitted the charge at an earlier hearing. McCormack, who plays the most serious part of the five, is jailed for twenty-two years. John Hannan, who is seventeen at the time of the incidents, is given sixteen years of detention.


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Final Republican & Loyalist Prisoners Released from Maze Prison

maze-prison-releaseThe final seventy-eight republican and loyalist prisoners are released from the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland on July 28, 2000 as the final phase of the Good Friday peace accord scheme to release 428 inmates early.

Some of the most prolific bombers and gunmen involved in the Troubles have been imprisoned in the Maze, originally called Long Kesh, since it opened in 1971.

One of the freed republicans, Seán Lynch, describes what he saw as the real and symbolic importance of the Maze. “We had achieved the status of political prisoners even if the British Government never admitted it. The prison struggle was a microcosm of the larger struggle.”

Founder member of the Ulster Defence Association, Thomas McKeown, released in 1990 is one of over 10,000 loyalists sent to the prison. He reflects, “We had it pretty easy. We made replica weapons and instruments from wood and conducted military parades and drill every morning. There were also political classes and other sorts of education.”

After the H-block hunger strikes of the 1980s there are numerous escape attempts and by 1994 the authorities have given in to many of the prisoners’ demands for freedom of association and high levels of autonomy. A total of 2,700 incidents of officers being threatened or attacked are reported. A granite memorial outside the gates bears the names of the 29 prison guards murdered since the prison opened in 1971.

On September 29, 2000, the remaining four prisoners at the Maze are transferred to other prisons in Northern Ireland and the Maze Prison is closed. Redundancy packages are arranged for staff. These are accepted by 300 who left in June 2000.

The future of the buildings is uncertain, but some republicans want it to be turned into a museum to commemorate their struggle.

A monitoring group is set up on January 14, 2003 to debate the future of the 360-acre site. There are many proposals, including a museum, a multi-purpose sports stadium and an office, hotel and leisure village. In January 2006, the government unveils a masterplan for the site incorporating many of these proposals, including a 45,000 seat national multi-sport stadium for association football, rugby and Gaelic games. In October 2006, demolition work begins in preparation for construction on the site, however, in January 2009 plans to build the new multi-purpose stadium are cancelled, with Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure Gregory Campbell citing a lack of support and concerns for a net loss to the economy.

Discussion is still ongoing as to the listed status of sections of the old prison. The hospital and part of the H-Blocks are currently listed buildings, and will remain as part of the proposed site redevelopment as a “conflict transformation centre” with support from republicans such as Martin McGuinness and opposition from unionists, who consider that this risks creating “a shrine to the IRA.”

In January 2013, plans are approved by the Northern Ireland Minister of the Environment, Alex Attwood, for the site to be redeveloped as showgrounds as the result of an application by the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society with the objective of relocating Balmoral Show from its current location in Belfast. The site is now known as Balmoral Park.

In October 2019, the European Union withdraws £18m that had been approved to develop a peace centre, due to disagreements between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party.

(Pictured: IRA prisoners walk out through the Maze turnstile, BBC News Online, July 28, 2000)


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The Assassination of Christopher Ewart-Biggs

christopher-ewart-biggs-assassinationChristopher Thomas Ewart Ewart-Biggs, British Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, author and senior Foreign Office liaison officer with MI6, is killed in Sandyford, Dublin on July 21, 1976 by a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) land mine.

Ewart-Biggs is born in the Thanet district of Kent, South East England to Captain Henry Ewart-Biggs of the Royal Engineers and his wife Mollie Brice. He is educated at Wellington College and University College, Oxford and serves in the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment of the British Army during World War II. At the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942 he loses his right eye and as a result he wears a smoked-glass monocle over an artificial eye.

Ewart-Biggs joins the Foreign Service in 1949, serving in Lebanon, Qatar and Algiers, as well as Manila, Brussels and Paris.

Ewart-Biggs is 55 when he is killed by a land mine planted by the IRA on July 21, 1976. He had been taking precautions to avoid such an incident since coming to Dublin only two weeks earlier. Among the measures he employs is to vary his route many times a week however, at a vulnerable spot on the road connecting his residence to the main road, there is only a choice between left or right. He chooses right and approximately 150 yards from the residence he hits a land mine that is later judged to contain hundreds of pounds of explosives. Ewart-Biggs and fellow passenger and civil servant Judith Cooke (aged 26) are killed. Driver Brian O’Driscoll and third passenger Brian Cubbon (aged 57) are injured. Cubbon is the highest-ranking civil servant in Northern Ireland at the time.

The Irish government launches a manhunt involving 4,000 Gardaí and 2,000 soldiers. Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave declares that “this atrocity fills all decent Irish people with a sense of shame.” In London, Prime Minister James Callaghan condemns the assassins as a “common enemy whom we must destroy or be destroyed by.” Thirteen suspected members of the IRA are arrested during raids as the British and Irish governments attempt to apprehend the criminals, but no one is ever convicted of the killings. In 2006, released Foreign and Commonwealth Office files reveal that the Gardaí had matched a partial fingerprint at the scene to Martin Taylor, an IRA member suspected of gun running from the United States.

Ewart-Biggs’s widow, Jane Ewart-Biggs, becomes a Life Peer in the House of Lords, campaigns to improve Anglo-Irish relations and establishes the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize for literature.

(Pictured: The twisted remains of the car lie upended beside a huge crater after the explosion that killed Christopher Ewart-Biggs and civil servant Judith Cooke)