seamus dubhghaill

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


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Grote Markt, Brussels Bombing

On August 28, 1979, a bomb explodes under an open‐air stage on the Grote Markt in Brussels, Belgium where a British Army band is preparing to give a concert, injuring at least 15 persons, including four bandsmen, and causes extensive damage. Mayor Pierre van Halteren of Brussels says the Irish Republican Army (IRA) claims responsibility for the bombing in a telephone call to city hall.

The bombing comes just a day after Earl Mountbatten of Burma and three others are killed in a bombing in the Irish Republic, and 18 British soldiers die in an attack in Northern Ireland. The IRA claims responsibility for both attacks.

The band is from the Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Regiment, which is stationed in Osnabrück, West Germany. The bombing occurs only minutes before the band is to have begun a concert in the broad square, a major tourist site surrounded by centuries‐old buildings. However, only 6 of the 30 members of the band are on the makeshift stage when the bomb explodes at about 3:00 PM. The others had left the stage to change into their red dress uniforms after setting up music stands and instruments.

The band is held up in traffic and is late arriving for the concert. The police say that if the bomb had gone off later, during the concert, the casualty toll would have been heavier.

Before the IRA telephone call is reported, Earl Nicoll, military attaché at the British Embassy in Brussels, says, “I’d guess it is either the IRA or people sympathetic to their aims. It is clearly a manifestation they wanted to hit the band, not any Belgians.”

The temporary stage is used for daily concerts to mark the city’s 1,000th birthday. A police spokesman says the explosives were under the stage floor in the back, on the side away from the square. At the time of the explosion only a few hundred people, most of them tourists, are in the square, which is lined by outdoor cafes, flower stalls and centuries‐old guildhalls.

The blast creates a 90‐by‐30‐foot hole in the stage floor, and severely damages the back wall and the ceiling. It shatters windows in the ancient buildings. A police spokesman says investigators did not yet know what kind of bomb was used. Officials estimate the damage at $134,000 to $167,000.

Irish guerrillas are accused of responsibility for several other attacks in Belgium in recent months, including one in June 1979 involving Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr., then Supreme Allied Commander Europe for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

A number of other recent terrorist attacks on the continent are blamed on the IRA. On March 22, 1979, Sir Richard Sykes, Britain’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, and his Dutch valet are shot and killed as the envoy leaves for work in The Hague. On the same day, a Belgian bank employee is shot to death in front of his home in suburban Brussels in what police believe is a case of mistaken identity on the part of the IRA. Officials believe the gunmen were after Sir John Killick, deputy chief of Britain’s mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which has its headquarters in Belgium.

On July 6, a bomb that officials believe to be planted by the IRA goes off in the British consulate building in Antwerp, Belgium, causing damage but no injuries. Four days later, two bombs go off at two British Rhine Army barracks in Dortmund, West Germany, causing extensive damage but again no injuries. The IRA claims responsibility for those and other bombings at facilities of the 50,000‐member Rhine Army.

(From: “I.R.A. Sets Off Bomb at Belgian Concert,” The New York Times, August 29, 1979)


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Erskine Childers Elected Fourth President of Ireland

In a political upset, Erskine Hamilton Childers defeats Tom O’Higgins by a very narrow margin and is elected as the fourth President of Ireland on May 30, 1973.

Incumbent president Éamon de Valera is 90 years old and constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. His party, Fianna Fáil, seeks to get former Tánaiste Frank Aiken to run for the presidency, but he declines. Under pressure, former Tánaiste Erskine H. Childers agrees to run. The odds-on favourite is Fine Gael deputy leader, Tom O’Higgins, who had come within 1% of defeating Éamon de Valera in the 1966 presidential election.

Childers is a controversial nominee, owing not only to his British birth and upbringing but to his Protestantism. However, on the campaign trail his personal popularity proves enormous. In a political upset, Erskine H. Childers wins the presidency by 635,867 votes to 578,771.

Childers, though 67, quickly gains a reputation as a vibrant, extremely hard-working president, and becomes highly popular and respected. However, he has a strained relationship with the incumbent government, led by Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave of Fine Gael. Childers has campaigned on a platform of making the presidency more open and hands-on, which Cosgrave views as a threat to his own agenda as head of government. He refuses to co-operate with Childers’ first priority upon taking office, the establishment of a think tank within Áras an Uachtaráin to plan the country’s future. Childers considers resigning from the presidency, but is convinced to remain by Cosgrave’s Foreign Minister, Garret FitzGerald. However, Childers remains detached from the government. Whereas previously, presidents had been briefed by taoisigh once a month, Cosgrave briefs President Childers and his successor, Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh, on average once every six months.

Though frustrated about the lack of power he has in the office, Childers plays an important behind-the-scenes role in easing the Northern Ireland conflict as former Northern Ireland Prime Minister Terence O’Neill meets secretly with Childers at Áras an Uachtaráin on at least one occasion.

Prevented from transforming the presidency as he desires, Childers instead throws his energy into a busy schedule of official visits and speeches, which is physically taxing. On November 17, 1974, just after making a speech to the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin, Childers suffers a heart attack. He dies the same day at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

Childers’s state funeral in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, is attended by world leaders including the Earl Mountbatten of Burma (representing Queen Elizabeth II), the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the Opposition, and presidents and crowned heads of state from Europe and beyond. He is buried in the grounds of the Church of Ireland Derralossary church in Roundwood, County Wicklow.