seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Dunmurry Train Bombing

The Dunmurry train bombing, a premature detonation of a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) incendiary bomb aboard a Ballymena to Belfast passenger train, takes place on January 17, 1980.

The blast engulfs a carriage of the train in flames, killing three and injuring five others. One of the dead and the most seriously injured survivor are volunteers of the IRA. After the blast, the organisation issues a statement acknowledging responsibility, apologising to those who were harmed and state that it was ‘grave and distressing’ but an ‘accident’ caused by the ‘war situation.’

The train is a Northern Ireland Railways afternoon service carrying passengers between Ballymena railway station and Belfast Central railway station. The train is largely empty as it leaves Dunmurry railway station and enters the outskirts of Belfast, crossing under the M1 motorway on its way to Finaghy railway station shortly before 4:55 PM. A large fireball erupts in the rear carriage, bringing the train to a standstill and forcing panicked passengers to evacuate urgently as the smoke and flames spread along the train. The survivors then move down the track in single file to safety while emergency services fight the blaze. After several hours and combined efforts from fire, police and military services the blaze is contained. One fireman is treated for minor injuries. The two damaged carriages are transported to Queen’s Quay in Belfast for forensic examination and are subsequently rebuilt, one remaining in service until 2006 and the other until 2012.

Of the four persons occupying the carriage, three are killed with burns so severe that it is not possible to identify them by conventional means. Rail chief Roy Beattie describes the human remains as “three heaps of ashes.” The fourth, later identified as Patrick Joseph Flynn, is an IRA member and one of the men transporting the bombs. He suffers very serious burns to his face, torso and legs, and is reported to be close to death upon arrival at the hospital. Of the dead, two are eventually named as 17-year-old Protestant student Mark Cochrane from Finaghy and the other a 35-year-old Belfast-based accountant and recent immigrant from Lagos, Nigeria, Max Olorunda, who had been visiting a client in Ballymena. The identity of the third is harder to ascertain, but it is eventually confirmed by the IRA by their statement that he is 26-year-old IRA member Kevin Delaney. In addition to the fireman, four people are injured, including Flynn, two teenagers treated for minor injuries and an older man who suffers much more serious burns.

Further bomb alerts are issued across the region and two similar devices are discovered on trains, at York Road railway station in Belfast and at Greenisland railway station. Both are removed safely and control detonated. The devices are simple incendiary bombs similar to that which exploded south of Befast, consisting of a 5-lb. block of explosives attached to a petrol can with a simple time device intended to delay the explosion until the train is empty that evening. Later testimony indicates that Delaney armed the first of two bombs and placed it beside him as he picked up the second one. As he arms this device, the first bomb suddenly detonates for reasons that remain unknown. Delaney is killed instantly and his accomplice, Patrick Joseph Flynn, is forced to leap from the train in flames. Flynn is guarded by police in hospital and arrested once his wounds heal sufficiently.

The IRA releases a lengthy statement about the event, terming it a ‘bombing tragedy,’ blaming the Royal Ulster Constabulary for their ‘sickening and hypocritical … collective activity of collaboration with the British forces.’ In Britain, Conservative MP Winston Churchill calls for the death penalty to be reinstated for terrorists as a result of the incident.

Patrick Flynn is tried at Belfast Crown Court for double manslaughter and possession of explosives after he recovers from his injuries. He is severely disfigured and badly scarred from the extensive burns the incendiary device had inflicted upon him. The judge is asked and agrees to take this into account for sentencing after reviewing the evidence and finding Flynn guilty due to his proximity to the explosion, his known IRA affiliation and the discovery of telephone numbers for the Samaritans and Belfast Central railway station in his jacket, to be used to telephone bomb warnings. Justice Kelly sentences Flynn to ten years in prison for each manslaughter as well as seven years for the explosives offences, to be served concurrently.

(Pictured: Dunmurry Railway Station)


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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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The La Mon Entertainment Complex Bombing

la-mon-bombingA Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) incendiary device explodes at the La Mon entertainment complex in Comber, County Down, on February 17, 1978, killing twelve people and injuring thirty others. The blast has been described as “one of the worst atrocities” of the Troubles.

Since the beginning of its campaign, the IRA has carried out numerous attacks on economic targets, killing many members of the public in the process. The IRA’s goal is to harm the economy and cause disruption, which will put pressure on the British government to withdraw from Northern Ireland.

On February 17, 1978, an IRA unit plants an incendiary device attached to petrol-filled canisters on meat hooks outside the window of the Peacock Room in the restaurant of the La Mon House Hotel. The IRA often give bomb warnings in advance of destroying property but never when targeting the police or military. After planting the bomb, the IRA members attempt to send a warning from the nearest public telephone, but find that it has been vandalised. On the way to another telephone they are delayed again when forced to stop at an Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) checkpoint. By the time they are able to send the warning, only nine minutes remain before the bomb detonates at 21:00. The blast creates a fireball, killing twelve people and injuring thirty more, many of whom are severely burned. Many of the injured are treated in the Ulster Hospital in nearby Dundonald. A 2012 news article claims that the IRA were targeting Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers they believed were meeting in the restaurant that night. The article claims that the IRA had gotten the wrong date and that the meeting of RUC officers had taken place exactly one week earlier.

The day after the explosion, the IRA admits responsibility and apologises for the inadequate warning. The hotel had allegedly been targeted by the IRA as part of its firebomb campaign against commercial targets. However, the resulting carnage brings quick condemnation from other Irish nationalists, with one popular newspaper comparing the attack to the 1971 McGurk’s Bar bombing. Sinn Féin president Ruairí Ó Brádaigh also strongly criticises the operation. In consequence of the botched attack, the IRA Army Council gives strict instructions to all units not to bomb buses, trains, or hotels.

A team of 100 RUC detectives is deployed in the investigation. As part of the investigation, 25 people are arrested in Belfast, including Gerry Adams. Adams is released from custody in July 1978. Two prosecutions follow. One Belfast man is charged with twelve murders but is acquitted. He is convicted of IRA membership but successfully appeals. In September 1981, another Belfast man, Robert Murphy, is given twelve life sentences for the manslaughter of those who died. Murphy is freed on licence in 1995. As part of their bid to catch the bombers, the RUC passes out leaflets which display a graphic photograph of a victim’s charred remains.

In 2012, a news article claims that two members of the IRA bombing team, including the getaway driver, are British double agents working for MI5. According to the article, one of the agents is Denis Donaldson. That year, Northern Ireland’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) completes a report on the bombing. It reveals that important police documents, including interviews with IRA members, have been lost. A number of the victims’ families slam the report and call for a public inquiry. They claim the documents had been removed to protect certain IRA members. Unionist politician Jim Allister, who has been supporting the families, says, “There is a prevalent belief that someone involved was an agent and that is an issue around which we need clarity.”