seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Baltic Exchange Bombing

IRA Bombing of the Baltic ExchangeThe Baltic Exchange bombing, an attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) on London‘s financial centre, takes place on April 10, 1992, the day after the General Election which re-elects John Major from the Conservative Party as Prime Minister. The one-ton bomb, concealed in a large white truck and consisting of a fertilizer device wrapped with a detonation cord made from 100 lbs. of Semtex, is the biggest detonated on mainland Britain since World War II. The bombing kills three people, injures 91 others, and causes massive damage, destroying the Baltic Exchange building and severely damaging surroundings.

Since the PIRA’s campaign in the early 1970s, many commercial targets are attacked on the mainland which cause economic damage and severe disruption. Since 1988, Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin and John Hume of the Social Democratic and Labour Party are engaged in private dialogue to create a broad Irish nationalist coalition. British Prime Minister John Major refuses to openly enter into talks with Sinn Féin until the IRA declares a ceasefire. The risk of an IRA attack on London increases due to the lack of progress with political talks, resulting in a warning being circulated to all police forces in Britain highlighting intelligence reports of a possible attack, as it is believed that the IRA has enough personnel, equipment and funds to launch a sustained campaign in England.

On April 10, 1992 at 9:20 PM, a huge bomb is detonated in front of the Baltic Exchange building at 24-28 St. Mary Axe. The façade of the offices is partially destroyed, and the rest of the building is extensively damaged. The bomb also causes heavy damage to surrounding buildings. It causes £800 million worth of damage, £200 million more than the total damage caused by the 10,000 explosions that had occurred during the Troubles in Northern Ireland up to that point.

The IRA gives a telephone warning twenty minutes before the explosion, saying there is a bomb inside a van outside the London Stock Exchange. This is a half mile away from the actual location by the Baltic Exchange.

The homemade explosive is inside a white Ford Transit van parked in St. Mary Axe. The components are developed in South Armagh, shipped from Ireland, and assembled in England. The attack is planned for months and marks a dangerous advance to the British of the IRA’s explosives manufacturing capabilities. The bomb is described as the most powerful to hit London since the Luftwaffe raids of World War II.

A few hours later another similarly large bomb goes off in Staples Corner in north London, also causing major damage.

The next day, the IRA claims responsibility in a statement from Dublin. It is believed the IRA are trying to send a message to the Conservative Party who won the election, which also sees Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams lose his unused seat in the Westminster Parliament.

Many of the damaged buildings are once again badly damaged by the Bishopsgate bombing the following year. Both incidents contribute to the formation of the “Ring of Steel” in the city to protect it from further terrorism.

The Exchange sells its badly damaged historic building to be redeveloped under the auspices of English Heritage as a Grade II* site. However, the City and English Heritage later allow it to be demolished, seeking instead a new landmark building. The site, together with that of the UK Chamber of Shipping at 30–32 St. Mary Axe, is now home to the skyscraper commissioned by Swiss Re commonly referred to as The Gherkin.

The stained glass of the Baltic Exchange war memorial, which suffered damage in the bomb blast, has been restored and is in the National Maritime Museum in London.

(Pictured: The scene of devastation following the IRA bomb which destroyed London’s Baltic Exchange. Image credit: Gulf News Archives)

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Paddington & Victoria Stations Bombings

london-victoria-stationThe Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) explodes two bombs at London mainline stations on February 18, 1991, one at Victoria station and the other at Paddington station, killing one person and injuring 38 others all at Victoria station. It is the IRA’s second major attack in London in February 1991 after the Downing Street mortar attack eleven days earlier which is an attempt to wipe out the British war cabinet and British prime minister John Major. It is also the first IRA attack on civilians since the 1983 Harrods bombing, marking a strategic change in their bombing campaign.

The Paddington bomb, which goes off at 4:20 AM, is much smaller than the second bomb at Victoria and is designed to make sure the security services will take the Victoria bomb seriously and not as a hoax. There are no deaths or injuries at Paddington but the roof is badly damaged.

Some time before 7:00 AM, a caller with an Irish accent says, “We are the Irish Republican Army. Bombs to go off in all mainline stations in 45 minutes.” The Victoria station bomb, which is hidden in a rubbish bin inside the station, goes off at 7:40 AM. Despite a 45-minute warning and the Paddington bomb three hours earlier, the security services are slow to act. The bomb kills one person instantly and injures 38 others from flying glass and other debris. This is the worst attack suffered by civilians in England by the IRA since the 1983 Harrods bombing which killed three policemen, three civilians and injured 50 people. All London’s rail terminals are closed, disrupting the journeys of almost half a million commuters and bringing chaos to London, which is the IRA’s intended goal. There is also a hoax call made to Heathrow Airport, causing the airport’s closure.

That night the Provisional IRA claims responsibility for the bombings but blames the British police for the casualties. A statement from the Provisional IRA GHQ says, “The cynical decision of senior security personnel not to evacuate railway stations named in secondary warnings, even three hours after the warning device had exploded at Paddington in the early hours of this morning was directly responsible for the casualties at Victoria.” The statement goes on, “All future warnings should be acted upon.” The main purpose of the bombings in the overall IRA strategy is to keep pressure up on John Major, his Government and to make sure he acts on the Irish Troubles.

Police defend the decision not to close all stations after receiving warning that bombs had been planted. Commander George Churchill-Coleman, head of Scotland Yard‘s anti-terrorist squad, says that dozens of hoax calls are received every day. “It is very easy with hindsight to be critical.” Churchill-Coleman also says that the bomb was “quite deliberately intended to maim and kill.”

A year later, a French TV crew interviews an IRA Commander who says he speaks on behalf of the IRA’s GHQ Staff. The commander of the unit says of the Victoria station bombing that warnings were given by telephone naming nine railroad stations in London and that a 50-minute warning was given. He goes on to say that the attack was not aimed at hurting anybody but to disrupt the British transport system.

This bombing marks the IRA’s shift to targeting civilian areas following the July 1990 London Stock Exchange bombing. It is also the first IRA attack on the London transport system since 1976. The IRA keeps bombing targets in England for the remainder of the year.

(Pictured: London Victoria Station – The main station building for this terminus, with trains servicing the south and south-eastern destinations, as well as Gatwick. In front is the bus station.)


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Birth of Albert Reynolds, Taoiseach & Fianna Fáil Leader

albert-reynoldsAlbert Reynolds, politician and businessman, is born in Rooskey, County Roscommon on November 3, 1932. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1977 to 2002, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs from 1979 to 1981, Minister for Transport from 1980 to 1981, Minister for Industry and Energy from March 1982 to December 1982, Minister for Industry and Commerce from 1987 to 1988, Minister for Finance from 1988 to 1991, Leader of Fianna Fáil from 1992 to 1994 and as Taoiseach from 1992 to 1994.

Reynolds is educated at Summerhill College in County Sligo and works for a state transport company before succeeding at a variety of entrepreneurial ventures, including promoting dances and owning ballrooms, a pet-food factory, and newspapers. In 1974 he is elected to the Longford County Council as a member of Fianna Fáil. He enters Dáil Éireann, lower house of the Oireachtas, the Irish parliament, in 1977 as a member representing the Longford-Westmeath parliamentary constituency and becomes Minister for Posts and Telegraphs in the Fianna Fáil government of Charles Haughey (1979–81). He is subsequently Minister of Industry and Commerce (1987–88) and Minister for Finance (1988–91) in Haughey’s third and fourth governments. He breaks with Haughey in December 1991 and succeeds him as leader of Fianna Fáil and as Taoiseach in February 1992.

The Fianna Fáil–Progressive Democrats coalition that Reynolds inherits breaks up in November 1992 but, after the general election later that month, he surprises many observers by forming a new coalition government with the Labour Party in January 1993. He plays a significant part in bringing about a ceasefire between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and unionist paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland in 1994, but he is less effective in maintaining his governing coalition. When this government founders in November 1994, he resigns as Taoiseach and as leader of Fianna Fáil, though he remains acting prime minister until a new government is formed the following month. He unsuccessfully seeks his party’s nomination as a candidate for the presidency of Ireland in 1997. He retires from public life in 2002.

In December 2013, it is revealed by his son that Reynolds is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Albert Reynolds dies on August 21, 2014. The last politician to visit him is John Major. His funeral is held at Church of the Sacred Heart, in Donnybrook on August 25, 2014. Attendees include President Michael D. Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, former British Prime Minister John Major, former Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader and Nobel Prize winner John Hume, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers, former President of Ireland Mary McAleese, former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin and the Lord Mayor of Dublin Christy Burke. An unexpected visitor from overseas is the frail but vigorous Jean Kennedy Smith, former United States Ambassador to Ireland, who is the last surviving sibling of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Reynolds is buried at Shanganagh Cemetery with full military honours.


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The Downing Street Declaration

major-and-reynoldsTaoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, Albert Reynolds, and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, John Major, sign the Downing Street Declaration (DSD) on December 15, 1993, at the British Prime Minister’s office in 10 Downing Street. The joint declaration stipulates that, if the Irish Republican Army (IRA) stops its campaign for three months, Sinn Féin will be allowed to join all-party talks.

The declaration affirms both the right of the people of Ireland to self-determination, and that Northern Ireland will be transferred to the Republic of Ireland from the United Kingdom only if a majority of its population is in favour of such a move. It also includes, as part of the prospective of the so-called “Irish dimension,” the principle of consent that the people of the island of Ireland, have the exclusive right to solve the issues between North and South by mutual consent.

The latter statement, which later becomes one of the points of the Good Friday Agreement, is key to produce a positive change of attitude by the republicans towards a negotiated settlement. The joint declaration also pledges the governments to seek a peaceful constitutional settlement, and promises that parties linked with paramilitaries, such as Sinn Féin, can take part in the talks, so long as they abandon violence.

The declaration, after a meeting between Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and American congressman Bruce Morrison, which is followed by a joint statement issued by Adams and John Hume, is considered sufficient by the Provisional Irish Republican Army to announce a ceasefire on August 31, 1994 which is then followed on October 13 by an announcement of a ceasefire from the Combined Loyalist Military Command.

(Pictured: (L to R) John Major, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and Albert Reynolds, Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland)


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The 1996 Manchester Bombing

manchester-bombing-1996The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonates a powerful 3,300-pound truck bomb on Corporation Street in the centre of Manchester, England, at 11:17 AM on June 15, 1996. The biggest bomb detonated in Great Britain since World War II, it targets the city’s infrastructure and economy and causes widespread damage, estimated by insurers at £700 million.

The IRA sends telephone warnings about 90 minutes before the bomb is detonated. The area is evacuated but the bomb squad, using a remote-controlled device, is unable to defuse the bomb in time. More than 200 people are injured, but there are no fatalities. At the time, England is hosting the UEFA Euro ’96 football championships and a match between Russia and Germany is to take place in Manchester the following day.

The Marks & Spencer store, the sky bridge connecting it with the Arndale Centre, and neighbouring buildings are destroyed. The blast creates a mushroom cloud which rises 1,000 feet into the sky. Glass and masonry are thrown into the air and people are showered by falling debris behind the police cordon a half mile away. A search of the area for casualties is confused by mannequins blasted from shop windows, which are sometimes mistaken for bodies.

Since 1970 the Provisional IRA has been waging a campaign aimed at forcing the British government to negotiate a withdrawal from Northern Ireland. Although Manchester has been the target of IRA bombs before 1996, it has not been subjected to an attack of this scale. The IRA had ended its seventeen-month ceasefire in February 1996 with a similarly large truck bomb attack on the London Docklands.

The bombing is condemned by John Major‘s government, the opposition, and by individual members of parliament (MPs) as a “sickening”, “callous,” and “barbaric” terrorist attack. Early on, Major states that, “This explosion looks like the work of the IRA. It is the work of a few fanatics and…causes absolute revulsion in Ireland as it does here.” Sinn Féin is criticised by Taoiseach John Bruton for being “struck mute” on the issue in the immediate aftermath. The President of the United States, Bill Clinton, states he is “deeply outraged by the bomb explosion” and joins Bruton and Major in “utterly condemning this brutal and cowardly act of terrorism.” On June 20, 1996, the IRA claims responsibility for the bombing and states that it “sincerely regretted” causing injury to civilians.

Several buildings near the explosion are damaged beyond repair and have to be demolished, while many more are closed for months for structural repairs. Most of the rebuilding work is completed by the end of 1999, at a cost of £1.2 billion, although redevelopment continues until 2005. The perpetrators of the attack have not been caught and Greater Manchester Police concede it is unlikely that anyone will ever be charged in connection with the bombing.


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The 1996 Docklands Bombing

docklands-bombingThe Docklands bombing, also known as the Canary Wharf bombing or the South Quay bombing, occurs on February 9, 1996, marking the end of the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) seventeen-month ceasefire.

At about 7:01 PM on February 9, the Provisional Irish Republican Army detonates a large bomb in a small lorry about 80 yards from South Quay Station on the Docklands Light Railway in the Canary Wharf financial district of London. The bomb, containing 500 kg of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and sugar and a detonating cord made of semtex, PETN, and RDX high explosives, is placed directly under the point where the tracks cross Marsh Wall.

The IRA sends telephone warnings 90 minutes prior to the detonation and the area is evacuated. However, two men working in the newsagents shop directly opposite the explosion, Inam Bashir and John Jeffries, are not evacuated in time and are killed in the explosion. Thirty-nine people require hospital treatment as a result of the blast and falling glass. A portion of the South Quay Plaza is destroyed and the explosion leaves a crater ten metres wide and three metres deep. The shockwave from the blast causes windows to rattle five miles away.

Approximately £100 million worth of damage is done by the blast. The Midland Bank building is damaged beyond economic repair and is demolished. South Quay Plaza I and II are severely damaged and require complete rebuilding. The station itself is extensively damaged, but both it and the bridge under which the bomb is exploded are reopened within weeks.

The bombing marks the end of a 17-month IRA ceasefire during which Irish, British, and American leaders work for a political solution to the troubles in Northern Ireland. IRA member James McArdle is convicted of conspiracy to cause explosions and sentenced to 25 years in prison, but murder charges are dropped. McArdle is released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement in June 2000 with a royal prerogative of mercy from Queen Elizabeth II.

dockland-bombing-damageThe IRA describes the deaths and injuries as a result of the bomb as “regrettable,” but says that they could have been avoided if police had responded promptly to “clear and specific warnings.” Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Paul Condon says, “It would be unfair to describe this as a failure of security. It was a failure of humanity.”

Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the IRA, speaks of the need to continue the peace process. British Prime Minister John Major says there is now “a dark shadow of doubt” where optimism has existed.

On February 28, Prime Minister Major and Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland John Bruton, announce that all-party talks will be resumed in June. Major’s decision to drop the demand for IRA decommissioning of weapons before Sinn Fein is allowed into talks leads to criticism from the press, which accuse him of being “bombed to the table.”