seamus dubhghaill

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


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Harrods Bombing

harrods-bombingA Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) car bomb kills six and injures ninety outside London‘s Harrods department store, a large, upmarket department store in the affluent Knightsbridge district near Buckingham Palace on December 17, 1983. The IRA Army Council claims that it has not authorised the attack and expresses regret for the civilian casualties. After the bombing, the IRA changes its tactic to focus on military targets on the mainland.

Harrods had been the target of an earlier IRA bomb on December 21, 1974 which was placed in the northeast corner of the first floor. There was a very short warning and the store was in the process of being cleared when it exploded. It was also the target of a much smaller IRA bomb almost ten years later, in January 1993, which injured four people.

From 1973 the Provisional IRA has carried out waves of bombing attacks on commercial targets in London and elsewhere in England as part of its “economic war.” The goal is to damage the economy and cause disruption, which would put pressure on the British government to withdraw from Northern Ireland. On December 10, 1983, the IRA carries out its first attack in London in some time when a bomb explodes at the Royal Artillery Barracks, injuring three British soldiers.

One week later, on the afternoon of December 17, IRA members park a car bomb near the side entrance of Harrods, on Hans Crescent. The bomb contains 25 to 30 lbs. of explosives and is set to be detonated by a timer. It is left in a 1972 blue Austin 1300 GT four-door sedan. At 12:44 PM a man using an IRA codeword phones the central London branch of the Samaritans charity. The caller says there is a car bomb outside Harrods and another bomb inside Harrods, and gives the car’s registration plate. According to police, he does not give any other description of the car.

The bomb explodes at about 1:21 PM, as four police officers in a car, an officer on foot and a police dog-handler near the suspect vehicle. Three officers and three bystanders are killed and 90 others are injured, including 14 police officers. The blast damages 24 cars and all five floors on the side of Harrods, sending a shower of glass down onto the street. The police car absorbs much of the blast and this likely prevents further casualties.

Five people die at the scene of the bombing and a sixth later dies in the hospital. The bystanders who die are Philip Geddes (24), a journalist who had heard about the alert and went to the scene, Jasmine Cochrane-Patrick (25) and Kenneth Salvesen (28), a United States citizen. The Metropolitan Police Service officers killed are Sergeant Noel Lane (28) and Constable Jane Arbuthnot (22). A third officer, Inspector Stephen Dodd (34), dies in the hospital from his injuries on December 24. Constable Jon Gordon survives, but loses both legs and part of a hand in the blast.

At the time of the explosion, a second warning call is made by the IRA. The caller says that a bomb has been left in the C&A department store at the east end of Oxford Street. Police clear the area and cordon it off but this claim is found to be false. In the aftermath of the attack, hundreds of extra police and mobile bomb squads are drafted into London. Aleck Craddock, chairman of Harrods, reports that £1 million in turnover has been lost as a result of the bombing. Despite the damage, Harrods re-opens three days later, proclaiming it will not be “defeated by acts of terrorism.” Denis Thatcher, the husband of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, visits the store and tells reporters “no damned Irishman is going to stop me going there.”

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Bloody Sunday 1887 in London

Bloody Sunday takes place in London on November 13, 1887, when a march against unemployment and coercion in Ireland, as well as demanding the release of Member of Parliament (MP) William O’Brien, is attacked by the Metropolitan Police Service and the British Army. The demonstration is organised by the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) and the Irish National League. Violent clashes take place between the police and demonstrators, many “armed with iron bars, knives, pokers and gas pipes.” A contemporary report notes that 400 are arrested and 75 persons are badly injured, including many police, two policemen being stabbed and one protester bayonetted.

William Ewart Gladstone‘s espousal of the cause of Irish home rule has split the Liberal Party and makes it easy for the Conservatives to gain a majority in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. The period from 1885 to 1906 is one of Tory dominance, with short intermissions. Coercion Acts are the answer of British governments perturbed by rural unrest in Ireland, and they involve various degrees of suspension of civil rights. Although one purpose of the November 13 demonstration is to protest about the handling of the Irish situation by the Conservative government of Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, it has a much wider context.

The Long Depression, starting in 1873 and lasting almost to the end of the century, creates difficult social conditions in Britain, similar to the economic problems that drive rural agitation in Ireland. Falling food prices create rural unemployment, which results in both emigration and internal migration. Workers move to the towns and cities in thousands, eroding employment, wages and working conditions. By November 1887, unemployed workers’ demonstrations from the East End of London have been building up for more than two years. There have already been clashes with the police and with the members of upper class clubs. Trafalgar Square is seen symbolically as the point at which the working-class East End meets the upper-class West End of London, a focus of class conflict and an obvious flashpoint.

This attracts the attention of the small but growing socialist movement – the Marxists of both the Social Democratic Federation and Socialist League, and the reformist socialists of the Fabian Society. Police and government attempts to suppress or divert the demonstrations also bring in the radical wing of the Liberal Party and free speech activists from the National Secular Society.

Some 30,000 persons encircle Trafalgar Square as at least 10,000 protesters march in from several different directions, led by Elizabeth Reynolds, John Burns, William Morris, Annie Besant and Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, who are primarily leaders of the Social Democratic Federation. Also marching are the Fabian playwright George Bernard Shaw and Charlotte Wilson. Two thousand police and 400 troops are deployed to halt the demonstration. Burns and Cunninghame Graham are arrested and imprisoned for six weeks. Annie Besant, who is a Marxist, Fabian and secularist, speaks at the rally and offers herself for arrest, but the police decline to do so. Of the 400 arrested, 50 are detained in custody.

In the fighting, many rioters are injured by police truncheons and under the hooves of police horses. There are both infantry and cavalry present. Although the infantry are marched into position with bayonets fixed, they are not ordered to open fire and the cavalry are not ordered to draw their swords.

The following Sunday, November 20, sees another demonstration and more casualties. According to a report in the partisan Socialist Review, among them is a young clerk named Alfred Linnell, who is run down by a police horse, dying in hospital a fortnight later from complications of a shattered thigh.

The funeral of Linnell on December 18 provides another focus for the unemployed and Irish movements. William Morris, leader of the Socialist League, gives the main speech and advocates a holy war to prevent London from being turned into a huge prison. A smaller but similar event marks the burial of another of those killed, W. B. Curner, which takes place in January. The release of those imprisoned is celebrated on February 20, 1888, with a large public meeting. Henry Hyndman, leader of the SDF, violently denounces the Liberal Party and the Radicals who are present.

(Pictured: Bloody Sunday, 1887. This engraving from The Illustrated London News depicts a policeman being clubbed by a demonstrator as he wrests a banner from a female protester.)


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The Guildford Pub Bombings

The Guildford pub bombings occur on October 5, 1974 when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonate two 6-pound gelignite bombs at two pubs in Guildford, Surrey, southwest of London. The pubs are targeted because they are popular with British Army personnel stationed at the barracks in Pirbright. Four soldiers and one civilian are killed, while 65 others are wounded.

The bomb in the Horse and Groom pub detonates at 8:30 PM. It kills Paul Craig, a 22-year-old plasterer, two members of the Scots Guards and two members of the Women’s Royal Army Corps. The Seven Stars pub is evacuated after the first blast, and thus there are no serious injuries when the second bomb explodes at 9:00 PM.

These attacks are the first in a year-long campaign by an IRA Active Service Unit who are eventually captured after the Balcombe Street siege. A similar bomb to those used in Guildford, with the addition of shrapnel, is thrown into the Kings Arms pub in Woolwich on November 7, 1974. Gunner Richard Dunne and Alan Horsley, a sales clerk, die in that explosion. On August 27, 1975 the same IRA unit detonates a bomb in Surrey at the Caterham Arms pub which injures over 30 people. Surrey police say it is “a carbon copy of the Guildford bombs.”

The bombings occur at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Metropolitan Police Service is under enormous pressure to apprehend the IRA bombers responsible for the attacks in England. The bombings contribute to the speedy and unchallenged passing of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts in November 1974.

In December 1974 the police arrest Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson, later known as the Guildford Four. The Guildford Four are falsely convicted of the bombings in October 1975 after the Metropolitan Police use the Prevention of Terrorism Acts to force false confessions. All four are sentenced to life in prison.

The Guildford Four are held in prison for fifteen years, although Gerry Conlon dies near the end of his third year of imprisonment. All the convictions are overturned years later in the appeal courts after it is proved the Guildford Four’s convictions had been based on confessions obtained by torture, while evidence specifically clearing the Four is not reported by the police.