seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Donegall Street Bombing

The Donegall Street bombing takes place in Belfast, Northern Ireland on March 20, 1972 when, just before noon, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonates a car bomb in Lower Donegall Street in Belfast City Centre when the street is crowded with shoppers, office workers, and many schoolchildren.

Seven people are killed in the explosion, including two members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), who say they had evacuated people to what was considered to have been a safe area following misleading telephone calls, which had originally placed the device in a nearby street. The Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade admits responsibility for the bomb, which also injures 148 people, but claims that the security forces had deliberately misrepresented the warnings in order to maximise the casualties. This is one of the first car bombs the IRA uses in their armed campaign.

On Monday, March 20, 1972, at 11.45 a.m., a local carpet dealer receives a telephone call warning that a bomb will explode in Belfast city centre’s Church Street which is crowded with shoppers, office workers on lunch breaks, and schoolchildren. British Army troops and the RUC are alerted and immediately begin to evacuate the people into nearby Lower Donegall Street. The second call to The Irish News newspaper seven minutes later also gives Church Street as the location for the device. A final call comes at 11:55 a.m. advising The News Letter newspaper that the bomb is instead placed outside its offices in Lower Donegall Street where the crowds have being sent. Thus, the warning arrives too late for the security forces to clear the street. Staff working inside The News Letter building are told by the caller that they have 15 minutes in which to leave the building, but they never have a chance to evacuate.

At 11:58 a.m. a 100-pound gelignite bomb explodes inside a green Ford Cortina parked in the street outside the offices of The News Letter, shaking the city centre with the force of its blast, and instantly killing the two RUC constables, Ernest McAllister (31) and Bernard O’Neill (36), who had been examining the vehicle. The remains of the two policemen are allegedly found inside a nearby building. Minutes earlier they had been helping to escort people away from Church Street.

The explosion sends a ball of flame rolling down the street and a pall of black smoke rising upward. The blast wave rips into the crowds of people who had run into Donegall Street for safety, tossing them in all directions and killing another four men outright: Ernest Dougan (39), James Macklin (30), Samuel Trainor (39) and Sydney Bell (65). Trainor is also an off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier and a member of the Orange Order. A seriously wounded pensioner, Henry Miller (79) dies in hospital on April 5. Most of the dead are mutilated beyond recognition. With the exception of Constable O’Neill, who is a Catholic, the other six victims are Protestants.

The explosion blows out all the windows in the vicinity, sending shards of glass into people’s bodies as they are hit by falling masonry and timber. The ground floor of The News Letter offices and all buildings in the area suffer heavy damage. The News Letter library in particular sustains considerable damage with many priceless photographs and old documents destroyed. Around the blast’s epicentre, the street resembles a battlefield. About one hundred schoolgirls lay wounded on the rubble-strewn, bloody pavement covered in glass and debris, and screaming in pain and fright. A total of 148 people are injured in the explosion, 19 of them seriously. Among the injured are many of The News Letter staff.

One of the wounded is a child whose injuries are so severe a rescue worker at the scene assumes the child has been killed. A young Czech art student, Blanka Sochor (22), receives severe injuries to her legs. She is photographed by Derek Brind of the Associated Press as a British Paratrooper holds her in his arms. Passerby Frank Heagan witnesses the explosion and comes upon what is left of two binmen who had been “blown to pieces.” He adds that “there was blood everywhere and people moaning and screaming. The street was full of girls and women all wandering around.” The injured can be heard screaming as the ambulances transport them to hospital. Emergency amputations are performed at the scene.

While the security forces and firemen pull victims from the debris in Donegall Street, two more bombs go off elsewhere in the city centre, however, nobody is hurt in either attack. On the same day in Derry, a British soldier, John Taylor, is shot dead by an IRA sniper. In Dublin, Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army, Seán Mac Stíofáin, suffers burns to his face and hands after he opens a letter bomb sent to him through the post. Cathal Goulding, head of the Official Irish Republican Army, also receives a letter bomb but escapes injury by having dismantled the device before it exploded.

This is amongst the first car bombs used by the Provisional IRA during The Troubles in its militant campaign to force a British military withdrawal and reunite the six counties of Northern Ireland with the rest of the island of Ireland. It is part of the IRA’s escalation of violence to avenge the Bloody Sunday killings in which 13 unarmed Catholic civilian men were killed by the British Army’s Parachute Regiment when the latter opened fire during an anti-internment demonstration held in Derry on January 30, 1972.

The bombing is carried out by the North Belfast unit of the Provisional IRA’s Third Battalion Belfast Brigade. The OC of the Brigade at that time is the volatile Seamus Twomey, who orders and directs the attack.

On March 23, the IRA admits responsibility for the bomb with one Belfast Brigade officer later telling a journalist, “I feel very bad when the innocent die.” The IRA, however, tempers the admission by claiming that the caller had given Donegall Street as the correct location for the bomb in all the telephone calls and that the security forces had deliberately evacuated the crowds from Church Street to maximise the casualties. The IRA’s official statement claiming responsibility for the blast is released through the Irish Republican Publicity Bureau.

The IRA follows the Donegall Street attack two days later with a car bomb at a carpark adjacent to the Belfast Great Victoria Street railway station and close to the Europa Hotel. Seventy people are treated in hospital for injuries received mainly by flying glass, but there are no deaths. The blast causes considerable damage to two trains, parked vehicles, the hotel, and other buildings in the area.

Although many members of the Provisional IRA are rounded up by police in the wake of the Donegal Street attack, none of the bombers are ever caught nor is anyone ever charged in connection with the bombing.


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Tribunal of Inquiry Into Bloody Sunday 1972 Announced

On January 31, 1972, the day after Bloody Sunday, British Home Secretary Reginald Maudling announces a tribunal of inquiry “into the circumstances of the march and the incidents leading up to the casualties which resulted.”

The official British Army position, backed by Maudling in the House of Commons, is that the paratroopers reacted to gun and nail bomb attacks from suspected Irish Republican Army (IRA) members. Apart from the soldiers, all eyewitnesses — including marchers, local residents, and British and Irish journalists present — maintain that soldiers fired into an unarmed crowd, or were aiming at fleeing people and those tending the wounded, whereas the soldiers themselves were not fired upon. No British soldier is wounded by gunfire or reports any injuries, nor are any bullets or nail bombs recovered to back up their claims.

On February 2, 1972, the day that twelve of those killed are buried, there is a general strike in the Republic of Ireland, the biggest such strike in Europe since World War II relative to population. Memorial services are held in Catholic and Protestant churches, as well as synagogues, throughout the Republic. The same day, irate crowds burn down the British embassy in Merrion Square in Dublin. Anglo-Irish relations hit one of their lowest ebbs with the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Patrick Hillery, going to the United Nations Security Council to demand the involvement of a UN peacekeeping force in the Northern Ireland conflict.

In the days following Bloody Sunday, Bernadette Devlin, the independent Irish nationalist Member of Parliament (MP) for Mid Ulster, expresses anger at what she perceives as British government attempts to stifle accounts being reported about the shootings. Having witnessed the events firsthand, she is infuriated that the Speaker of the House of Commons, Selwyn Lloyd, consistently denies her the chance to speak in Parliament about the shootings, although parliamentary convention decrees that any MP witnessing an incident under discussion will be granted an opportunity to speak about it in Parliament. Devlin slaps Reginald Maudling and calls him a “murdering hypocrite” when he makes a statement to Parliament that the British Army had fired only in self-defence. She is temporarily suspended from Parliament as a result.

An inquest into the deaths is held in August 1973. The city’s coroner, Hubert O’Neill, a retired British Army major, issues a statement at the completion of the inquest. He declares:

“This Sunday became known as Bloody Sunday and bloody it was. It was quite unnecessary. It strikes me that the Army ran amok that day and shot without thinking what they were doing. They were shooting innocent people. These people may have been taking part in a march that was banned but that does not justify the troops coming in and firing live rounds indiscriminately. I would say without hesitation that it was sheer, unadulterated murder. It was murder.”

(Pictured: Home Secretary Reginald Maudling (left) and Member of Parliament for Mid Ulster Bernadette Devlin)


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Death of David Lord, RAF Officer & Victoria Cross Recipient

David Samuel Anthony Lord, VC, DFC, recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces, is killed at Arnhem, Netherlands, on September 19, 1944 during World War II. A transport pilot in the Royal Air Force, he receives the award posthumously for his actions during the Battle of Arnhem while flying resupply missions in support of British paratroopers.

Lord is born on October 18, 1913 in Cork, County Cork, one of three sons of Samuel (a warrant officer in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers) and Mary Lord (née Miller). One of his brothers dies in infancy.

After World War I the family is posted to British India and Lord attends Lucknow Convent School. On his father’s retirement from the Army the family moves to Wrexham and then he is a pupil at St. Mary’s College, Aberystwyth, and then the University of Wales. Later, he attends the English College, Valladolid, Spain, to study for the priesthood. Deciding that it was not the career for him, he returns to Wrexham, before moving to London in the mid-1930s to work as a freelance writer.

Lord enlists in the Royal Air Force on August 6, 1936. After reaching the rank of corporal in August 1938, he applies to undertake pilot training, which he begins in October 1938. Successfully gaining his pilot’s wings, he becomes a sergeant pilot in April 1939, and is posted to No. 31 Squadron RAF, based in Lahore, India. He later flies the Vickers Type 264 Valentia biplane transport. In 1941, No. 31 Squadron is the first unit to receive the Douglas DC-2 which is followed by both the Douglas DC-3 and Dakota C-47 Skytrain transports. That year he is promoted to flight sergeant and then warrant officer. He flies in North Africa, supporting troops in Libya and Egypt for four months, before being posted back to India. Commissioned as a pilot officer in May 1942, he flies supply missions over Burma, for which he is mentioned in despatches.

Lord is awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in July 1943, receiving the award at Buckingham Palace, and is promoted to flight lieutenant shortly afterwards. By January 1944, he has joined No. 271 Squadron RAF, based at RAF Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, and begins training as part of preparations for the invasion of Europe. On D-Day, he carries paratroopers into France and his aircraft was hit by flak, returning to base without flaps.

The Battle of Arnhem is part of Operation Market Garden, an attempt to secure a string of bridges through the Netherlands. At Arnhem, the British 1st Airborne Division and Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade are tasked with securing bridges across the Lower Rhine, the final objectives of the operation. However, the airborne forces that drop on September 17 are not aware that the 9th SS and 10th SS Panzer divisions are also near Arnhem for rest and refit. Their presence adds a substantial number of Panzergrenadiers, tanks and self-propelled guns to the German defences and the Allies suffer heavily in the ensuing battle. Only a small force manages to hold one end of the Arnhem road bridge before being overrun on September 21. The rest of the division becomes trapped in a small pocket west of the bridge and has to be evacuated on September 25. The Allies fail to cross the Rhine, which remains under German control until Allied offensives in March 1945.

Lord is 30 years old, and a flight lieutenant serving with No. 271 Squadron, Royal Air Force during World War II when he is awarded the Victoria Cross. On September 19, 1944, during the Battle of Arnhem in the Netherlands, the British 1st Airborne Division is in desperate need of supplies. His Dakota III “KG374” encounters intense enemy anti-aircraft fire and is hit twice, with one engine burning. He manages to drop his supplies, but at the end of the run finds that there are two containers remaining. Although he knows that one of his wings might collapse at any moment, he nevertheless makes a second run to drop the last supplies, then orders his crew to bail out. A few seconds later, the Dakota crashes in flames with its pilot and six crew members.

Only the navigator, Flying Officer Harold King, survives, becoming a prisoner of war. It is only on his release in mid-1945, as well as the release of several paratroops from the 10th Parachute Battalion, that the story of Lord’s action becomes known. He is awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.

After Arnhem is liberated in April 1945, Grave Registration Units of the British 2nd Army move into the area and began to locate the Allied dead. Lord is buried alongside his crew in the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery. There are many plaques in memory of him, including one at Wrexham Cathedral in Wales.

Several aircraft have carried tributes to Lord. Between 1993 and 1998, the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight‘s Dakota, serial “ZA947”, is painted in the colours of Lord’s aircraft during the Arnhem battle, and bears the same code letters: YS-DM. Between 1973 and 2005, the Dakota displayed at RAF Museum Cosford is similarly painted and coded to represent Lord’s aircraft. From 1966 until its disbandment in 2005, No. 10 Squadron RAF is equipped with Vickers VC-10s, each of which is named after a Royal Air Force or Royal Flying Corps VC recipient. Aircraft serial number ‘XR810’ is named David Lord VC.

Lord’s Victoria Cross is presented to his parents at Buckingham Palace in December 1945. In 1997, his Victoria Cross, along with his other decorations and medals, are sold at auction by Spinks to Lord Ashcroft. As of 2014, the medal group is on display at the Imperial War Museum.