On the afternoon of the 17th of May, 1974, as rush-hour commuters made their way through Dublin’s city-centre, three car-bombs exploded within the space of four minutes. The streets were filled with an unusually high number of pedestrians and vehicles due to a planned bus-strike and the targeted locations, Parnell Street, Talbot Street and South Leinster Street, were on the main routes to the local train stations. The obvious planning and forethought put into the attacks had the desired effect, leaving twenty-six dead and nearly 300 wounded. Approximately ninety minutes later a fourth car bomb detonated in the market-town of Monaghan, resulting in seven deaths and dozens of injuries. The resultant carnage overwhelmed the emergency services in the counties of Dublin and Monaghan, chaos gripping the Gardaí, ambulance and fire crews, and the hospitals.
Though none of the main British terrorist organisations in the north-east of Ireland issued formal claims of responsibility for the bombings there was little doubt that the unionist or loyalist militant factions were to blame. In the words of Sammy Smyth, a press officer for the Ulster Defence Association or UDA. a legal UK terror group:
“I am very happy about the bombings in Dublin. There is a war with the Free State and now we are laughing at them.”
The political classes in Dublin were stunned by the ferocity of the assault on the capital, quite unlike anything experienced previously, and the then Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition government ramped up its security efforts along the “border” with the Six Counties, increasing co-operation with Britain’s military and civil representatives in the region. This had the “unintended” consequences of severely hampering efforts by the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army to prosecute its war against the British Forces in the north, something happily acknowledged by the UK ambassador to Ireland in his analysis of the shocked Irish administration:
“There is no sign of any general anti-Northern Protestant reaction … The predictable attempt by the IRA to pin the blame on the British (British agents, the SAS, etc) has made no headway at all. … It is only now that the South has experienced violence that they are reacting in the way that the North has sought for so long. … it would be … a psychological mistake for us to rub this point in. … I think the Irish have taken the point.”
Indeed, the point of the quadruple-attack was obvious to many, a brutal “lesson” to the authorities in Dublin that the general “toleration” of IRA activities by the population in the “south” would eventually draw a bloody response. Within months of the terror strikes the Irish authorities were aware of the source of the car bombs, a section of the extremist Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) operating in mid-Ulster and nicknamed the “Glenanne Gang”. Furthermore by 1975 the government in Dublin was also aware that this amorphous terrorst grouping included serving and former British soldiers and policemen, and was closely linked to the counter-insurgency operations of the UK intelligence services. With evidence mounting, not just from investigations by the Garda Síochána and Defence Forces Ireland, but also from information supplied by the Irish Republican Army and sympathetic members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in the north-east, the Fine Gael-Labour coalition knew that the trail for the Dublin-Monaghan bombers was leading all the way into the heart of Britain’s ruling establishment.
Fearing reactions should the information be made public, and a renewed groundswell of support for the IRA’s armed struggle surpassing that following the Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1972, the government of Ireland initiated a cover-up, hiding the UK’s role in the slaughter of its citizens. This was to set a pattern that was to be repeated over and over again throughout the next two decades of conflict.
In the 1990s the names of the UVF killers behind the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings were revealed to be William “Billy” Hanna, Robert McConnell, Harris Boyle, David Alexander Mulholland and Robin “the Jackal” Jackson, all serving soldiers with the British Army. Jackson was also identified as a close associate of senior RUC commander Harry Breen and Robert Nairac, a member of the UK’s covert Special Reconnaissance Unit (aka. 14th Intelligence Company), a military death squad. The materials and know-how for the bombs likely came through Nairac, and they were constructed on the farmland of James Mitchell, a police officer, before being transported southward in vehicles procured by William “Frenchie” Marchant, a UVF boss in Belfast. None of the above individuals were ever charged or brought to trial for the atrocity, though most suffered violent deaths in the years that followed.
Of course, the actions of the despicable Fine Gael and Labour Party government of 1973-77, the so-called “national coalition”, were met with approval both at the time and subsequently in the closed circle of the Dublin elites. There are still those who intimate that the 1974 atrocities were a salutary lesson that need to be learned, and that the lives of Irish men, women and children were a small price to pay for the ultimate goal of maintaining the UK’s occupation of the north-eastern six counties of Ireland. Step forward arch-dissembler for all crimes British, Ruth Dudley Edwards, ever ready to find the unionist-sympathising whataboutery in any past or present event, writing in her
personal blog Sunday Independent newspaper column:
“That day in 1974, as soon as I heard about the Dublin bombings, I rang my mother for mutual hand-wringing and to check that she and my father were all right. A lover of the Irish language and its literature, she was a life-long opponent of violent nationalism. “This is terrible,” she said,. “but it’s no more terrible to have it happen here than in Northern Ireland. In fact, it will be less if it brings IRA supporters to their senses seeing on their own doorstep what happens when bombs go off.””
Need I say more?