On the morning of 17 May 1974, four cars are stolen in Belfast. That evening, they would explode without warning in Dublin and Monaghan resulting in the deaths of 34 civilians and injuries to more than 300. The bombings were the worst single atrocity in Ireland during the “Troubles.” No one was ever charged.
The bombings were a Loyalist reaction to the Sunningdale Agreement and attempts to introduce power sharing between Loyalist and Nationalists in Northern Ireland.
The first of the three Dublin bombs went off at approximately 5.28pm without warning, at Parnell Street, near the intersection with Marlborough Street. The second bomb went off at about 5.30 on Talbot Street, near the intersection with Lower Gardiner Street. The third bomb went off at about 5.32 on South Leinster Street, near the railings of Trinity College and not far from Leinster House. The streets all ran east-west from busy thoroughfares to railway stations. There was a bus strike in Dublin at the time, which meant there were more people on the streets than usual. According to one of the Irish Army’s top bomb disposal officers, Commandant Patrick Trears, the bombs were constructed so well that 100% of each bomb exploded upon detonation.
The scene was one of carnage with dead, dying and thought to be dead brought to make shift mortuaries. Fifteen year old Derek Byrne regained consciousness at the morgue where he had been pronounced dead. “I was just lying on the table. It was full of bodies. I just let out a scream. The mortuary attendant then let out a scream.”
The Irish Press reported:
“Seconds after the blasts, as the pall of smoke rose from the streets, dazed survivors saw the normal home-going rush of people turned into a scene of carnage. There were bodies, some limbless, some blasted beyond recognition, some burned, lying on the pavements. Scores of others badly injured and many knocked out by the blast or shocked by the impact were hurled into windows and side streets. For some time it was impossible to distinguish between the dead and the injured.”
The relatively lightly injured Liam Sullivan told the official Barron Report into the bombings what he saw at the hospital “I will never be able to explain what I saw over there. It was like a slaughterhouse. There were bodies everywhere and people being operated on.”
A number of official reports suggest that the Loyalist bombers had support from members of the British security forces in Northern Ireland. The Barron Report quotes the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mr. Merlyn Rees, in relation to a subversive faction in British Army Intelligence: ‘It was a unit, a section out of control. There is no doubt it reflected the views of a number of soldiers.’ “Let’s go in and fix this lot”, and so on. But that it went on, and that it went on from Lisburn, and it went on from the Army Information Service and those associated with it, I have no doubt at all.’
The Garda Siochana and Irish Government has also been criticised about events following the bombing. Some early strong evidence related to the bombers was not pursued. Also, evidence disappeared including a car registration plate with a fingerprint of one of the suspected bombers.
Barron reported: “The Garda investigation failed to make full use of the information it obtained. Certain lines of inquiry that could have been pursued further in this jurisdiction were not pursued”
The Irish Government’s efforts finding the killers was criticised as lack-luster and uninterested. This may have been a deliberate decision due to the incredibly high tensions of the time. Had the involvement of British security forces become public knowledge, it would have caused an absolute firestorm of emotion and almost certainly even further violence.
Final Report on the Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings: http://www.dublinmonaghanbombings.org/DubMonFinal.pdf
Dublin and Monaghan Bombings 1974: http://youtu.be/BIuyuPsy0Mo
Photo: Memorial to the bomb victims in Dublin’s Talbot St