Credit: Irish Photo Archive

ON THIS DAY: 17 MAY 1974: The Dublin-Monaghan Bombings was used to terrorise the south: it worked.

Firemen are pictured assessing the damage at a small garage on Parnell Street Photo Credit: Irish Photo Archive

I was ten in 1974. It was the year that I mainly remember for the fact that Dublin won the All-Ireland and I had been at my first big game – although not my first ever game – in Croke Park, when they beat Cork in the semi-final.

The other main memory I have is of the day of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. It was a sunny Friday afternoon, and we were all out on the road in Greenhills messing about surrounded by the neighbourhood dogs. Friday was a big day, because my Dad who was working on Nassau Street used to bring us home magazines and comics and other treats assuming he and Paddy Campbell had collected from their customers.

Greenhills is about five miles from the city centre but we heard the explosions at 5.30pm, or so we believe we did. Then there was something approaching panic as radio reports told where the bombs had been detonated, and suddenly the noise of children and dogs had abated and the road was taken over by anxious families waiting for fathers and mothers and siblings to return from work.

My mother must have been particularly worried given that one of the bombs had exploded close to where my father’s tailoring shop was on Nassau Street. There were no buses to the city because of a strike, and it seemed like hours before people started to arrive home having mostly walked.

An hour and a half later, another bomb exploded in the centre of Monaghan. In total 34 people were killed. It was immediately suspected that the bombs had been planted by loyalists who were in the midst of a general strike against power sharing. However, the Ulster Volunteer Force did not claim responsibility until 1993.

That claim was only made in response to growing suspicions backed by substantial investigative findings, that the loyalists responsible had at the very least been security forces informants. The UVF statement was a combination of machismo, threats and – very possibly given their ongoing manipulation by elements of the intelligence services – deflection from any attribution to RUC Special Branch or British intelligence.

Given what we know of the involvement of loyalists who were also part of the Glenanne death squads, and their connections to the various branches of the state, some involvement at several levels in the Dublin-Monaghan bombings seems to be pretty certain. The Mitchell farm at Glenanne was central to the bombing operation.

There is also the fact that Garda files from those years are sparse, and that for many years it would seem that the relatives of the victims were treated by Garda Special Branch as politically suspect, a smear that was upheld by most of the political and media establishment in the Republic.

It seems incredible now that it took a quarter of a century for the Irish state to establish an official enquiry. The Dáil record in which representations by Tony Gregory, Joe Costello and a small number of other TDs were almost dismissed with contempt makes for sorry reading. What became the Barron Report was published in 2003 and concluded that British state agents had been involved at some level, but that their efforts to get to the bottom of this had been hampered by the refusal of the British to hand over documents on the basis of national security concerns.

The report’s conclusions with regard to both the British refusal to cooperate and the missing Garda files is pretty damning:

As the Final Report from the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights on the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings observed: .

2.19 In the opinion of Mr. Justice Barron, the fact that the Inquiry never saw original intelligence documents and was only allowed access to sixteen pages of a summary of the documents, was a hindrance to its work.

2.48 One of the most extraordinary revelations contained in the Barron Report is that there is an amount of official documentation, which has disappeared. Given that this was the largest atrocity in the State, it is astonishing that better care was not kept of these documents and there exists no complete explanation as to their whereabouts.

Among the Garda Special Branch files that “could not be located” were ones labelled “Dublin bombings,” “IRA activities,” and two related to suspect cars pertinent to the bombing investigation, and to a file concerning an apparent suspect. Another missing file concerns the appointment of a Special Branch detective, which some believe is part of the cover up of one Garda who was strongly suspected of colluding in various incidents with the northern and British security forces, most likely as a paid agent of one or other. Whether he had any connection to the bombings remains conjecture.

The object of the bombings of course was to frighten people in the south and to undermine any support there was for the IRA. Another motivation was to encourage the Irish state to take more draconian measures against the IRA. Both of those aims were successful. Two years before the bombings, our road had many black flags on houses after Bloody Sunday.

I remember my Dad and one of our neighbours with packets of Christmas cards to be sent to IRA prisoners in Mountjoy and Long Kesh. After 1974 there were few who were openly republican, and those who were had regular visits from Special Branch in their little Ford Capris.

For Dubliners, the bombings brought home what was taking place less than 100 miles up the road. Many more people were to die before it ended. And like all armed conflicts most of the victims died needlessly for no worthwhile outcome.


The report of the Oireachtas Committee also records some of the harrowing memories of the victims.

Mr. John Molloy also detailed the scene of the Parnell Street bomb. He felt he was “looking into hell from what he saw. People were lying on the roads moaning, with bits of pieces of bodies here and there.” So great was his trauma at witnessing these scenes that he did not realise that he had been injured in the blast himself and was in need of medical attention.

Kevin O’Loughlin spoke of the agony of waiting for his mother to arrive home, knowing that her route home from work along South Leinster Street coincided with one of the bombsites… He recalled how his father eventually found his mother’s body in the morgue where he identified her. Because of the horrific nature of her injuries, the rest of the family were prevented from viewing her body. “I did not see my mother’s body when she was killed and I have no memory of what she looked like. She was wiped off the face of the earth in the eyes of myself and my brother. One day she was there and the next she was gone.”

Ms. Marie Sherry described being injured in the Parnell Street bomb and stated that her physical injuries were nothing when compared to the mental turmoil that she has suffered since:

“I can only describe my life, particularly in my 20s and 30s although not so much now, as one of constant alert. For weeks and months after the bombs I used to go home and say, ‘Mum, any news on those people who did the bombing? Was anybody charged?’ There never was news. There were no names. Nobody was charged. I lived my life thinking ‘These guys are walking around. They could be sitting beside me in the cinema. They could be on the bus. These guys are free to do the same thing again’. It was just awful and it ruined my life. I did not want to go into town to socialise with my friends, I did not like being in a pub and I did not like being at the cinema … Only when one has been through it can one realise how horrific it is to live one’s life like that. I wish it had never happened. It was just awful.”

Mr. Thomas O’Brien told the Sub-Committee of the anguish suffered by members of his family following the murder of his brother, his sister-in-law and his two nieces in the bombings:

“My father died in 1972 and when Johnny, Anna, Jacqueline and Anne-Marie died, my mother was heartbroken and she is still. Johnny was the eldest brother of 11 and I often wonder what the two kids would be now. They would be in their 30’s and could be married and so on. We will never get over it.”


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