McGurk's Bar bombing
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On 4 December 1971, the
Ulster Volunteer Force The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) is an Ulster loyalist Ulster loyalism is a strand of Ulster unionism associated with working class Ulster Protestants in Northern Ireland Northern Ireland ( ga, Tuaisceart Éireann ; Ulster Scots d ...
(UVF), an
Ulster loyalist Ulster loyalism is a strand of Ulster unionism associated with working class Ulster Protestants in Northern Ireland Northern Ireland ( ga, Tuaisceart Éireann ; Ulster Scots dialects, Ulster-Scots: ') is #Descriptions, variously descri ...
paramilitary group, detonated a bomb at McGurk's Bar in
Belfast Belfast ( ; , ) is the capital and largest city of , standing on the banks of the on the east coast. It is the 12th-largest city in the and the second-largest on the island of . It had a population of 343,542 . Belfast suffered greatly duri ...

Belfast
,
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Northern Ireland
. The
pub A pub (short for public house) is an establishment licensed to serve alcoholic drinks for consumption on the premises. The term ''public house'' first appeared in the late 17th century, and was used to differentiate private houses from ...
was frequented by
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s/
nationalist Nationalism is an idea and movement that promotes the interests of a particular nation (as in a in-group and out-group, group of people),Anthony D. Smith, Smith, Anthony. ''Nationalism: Theory, Ideology, History''. Polity (publisher), Polity, ...
s. The explosion caused the building to collapse, killing fifteen Catholic civilians—including two children—and wounding seventeen more. It was the deadliest attack in Belfast during
the Troubles The Troubles ( ga, Na Trioblóidí) were an ethno-nationalist Ethnic nationalism, also known as ethnonationalism, is a form of nationalism Nationalism is an idea and movement that promotes the interests of a particular nation A na ...
. Despite evidence to the contrary, the British security forces asserted that a bomb had exploded prematurely while being handled by
Irish Republican Army The Irish Republican Army (IRA) is a name used by various paramilitary organisations in Ireland throughout the 20th and the 21st centuries. Organisations going by this name have been dedicated to irredentism through Irish republicanism, the be ...
(IRA) members inside the pub, implying that the victims themselves were partly to blame. A report later found that the
Royal Ulster Constabulary The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was the police The police are a constituted body of persons A person (plural people or persons) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason Reason is the capacity of consciou ...

Royal Ulster Constabulary
, the police force in Northern Ireland at the time, were biased in favour of this view, and that this hindered their investigation. The victims' relatives allege that the security forces deliberately spread
disinformation Disinformation is false or misleading information Information can be thought of as the resolution of uncertainty; it answers the question of "What an entity is" and thus defines both its essence and the nature of its characteristics. The c ...
to discredit the IRA. In 1977, UVF member Robert Campbell was sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the bombing and served fifteen years. He died in 2013. The bombing sparked a series of tit-for-tat bombings and shootings by loyalists and republicans, which contributed to making 1972 the bloodiest year of the conflict.


Background

Tramore Bar, commonly called McGurk's Bar, was a two-storey
public house A pub (short for public house) is an establishment licensed to serve alcoholic drinks for consumption Licensing laws of the United Kingdom#On-licence, on the premises. The term ''public house'' first appeared in the late 17th century, and ...
on the corner of North Queen Street and Great George's Street, in the
New LodgeNew Lodge may refer to: *New Lodge, Winkfield near Windsor, Berkshire, England *New Lodge, South Yorkshire, England *New Lodge, Belfast, an area of North Belfast, Northern Ireland *New Lodge, Billericay, association football ground in Billericay, Es ...
area to the north of Belfast city centre. This was a mainly Irish nationalist and Catholic neighbourhood, and the pub's regular customers were from the community. The pub was owned by Patrick and Philomena McGurk, who lived on the upper floor with their four children. The
Ulster Volunteer Force The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) is an Ulster loyalist Ulster loyalism is a strand of Ulster unionism associated with working class Ulster Protestants in Northern Ireland Northern Ireland ( ga, Tuaisceart Éireann ; Ulster Scots d ...
(UVF) was formed in Belfast in 1966, declaring "war" on the
Irish Republican Army The Irish Republican Army (IRA) is a name used by various paramilitary organisations in Ireland throughout the 20th and the 21st centuries. Organisations going by this name have been dedicated to irredentism through Irish republicanism, the be ...
(IRA). Until 1971, however, its actions were few and it "scarcely existed in an organisational sense". The
British Army The British Army is the principal of the , a part of the . , the British Army comprises 80,040 regular full-time personnel and 30,020 personnel. The modern British Army traces back to 1707, with an antecedent in the that was created duri ...
was deployed in Northern Ireland following the August 1969 riots, which are usually seen as the start of
the Troubles The Troubles ( ga, Na Trioblóidí) were an ethno-nationalist Ethnic nationalism, also known as ethnonationalism, is a form of nationalism Nationalism is an idea and movement that promotes the interests of a particular nation A na ...
. In December 1969 the IRA split into two factions: the 'Official' IRA and
Provisional IRA The Irish Republican Army (IRA; ), also known as the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and informally as the Provos, was an Irish republican paramilitary Paramilitary forces usually tend to wear similar but different uniforms to the mili ...
. Both launched armed campaigns against the British Army, the
Royal Ulster Constabulary The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was the police The police are a constituted body of persons A person (plural people or persons) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason Reason is the capacity of consciou ...

Royal Ulster Constabulary
(RUC) and the
government of Northern Ireland The government of Northern Ireland is, generally speaking, whatever political body exercises pol authority over Northern Ireland Northern Ireland ( ga, Tuaisceart Éireann ; Ulster Scots dialects, Ulster-Scots: ') is #Descriptions, variousl ...
. During 1971, the violence gradually worsened. There were daily bombings and shootings by republicans, loyalists and the security forces. During the first two weeks of December, there were about 70 bombings and about 30 people were killed. On 2 December, three republican prisoners escaped from
Crumlin Road prison HMP Belfast, also known as Crumlin Road Gaol, is a former prison situated on the Crumlin Road in north Belfast, Northern Ireland. Since 1996 it is the only remaining Victorian era prison in Northern Ireland. It is colloquially known as ''the Crum ...
, not far from McGurk's. Security was tightened and there was a heavy RUC and British Army presence in the area over the next two days.Police Ombudsman's Report, p.9 Eyewitnesses asserted that the checkpoints around McGurk's were removed just an hour before the attack.


Bombing

On the evening of Saturday 4 December 1971, a four-man UVF team met in the Shankill area of Belfast and were ordered to bomb a pub on North Queen Street. According to the only convicted bomber—Robert Campbell—they were told not to return until the job was done.Police Ombudsman's report, pp.44–45 Campbell said that their target had not been McGurk's, but another pub nearby.Police Ombudsman's report, p.76 It is believed this was a pub called The Gem, which was allegedly linked to the Official IRA.McAleese, Deborah
"Recriminations still fly over McGurk's Bar massacre"
''
Belfast Telegraph The ''Belfast Telegraph'' is a daily newspaper published in Belfast Belfast ( ; , ) is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland, standing on the banks of the River Lagan on the east coast. It is the 12th-largest city in the United K ...
'', 9 July 2010. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
"McGurk’s Bar Bombing"
, ''Hansard'', 14 July 2008. Retrieved 4 November 2009
The bomb was disguised as a brown parcel, which they placed in a car and drove to their target. Campbell says they stopped near The Gem at about 7:30pm, but could not gain access to it because there were security guards outside. After waiting for almost an hour, they drove a short distance to McGurk's. At about 8:45pm, one of them placed the bomb in the
porch A porch (from Old French ''porche'', from Latin ''porticus'' "colonnade", from ''porta'' "passage") is a room or gallery located in front of an entrance of a building. A porch is placed in front of the facade of a building it commands, and forms ...

porch
entrance on Great George's Street and rushed back to the car. It exploded just moments after they drove off. Campbell implied that McGurk's had been chosen only because it was "the nearest Catholic pub". The blast caused the building to collapse. Bystanders immediately rushed to free the dead and wounded from the rubble. Firefighters, paramedics, police and soldiers were quickly on the scene. Fifteen Catholic civilians had been killed—including two childrenSutton Index of Deaths: 4 December 1971
''CAIN''.
—and a further seventeen wounded. The rescue effort lasted many hours. Within two hours of the blast, a sectarian clash had erupted nearby at the New Lodge–Tiger's Bay
interface Interface or interfacing may refer to: Academic journals * Interface (journal), ''Interface'' (journal), by the Electrochemical Society * ''Interface, Journal of Applied Linguistics'', now merged with ''ITL International Journal of Applied Lin ...
.McKittrick, David. ''Lost Lives: The stories of the men, women and children who died as a result of the Northern Ireland Troubles''. Mainstream, 1999. p.127. The British Army and RUC moved in and a gun battle developed. A British Army officer, Major Jeremy Snow, was shot by the IRA on New Lodge Road and died of his wounds on 8 December. Two RUC officers and five civilians were also wounded by gunfire. Eventually, five companies of troops were sent into the district and they searched almost 50 houses. Meanwhile, the UVF team had driven to a nearby pickup point where they dumped their car. They walked to the area of and were picked up by another. They were driven back to the Shankill and met the man who had ordered the attack in an Orange Hall, telling him that "the job has been done". Among those killed were Philomena and Maria McGurk, wife and 14-year-old daughter of the pub owner Patrick McGurk. Patrick and his three sons were seriously injured. In a television statement shortly afterward, McGurk asked that there be no retaliation: "It doesn't matter who planted the bomb. What's done can't be undone. I've been trying to keep bitterness out of it."


Investigation


Responsibility

After the bombing, the media reported various theories about who was responsible. The main theories were: *that it had been planted by loyalists; *that it had exploded prematurely while being prepared by IRA members inside the pub; *that it had exploded prematurely while "in transit", an IRA member having left it in the pub to be collected by another IRA member; and *that it had been planted as part of a feud between the Provisional IRA and Official IRA. The security forces promoted the idea that it was an IRA bomb which exploded prematurely (an "
own goal An own goal is an event in competitive goal-scoring sports (such as association football Association football, more commonly known as simply football or soccer, is a team sport played with a sphere, spherical Ball (association football), ba ...
"). Survivors and relatives denied this. They said the pub was not associated with the IRA and there had been no suspicious people or activity in the pub that night. An Intelligence Corps document from December 1971 also said that the pub was not known to have IRA associations. On 6 December, both wings of the IRA condemned the attack, denied responsibility and blamed the UVF and security forces.Police Ombudsman's report, p.42


Claims of responsibility

That same day, several newspapers received telephone calls from someone claiming to be a spokesman for the "Empire Loyalists". Their statement to the ''
Belfast Telegraph The ''Belfast Telegraph'' is a daily newspaper published in Belfast Belfast ( ; , ) is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland, standing on the banks of the River Lagan on the east coast. It is the 12th-largest city in the United K ...
'' was:
We he Empire Loyalistsaccept responsibility for the destruction of McGurk's pub. We placed 30lb of new explosives outside the pub because we had proved beyond doubt that meetings of IRA Provisionals and Officials were held there.Police Ombudsman's report, pp.27–28
The "Empire Loyalists" had made only one other claim of responsibility; for bombing a community centre on 12 November. The RUC, however, had no intelligence about such a group; suggesting that it may have been a covername. On Tuesday 7 December, a youth claimed to have seen a man acting oddly at a phone kiosk the night before. He said the man was wearing a jacket with a UVF badge on it. The youth claimed to have checked the kiosk after the man left and found a torn bit of paper. When put together, it included the lines:
We the Empire Loyalists wish to state that we did not destroy McGurk's public house as an act of retaliation ... Furthermore we do not require the forensic experts of the Army to cover up for us ... We shall not issue any further statements until we exterminate another rebel stronghold.
In the days following the bombing, the RUC received a letter signed by "Chief of Staff, UVF" claiming that the UVF bombed the pub because an IRA meeting was due to take place there. It said that two UVF members entered the pub, had a drink and asked the barman to mind a package while they "ran an errand".Police Ombudsman's report, p.37 Witnesses told the RUC, however, that there had been no strangers in the pub and that nobody had left a package. Three other unsigned letters were sent to the RUC, claiming it was an IRA bomb "in transit" and that two IRA members were killed.


Location of the bomb

For the RUC, the location of the bomb (whether it exploded inside or outside) became the key to finding who was responsible. However, investigators (both RUC and British Army) were unsure and gave conflicting opinions.Police Ombudsman's report, pp.20–21 RUC duty officers' reports were made daily. Their purpose was to brief the Chief Constable and others at HQ about events that had happened that day. The reports were also made available to the British Army's General Officer Commanding for Northern Ireland. The 4–5 December 1971 report said of the bombing: "Just before the explosion a man entered the licensed premises and left down a suitcase, presumably to be picked up by a known member of the IRA. The bomb was intended for use on other premises. Before the 'pick-up' was made the bomb exploded". The origin of this information could not be established. On 6 December, however, the RUC took a witness statement from an 8-year-old boy. He said that a car had stopped outside the pub with four men inside and "a wee Union Jack stuck in the back window". He said one left a package in the Great George's Street doorway and ran back to the car, which sped off just moments before the package exploded. A man and a woman backed up his story, although they did not witness as much as the boy.Police Ombudsman's report, pp.24–25 Despite this, the security forces and the government stood behind the "own goal" theory. A British Intelligence Corps document covering the period 8–15 December said: "It has been confirmed that it was a [Provisional IRA] bomb which was destined for another target, but exploded prematurely." A Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom), Ministry of Defence (MOD) document dated 14 December said that this "should be publicised".Police Ombudsman's report, p.49 On 23 December, the British Army sent a letter (signed by a lieutenant colonel) to people living in north Belfast. It said that when the IRA in the area is destroyed, "we can look forward to … a period in which you will not lose your friends in a repetition of the [IRA's] accident in the McGurk’s bar."Police Ombudsman's report, p.55


Arrest and conviction of Robert Campbell

In March 1976, the RUC received intelligence that linked UVF member Robert Campbell and four others to the McGurk's bombing. Campbell was arrested on 27 July 1977 and held at Castlereagh RUC base. He was interviewed seven times during 27 and 28 July. He admitted his part in the bombing but refused to name the others. Campbell's story matches that given by the young boy witness. On 29 July 1977, Campbell was charged with the 15 murders and 17 attempted murders. On 6 September 1978 he pleaded guilty to all charges and received life imprisonment with "a recommendation to serve no less than 20 years", in part for a separate conviction for the murder of a Protestant delivery driver in 1976. He is the only person to have been charged for the bombing. He eventually served fifteen years in prison and was released on 9 September 1993.


Collusion claims and Police Ombudsman's investigation

The victims' relatives campaigned for an independent investigation of the bombing as they believed that the RUC's investigation was flawed from the outset. Moreover, they wished to disprove the claim that the victims were IRA members killed by their own bomb (the "own goal" theory).Police Ombudsman's Report, p.10 Even after Campbell's conviction, the "own goal" theory remained officially unchallenged. Relatives argued that this theory was promoted as part of a "government policy to avoid publicly acknowledging the loyalist campaign of violence". Another argument is that it was promoted to undermine the IRA's support and stir tension between the two IRA factions. Relatives also asked how the bombers were able to plant the bomb and flee despite the usually heavy security presence. Some alleged that the security forces helped the bombers by removing checkpoints. The 2009 book ''Killing For Britain'', written by former UVF member 'John Black', claimed that the British undercover unit known as the Military Reaction Force or Military Reconnaissance Force (MRF) organised the bombing and helped the bombers get in and out of the area. The bombers' original target, The Gem, was associated with the Official IRA. It is claimed that the MRF ordered the team to bomb The Gem, with the intention of blaming it on the Provisional IRA. The plan was allegedly to start a feud between the two IRA factions, which would both divert them from their campaign against British forces and drain their support. However, as The Gem had security outside, they bombed the nearest 'Catholic pub'."Collusion and Cover-Up"
The McGurk's Bar Massacre.
On 21 February 2011, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland published a report about the bombing and the RUC's investigation of it. The report said that there is no evidence that the RUC helped the UVF bombers. However, it found that the RUC investigation was biased in favour of the view that the IRA was responsible. It failed to give enough thought to the possible involvement of loyalists, and this bias hindered the investigation. The report also found that RUC gave "selective" and "misleading" briefings to the government and media, which furthered the idea that it was an IRA bomb. The Ombudsman has not found an explanation why successive Chief Constables have not addressed this mistake. Ombudsman Al Hutchinson said: "Inconsistent police briefings, some of which inferred that victims of the bombing were culpable in the atrocity, caused the bereaved families great distress, which has continued for many years". On 6 December 2012, Scottish Labour Party, Scottish Labour MP Michael Connarty—whose uncle was killed in the bombing—claimed in Westminster that then-Prime Minister Edward Heath "may have been involved" in wrongfully blaming the IRA and spreading the story. Connarty also urged David Cameron, prime minister at the time, to apologise to victims and launch a full investigation.


Remembrance

A memorial was erected at the site of the bombing for the 30th anniversary in 2001. The victims' relatives carried fifteen wreaths to the new memorial, and used the occasion to demand an investigation into alleged British involvement in the attack. Patrick McGurk died on 15 December 2007. Surviving family members noted that he had forgiven the bombers.


Glasgow allegation

In 2012 it was alleged in a book that William "Big Bill" Campbell (no relation to Robert Campbell), leader of a UVF cell in Scotland who committed the Glasgow pub bombings in 1979, was behind the McGurk's bombing as he smuggled the explosives used in the bomb from Scotland to Northern Ireland. It was also alleged that the RUC received information about him from Glasgow police, but that they deliberately ignored them to avoid having to arrest Protestants.


See also

*Dublin and Monaghan bombings *Timeline of Ulster Volunteer Force actions


References


External links


The true story of the McGurk's Bar Massacre, told by the families of the victims themselves.News Hound – McGurk's bombingHouse of Commons debate on the bombing


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