(Reading time: 6 mins. main text, total 9 mins)
At noon on Thursday 1st December around a hundred people gathered in a side street off Dublin city’s main street to commemorate the killing of three public transport workers1 by British Loyalist bombs in 1972 and 1973.
The event was organised by the Justice for the Forgotten group that grew out of relatives seeking accountability for the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in 1974. However, the campaign group might well consider replacing the word “Forgotten” with “Ignored”.
In the early 1970s, as people – mostly but not all of of nationalist background – were marching for equal civil rights in the British colony of the Six Counties, British Loyalists began exploding bombs, not all but mostly in Dublin.
Some were aimed at symbolic Irish monuments such as the O’Connell Tower in Glasnevin cemetery (17 January 1971)and the Wolfe Tone monument in Stephens Greeen (8th February)2but the bombings of 1972, ‘73, ‘74 and ‘75 were clearly intended to kill civilians.
British Intelligence Services have been implicated in collusion with Loyalists and, along with agents within the Irish State3 have been implicated at least with regard to the 1974 bombing of Dublin and Monaghan, resulting in the largest loss of life in any one day during the 30 Years War.4
THE COMMEMORATION PROCEEDINGS
A temporary canopy had been erected with a lectern and amplification in Sackville Lane, between busy O’Connell and Marlborough Streets, next to a plaque set in the pavement commemorating the bombing and its victims there. More than a hundred had gathered around to witness the event.
Tom Duffy, son of Tommy Duffy, one of the victims of the 1972 bombs chaired the event. He is also the designer of the commemorative sculpture ‘A Fallen Bouquet’, inlaid into the pavement which was unveiled in 20045.
Tom never met his father; Tom had four months to go before birth in his mother’s womb when his father was killed; his sister does not remember her father either.
Margaret Urwin, of Justice for the Forgotten campaigning group, read out biographies of Bradshaw, Tommy Duffy and Tom Douglas (see Appendix), detailing their origins and recollections of their bereaved loved ones.
The origins of the victims and partners showed that as well as being a tragedy for Dublin the bombings were also that for other parts of the country and the diaspora, in particular Achill (Mayo), Belfast, Castlebar (Mayo), Fethard (Tipperary), Kilkenny and Stirling in Scotland.
Urwin said they also wished to remember John Hayes, whose 47th anniversary had occurred two days previously and she read a short biography of him too. John was employed at Dublin Airport and was killed by a bomb placed in a toilet on the Arrivals floor on 29 November 1975.
The Lord Mayor of Dublin6 gave a short speech in which she underlined the need for remembrance while also decrying that the guilty had escaped so far and that proposed legislation, currently going through the Westminster Parliament, sought to prevent such perpetrators being brought to book.
The Finance Manager of Dublin Bus spoke also, saying among other things that the company would never forget and that it was like one big family. However the absence of employees of the company present in uniform and the lack of awareness of many gave the lie to her words (workers tell us that the event had not been advertised internally by the company).
The Education Minister Norma Foley, TD spoke at length about the atrocity and need for all actions to take place within “the rule of law”, in the context of which she went on to castigate the British Government for its proposed 30 Years War legacy legislation to limit inquests and litigation.
Foley went on to state the opposition of the Irish Government’s to the proposed legislation, along with that of the opposition parties, with united faith leaders, all parties in the British colony and the US Government.
Somehow she and other speakers however managed to avoid mentioning the British Loyalist origin of the bombers or that these were chronologically leading up to the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings, with a death-toll of 33 in one day.
Or of the fact that the 1973 bombings had been used to push repressive legislation through Leinster House, including the founding of a no-jury Special Criminal Court, targeted not at British Loyalists but instead specifically at Irish Republicans!7
The omission of this important and relevant information, referred to in Ronan McGreevy’s report for the Irish Times (see link in Sources), though not unexpected on past Government performance, was indeed ironic coming from the Minister with responsibility for education.
Wreaths were laid, including some by relatives of the murdered. A priest also recited a prayer.
MUSIC AND POETRY
Poet Rachael Hegarty, who has also composed and performed a longer poem about the Dublin & Monaghan bombing, performed her composition for this event about the loss of husbands and fathers in the killing of public transport workers.
In between some of the speeches, musicians from the Shillelagh Northside Ukelele Group8 performed Simon & Garfunkle’s The Sound of Silence and Bobby Darin’s Things (including the lines “memories are all I have to cling to”).
During another speeches interval, Cormac Breatnach on high whistle & Eoin Dillon on uileann pipes performed Táimse I Mo Chodhladh and later to conclude the event, The Lark in the Morning. The first piece, no doubt chosen for its lament nature, would do well also as political commentary9.
IGNORING AND FORGETTING
The age profile of the vast majority of those present meant that the atrocities had occurred within their lifetimes, which is natural; however the near absence of representation of the following two or three generations is not.
It might be observed that this absence is a natural part of passing time but one could also comment that the ignoring of this atrocity is causing an unnatural fracture in the historical memory of a people and a workforce, a result of a conscious decision to prevent the transmission of that memory.
The titles of three of the musical pieces may be seen as comment on that.
Yes, the JFTF organisation continues to hold events to mark the bombings and the Lord Mayor and a Government Minister attend. But not only will nothing serious be done to bring the perpetrators to light – never mind justice – but the memory will be allowed to die out among the living.
The Clery’s building site near the commemoration was at work throughout the event with noise of drilling, banging and shouting, the workers no doubt in ignorance of the event or of its significance. Workers in Dublin Bus uniform passed by regularly from their nearby canteen building.
Two of the latter who stopped in curiosity on the outskirts of the crowd and were engaged in conversation, stated that they had no knowledge of the commemoration or of the atrocity. They opined that their union should have informed and mobilised them to attend.
TARGETING WORKING-CLASS PEOPLE
The bus workers’ canteen is in Sackville Street and it is noticeable that other fatal bombings were targeted at areas more associated with working-class shopping and away from the more affluent ones such as the Grafton or Henry streets. That could be have been due to class prejudice but also to hurt those with less political power.
This made it all the more important for the organisations and parties that have been built by the working class to respond to them. The Labour party, founded by James Connolly, is complicit with the Irish Government in this forgetting and ignoring.
The trade unions, even those of the specifically targeted public transport workers are also colluding with this silencing and forgetting.
From a ‘national’ perspective, the Irish State has permitted a foreign (and occupying) power and its proxies to bomb its capital city on a number of occasions, including the massacre of its civilians. Nothing could more clearly point to the neo-colonial foreign-dependent nature of the Irish elite.
Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, when the Irish trade unions were less compromised than they have allowed themselves to become, perhaps it would have been possible to shut down the building site near to the commemoration for the duration of the ceremony.
Perhaps city bus drivers could at least have stopped everywhere at a given time for an announced minute of silence. Ranks of bus workers could have attended the commemoration event in uniform, supported perhaps by the city’s municipal workers.
Are such gestures still possible? Can we make them so? The working class, far from tolerating this occlusion and deletion of historical memory, needs to mark the atrocity and to mark it strongly, in solidarity and for its own dignity as a class.
APPENDIX – THE BRIEF BIOGRAPHIES OF FOUR VICTIMS
George, a native of Fethard, Co. Tipperary, was a young man of 30 when he was so brutally murdered in this street 50 years ago. He had married Kathleen, a nurse from Belfast and they had two small children, Lynn and Rory. He had met Kathleen when she was visiting relatives in Fethard and she was the light of his life.
George was employed as a bus driver with CIE and the family had moved from Tipperary to Dublin less than two years before tragedy struck on 1 st December 1972. He had worked previously in South Tipperary Farmers’ Co-op for 10 years.
George had big plans for the future – he was an ambitious man and was attending night-classes in business studies at the time of his death. His favourite hobby was dancing and he also loved to play darts. He was cheerful, fun-loving and an extrovert and is greatly missed by all his family.
Tommy, a native of Castlebar, Co. Mayo was almost 24 years old when he was killed on 1 st December 1972. He was married to Monica, who was pregnant with their second child, Tom. They already had a small daughter, Caroline. They had met on the 29A bus when Monica was 17 and Tommy 19. Monica quickly fell in love with this witty young man so full of life and mischief.
Tommy worked as a bus conductor and had several hobbies. He loved to play traditional Irish music on the mouth-organ and spent lots of his free time tinkering with cars. He would buy old wrecks, repair them and re-sell them to make some extra money. He had a Yamaha motor-bike which he loved and also had a flair for carpentry. During the summer months, he liked nothing better than to return home to Mayo to help on the farm, especially with saving the hay.
On the day he died, he was due to work an early shift but had changed to facilitate a co-worker. Monica remembers him as a generous, kind and hard-working young man. She is pleased that their son, Tom, was the designer of the commemorative sculpture ‘A Fallen Bouquet’, which was unveiled in 2004.
Tommy, a native of Stirling in Scotland was only 21 when his life was so cruelly taken from him in this street on 20 th January 1973. He, along with his brothers and sister, was raised in a Scottish mining community. He was an intelligent, fun-loving, outgoing person with a positive outlook on life. He liked swimming and was a fervent supporter of Celtic soccer team. He had a love of nature and enjoyed hill-walking. He also loved music and attending live concerts.
The family had strong leanings towards Ireland and had spent their childhood summers in Achill Island, the native place of their mother. Tommy loved all things Irish and most of the songs he knew were Irish songs.
When he left school, he served his apprenticeship as an electrician and, after he qualified, decided to move to Dublin. He had been living in Dublin only a few short months and had taken a job as a bus conductor while he hoped eventually to find work as an electrician. His fiancée had joined him a very short time before his death.
After his death, his family learned of his many acts of kindness to those less fortunate than himself. He was a devout Catholic but had many Protestant friends, indeed his fiancée was of the Presbyterian faith. His siblings are proud of him as a brother and thank God they had the pleasure of having him with them for 21 years. They only wish he was with them still.
John Hayes’ 47th anniversary occurred two days ago. John was employed at Dublin Airport and was killed by a bomb placed in a toilet on the Arrivals floor on 29 November 1975. John was a hard-working family man with a wife and three children – twins Brian and Karen (aged 11) and Brendan (aged 3). In his free time he enjoyed a pint of Smithwick’s and was an avid Kilkenny fan. He was an ordinary man, devoted to his family.
1The State public transport system was called CIE (Córas Iompair Éireann) prior to breaking up into sections for easy privatisation in the ruling neo-liberalism of the 1980s onwards. The Dublin Bus company is one of the carved-up parts, competing with other privately-owned bus companies around Dublin.
2While the targeting of a monument to Daniel O’Connell “The Liberator” (his monument in O’Connell Street was also bombed), a campaigner for the repeal of the anti-Catholic Penal Laws might seem as an act of pure religious sectarianism by Protestant bigots, the blowing up of the Wolfe Tone monument was essentially political. Theobald Wolfe Tone was a leader of the revolutionary United Irishmen, a Protestant as were most of his leadership colleagues and is often described as “The Father of Irish Republicanism”. Only the head survived the explosion but it was attached to the recasting of the statue.
3See the Wikipedia entries on the 1972, ‘73 and ‘74 Dublin bombings.
433 people and a full-term unborn child were killed in that day’s bombings.
6 Caroline Conroy of the Green Party holds the position in annual rotation this year.
7The proposed Amendment to the Offences Against the State Act in 1973 was heading for trouble in Leinster House until the bombings apparently stampeded some of its opposition into supporting it. As a result the no-jury Special Criminal Court was established which until very recently, with one exception, tried exclusively Irish Republicans, able to jail them mostly on the word of a senior Garda officer. This undemocratic piece of legislation has been thoroughly condemned by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties; Sinn Féin regularly opposed its renewal until a few years ago when it began abstaining and this year at its congress voted that such legislation is required “in some circumstances”.
8The name of the group was collected from participants but searching on FB and Google has failed to find a link for them.
9“I am asleep and do not wake me”, an Aisling poem/ music in Irish, origin contested between Ireland and Scotland, played in the 18th Century but date of composition unknown.
‘It’s like yesterday’: Dublin city centre bombings remembered 50 years on – The Irish Times
‘A Fallen Bouquet’ — Thomas Duffy Art
Justice for the Forgotten campaign group: Justice for the Forgotten | The Pat Finucane Centre
The fatal Dublin bombings:
1972 and ‘73: 1972 and 1973 Dublin bombings – Wikipedia
1974 Dublin and Monaghan: Dublin and Monaghan bombings – Wikipedia
Other Dublin bombings: Incidents in Dublin during the Troubles (1969-1994) | Come Here To Me!
British legacy plan for Northern Ireland is wrong, Taoiseach says – The Irish Times