“In Striking we Defend”
Although formed as a defensive organisation, shortly after its formation the leadership of the Ulster Defence Association came to the realisation that certain pro-active operations would have to be undertaken in order to preserve the existence of Northern Ireland and ensure the safety of the Loyalist and wider Unionist community.
The UDA Inner Council (the collective leadership of the organisation) recognised the fact that Irish republican extremists, primarily the breakaway PIRA, were recieving significant aid and material support from the Irish Republic. With the “Arms Crisis” of 1970 proving that the Dublin government had armed, funded and, at least partially, organised the nascent Provisional IRA, the UDA leadership made the decision to designate the Irish state, and the organs thereof, as “Enemies of Ulster“, thus making them legitimate targets.
Plans were put in place, as early as the summer of 1971, to undertake offensive operations against Éire, concentrating on certain symbolic, strategic and economic targets, although no such operations were attempted until the autumn of 1972.
The Ulster Defence Association, circa 1971
The “Autumn Offensive” 1972
On the night of the 28/29th of October, a bomb containing approximately 12 lbs of commercial explosives was discovered at Connolly Station, Dublin. The device was defused by Irish Army technical officers. Incendiary devices were also left at four Dublin hotels. These attacks were however, just the beginning of what would turn out to be an effective offensive.
On the evening of the 2nd of November, 1972, The UDA’s Londonderry & North Antrim Brigade (then known as the “Londonderry Command” or “North-West Command”) bombed the ‘Hole In The Wall’ pub, near St. Johnston, Co.Donegal. Armed volunteers from ‘A’ Company, 1st Battalion, ordered everyone out of the premises, before detonating a hand grenade and a large blast-bomb type device inside the pub, causing extensive damage.
Just over a fortnight later, on the 19th of November, the Londonderry & North Antrim brigade struck another target in Co.Donegal. On this occasion a car showroom, owned by a prominent republican, was targeted with a bomb containing 7 and a half pounds of explosive. The device exploded causing substantial damage.
Londonderry & Nth. Antrim UDA/UFF
At approximately 1:15am on Sunday, 26th of November, 1972, an “unusually large” bomb exploded outside the rear exit door of the ‘Film Centre‘ Cinema, Burgh Quay, Dublin during a late night showing of a film. The bomb went off in the laneway connecting Burgh Quay with Leinster Market injuring 40 people, around 20 of them seriously, including facial, leg and serious abdominal wounds. There were approximately 160 people (both patrons and staff) inside the cinema at the time of the blast and a Garda spokesman said that it had been “nothing short of a miracle” that there had been no fatalities. The force of the explosion had hurled customers out of their seats and onto the floor and one employee had been blown the full length of the central aisle.
A large number of shops and buildings in the immediate vicinity received extensive damage from the blast. The area was quickly sealed off by the Garda and they immediately launched a forsenic investigation 9f the scene. A ballistic officer determined that the epicentre of the explosion had been just outside an emergency door leading from the cinema to the laneway. However, due to the ferocity of the blast and the total combustion of the explosive material, no trace of the bomb or the explosives used were ever found. Garda detectives at the time suspected the bombing to be the work of republican “subversive elements”, soon after however, Gardai discounted republican involvement and intimated that they now believed the bomb attack to have been the work of Loyalists, most likely a UDA active service unit “from the Derry or Mid-Ulster areas“.
Political Gain: the 1st of December Dublin Bombings
On the 1st of December, 1972, shortly before 8pm, a large bomb, concealed inside the boot of a blue Hillman Avenger car, exploded at 29 Eden Quay, Dublin. The blast blew the Avenger apart and what remained of the vehicle was catapulted 18 feet away, coming to rest outside an optician’s office. Six cars parked in the vicinity of the Avenger were set on fire, and piled on top of each other. Every window of the nearby ‘Liberty Hall‘ and a number of other nearby buildings were shattered. Although a number of people suffered injuries – some horrific – nobody was killed.
At the same time the car-bomb detonated in Dublin, the Belfast Newsletter received a telephone call from a man warning that two bombs had been left in cental Dublin and would explode imminently, giving the locations of the bombs as Liberty Hall and Abbey Street. Staff at the newspaper immediately phoned the RUC who in turn relayed the warnings to the Garda Control Room, Dublin, at just before 8:10pm. A team of Gardai were immediately dispatched to investigate the area.
At a quarter past eight that evening, a large explosive device, packed into the boot and rear foot-wells of a silver Ford Escort, detonated in Sackville Place, 40 feet away from the junction at Marlborough Street. Two CIÉ (Córas Iompair Éireann/Irish Transport) employees, George Bradshaw (30), a bus driver, and Thomas Duffy (23), a conductor, were killed. One witness described the aftermath as follows- “There was a large pall of smoke hanging over the area of the blast. At least six cars were on fire . . . there were people strewn all over the street. One man was lying unconscious in a pool of blood from his legs . . . everywhere there was sobbing and screaming . . . people were running in all directions.”
As well as the two bus-men who were killed over 130 people were injured in the two incidents. Around 50 of them seriously. As at Eden Quay, the Sackville Place bombing caused considerable damage to buildings and vehicles near the blast’s epicentre. Sackville Place being a narrow street off O’Connell Street, Dublin’s main thoroughfare.
The bombs however did not just cause death and destruction; they also literally blasted into law controversial new measures. Just as the bombs were exploding in the city centre, Dáil Éireann was debating the controversial bill to amend the ‘Offences Against the State Act’, which would enact stricter measures against the Provisional IRA and other republican murder gangs. As a result of the two bomb attacks, the Dáil voted for the amendment which introduced special emergency powers. In particular this meant that a member of a terrorist group could be sentenced on the sworn evidence of a senior Garda officer in front of three judges. Before the bombings, many commentators had believed the bill – considered by some to be “draconian” – would be soundly defeated. Indeed, until it was interrupted by the sound of Loyalist bombs exploding, the debate in the Dáil had been a bitter and heated one. Neil Blaney, recently expelled from Fianna Fáil due to his part in the “Arms Crisis”, spoke out forcefully against the proposed measures, describing the Provos as “freedom fighters“. In turn, supporters of the new legislation described the Fianna Fáil government as having “blood on their hands”, whilst Edward Collins TD castigated them as “the godfathers of the Provisional IRA“. At the last minute, undoubtedly swayed by the sound of bombs just a short distance away, Fine Gael TD’s abstained, thus ensuring that the bill would pass.
Sackville Place, Dublin, 1st December, 1972
Militant Ulster Loyalists had forced the hand of the Irish government in an unprecedented manor, forcing the authorities in Éire to take active steps against Irish republican terrorists for the first time in the conflict. Although the violent deaths of two civilians is deeply regrettable, the 1st of December bomb attacks had been spectacularly successful. Timed to precision and ruthlessly carried out, the bomb blitz in the heart of Dublin had demonstrated to the Irish state, in brutal fashion, that they would have to take action against the very terrorist groups that they had helped to create just two years earlier, or face the consequences!
Although there is speculation about whether the 1st of December attacks were the work of the UDA or the Ulster Volunteer Force, such speculation is more or less meaningless. Physical force Loyalism had, once again, penetrated into the heart of the Irish capital to devastating, and deadly effect. Forcing the hand of the Irish government and denying Irish republican murder gangs free reign in that country, although Éire would continue to be both a safe haven and a base of operations for republican terror groups throughout the conflict in Ulster.
Part 2- next week