Forgotten massacre

THE Coleraine bombings of 1973 have been described as "a forgotten massacre" in a new book about the worst atrocities of the Troubles.

On the 35th anniversary of attacks on the town, Gordon Gillespie, in Years of Darkness: The Troubles Remembered, claims that the the IRA car bombings have largely been overlooked in the long and bloody history of the conflict here.

It was on June 12, 1973 when two cars stolen in the south Londonderry area were used to carry bombs to Coleraine.

At 3pm a 100-150lb bomb, hidden in a Ford Cortina car, exploded outside a wine shop in Railway Road, killing six pensioners and injuring 33 others, including a number of children returning home from school.

A second car bomb exploded in a garage at Hanover Place, five minutes after the Railway Road bomb and although no one was injured the explosion, writes, Gillespie, it "added to the overall confusion and panic."

A warning that another bomb had been left in Society Street, proved to be a hoax. Although a warning had been given for the Hanover Place bomb there was no warning given for the Railway Road bomb.

"This led many to speculate that the bombers intention was to draw people towards the bomb in Railway Road and inflict as many casualties as possible," says the author.

The book provides some gripping eyewitness accounts of those caught up in the mayhem as people fled for their lives from the town centre.

Gillespie contends that the death toll could have been much worse. "The only mitigating factor was that the carnage would have undoubtedly been worse if the bomb had exploded 15 minutes later when schoolgirls from the nearby high school would have been leaving school and walking along the street."

The author quotes a passage from an Irish News editorial on the 'Horror in Coleraine' on June 14: "Those who engineered or committed the Coleraine slaughter do not give a damn about the most basic of all rights: the right to life itself. After Coleraine we are faced again with the terrible pathology of human beings who see nothing in the routine of destruction by methods which can so quickly mean death and indescribable injury to innocent people."

Later that month a coroner at a Coleraine inquest described 12, June 1973 as the worst day in the town's history and added: "Six more innocent people could not have been selected from the whole of Northern Ireland to die in the blast that day."

The Coleraine bombing ranked with the worst of the atrocities seen in the Troubles but Gillespie claims that it is "now largely been forgotten within the broader narrative of the Troubles."

"That is possibly because the Coleraine bombing came at the height of the Troubles, when such incidents were becoming all too familiar and the public was somewhat numbed by the frequency and randomness of the violence," he contends.

The author adds that this may have also been because there was no doubt that it was the IRA who had carried out the attacks and that politicians may have been more concerned at the time with the outcome of the elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

"Whatever the cause," Gillespie concludes, "the Coleraine bombing arguably deserves greater notice from historians than it has received to date, not least because its casualties were among the most vulnerable in society."

Years of Darkness: The Troubles Remembered, Gill and Macmillan, 12.99.