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Thursday 20 July 2017

Forgotten atrocity of the Troubles

The triple car bomb attack that ripped the heart out of the quiet rural village of Claudy has been described as one of the forgotten atrocities of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Launched on the same day 12,000 British troops entered republican no-go areas in Belfast and Derry in a bid to regain control, the outrage was not even the lead item on some news bulletins.

As the military operation dubbed Motorman continued 18km away in Derry's bogside, the first device exploded without warning outside McElhinney's shop and bar on Main Street.

Police believe the bombers attempted to telephone a warning from nearby Dungiven but the lines were down as the result of past bomb damage to the phone exchange.

They then told Dungiven shop owners that three bombs were planted in the village, but the proprietors were also unable to contact the authorities due to the line problems.

One shop owner rushed to Dungiven police station with the warning but it was too late.

Minutes after the first bomb went off, killing three and fatally wounding three others, police officers discovered a second device in a van beside the post office.

They frantically evacuated people towards the Beaufort Hotel, but little did they know that a third bomb had been concealed in another van outside the hotel.

Soon after the second bomb detonated, the third exploded, killing three more.

The IRA denied responsibility for the murders, with the leadership claiming an internal "court of inquiry" indicated that its local unit did not carry it out.

But this account was long doubted, with many believing the republicans were unwilling to own up to an operation they viewed as botched due to the phone warnings not going through.

Rumours soon circulated that young curate Father Jim Chesney was involved. A flamboyant character, he was already suspected of being an IRA sympathiser.

Moved to another parish in Donegal, he died of cancer in 1980 having never been questioned by police.

At the Claudy bomb inquest, a coroner described the outrage as "sheer, unadulterated, cold, calculated, fiendish murder". Later poet James Simmons described the moment of the attack in his work, Claudy.

"An explosion too loud for your eardrums to bear, and young children squealing like pigs in the square, and all faces chalk-white and streaked with bright red, and the glass and the dust and the terrible dead."

Press Association

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