Saturday 20 October 2018

A grim night of death and destruction by the Liffey

Eddie Naughton, who helped carry a dead man from wreckage, remembers the Dublin bombings of December 1972, when two people lost their lives

IT WAS Dublin's first car bombing, and this particular atrocity killed two people and wrought great damage in the city centre. But it tends to get forgotten about when other more catastrophic events are remembered. The 37th anniversary is almost upon us, and I for one will never forget it.

It was a cold Friday evening, and after finishing work some colleagues and myself repaired to the Liffey Bar on the quays, as we'd always done since anyone could remember. The format was unbreakable. The first couple of drinks were spent talking about wives, girlfriends, houses and homes.

But that was just the preamble to the real business of the evening, which was talking about the job, always the job. We analysed, criticised and dissected. Nobody was spared. We deconstructed and built again. Oh, if only we were running the place.

And then it happened.

As someone signalled to the bar for more drink, there was a bright brilliant flash to the right of where we were sitting. I turned toward the light and saw, in the same instant that I heard the deafening explosion, millions of glass fragments rushing at us like a huge sea wave.

There were screams of terror and a short bout of pandemonium ensued as people, some with gaping head wounds, scrambled away from the front of the bar. Others were shocked into muteness by the explosion. They were standing holding their drinks, looking dumbly at the shattered shop front.

Then a cool-headed barman began ushering his bemused customers towards the rear exit of the pub. But I was drawn to the front of the bar. I needed to know what had caused the explosion.

Calmly, I made my way through the debris. Outside I saw a grimly fascinating sight. A row of vehicles, some mounted obscenely on each other, were burning fiercely with long leaping flames and thick black smoke billowing out of holes that once were car windows.

Miraculously no one was killed here. People had missed death and lethal injury by mere seconds.

While the cars burned, glass was falling from the buildings caught in the blast. As I picked my way through the devastation I heard strange sounds above my head, and when I looked up I saw that most of the windows in Liberty Hall had been blown in and dozens of white Venetian blinds were swinging noisily in the wind.

I went back into the Liffey Bar to find my friends but

'We carried him into the wreckage of a shop front... where a priest performed the last rites'

they had been herded out the back door by the bar staff. As I left by the same exit, a second car bomb, in nearby Sackville Place, exploded.

Unbelievable as it sounds, I found myself running towards this explosion as terrified people were racing in the opposite direction.

Along with someone else, I found an obviously dead man lying beside a badly mangled car, his body dreadfully warped by the force of the explosion. We carried him into the wreckage of a shop front where, under a light provided by a cigarette lighter, a priest from the Pro-Cathedral performed the last rites. Someone took a photo of this scene.

Police and ambulances arrived, and further searches in the dark yielded up one more body. Sometime after that I left the devastated area.

As I made my way through a hastily erected barrier, a foreign TV crew approached and asked me what I saw and who I thought was responsible. Contentious anti-terrorist legislation was being moved in the Dail that night, and the bombs were designed to make it less contentious and to hell with the victims. I told them that and then I went home.

I found my wife in a state. She knew we drank in the Liffey Bar every Friday evening and she'd been ringing Store Street Garda Station on the neighbour's telephone every hour on the hour. But everything was all right now. I was home safe and well.

While relating to her what had happened, images in my head began to unsettle me. I decided I needed a drink to compose myself.

My wife couldn't dissuade me, and besides, I wanted to be on my own for a bit to reflect on the bombing and its aftermath.

I made my way down to my local. As I was about to enter the bar, a car passing in the street behind me backfired, and quite suddenly I went to pieces.

Sunday Independent

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