On this day in 1974, Dublin City Center was devastated by three large bombs that went off without warning in the span of about 90 seconds. They exploded in the middle of rush hour during a public transportation strike which had left more people in the area than usual. Injuries and casualties were astronomical. When a similar bomb exploded without warning in the city of Monaghan ninety minutes later, the incident became the worst and largest loss of life in Ireland’s more recent troubled history. The explosions injured nearly three hundred people and killed thirty-three civilians in all and forty-three years later, despite multiple investigations, reports, and a mountain of evidence, no one has ever been charged or prosecuted for these attacks.
The town of Monaghan is more than eighty miles away from Dublin and it was a border town. In the days of Ireland’s hard borders, its location made it the perfect target for a diversion. The fleeing bombers needed to make their border crossing easier and Monaghan was chosen to be just that. Many of the police and border patrols in the area went to the aid of the city when the fourth bomb exploded, and this left many roads to the North open and unsupervised. Those who stayed at their posts were understandably distracted by the coordinated attacks in the two cities and the getaway cars made it safely back to the North of Ireland without scrutiny.
These two attacks were so horrendous that it took nearly twenty years for anyone to claim responsibility for them. In 1993 the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) finally openly admitted that they had carried out the bombing mission. This wasn’t a surprise to the Garda Síochána (the Republic of Ireland’s police force), the victims, the English government, the press, or anyone else who had investigated the attacks in the years since. What was and still is a surprise is that no one was ever questioned or arrested.
The Garda Síochána made quick work of figuring out who was involved in the planning and execution of the Dublin/Monaghan bombings. They had multiple eyewitnesses who independently identified the same eight men seen in or around the various cars that were used in the explosions. An easy investigation led to about twenty people of interest who likely planned or participated in the attacks, most of whom were members of the UVF’s Mid-Ulster Brigade. They all lived across the border and when the Gardaí asked to question their suspects they were stonewalled by the RUC, their Northern counterparts. The Royal Ulster Constabulary did not allow the Gardaí to conduct interviews and they claimed jurisdiction over the continuing investigation. They took possession of the files and much of the evidence and sent the Gardaí back to the south. Then they proceeded to lose said files and some of the evidence so that neither investigation could move forward. The sloppy handling of evidence and numerous missteps have led to the widespread belief that the police and the English government colluded with the UVF in this horrible attack.
Many of the UVF suspects were also members of the UDR, a local infantry regiment of the British Army, which meant that they had a good many connections and skills at their disposal. Some of the other suspects were informers for the English authorities and this made them virtually untouchable. They were allowed to break all manner of laws to preserve their positions and evidence was routinely misplaced or destroyed to protect them. This makes the case for collusion even stronger, especially since many experts and investigators believe that the UVF did not have the technical skills or sophistication to pull off a mission like this in 1974. This was flatly denied by the UVF when they claimed responsibility for the attack in 1993, and their threatening message also stated that they worked alone.
The survivors of these blasts and the families of the victims have been waiting for the truth about this attack for over four decades, but they must fight on more than one front. The English government has refused to turn over their own files citing the age-old National Security excuse. The media never gave the bombings the sort of press they deserved so many don’t realize the scope of the incident or its vast implications. The explosions caused more death than any other single event during more than thirty years of the Troubles, but they are overshadowed by others that got more attention. The RUC is technically defunct and the Legacy and Justice Department of the Police Service of Northern Ireland is overwhelmed and unenthusiastic. Politicians in the region refuse to fund legacy inquests and historical investigations…and the years continue to pass. Many of the suspects are now dead and the idea that any will be questioned or charged now is nearly unfathomable. The “Forgotten 33” were let down by everyone from the Garda Síochána and the media to the highest levels of both the English and Irish governments. They deserve better. I only hope that one day those who remember them get the answers they deserve.