21 July 1972: Bloody Friday. In a devastating series of attacks the Provisional IRA planted 22 bombs across the city of Belfast killing 9 people and injuring over 130 - most of them innocent civilians.
The IRA said it had sent adequate warnings for all of the bombs and accused the British forces of wilfully ignoring some of them for propaganda purposes. Others, however, say that they had been overwhelmed by the amount of bombs and bomb warnings and could not respond in time to clear all areas of civilians.
The first one went off around 2.10pm on that sunny afternoon at Smithfield Bus Station and the last was recorded at 3.30pm on the Grosvenor Road.
The one at the Oxford Street Bus Depot at 2.48pm caused six fatalities. Two British Army soldiers, Stephen Cooper (19) and Philip Price (27), were close to the car bomb at the moment of detonation and died instantly. Three Protestant civilians who worked for Ulsterbus were killed: William Crothers (15), Thomas Killops (39) and Jackie Gibson (45). One other Protestant Ulsterbus employee, who was a member of the Ulster Defence Association, was also killed in the blast: William Irvine (18). Close to 40 people were injured.
At 3.15pm a car bomb, estimated at 50 pounds of explosive, exploded without warning outside a row of single storey shops near the top of Cavehill Road, north Belfast. The shops were in a religiously-mixed residential area. Two women and a man died in this blast. Margaret O'Hare (37), a Catholic mother of seven children, died in her car. Her 11-year-old daughter was with her in her car and was badly injured. Catholic Brigid Murray (65) and Protestant teenager Stephen Parker (14) were also killed.
The attacks were a disaster for the IRA as there was widespread revulsion throughout Britain and Ireland at these attacks on what were seen as civilian targets. The aftermath of this was to lay the groundwork for 'Operation Motorman' in which the British Army was able to occupy Free Derry at the end of the month.
Years later and RUC man at the time recalled:
The first thing that caught my eye was a torso of a human being lying in the middle of the street. It was recognisable as a torso because the clothes had been blown off and you could actually see parts of the human anatomy. One of the victims was a soldier I knew personally. He'd had his arms and legs blown off and some of his body had been blown through the railings. One of the most horrendous memories for me was seeing a head stuck to the wall. A couple of days later, we found vertebrae and a rib cage on the roof of a nearby building. The reason we found it was because the seagulls were diving onto it. I've tried to put it at the back of my mind for twenty-five years.
Brendan Hughes, Officer Commanding of the IRA's Belfast Brigade, viewed the attack as a disaster.
"I was the operational commander of the 'Bloody Friday' operation. I remember when the bombs started to go off, I was in Leeson Street, and I thought, 'There's too much here'. I sort of knew that there were going to be casualties, either [because] the Brits could not handle so many bombs or they would allow some to go off because it suited them to have casualties. I feel a bit guilty about it because, as I say, there was no intention to kill anyone that day. I have a fair deal of regret that 'Bloody Friday' took place ... a great deal of regret ... If I could do it over again I wouldn't do it.
In 2002 the IRA issued a statement on the actions carried out that day by their Volunteers:
Sunday 21 July marks the 30th anniversary of an IRA operation in Belfast in 1972 which resulted in nine people being killed and many more injured. While it was not our intention to injure or kill non-combatants, the reality is that on this and on a number of other occasions, that was the consequence of our actions. It is therefore appropriate on the anniversary of this tragic event, that we address all of the deaths and injuries of non-combatants caused by us. We offer our sincere apologies and condolences to their families. ..