4 December 1971: McGurk’s Bar in Belfast was blown up on this day. Fifteen innocent people were killed in the explosion and many more were injured. McGurk's family pub was on North Queen Street, one of North Belfast's main thoroughfares, five minute's walk away from the commercial hub of the City. The proprietor Paddy McGurk was a well known figure and the Vice President of the local GAA club, the Ardoyne Kickhams. His wife and daughter died that evening.
The original target of the Loyalist bombers was a pub called ‘the Gem’ which was frequented by members of a Republican organisation in competition with the Provisional IRA. The gang were under instructions to plant the device there in the hope that the inevitable casualties would lead to violent strife between these rivals. However the Gem was well guarded and the bombers decided that McGurk’s was an easier target.
Almost immediately in the aftermath of the attack a sinister campaign of disinformation was launched by sources within the Crown Forces that raised suspicions within the Nationalist Community that there was a hidden hand at work. The following day the journalist John Chartres writing in the London Times newspaper devoted a complete article to the debriefing of the British army. He recorded, without heeding any of the witness accounts:
Police and Army Intelligence Officers believe that Ulster's worst outrage, the killing of 15 people including two children and three women ...was caused by an IRA plan that went wrong.
BBC Radio 4 News reported the afternoon after the blast that RUC sources had confirmed that forensic scientists believed that the bomb exploded inside the building. Other such reports in a similar vein followed that helped cast doubt in the public mind as to who was responsible and a plausible cover story was thus germinated that this was indeed an IRA ‘own goal’ that had gone disastrously wrong for the perpetrators.
Nobody was ever arrested or questioned, until a U.V.F. gang-member, Robert James Campbell, turned himself in and confessed to his part in the massacre on the 28 July 1977. He admitted that he drove the vehicle used to transport the bomb on that fateful night but the bombers themselves have never been brought to justice. Robert James Campbell was sentenced on the 6 September 1978. He was released on the 9th September 1993 afters serving fifteen years for the murders of fifteen people.
In July 2008, British Secretary of State Shaun Woodward apologised in a letter to Scottish MP Michael Connarty about the role the British Army played in the cover up of who was responsible for the massacre. Mr Connarty’s great uncle was killed in the UVF attack on McGurk’s bar this night 45 years ago.