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Sunday, 16 February, 2003, 16:16 GMT
Fireball attack that stunned NI
Twelve people were murdered in the La Mon attack
Collie Club members were meeting at the hotel
The bombing of the La Mon House hotel 25 years ago was different from previous IRA attacks.

The type of device left by the bombers contained petrol that ignited to create a huge fireball.

Twelve people were killed and many more badly burned when the bomb turned the small country hotel, east of Belfast, into a raging inferno on the night of 17 February 1978.

La Mon survivor Lily McDowell
When I put my hands out they were all piled up in front of me

Lily McDowell
La Mon survivor
The killings stunned a province which had already lived through some of the most violent years of the conflict.

All those who died were attending the annual dinner dance of the Irish Collie Club. Three of them were married couples and seven were women.

They were all Protestants and included a reservist in the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

More than 400 people were in the La Mon that Friday night, at functions being run by the Collie Club and the Northern Ireland Junior Motorcycle Club.

Ball of flame

Outside the function room where collie club members were sitting down to their meal, IRA activists had, under cover of darkness, left the blast incendiary bomb.

Meat hooks were used to attach it to the security grill over the hotel windows.

Thomas Neeson 52
Dorothy Nelson 35
Paul Nelson 37
Gordon Crothers 30
Joan Crothers 26
Ian McCracken 25
Elizabeth McCracken 25
Sandra Morris 27
Sarah Wilson Cooper 62
Christine Lockhart 32
Carol Mills 27
Daniel Magill
On detonation, the blast sent a huge ball of flame across the room, setting light to everything inside - tables, chairs, furnishings and people.

Firefighters spent almost two hours bringing the fierce blaze under control.

The dead were burned beyond recognition and identifying them was a long and harrowing task for grieving relatives.

Many of the survivors suffered horrendous burns, some needing years of treatment.

Lily McDowell was the most badly injured. Her husband Billy was also badly injured in the fireball.

She had to spend a year wearing a specially designed body suit to protect her burns from infection - and even 25 years on her injuries still cause her problems. Only her face escaped serious burns.

Her recollection of the night of the explosion still brings back many painful memories.

She said was "pandemonium" after the blast, with people screaming and trying to get out.

"I tried to walk down the room as far as I could, then fell on my knees and ended up creeping to where I thought the door was.

"But I was stopped and by that time the screaming was dying down.

"When I put my hands out they were all piled up in front of me. I knew it was the people that had fallen and I don't know why but I couldn't get over them - I couldn't make myself to creep over them.

"So I turned on my hands and knees and went back up the room again."

Breathing problems

She said she knew she was going to die because she could not breathe and the room was filled with thick black smoke.

"I thought 'I have to say my prayers' because I was exhausted and could go no further.

Lily McDowell pictured after the La Mon bomb attack in 1978
Lily McDowell suffered severe burns in the attack
"My hair was on fire - I was all on fire - and I started to say my prayers. But I couldn't get it right and I heard this voice saying to me 'start again'.

She said she then sat up on her knees and said the Lord's prayer without faltering.

"The minute I said the Amen I said 'Please Lord, take me home, but before you do, let Billy get out to look after my boys'.

"Then I just fell flat on my face - I can remember the thud of my face hitting the floor.

"I was pulled out and wrapped in a table cloth and left in a cloakroom to the side.

"We had friends with us that night as guests and Joe lifted me in his arms. He has since told me I was as naked as the day I was born - just scraps of clothing stuck to me."

At the funerals of some of the victims, hopes were expressed that the La Mon atrocity would in some way be a turning point in the horror of the Troubles, a watershed that might mark a move towards more peaceful times.

But those hopes were soon dashed as the violence continued with little respite for another 16 years and more.

Find out more about the IRA's history and watch archive BBC footage
See also:

13 Feb 03 | N Ireland
14 Feb 03 | N Ireland
16 Feb 03 | N Ireland
Links to more N Ireland stories are at the foot of the page.

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