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1971: Bomb demolishes crowded Belfast pub

At least 10 people, including a 13-year-old boy and a woman, have been killed and 17 injured after a bomb exploded in a crowded pub in Belfast.

The bomb is believed to have been placed near the front entrance of McGurk's Bar, in North Queen Street in a mainly Catholic area of the city.

The building was demolished instantly by the explosion. Many customers were trapped under the rubble.


"The next thing, chairs and tables were piled up all around me and a roof beam was slung across my chest, pinning me in my seat"

John Irvine, casualty

One man who ran from a nearby shop after the blast said, "There was just a great cloud of smoke where the pub was, and soot all over everything. There was nothing left of it."

John Irvine, whose wife was killed in the explosion, described how he was caught in the blast as he sipped a glass of stout.

"The next thing, chairs and tables were piled up all around me and a roof beam was slung across my chest, pinning me in my seat," he said.

"I do not know how long I was there. Then I heard someone shout to bring the hose. The firemen doused me and all around me to stop the fire getting to me.

"I was conscious all the time but I went out after they had freed me."

Volunteers have been working throughout the night helping police and firemen rescue the injured.

Doctors also treated eight people wounded by gunfire during clashes shortly after the blast.

Fighting broke out between Protestant and Catholic crowds, and an army major and two policemen were wounded.

Police suspect the IRA planted the bomb, although it remains a mystery why the attack should have been carried out in a Catholic area.

McGurk's Bar was frequented by Catholics, although it is not believed to have had any connection with the IRA.

One theory is that the bomb went off by mistake. But an Official IRA spokesman in Dublin condemned the attack and said its members had "nothing to do with it".

A similar denial came from the Provisional IRA.

Republicans believe it was planted by loyalist paramilitaries. A backlash has long been feared after the IRA blew up a number of bars in Protestant areas this autumn.

In Context
The final number of people to have died was 15, including two children and three women. The McGurk's Bar bombing was the first major atrocity of the Troubles.

The wife and 12-year-old daughter of the landlord, Thomas McGurk, were among those who died. His three sons and Mr McGurk himself were injured.

The theory that the explosion was caused by an IRA bomb which went off by accident continued to hold currency for years after the incident.

Then in 1977, the driver of the getaway car confessed to his part in the attack, and it became clear that it was carried out by the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

The driver received 15 life sentences, and remains the only person ever to have been convicted in relation to the bombing.

A memorial was unveiled on the site of the bar in 2001 to mark the 30th anniversary of the McGurk's Bar bombing.

The families are calling on the authorities to re-open the investigation into the bombing, and for an inquiry into the events surrounding the atrocity.


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