Bloody Friday is the name given to the bombings by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Belfast on 21 July 1972. Twenty-two bombs exploded in the space of eighty minutes, killing nine people (including two British soldiers) and injuring 130.
The bombings were part of a concerted bombing campaign carried out by the IRA against economic, military and political targets in Northern Ireland. It carried out a total of 1,300 bombings in 1972, following the failure of secret talks with the British government in London.
A total of 22 bombs were planted and, in the resulting explosions, nine people were killed and a further 130 civilians injured, many horrifically mutilated. Of the 130 people injured, 77 were women and children. The IRA gave warnings to the security forces via the local media before the bombs exploded-with 30 minutes' warning given for the first bomb and about 70 minutes' warning given for the last bomb. The IRA chief of staff, Seán Mac Stíofáin, claimed that the warnings for the two bombs that claimed lives were deliberately disregarded by the British for strategic policy reasons. Along with some accurate warnings given by the IRA, two more hoax warnings were called in, which impeded the evacuation of the area. As a result, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and British Army only effectively cleared a small number of areas before the bombs went off. In addition, because of the large number of bombs in the confined area of Belfast city centre, people evacuated from the site of one bomb were accidentally moved into the vicinity of other bombs.
Thirty years after the attack the IRA formally apologised for harming civilians.
The accounts of the events that appeared in the first editions of local and national newspapers were, naturally enough, somewhat confused about the details of the events of the day.
The timetable compiled by CAIN below is approximate and given in BST (GMT+1). The details are based on a number of secondary reports and accounts.
2:10 pm (Smithfield Bus Station): The first bomb exploded. The bomb had been left in a car in an enclosed yard at the Smithfield Bus Station. Extensive damage was done to the surrounding area.
2:16 pm (Brookvale Hotel, Brookvale Avenue): A bomb (estimated at 50 pounds (23 kg) of explosive) exploded at the Brookvale Hotel on Brookvale Avenue, north Belfast. The bomb was left in a suitcase and was planted by three men armed with sub-machine guns. The area had been cleared and no injuries occurred.
2:23 pm (LMS Railway Station, York Road): A suitcase bomb exploded on the platform, doing extensive damage to the inside of the railway station and blowing the roof off.
2:45 pm (Crumlin Road): Two bombs (both estimated at 50 pounds (23 kg) of explosive) exploded at the Star Garage on Crumlin Road. There were no serious injuries.
2:48 pm (Oxford Street Bus Depot, Oxford Street): A car-bomb exploded outside the Ulsterbus depot on Oxford Street, the busiest bus station in Northern Ireland. An Austin 1100 saloon car containing explosives had been driven to the rear of the depot. The consequent explosion resulted in the greatest loss of life and the greatest number of casualties. Some of the victims were virtually blown to pieces which led authorities to give an initial estimate of 11 deaths. The area was being cleared but was still crowded when the bomb exploded. 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: Willi-am Irvine (18). Close to 40 people were injured.
2:50 pm (Ulster Bank, Limestone Road): A car bomb (estimated at 50 pounds (23 kg) of explosive) exploded outside the Ulster Bank on Limestone Road, north Belfast. The site of this bomb was a few hundred yards from the first bomb. This area had not been cleared. There were several injuries in this blast.
2:52 pm (Botanic Railway Station, Botanic Avenue): A car bomb (estimated at 50 pounds (23 kg) of explosive) exploded outside Botanic railway station. There was considerable damage to property but no serious injuries.
2:55 pm (Queen Elizabeth Bridge): A car bomb (estimated at 160 pounds (73 kg) of explosive) exploded without warning on the Queen Elizabeth Bridge. There was some damage to the structure of the bridge but no serious injuries.
2:57 pm (Liverpool Bar, Donegall Quay): A bomb (estimated at 50 pounds (23 kg) of explosive) exploded in the Liverpool Bar on Donegall Quay.
2.57 pm (Ormeau Avenue): A car bomb (estimated at 50 pounds (23 kg) of explosive) exploded without warning on Ormeau Avenue. There were no serious injuries.
3:02 pm (Agnes Street): A car bomb (estimated at 30 pounds (14 kg) of explosive) exploded without warning outside a group of houses on Agnes Street, a mainly loyalist area. There were no serious injuries.
3:02 pm (M2 motorway bridge, Bellevue): A bomb (estimated at 30 pounds (14 kg) of explosive) exploded on the bridge over the M2 motorway at Bellevue in north Belfast. There were no serious injuries.
3:12 pm (Eastwood's Garage, Donegall Road): A car bomb (estimated at 150 pounds (68 kg) of explosive) destroyed Eastwood's Garage on Donegall Road. There were no serious injuries.
3:15 pm (Stewartstown Road): A bomb, thought to have been abandoned on the Stewartstown Road, exploded but caused no serious injuries.
3:15 pm (Cavehill Road): A car bomb (estimated at 50 pounds (23 kg) 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. Many others were seriously injured. Stephen Parker's father, the Rev. Joseph Parker, was only able to identify his son's body at the mortuary by the box of trick matches in his pocket, and the shirt and scout belt he had been wearing.
Time TBC (Salisbury Avenue, North Belfast): A car bomb exploded outside an electricity sub-station at Salisbury Avenue, north Belfast. An alert member of the public raised the alarm and the area was being evacuated when the bomb exploded, but there were no serious injuries.
Reactions and consequences:
Speaking in the House of Commons on 24 July, Home Secretary William Whitelaw called the bombings "appallingly bloodthirsty". He also drew attention to the Catholic victims, and mentioned the revulsion in the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere. Leader of the Opposition Harold Wilson described the events as "a shocking crime against an already innocent population". The Irish Times wrote, "The chief injury is not to the British Army, to the Establishment or to big business but to the plain people of Belfast and Ireland. Anyone who supports violence from any side after yesterday's events is sick with the same affliction as those who did the deed." Television images of fire-fighters shovelling body parts into plastic bags at the Oxford Street bus station were the most shocking of the day.
Twenty-five years later, a police officer who had been at Oxford Street bus station described to journalist Peter Taylor the scene he came upon in the wake of the bombing:
"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."
479 people died in the Troubles in 1972, more than in any other year of the conflict. Ten days after the bombings the British Army launched Operation Motorman, to retake IRA-controlled republican areas in Belfast and Derry. There were also several revenge attacks by loyalists. Bloody Friday itself was seen by some as a reprisal attack for Bloody Sunday in Derry six months earlier.
The City of Belfast Youth Orchestra set up a Stephen Parker Memorial Trust in memory of teenager Stephen Parker, who had been a music student and played the French Horn in the orchestra at the time he was killed. Stephen had also been posthumously awarded the Queen's Commendation for bravery as he had died while trying to warn others about the bomb car left outside the row of shops in Cavehill Road.
Provisional IRA statement of apology:
On 16 July 2002, the Provisional IRA issued a statement of apology to An Phoblacht, which read:
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. ...