The La Mon Restaurant Bombing was an incendiary bomb attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on 17 February 1978. The target was a hotel/restaurant at Gransha (near Belfast) in County Downe was a total of 450 diners, hotel staff and guests inside the building. The IRA unit who planted the bomb tried to send warnings by telephone, but was unable to do so until nine minutes before the blast. Twelve people were killed and thirty were injured in the attack which has been described as "one of the worst atrocities" in Northern Ireland during The Troubles.
On 17 February 1978, an IRA unit planted an incendiary bomb attached to petrol-filled canisters on meat hooks outside the window of the Peacock Room in the restaurant of the La Mon House Hotel, located at Gransha, County Down, about 6 miles (9.7 km) southeast of central Belfast. After planting the bomb, the IRA members tried to send a warning from the nearest public telephone, but found that it had been vandalized. On their way to another telephone they were delayed again when forced to stop at an Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) checkpoint. By the time they were able to send the warning, only nine minutes remained before the bomb exploded at 21:00. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base at Newtownards had received two further telephone warnings at 20:57 and 21:04. By the time the latter call came in it was too late. When an officer telephoned the restaurant to issue the warning he was told "For God's sake, get out here - a bomb has exploded!".
Explosion and fireball:
That evening the two main adjoining function rooms, the Peacock Room and Gransha Room, were packed with people of all ages attending dinner dances; including the hotel guests and staff, there was a total of 450 people inside the building. The diners had just finished their first course when the bomb detonated, shattering the window outside of which it was attached and vaporising the canisters. The explosion created an instantaneous and devastating fireball of blazing petrol, 40 feet high and sixty feet wide which engulfed the Peacock Room. Twelve people were killed (seven of whom were women), having been virtually burnt alive, and a further 30 were injured, many of them critically. Some of the wounded lost limbs, but for the most part received severe burns. One badly-burnt survivor described the inferno inside the restaurant as "like a scene from hell", whilst another who lost her daughter Elizabeth and son-in-law, Ian McCracken, said the blast was "like the sun had exploded in front of my eyes". There was further pandemonium after the lights had gone out and choking black smoke filled the room. The survivors, with their hair and clothing on fire, rushed to escape the burning room. It took firemen almost two hours to put out the blaze. The dead included eleven Protestant civilians and one RUC officer; half of the victims were young married couples. Most of the dead and injured were members of the Irish Collie Club and the Northern Ireland Junior Motor Cycle Club, which were holding their annual dinner dances in the Peacock Room and Gransha Room respectively. The former took the full force of the explosion and subsequent fire; many of those who died had been seated closest to the window where the bomb had gone off. Some of the injured were still receiving treatment 20 years later.
The device was a small blast bomb attached to four large petrol canisters, each filled with a home-made napalm-like substance of petrol and sugar. This was designed to stick to whatever it hit; a combination which caused severe burn injuries. The victims were found beneath a pile of hot ash and charred beyond recognition, making identity extremely difficult as all their individual human features had been completely burned away. Some of the bodies had shrunk so much in the intense heat, it was first believed that there were children among the victims. One doctor who saw the remains described them as being like "charred logs of wood". According to a published account by retired RUC Detective Superintendent Kevin Sheehy, this type of device had already been used by the IRA in more than one hundred attacks on commercial buildings before the La Mon attack.
The day after the explosion, the IRA admitted responsibility and apologized for the inadequate warning. The hotel had allegedly been targeted by the IRA as part of its firebomb campaign against commercial targets; however, the resulting carnage brought quick condemnation from the nationalist community with one popular newspaper comparing the attack to McGurk's Bar bombing seven years earlier. Sinn Féin's then president Ruairí Ó Brádaigh also strongly criticised the operation. As all the victims had been Protestant, Unionists rallied together and called for a return of the death penalty. In consequence of the botched attack, the IRA Army Council gave strict instructions to all units not to bomb buses, trains or hotels.
The same day, about 2000 people attended a lunchtime service organized by the Orange Order at Belfast City Hall. Belfast International Airport also shut for an hour, while many workers in Belfast and Larne stopped work for a time. Workers at a number of factories said they were contributing a half-day's pay to a fund for the victims.
A team of 100 RUC detectives was deployed in the investigation. As part of the investigation, 25 people were arrested in Belfast, including Gerry Adams. Adams was released from custody in July of 1978 and became President of Sinn Féin two months later. Two prosecutions followed. One Belfast man was charged with the twelve murders but was acquitted. He was convicted of IRA membership but successfully appealed. In September 1981, another Belfast man, Robert Murphy was given twelve life sentences for the manslaughter of those who died. Murphy was freed on licence in 1995As part of their bid to catch the bombers, the RUC passed out leaflets which displayed a graphic photograph of a victim's charred remains.
The then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Roy Mason, who was criticized by loyalists for his complacent attitude to the attack, claimed that the explosion was "an act of criminal irresponsibility" performed "by remnants of IRA gangs". He also claimed that the IRA was on the decline.
Loyalist Michael Stone, who launched a televised gun and grenade attack against thousands of nationalist mourners attending the funerals of three IRA volunteers at Milltown Cemetery in 1988, claimed afterwards that the bombing of La Mon was one of his reasons for carrying out his attack. It resulted in the deaths of three men and a number of injuries.
In 2002, the Parliament of the United Kingdom considered starting a new inquiry but the proposal was not acted upon.