The Birmingham bombings: 21 November 1974

by Nikita Rothwell

“The Troubles was an ethno-political conflict in Northern Ireland that spilled over a various times into the republic of Ireland. England and mainland Europe.” The duration of the Troubles is usually dated from the late 1960s is considered by many to have ended with the Belfast ” Good Friday” Agreement of 1998.

The key issue at stake in the Troubles was the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the relationship between it’s mainly protestant unionist community and its mainly catholic nationalist community.  Unionists and loyalists generally want it to leave the United Kingdom and join a united Ireland.

“The Troubles involved republican and loyalists paramilitaries, the security forces of the United kingdom and of the republic of Ireland, and politicians and political activities.”

“The violence of the troubles often spilled out in the UK. One of the worst events was the Birmingham bombings that took place on 21st November 1974 and were credited to the provisional IRA.”

The Birmingham pub bombings took place on 21 November 1974 and were credited to the Provisional IRA. The devices were placed in the two central Birmingham pubs the Mulberry Bush at the foot of the rotunda, and the Tavern in the town a basement pub on New street. The resulting explosions, at 20:25 and 20:27, together event the most serious terrorists blasts in Great Britain up to that point; 21 people were killed (ten at the Mulberry Bush and eleven at The Tavern in the town) and 182 people were injured. A third device, outside a bank on Haley Road, failed to explode.

The pub after it was bombed!

The pub after it was bombed!

That evening at 20:11 a man with an Irish accent telephoned the Birmingham Post newspaper and said: “There is a bomb planted in the Rotunda and there is a bomb in New Street at the tax office”. A telephoned warning was also sent to The Evening Mail newspaper. The Rotunda was a 25-storey office block that housed the “Mulberry Bush” pub on its lower two floors. The police started to check the upper floors of the Rotunda but failed to clear the crowded pub at street level. Six minutes after the warning, at 20:17, the bomb exploded inside a duffel bag, destroying the pub. “Ten people were killed in this explosion and dozens injured, including one woman who was so badly wounded she was given the last rites by a Catholic Church.”

Police were attempting to clear the nearby “Tavern in the Town” basement pub on New Street below King Edward House, when at 20:27 a second bomb exploded there, killing another 11 people and leaving many with appalling injuries. The bodies of the dead and injured were scattered about the ruined pub.

A passing West Midlands bus was wrecked in the blast. The explosion was so powerful that several victims were blown through a brick wall into an area just below the main front entrance to King Edward House. Their remains were wedged between the rubble and underground electric cables. It took hours for firemen to remove them. The two pubs were about 50 yards (46 m) apart. Buildings in the vicinity of both pubs were damaged and passersby in the street were struck by flying glass from shattered shop windows.

The six men framed for the Birmingham bombing

The six men framed for the Birmingham bombing

A third device was placed outside a branch of Barclays Bank on Haley Road but failed to detonate. Together, the attacks were the worst terrorist attacks in England until the July 2005 London bombings. 21 people were killed and 182 people were injured. Most of the dead and wounded was young people between the ages of 17 and 25, including two brothers, Desmond and Eugene Reilly. One of the victims, 18-year-old Maxine Hamilton, had not been a customer. She had just gone into the “Tavern in the Town” to hand out tickets to friends for a party. She was killed seconds after entering the pub. Her friend Jane Davis, aged 17, was the youngest victim of the two bombings.

“The day after the bombings, the IRA denied responsibility. Death Ó Conrail, a member of there’s Army Council, said:”

The pub after the bombing

The pub after the bombing

If IRA members had carried-out such attacks, they would be court-martial led and could face the death penalty. The IRA has clear guidelines for waging its war. “Any attack on non-military targets must be preceded by a 30-minute warning so that no innocent civilians were kept safe.”  Two days after the bombings, a girl in London phoned a news agency and claimed responsibility on behalf of the “Manchester Brigade of Red Flag 74”. This was a small breakaway group from the International Marxist Group and claimed to have about 500 members. Red Flag 74 had claimed responsibility for bombings before, including one at the Tower of London. It also claimed that its members had trained with the IRA in Ireland and that it had received explosives from the IRA. All claims were treated with skepticism by the police.

At the time IRA sources in London said that the bombs might have been planted by Ulster loyalists “bent on stirring-up a wave of anti-Irish feeling in Britain”. “However in 1985 up on a Granada TV World in Action programmed former IRA chief of staff, Joe Cahill, acknowledged the IRA’S Role.” Denis called on the IRA to apologize for the bombings, which were also described as ‘wrong’ by Sinn Fein. They were released on 14 March 1991 after the judgment of the court of appeal was handed down.

The pub after the bombing

The pub after the bombing

The people of Birmingham were severely impacted and the attacks severely damaged relations with the Irish community.

“Since the IRA was believed to be responsible, the bombings yielded a wave of anti-Irish feelings and attacks on the Irish community in parts of Great Britain.”

Six men were immediately accused of carrying out the attack.  Five were Belfast-born Roman Catholics, while John Walker was born in Derry. All six had lived in Birmingham since the 1960s. Five of the men, Hill, Hunter, McIlkenny, Power and Walker, had left the city on the early evening of 21 November from New Street Station,shortly before the explosions. They were travelling to Belfast to attend the funeral of James McDade, an IRA member who had accidentally killed himself while planting a bomb in Coventry (Hill was also intending to see an aunt in Belfast who was sick and not expected to live). They were seen off from the station by Callaghan.When they reached Heysham they and others were subject to a Special Branch stop and search. The men did not tell the police of the true purpose of their visit to Belfast, a fact that was later held against them. While the search was in progress the police were informed of the Birmingham bombings. The men agreed to be taken to Morecambe police station for forensic tests.

On the morning of 22 November, after the forensic tests and questioning at the hands of the Morecambe police, the men were transferred to the custody of West Midlands Serious Crime Squad police unit. William Power alleged that he was assaulted by members of Birmingham CID.[2] Callaghan was taken into custody on the evening of 22 November.While the men were in the custody of the West Midlands Police they were deprived of food and sleep, they were interrogated sometimes for up to 12 hours without a break; threats were made against them and the beatings started: ranging from punches, letting dogs within a foot of them and being the subjects of a mock execution.Billy Power confessed while in Morcambe while Hugh Callaghan, John Walker and Richard Mcilkenny confessed at Queens Road in Aston with Paddy Hill and Gerry Hunter not signing any documents.

They were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. “They spent 16 years in prison.” At the conclusion of their second appeal, their convictions were dropped after the scientific evidence and the documents setting out the confessions were found to be unreliable. They were released on 14 March 1991 after the judgment of the Court of Appeal was handed down.

The Birmingham pub bombings resulted in Parliament introducing the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 1974, within a matter of days.  Since then, millions of pounds have been spent on emergency planning to prepare for major terrorist incidents such as this.

The pub after the bombing

The pub after the bombing -Troubles…/171178-attitide-ira-towards-children-13.html…/northernireland.northernireland