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Clearing up in Talbot Street where the explosion took place on May 17, 1974. Alamy Stock Photo

Analysis Dublin and Monaghan were bombed 50 years ago - now is the time to uncover the truth

John O’Brien looks at the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and the years of disappointment around uncovering the truth.


THE DUBLIN AND Monaghan Car Bombings were the single biggest atrocity of the Troubles committed in one day.

In all 34 innocents were murdered between Dublin and Monaghan explosions. The attacks came on a bright sunny May evening in Dublin and the lives of many were changed forever.

The power sharing executive in Belfast was abandoned after a few days and the pace of peace and reconciliation was put back for decades.

Life was normal for the citizens of Dublin and Monaghan. Families were going about their business, getting ready for the weekend, and generally looking forward to family time. Things were very different in Northern Ireland where there was a virtual lockdown in the province. The Loyalists were protesting strongly and visibly to the power sharing Executive which had been introduced because of the British/Irish Sunningdale agreement. The British Army and the RUC were hard pressed to maintain public order.

The bombings

One such Dublin family who were making their way through the streets was the O’Brien family. These were John O’Brien, the Dad, Anna O’Brien, his wife and their daughters Jacqueline, 16 months and the baby of the family, Anne Marie, four months. The family had been to the Rotunda Hospital where Anne Marie was undergoing treatment to correct a hip displacement.

This treatment was going very well and they had just one more visit to complete the following week. A very kindly nurse had struck up a happy relationship with them and she remembers them very well and poignantly. The family left the hospital in good cheer and promised to be back the following week. As they made their way to Parnell Street at about 5.30 pm, they passed the Parnell monument, and in doing so they passed by Garda Michael McKenna who was directing traffic at that point. A very short time later Garda McKenna witnessed the car bomb explode in Parnell Street. His recollection is clear and vivid today.

He saw Antonio Magliocco fall as he was hit by fragments. He was killed in the blast and so were the entire O’Brien family.

There was to be no happy return for them to the Rotunda Hospital. Ten people were murdered in Parnell Street and in quick succession 15 were murdered in Talbot Street in another car bomb blast. Two unfortunate women were murdered in another car bomb in South Leinster Street a short time later. The killings were not over because close to 7 pm another car bomb exploded outside Greacen’s bar in the North Road in Monaghan.

These were savage and barbaric crimes executed with the explicit intention of murdering and maiming and no warnings were given. They also achieved a cynical political purpose because the power sharing Executive in Belfast collapsed.

It is reasonable to expect that these crimes would be investigated with maximum efficiency and led by the Dublin and London governments. Incredibly, this did not happen. I pose eight significant points or questions that comprehensively examine the bombings. Based on my research I have offered a view in respect of each one. These points are critical to understanding the overall scope of the actions of the key actors. They are in no way a measurement of the grief and pain caused.

The key questions

  • Did the Dublin government learn of the identity of the bombers from the British Government? Yes, they did.
  • Did the Dublin government act promptly on the information supplied by the British? No, they did not.
  • Did the London government act promptly on the information supplied to the Irish Government? No, they did not.
  • Was there collusion between British State actors and Loyalists – UVF? On the balance of probability, there was collusion.
  • Did the Loyalists have the capacity to carry out the Attacks unaided? No, they did not.
  • Was the response of the Garda Síochána deficient at the time or laterally? Not at the time in 1974.
  • What role has a British Police Officer in “investigating” the bombings in this jurisdiction with the consent of The Garda Commissioner? This question is primarily for the British Police officer to answer but I would suggest none.
  • Is there a role for the Garda Commissioner who is a person of exceptional knowledge about Legacy Crimes committed in Northern Ireland?  This question is for the Garda commissioner to answer.

The three Dublin cars were stolen or acquired in Belfast and the Monaghan car was stolen in Portadown. All these attacks were designed to kill or maim, and no warnings were given. The Dublin attacks were unique in that all car bombs exploded within a couple of minutes. This bombing pattern was not previously encountered nor was it subsequently repeated by any terrorist organisation.

This synchronicity was typical of a military style operation which indicated that the technical features of the bombs were unique, having regard to the components used, particularly the timing devices. The Dublin explosives used were unique because, in the opinion of Lieutenant Colonel Nigel Wylde (British), the bombers used recrystallised ammonium nitrate (ANFO). This was a homemade High Explosive perfected by the Provisional IRA. The colonel also confirmed that vast quantities were recovered by the British Military and this explosive was not formally logged or recorded. Another British officer, Lieutenant Colonel George Styles said that it was common for the British Army to “set off bangs” using captured PIRA explosives. What if this strategy was used by unscrupulous military elements in conjunction with their loyalist allies in the UVF?

The Monaghan attack was a typical Loyalist cross border attack. It involved a car stolen relatively close to the border on the Northern side and the target equidistant on the Southern side. Also, the bomb used was a typical crude loyalist bomb with the explosive contained in a milk churn or similar metal container. This configuration was used because their explosives had to be hard contained to make an explosion. This was not the case in the Dublin bombs.

The Great Deception

I have discussed all these factors in detail in my book, The Great Deception, Dublin and Monaghan Bombings 1974.

It is incontrovertible that Dublin and London failed to pursue the criminals involved even though the British claimed to have known the identity of the bombers and had interned them. They also informed the Dublin government of this fact and this similarly produced no call for action.

This information remained hidden from the public gaze until unearthed by Judge Barron early in the 2000s. He reported in clear and unambiguous terms.

A meeting was held in London on 11 September 1974, at which the British side comprised the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, The British Ambassador to Dublin, the Permanent Secretary to the Northern Ireland Office, and other senior civil servants.

Screenshot 2024-05-09 at 12.46.51 The Great Deception by John O'Brien.

The Irish side comprised the Taoiseach, the Minister for Local Government, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Irish Ambassador to London, and senior civil servants of the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs. During this meeting, minutes prepared in the Department of Foreign Affairs quote the Prime Minister as saying the following:

“In recent months some very nasty men had been lifted on the Unionist side. On the Friday and Saturday of the UWC strike, 25 interim custody orders had been signed and the perpetrators of the Dublin bomb outrages had been picked up and were now detained, but it was impossible to get the evidence to try them in ordinary courts”.

A similar statement is recorded in minutes prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs relating to a meeting in Dublin on 21 November 19744. “He (the Prime Minister) emphasised again that the people who had bombed Dublin were now interned and that this was the only way which they could be dealt with because the sort of evidence against them would not stand up in court. They were certain they had the right people, but they could not bring them to trial.” Judge Barron went on to state.

Notwithstanding the information supplied in the course of these meetings, there appears to have been no follow through by any of those who became aware of it. Nothing was apparently raised at the meeting. Names were not sought, nor the evidence that justified the internment, nor the allegation that they had been responsible for the Dublin bombing. Following the meetings, there is no evidence that the information was passed, either to the Minister for Justice or any of his officials or indeed to the Garda Commissioner or any other Garda officer.

Certainly, Patrick Cooney, the then Minister for Justice was never made aware of it, nor is there any record of such information being passed to An Garda Síochána. This absence of apparent interest in those interned, and in whatever evidence there was which indicated that some of them were involved in the Dublin bombings, strongly suggests that the Irish Government made no efforts to assist the investigation into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings at a political level.

This denunciation requires no further amplification by me. There is little doubt that military elements were using Brigadier Frank Kittson’s doctrine of using counter-gangs to do their dirty work. However lest one thinks that all condemnation is one way traffic it is well to remember that the Provisional IRA exploded three bombs in pubs in Birmingham on 21 November 1974 murdering 21 innocents. This was the same day that Harold Wilson repeated to Liam Cosgrave that they had interned the Dublin and Monaghan bombers.

Searching for the truth

Investigation teams were assembled in Dublin and Monaghan and within a very short time, the names of prominent Loyalist suspects were established. In the circumstances prevailing at that time, it was not possible to get the necessary cooperation in Northern Ireland to gather evidence or eventually allow for extradition to the Republic. This was a definite cul-de-sac in terms of the investigation. The information obtained by the Taoiseach was not passed to the Gardaí. This was a remarkable omission.

The Provisional IRA continued to be a major threat in the Republic as well as the North. In May 1974 the Special Criminal Court was hearing the case against a Provo gang who had murdered Senator Billy Fox in 1973. This meant that many Gardaí from Monaghan who otherwise would have been directly involved in the bombing investigation were otherwise occupied in Dublin’s Special Criminal Court. In August of 1974, 19 Provos blasted out of Portlaoise Prison. The British ambassador was murdered in 1976 and Garda Michael Clerkin was murdered in a booby trap explosion near Portarlington. Several Provos escaped from the Special Criminal Court using explosives.

For whatever reason the Dublin government simply ignored the bombings. Nothing happened until 1993 when Yorkshire Television broadcast the documentary the “Hidden Hand” which was a significant exposé of the bombings. The Garda Síochána remarkably cooperated in full with this documentary and appointed Detective Superintendent Tom Connolly as liaison to the documentary makers.

In 1996 an organisation Justice for the Forgotten (JFF), was formed and this became a lobby group for the families. It was not until 1999 that Dublin decided to hold any “form” of an inquiry into the killings.

members-of-justice-for-the-forgotten-protesting-outside-dublin-castle-during-a-meeting-of-the-british-irish-council-with-british-prime-minister-tony-blair-the-group-is-demanding-that-britain-s 2001: Members of Justice for the Forgotten protesting outside Dublin Castle, during a meeting of the British-Irish Council, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Dublin absolutely refused to hold a sworn public inquiry, and this was a major obstacle to truth recovery. Judge Barron did make the discovery already mentioned in relation to the information supplied by the British.


In 2006, the Dáil Justice Committee made findings regarding collusion. They observed that there was collusion on the British side which had overall applicability not least to the Dublin/Monaghan bombings.

“The rise of the loyalist paramilitary groups led to collaboration between them and elements of the security forces on the basis that both had a common goal – the defeat of the PIRA. Such collusion was greatest between locally enlisted members of the RUC and UDR; so much so that no firm line of definition between some members of those forces and the loyalist paramilitaries could be discerned.”

The ultimate bizarre aspect of this saga is the comparatively recent intervention in the Republic by a former senior British Police officer Jon Boutcher (current Chief Constable PSNI) and his team. He was the former Head of Operation Kenova inquiring into the activities of Freddie Scappaticci aka Stakeknife, the British Agent and PIRA hitman. Mr. Boutcher has repeatedly said that he has no jurisdiction in the South. Surprisingly, he and his team have been reportedly visiting families of the victims in the Republic and carrying out other inquiries.

It is blindingly obvious that the sole responsibility for investigating the Dublin and Monaghan car bombings rests with the current Garda Commissioner and no other jurisdiction unless of course, the British authorities wish to disclose information, which up to now has remained secure in their archives.

Truly this was a savage time in our history and at the very least the families of the dead deserve a heartfelt apology from both governments.

John O’Brien (  is a former Detective Chief Superintendent, in An Garda Síochána. He is formerly head of the International Liaison Protection section in Garda HQ, National Head of Interpol and Europol. He was Divisional Chief Superintendent in the Louth/Meath and Laois/Offaly Divisions. A former Superintendent, Detective Inspector, Uniform Inspector and Sergeant. He is the holder of an MSc in Public Order Studies. He is the author of four books, A Question of Honour, Politics and Policing (2020) and Securing the Irish State (2022). The Troubles Come South 2023 and this his latest book, The Great Deception – Dublin and Monaghan Bombings 1974

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