Lands of Exile
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Through the Looking Glass: Remembering the Dublin/Monaghan Bombings, May 17, 1974
By Gerald A. Regan
After emerging from the library, perhaps to head home to my digs in Glasnevin, I must have passed through the common and through the dark portal of the western gate about 5:20 p.m., and made my way up College Green, past the Bank of Ireland and its faded grandeur, and then up Westmoreland Street to O'Connell Bridge. I had crossed the bridge and entered Bachelor's Walk, heading toward the GPO, when I heard a boom behind me. I turned to see smoke emerging as if from Trinity, forming a distinct mushroom-shaped cloud, reminiscent, I thought immediately, of those given off by the nuclear explosions I'd seen in pictures, but much, much smaller. I thought, still oblivious to its portent, the cloud seemed remarkably similar to those.
The possibility of being injured or killed by a car bomb in Dublin hadn't occurred to me in my prior 7 ½ months in Dublin. I was aware of the ongoing conflict festering in the North. I was studying its roots with J.G. Simms, perhaps the last of Trinity's Dickensian professors, who lectured in front of their classes wearing black robes that I imagine have long since vanished from the TCD scene. I had, in virtually all my time in Ireland, a sense that I was living in an extended parish -- surrounded by friends (or, at least, harmless cranks) that, as the Bord Failte commercial stated, I had yet to meet. I felt this from my first extended view of the city in October, from the upper deck of the #19A bus (or was it the #11 bus, which also ran to city center from Glasnevin). I had no concern for my personal safety while traveling in Dublin, and in fact had walked back to my accommodations on St. Mobhi Road numerous times in the dusk and dark, times when I particularly felt at one with the city's brooding past.
As I pondered the cloud emerging from near Trinity, my attention was again drawn up O'Connell Street, toward the GPO, by the sight of people moving quickly down toward me. I initially thought these must be curiousity seekers, looking to see what happened near Trinity. But I quickly learned that there were explosions ahead of me as well. These people, I wager now, were fleeing city center in fear of additional bombs. That prospect never occurred to me, showing, I believe, how oblivious I was then.
I moved further up O'Connell Street, and I vaguely remember a crescendo of sirens and the sight of emergency vehicles speeding by. As I learned from an online chronology, the two bombs north of the Liffey – on Talbot Street and Parnell Street -- exploded at 5:27 p.m., and the South Leinster Street bomb, alongside Trinity, at 5:33 p.m. I do not believe I heard the first two car bombs explode, nor did I see any of the chaos they caused until after the South Leinster Street bomb detonated. By that time, I was crossing O'Connell Bridge. I'm not sure why I hadn't heard the earlier explosions.
By the time of the bombings, I had already come to feel very much a Dubliner, as I daily walked or rode the city's streets, waited on its bus and movie queues, and drank in its pubs. That night back in my room in Glasnevin, it struck me: I had walked Talbot Street and Parnell Street and South Leinster Street. Lecky Library couldn't have been more than 200 meters from the Leinster Street bomb. Like in some perverse "Alice in Wonderland," the centuries-old Troubles had climbed out of my textbooks and nearly devoured me.
The next day I wrote in my diary :
We, the community of Dublin, my community, have been assaulted in a most vile and cowardly manner. To be forced to acquire the realization that an unseen enemy stalks your streets, ready to rain indiscriminate death and destruction in a flash on an unsuspecting populus means our lives in this city can never be what they were. We have lost 23 of our number (Editor's Note: 26 were to die in the three Dublin explosions), who died because they were were we have had occasion to be in the past and could be tomorrow and only for God's grace weren't there yesterday. How can we ever be the same?
The experience of the bereaved and maimed of The Dublin and Monaghan Bombings.
Copyright © 1998, GAR Media.