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Emotional reminder of Droppin' Well bombing

(Editorial, Irish News)

Seventeen people lost their lives in a no-warning bomb explosion at the Droppin' Well Bar in Co Derry 20 years ago. The dead included 11 soldiers and six civilians.

Another 30 young people were injured in the carnage created by the device which had been placed under a bench by the INLA.

The eldest victim of the atrocity was a soldier named David Stitt, who would have been 47 today.

More than 150 people had crowded into the night spot near the town of Ballykelly on the night of December 6 1982.

The pub's disco was popular with British soldiers and some were dancing to a slow song when the bomb ripped through the room at around 11.15pm.

The device was packed into a box measuring no more than six inches by three but the explosion caused the Droppin' Well's heavy concrete ceiling to collapse.

Most of the victims were crushed under the heavy masonry. Because of the bar's construction the impact of the device was magnified causing a build-up of gases which brought the building crashing down.

An army major, who rushed to the scene of devastation after hearing the screams of the injured, said the bodies were "like dominoes stacked one on top of the other".

Among the civilian fatalities were three teenagers: Alan Callaghan (17) from Ballykelly, Valerie McIntyre (17) from Ballymoney and 19-year-old Angela Maria Hoole from Lancashire, who was visiting her sister and brother-in-law – a soldier at Ballykelly. Patricia Cooke, the 21-year-old sister of the bar's co-owner, John Cooke, was also killed.

The last of the 17 to die, Patricia held on for 10 days in hospital before dying on December 16 from extensive first degree burns and shrapnel injuries to her legs. One soldier was left paralysed from the waist down.

The search for survivors among the rubble continued throughout the night and into the morning of December 7.

At 4 am the last survivor was brought out, but it was not until 10.30 the next morning that the last of the bodies were recovered from the debris.

In June 1986 four members of the INLA – two men and two women – all from Derry, were jailed for life for the massacre. The two women were Bogside sisters Anna Moore (40) and Helena Semple (29).

Semple's partner Eamon Moore (25) and the 40-year-old boyfriend of Mrs Moore's daughter Jacqueline, Patrick Shotter were also convicted. Jacqueline Ann Moore, who was 19 at the time of the bombing, was also jailed for 10 years for manslaughter. She was described by police as a "somewhat immature, simple and giddy-minded young girl".

The court heard that Ms Moore was under the influence of ''more mature and serious persons'' and that her involvement "stemmed from her emotional involvement with one of the other defendants". It later emerged that the INLA team had carried out several reconnaissance missions intended to "see if there were enough soldiers to justify the possibility of civilian casualties" – as Anna Moore said in court.

About one month after the bombing an INLA spokesman told an American Radio network:

"We believe that it is only attacks of such a nature that bring it home to people in Britain and the British establishment. The shooting of an individual soldier, for the people of Britain, has very little effect in terms of the media or in terms of the British administration."

In the same month the Irish government banned the INLA, making membership an offence punishable by up to seven years imprisonment.

A memorial stone has been erected at Shackleton Barracks, close to the Co Derry town of Ballykelly, with the names of the 17 Droppin' Well victims cut into the smooth marble.

December 5, 2002

This article appeared first in the December 4, 2002 edition of the Irish News.

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