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Claudy in focus after atrocity was forgotten for 25 years

(Seamus McKinney, Irish News)

For many years the 1972 IRA bombing of Claudy had almost been forgotten.

Nine people died, including a young girl and two teenage boys, making it one of the worst single bombings of the Troubles.

On the morning of July 31 1972 three separate car bombs ripped through Claudy, a village which had been largely untouched by the Troubles up until then.

Kathryn Eakin, a nine-year-old girl, was cleaning the window of her father's shop on that bright summer's morning when the no-warning bomb exploded, killing her instantly.

The attack came just hours after the largest land movement of British troops since the Second World War, just 10 miles up the road.

A massive force of British soldiers – complete with military hardware – swept through Derry's Creggan and Bogside, breaking up the no-go areas which had been such an affront to Stormont and the British government.

No-one ever claimed responsibility for the Claudy bombing.

The Derry city brigade of the Provisional IRA issued a statement saying they were not involved.

But former SDLP Sunningdale minister Ivan Cooper – himself a Claudy man – described the Provo statement as disingenuous. He said that while the city brigade was not involved, the south Derry brigade of the Provos was responsible.

On the 25th anniversary of the bombing the attack came back into focus when a statue was unveiled close to the site of one of the bombs.

For 25 years there had been persistent rumours that a Catholic priest, Fr James Chesney, was involved in the attack. Church leaders said they investigated the rumours and were given assurances he was not.

Now dead, Fr Chesney, who had been serving in Co Derry, was moved to a Co Donegal parish. The Church said this was for his own safety as he had received death threats.

In 2002 Derry UUP councillor Mary Hamilton – whose husband was in-jured in the attack – claimed to have been given a letter written by a priest.

In the letter – the authenticity of which was never proved – the priest claimed that a fellow priest (Fr Chesney, although he was not named) had admitted involvement.

Then, in December 2002 Assistant Chief Constable Sam Kinkaid issued an interim report on a renewed Claudy bombing investigation.

In it he said the investigation of documents from the time showed that then Secretary of State William Whitelaw had discussed Fr Chesney's alleged involvement with then Catholic primate Cardinal William Conway.

Current bishop of Derry Dr Seamus Hegarty said in December 2002 that he did not believe there was any Catholic Church collusion in the bombing. He said that while Fr Chesney had strong republican views there was a wide gap between that and any involvement in the bombing.

A year after the Kinkaid briefing, it was claimed arrests would be made.

In the two years since then, there have been constant calls for a new inquiry, including one publicly backed by former Limavady Sinn Féin mayor Anne Brolly.

Mrs Brolly – whose husband, Francie has been arrested in connection with the bombing – seconded a Limavady council proposal calling for a public inquiry.

For many years the 1972 IRA bombing of Claudy had almost been forgotten.

The nine people who died in the Claudy bombing were:

  • Kathryn Eakin – Protestant civilian (9).

  • James McClelland – Protestant civilian (65).

  • David Miller – Protestant civilian (60).

  • Elizabeth McElhinney – Catholic civilian (59).

  • Joseph McCloskey – Catholic civilian (38).

  • William Temple – Protestant civilian (17).

  • Rosemary McLaughlin – Catholic civilian (51) died August 3 1972.

  • Joseph Connolly – Catholic civilian (15) died August 8 1972.

  • Arthur Hone – Protestant civilian (40) died August 12 1972.

  • December 1, 2005

    This article appeared first in the November 30, 2005 edition of the Irish News.

    This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News