On Saturday evening 4th December 1971 members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) detonated a no warning bomb in the doorway of a public house known in North Belfast as McGurk’s bar.
15 people were killed.
The youngest to die was a 13 year old schoolboy, James Francis Cromie and the oldest was 73 year old Philip Garry, a school crossing patrolman.
The pub was demolished and the dead and dying were buried beneath the rubble. The emergency services used a mechanical digger to try and reach the wounded.
What was also buried that night was the truth.
The British authorities immediately started to doctor witness statements and put out spin to friendly journalists.
The cause of the explosion was an “own goal” by the IRA.
This was a lie of Orwellian proportions.
Not only did innocent people lose their lives, but they were also smeared.
The official version of events that McGurk’s bar had housed an IRA bomb “in transit” and it had prematurely exploded.
The evidence from the British Army’s own explosives experts contradicted this spin.
They knew that the bomb had been placed in the doorway of the pub.
There was a young boy who had witnessed the bombers and a loyalist sticker on the back of their getaway car.
The relatives of the McGurk’s bar bombing have fought for years to clear the names of their relatives.
None more so that the author of a new book on the massacre.
Ciarán MacAirt did not know his grandmother Kathleen Irvine as she was one of the victims of the UVF’s bomb that night in 1971.
The book represents seven years of meticulous work.
The case he presents in the book for collusion in the atrocity after the fact by the British Army is unanswerable.
It suited the British authorities to lie about the authors of the outrage and to smear the innocent people who had lost their lives that night.
MacAirt cannot prove collusion in the act itself and he is bluntly honest about this.
His search for a crucial piece of evidence continues.
However, if proof were to be found of British complicity in assisting the UVF to carry out the atrocity then it would fit a well-established pattern of Counter Insurgency Operations carried out by the British Army in their dirty war in the North.
Their Counter Insurgency theorist Brigadier Frank Kitson was deployed to command the 39th Air portable Brigade in Belfast in 1970.
The use of a loyalist “counter gang” like the UVF to terrorise a rebellious population was straight out of his handbook.
The book is very good in examining how Kitson’s theories were implemented on the streets on Belfast in the early years of the Northern War.
Given his familial proximity to this crime it would have been entirely understandable if MacAirt’s work was a personal journey about his grief and loss.
However, although acknowledging the absence of his grandmother in his life and the impact that it had on his clan he puts that to one side and focusses on the facts.
Not only is this book an impressive marshalling of the facts, but it also introduces the general reader to the Machiavellian nature of the modern British Army as it withdrew from empire and the lengths it was prepared to go to get a strategic edge against rebels in the colonies.
MacAirt’s research has featured in many TV and radio programmes. He presented his testimony to the US Helsinki Commission on Capitol Hill, Washington DC.
It was real coup for author to get Colin Wallace to provide the Foreword for the book.
Wallace was a former Senior Information Officer at the heart of the British Army’s psychological operations unit in the early 1970s in the North.
He was on duty the night of the bombing and he provides powerful corroboration of MacAirt’s allegations of collusion after the fact.
Only one person was ever convicted of the McGurk’s bar bombing, Robert James Campbell, admitted to his part in the mass murder in July 1977.
There is a Scottish connection to this atrocity.
The police in Glasgow alerted their RUC colleagues of the involvement of the UVF in the massacre.
Big Bill Campbell (no relation) was in charge of the UVF in Scotland. He boasted of being involved in the bombing.
His nephew Jason Campbell murdered Celtic supporter Mark Scott in Bridgeton in 1995.
There was an attempt to get Big Bill’s nephew out as a “qualifying prisoner” under the Good Friday Agreement as a member of the UVF.
Last year Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson issued a report criticising the RUC investigation into the bombing “investigative bias”.
This book will engage anyone who has an interest in Britain’s dirty war in Ireland.
Moreover, it will also be of interest to students of how governments manipulate information to advance their own agenda.
The innocents in McGurk’s bar were murdered by the UVF and then slandered by the British Army.
Ciaran MacAirt’s investigative journalism could not bring them back, but he has played a vital part in retrieving their reputations and he has also identified the guilty parties in a cynical smearing of good people.
This book tells a greater truth about Britain’s shameful role as an occupying force in Ireland.
Indeed, who is to say that they would not tell similar lies today in Afghanistan?
This book is available from Waterstones in Glasgow and Belfast and WH Smith in Glasgow.
It is on sale in HMV stores across the Six Counties.
It can also be purchased from Amazon.