Dubliners remember British Embassy fire after Bloody Sunday

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Almost every Dubliner has a story of the day the British Embassy was burned down in the capital, as the country bristled in anger over Bloody Sunday.

The destruction of the British Embassy, ​​then in the heart of Merrion Square in central Dublin, came days after 13 people were shot dead by paratroopers in Derry.

Another man shot by British soldiers that day died four months later.

Retired civil servant Pol O Duibhir was in the crowd the day the British Embassy was burned down in the Irish capital, as the country bristled in anger over Bloody Sunday (Brian Lawless/PA)

As anger spread beyond Derry and across the island, protesters in Dublin focused on the British Embassy.

Pol O Duibhir worked as a civil servant a short walk from Merrion Square at the Ministry of Finance.

He said the reaction to Bloody Sunday in Ireland was “extreme”.

Mr O Duibhir said: “Dublin was glowing at this point.

“People were really on edge about Bloody Sunday.”

Elsewhere across the country, in the days following the tragedy, workers staged strikes, walkouts and demonstrations.

British businesses have also been attacked, while airport workers and dockworkers have downed tools and refused to handle British flights and ships.

Mr O Duibhir said people were ‘really boiling over Bloody Sunday’ (Brian Lawless/PA)

The government had already made its own concerns clear about the events in Derry.

In an address to the nation on Monday, Taoiseach Jack Lynch told the people of Ireland: “The government is pleased that British soldiers recklessly fired on unarmed civilians yesterday in Derry and that any denial of this continues and increases the provocation offered by the current British government. policies both with the minority in Northern Ireland and with us here.

But it wasn’t until Wednesday that huge crowds gathered in the biting cold and torrential rain to demonstrate outside the embassy building, which had already been evacuated.

At 4 p.m., the first Molotov cocktails are thrown.

By 7 p.m., aided by the launching of more petrol bombs through the building’s shattered windows, the British Embassy was fully ablaze.

Mr. O Duibhir, who says he was not the only official in the crowd that day, remembers it vividly.

Soldiers hide behind their sandbagged armored cars while dispersing rioters with CS gas during a protest in Derry known as Bloody Sunday (PA)

He told the PA news agency: “I ended up at the embassy. I don’t remember exactly how it happened. It was in the afternoon. And we knew at that time that the embassy had been evacuated. So there was no way anyone inside would be harmed.

“It was an absolutely huge crowd.

“I was in front of the embassy about two-thirds of the way back. And there was a lot of pressure.

“There were a lot of people screaming and all that kind of stuff.”

Mr. O Duibhir remembers seeing a man climb the gates to break the windows of the embassy.

He said: “There was a guy who climbed onto the balcony of the adjacent building, I think there were probably no railings high enough to jump on the embassy building. He climbed onto the balcony of the building next to the embassy building and fell onto the balcony of the embassy.

“He seemed to have, it was described as a hatchet elsewhere. I thought it looked more like an ice pick. And he started banging on the windows.

He also remembers seeing a “guy with a Molotov cocktail” in the crowd.

The start of the destruction, as witnessed by Mr O Duibhir, had not been the first assault on the British Embassy since the killings on Sunday.

Historian Brian Hanley at Trinity College Dublin. He said Bloody Sunday had caused widespread shock and anger in the Republic of Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

Historian Dr Brian Hanley told PA: ‘What people forget is that the embassy was burnt down after three days.

“It didn’t happen right away. What began on the Monday after the massacre was essentially walkouts of factories and workplaces across the country.

“And in Shannon and Cork and Waterford and Galway, in Dublin itself and so on, thousands of people simply walked off work in protest, either all day or during periods of the day when they marched and organized impromptu rallies, and demanded that the government do something.

“In Dublin, the embassy provides the focus so there are protests on Mondays and it is attacked on Mondays but it’s not too damaged.”

Dr Hanley, a senior lecturer at Trinity College Dublin, believes Ireland has hardly seen protests like this since.

He said: “Every town, I would say, and even every village in the Republic of Ireland is seeing some form of protest over the next three days.

“Every population center in the 26 counties is seeing some form of protest.”

And while the anger was directed at the British government, that didn’t mean the atmosphere was any less feverish.

“It would seem from the outside that the state was shaking because you have this scale of activity,” Dr. Hanley said.

Such fear was certainly alive in government and political circles at the time.

Writing in his memoirs, former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald recalled his fears that the Derry killings “would endanger the peace in the island as a whole”.

A Fine Gael TD at the time, he recalls thinking after the embassy fire that his own “apprehensions about the impact of the Derry massacre on the security of the Republic as a whole seemed justified”.

Fifty years later, Mr. O Duibhir has some regrets.

He said: “I went home and if I had realized it was going to go up so soon, I would have stayed.

“I went home, I just got tired. The moment I got home, radio and TV reported that it had caught fire, and I started kicking myself for not staying.

“I was unequivocally on the nationalist side. I was not involved militarily or anything, but unequivocally on the nationalist side.

“And I’m proud of the burning of the embassy, ​​frankly, and then brought some of my British friends through to see the site.”

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