Valerie Robinson
Irish News

Campaigners hope that a report due to be published by Justice Henry
Barron early next year will pave the way for a public inquiry into
the 1975 Dundalk bombing.

Former Supreme Court judge Justice Henry Barron is expected to
publish his report into the 1975 Dundalk bombing by the New Year.

The report is seen by campaigners as the first step towards a full
public inquiry into an attack that remains shrouded in secrecy.

Dundalk was seen as a hotbed of republican sympathy in 1975.

It is believed that the loyalist Red Hand Commando group targeted the
Co Louth town to teach republicans a lesson, that their presence
could be felt anywhere in the Republic.

The south was still reeling from the loyalist car bomb attacks in
Dublin and Monaghan in May the previous year. Thirty-three people, as
well as an unborn baby, were killed and hundreds were injured in the
no-warning explosions.

Months earlier, three CIE workers had also died in two separate
blasts in Dublin city centre.

Loyalists struck again at 6.22pm on Friday December 19 1975, when a
car bomb exploded outside Kay's Tavern in Crowe Street in Dundalk.
More than 20 people were injured – some sufffering from serious burns
and shrapnel wounds.

Hugh Watters (60), a tailor, is believed to have left his shop to
deliver suits and clothing to people in the pub. He died instantly in
the blast.

Jack Rooney (61), a retired fireman working as a lorry driver, was
walking down the street across from the pub when he also suffered
massive injuries in the explosion.

Mr Rooney, who frequently cycled and was in excellent health, lived
for three days before losing his battle for life because of shrapnel
injuries. He was buried on Christmas Eve.

Both families have told how they received no offers of counselling or
support from authorities in the days and weeks after the bombing.

Mr Rooney's daughter, Maura McKeever, who had married shortly before
the attack, told the Irish News that the family was never visited by
gardai or given updates on the investigation.

No-one has ever been charged in connection with the blast.

Ms McKeever, who was aged 23 at the time of the explosion, said the
autopsy into the men's deaths on January 15 1976 took just half an
hour to conclude.

"There is no way that they could have had all the necessary
information at the time of the inquest," she said.

"My father was buried on Christmas Eve, businesses were closed during
the Christmas holiday. How could there have been enough information
to hold an inquest? We were in an awful state of shock, so everything
just happened."

In the years that followed, the families learned nothing about the
Garda investigation or whether investigating officers were close to
identifying and arresting those behind the attack.

The Red Hand Commando had claimed responsibility within days of the

It later emerged that the bombers were based in Portadown, Co Armagh
and were widely suspected of having acted in collusion with British
security forces.

Five months later the Red Hand Commando struck again in Dundalk,
abducting and murdering forestry worker Seamus Ludlow (47), after
they had failed to locate their original target, a Co Louth-based IRA

The Ludlow murder remains unsolved officially, although the names of
four suspects have been in the public domain for some time.

In his book Dublin-Monaghan Bombings and the Murder Triangle, author
Joe Tiernan claimed that two of the men responsible for the Dundalk
bombing were dead and they may have been responsible for around 150
Catholic murders during the 1970s and 80s.

Mr Tiernan also claimed that while researching the book he was told
by a senior garda that the RUC had refused to help investigators
trace the vehicle used to carry the bomb.

The families of Jack Rooney and Hugh Watters have consistently called
on the Irish government to set up a public inquiry to establish the
facts surrounding the bombing and the subsequent Garda investigation.

Ms McKeever said the families were prompted to begin their campaign
after realising that the state was determined to forget the men's

"What happened was always in our minds, but it took us a long time to
realise that no-one was doing anything. I thought that as a citizen
of this state the gardai would fully investigate my father's death,
but that obviously wasn't happening," she said.

"We believe the only way to handle this is to have a full public
inquiry where witnesses would be compelled to give evidence. These
people (the bombers) are still walking around. When they planted the
bomb they knew they would kill innocent people, but didn't care. We
want justice."

The relatives hope that Justice Barron will be able to answer some of
their questions when his findings are published.

In his report on the attacks in Dublin and Monaghan, published last
December, the judge found there were "grounds for suspecting that the
bombers may have had assistance from members of the (British)
security forces, but any collusion between the UVF bombers and the
security forces remains a matter of inference".

The government fell short of establishing a public inquiry into the
1974 atrocity, but the families of the two Dundalk victims remain
hopeful that they may still get the justice they demand.

September 3, 2004

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