Ballad of Claudy

Ballad of Claudy

* James Simmons

The Sperrins surround it, the Faughan flows by
At each end of Main Street the hills and the sky
The small town of Claudy at ease in the sun
Last July in the morning, a new day begun

How peaceful and pretty, if the moment could stop
McIlhenny is straightening things in his shop
His wife is outside serving petrol and then
A child takes a cloth to a big window-pane

And McCloskey is taking the weight off his feet
McClelland and Miller are sweeping the street
Delivering milk at the Beaufort Hotel
Young Temple's enjoying his first job quite well

And Mrs. McLaughlin is scrubbing her floor
Artie Hone's crossing the street to a door
Mrs. Brown, looking around for her cat
Goes off up an entry, what's strange about that

Not much, but before she comes back to the road
The strange car parked outside her house will explode
And all of the people I've mentioned outside
Will be waiting to die or already have died

An explosion too loud for your eardrums to bear
Young children squealing like pigs in the square
All faces chalk-white or streaked with bright red
And the glass, and the dust, and the terrible dead

For an old lady's legs are blown off, and the head
Of a man's hanging open, and still he's not dead
He is shrieking for mercy while his son stands and stares
And stares, and then suddenly - quick - disappears

And Christ, little Katherine Aiken is dead
Mrs. McLaughlin is pierced through the head
Meanwhile to Dungiven the killers have gone
And they're finding it hard to get through on the phone

The Sperrins surround it, the Faughan flows by
At each end of Main Street the hills and the sky
The small town of Claudy at ease in the sun
Last July in the morning, a new day begun


[1999:] 517. July 31, 1972 Elizabeth McElhinney, L/Derry, Civilian, Catholic, 59, married
From Main Street, Claudy, she was one of nine fatalities caused by a car bomb attack on the hitherto largely peaceful village. Six were killed on the day of the attack while three others were fatally wounded and died in the days following the explosions. A number of others were seriously injured. It is believed the IRA were behind the attack although it has always denied any part in the bombing.

Counsel for the Ministry of Home Affairs told the inquest that a car bomb exploded without warning outside McElhinney's public house on Main Street at 10.20 a.m. Elizabeth McElhinney, who was serving petrol at a pump in the street, died instantly, together with Joseph McCluskey and a nine-year-old girl, Kathryn Eakin. Rose McLaughlin, Patrick Connolly and Arthur Hone were fatally injured in the explosion.

A police sergeant and other officers discovered a second bomb in the back of a minivan at the post office. As they tried to clear the area many people moved towards the Beaufort Hotel, where a third device had been left in another minivan. Counsel said that 15 minutes after the first bomb went off a woman went into Dungiven RUC station and said she had been asked to tell police three bombs had been left in Claudy. Counsel said that by the time RUC headquarters in Derry received the warning the first bomb had already exploded. By the time the message was relayed to Claudy, the second bomb had been discovered.

A third device instantly killed David Miller, James McClelland and William Temple. An RUC detective-chief inspector told the inquest that his inquiries revealed the bombers had tried to make a telephone call from Dungiven but a callbox there was out of order because of bomb damage to the Claudy and Dungiven exchanges.

The officer said a warning was given by the bombers to shop assistants in Dungiven but, again because of damage to the telephone exchanges, one of them had to go personally to Dungiven RUC Station to deliver the warning. The policeman added: 'By this time the warning was too late, for the first bomb had exploded and the other two bombs went off as the warning was being passed by the Dungiven police.' Other witnesses told of seeing smoke belching from Claudy and of hearing screaming. A doctor said he rushed to the scene to treat those injured and suffering from shock. The coroner said: 'This was sheer, unadulterated, cold, calculated, fiendish murder.' The bombs were left on the same day as the army launched Operation Motorman to remove no-go areas in Derry.

Sean MacStiofain, who was IRA chief of staff at the time, wrote in his book 'A Revolutionary in Ireland': 'I turned on RTE. The news was appalling. A terrible tragedy had struck the small town of Claudy in Co. Derry. Three car bombs had exploded there. Six people had been killed outright. Over 30 were injured, and three subsequently died. My heart and everything I had inside me just seemed to tighten up in a knot and sink slowly to the bottom of my stomach. "Holy Mother of God," I thought. "Who is responsible for this?" He said that when he investigated, the IRA operations staff and local units adamantly denied any knowledge of the bombings. He said the denials were 'carefully investigated and subsequently borne out in a court of inquiry'.

The poet James Simmons wrote of events in the village that day in his work 'Claudy'. [See above.]

518. July 31, 1972 Joseph McCluskey, L/Derry, Civilian, Catholic, 39 From Faughan View Park, Claudy.

519. July 31, 1972 Kathryn Eakin, L/Derry, Civilian, Protestant, 9
She lived at Main Street in Claudy. In a newspaper interview 20 years after the deaths, her mother said: 'Kathryn would have been 28 this year. Every time I go to a wedding I think it could have been hers. She was cleaning windows outside our shop. The bang went off and I started screaming. Then her granda came over and said, "I was with her at the end," but I didn't understand. I just kept saying, "The end of what?" I'd never be bitter to Catholics. I grew up with them. But I'll never forgive the bombers for the hours and days and years I should have had with my daughter."

520. July 31, 1972 David Miller, L/Derry, Civilian, Protestant, 60
From Ivan Crescent in Claudy, he was killed when the third and final device exploded in the village.

521. July 31, 1972 William Temple, L/Derry, Civilian, Protestant, 16, milkman's helper
From Donemana, Co. Tyrone, he was in Claudy because he had got up at 4.30 a.m. that morning to do a milk round which included the village. [...]

525. August 3, 1972 Rose McLaughlin, L/Derry, Civilian, Catholic, 52, married, 8 children
From Main Street, Claudy, she died from injuries received in explosions in the town on July 31, 1972. [...]

532. August 8, 1972 Patrick Joseph Connolly, L/Derry, Civilian, Catholic, 15
He was the eighth person to die as a result of the IRA's bomb attack on Claudy, eight days earlier. He was caught in the first explosion at approximately 10.20 a.m. when a device exploded in a car left outside McElhinney's public house in the village. The schoolboy's injuries were caused by flying metal and he was flown to Altnagelvin Hospital. Business in the bomb-damaged village came to a standstill during the 15-year-old's funeral. He was buried in an adjoining cemetery after requiem mass in St Patrick's Church. [...]

539. August 13, 1972 Arthur Hone, L/Derry, Civilian, Catholic, 38, married, 2 children, insurance representative
From Claudy Brae, Claudy, he was the ninth and last victim to die following the bomb attack in the village on July 31. The two priests who concelebrated his funeral mass at St Patrick's Church in Claudy were his uncles. Addressing the mourners, one of them condemned what he described as the savagery of the bombing and the total disregard shown for human life. He also expressed a hope that a new community spirit would stem from the common suffering in the village. Arthur Hone's children were aged six and four.

On the 20th anniversary of the bombing, his widow told the Belfast Telegraph: 'Only the children keep me going. My daughter is getting married next month. It's a happy day but she'll miss her daddy to give her away.' (David McKittrick et al, Lost Lives 240 ff.)

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