Being half-Irish (as I am) could be difficult in the 1970s as the Provisional IRA launched bloody and audacious attacks on the UK mainland. I even earned the nickname “Paddy” at my first secondary school – even though I didn’t speak with anything like an Irish accent.
One night, the waterworks at the top of my road was bombed by the IRA and as a 12 year old kid lying in bed, I knew immediately what had happened. My heart sank at the thought of what school kids would be saying the next day about the Irish. Bad enough there were “comedians” on mainstream TV at this time cracking “jokes” about how thick “paddies” apparently were.
1979 saw two murders that shook the country. On the 30th March, the INLA (Irish National Liberation Army – not to be confused with the IRA) blew up Conservative MP Airey Neave. You can watch the BBC TV news report by clicking HERE.
Neave was shadow Northern Ireland secretary and a close confidante of Conservative Party leader and soon to be PM, Margaret Thatcher. His car was blown up by a bomb attached underneath with magnets as it left the House of Commons car park. Needless to say that the security around the Palace of Westminster had presented no obstacle to the terrorists.
More shockingly was the slaying on the 27th August, 1979 of Lord Mountbatten: cousin of the Queen, the last viceroy of India and a very well known member of the royal family by the IRA. He was blown up on a boat with his son and a deck hand while on holiday in Ireland. Hours later, 18 British soldiers were killed at Warrenpoint in a devastating attack by Irish Republicans.
You can watch the BBC TV account of that by clicking HERE. Mountbatten’s murderer shared my surname, unfortunately, and was caught. He was released from prison in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday agreement, put in place after the ceasefire.
These events undoubtedly exercised a huge political and emotional influence on Thatcher. When IRA prisoners went on hunger strike demanding to be treated as prisoners of war, Thatcher folded her arms and let them starve – to death. That was in spite of one of them, Bobby Sands, being elected to parliament from his cell.
Thank goodness this seems like an epoch ago! Even though I’m half Irish, I’m glad to say that the carnage we once witnessed year after year in Northern Ireland now seems a distant nightmare. One can’t be complacent but – fingers crossed – we don’t look set to return to those days anytime soon.
Here’s a reminder of how awful it was – the latest update from The Observer in 1980. What a sad front cover.
The BT Tower near Goodge Street in London has to be one of the most neglected and overlooked monuments in the city – an unloved relic of the 1960s. And yet I think it’s fantastic. Really iconic, bold and in your face. It was built at a time of huge forward looking confidence – how that would all change in the 1970s!
Originally called the Post Office Tower, it had a restaurant at the top – and I’ve recently found an advert for it in an old bookshop in Portugal, of all places. This is from about 1970 – because in 1971, the IRA put a bomb in the restaurant and the public was no longer able to go up there. And it’s been closed pretty much ever since.
A friend has been to the old restaurant for a private function and they can still make the top of the building rotate. Back in the 60s, you dined while watched London revolve below. The machinery is now a bit cranky and he said the whole floor shook as it got going – but why on earth don’t they re-open this again?
I know this falls outside the time limit of this blog but I do break the rules for a picture as good as this.
John McEnroe lost the plot at Wimbledon……cricket fans threw cushions at the pitch because play was stopped early….Reverend Paisley shot at in Belfast…..inner city riots in Toxteth, Moss Side and Brixton…..Home Secretary authorises use of plastic bullets against rioters…..Basement 5 split….a teenager gets in to the House of Commons with a very big knife screaming that he wants to murder Thatcher….fighting breaks out between SAS operatives and mourners at an IRA funeral…Ghost Town goes to number one in the charts…..fatal stabbing at Black Uhuru gig….South African mixed race couple ask permission to leave Britain due to ‘racial hatred’…..Sounds magazine sues NME magazine….a thousand Mods do battle with the police in the Lake District…..Lady Di has one of her first on camera tearful tantrums at a polo match….a twelve year old girl is on trial at the Old Bailey for stealing a donut…Michael Heseltine suggests a big garden festival will help Liverpool forget recent riots….builder David Young was fined £50 for shouting abuse at the king of Saudi Arabia during a state visit…..’Britain in Turmoil’ thunders the Daily Express on its front page….
In May 1981, IRA (Irish Republican Army) hunger strike Bobby Sands died in prison. He’d been elected as an MP from his prison cell where he and other IRA members, banged up for terrorist offences, had refused to eat for weeks.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher basically refused to yield and Sands popped his clogs. Thatcher was not prepared to treat IRA inmates as political prisoners – which was their demand.
As a result of his death, many bands cancelled their gigs in Ireland at that time. Not so much out of sympathy for Sands – though some may have supported his stand – but because of security fears.
One band, Matchbox, said they were “very nervous about going” over to Ireland. Heavy metal combos Girlschool and Vardis also decided to stay away from the Republic of Ireland, under advice from the gig promoters.
It’s hard to believe now but going over to Ireland was a big deal at this time for many UK bands – especially in the north where ‘the troubles’ were in full force. Every week, people were being killed in sectarian murders between Catholics and Protestants – as well as clashes with the army, police and bombs going off in shopping precincts and other meeting places.
The troubles also spilled over on to the UK mainland and two years before, Lord Mountbatten – a member of the Royal Family – had been assassinated while on holiday in Ireland.
When The Specials went to play in Ireland they made great play of the fact that as they had done in England, they were going to plead the case for unity among the youth and against the horrible divisions that had led to very real bloodshed.