La Mon

La Mon. Two words that send shivers down my back. I was seven months into my new life here in Northern Ireland. A challenge unfolding all around me, the discovery of people, places and the sharing of new love, and new life growing deep inside me.

Twelve people were killed and many more badly burned on 17 February 1978. The bomb turned La Mon House, a small country hotel, in the Castlereagh hills east of Belfast, into a raging inferno. The events surrounding that fateful evening will for ever be imprinted on the minds of the scores of people who escaped from the clutches of death. Some of those injured may well still carry scars and suffer physical pain to this day. Even those fortunate enough to walk away without a physical mark were haunted by the memories of that dreadful night.

It began as a Saturday night of celebration. It was a happy get-together for members of the Irish Collie Club and their friends. They had converged on the hotel from around the Province. They had been allocated a private function room known as the Peacock room.

The terrorists strapped their explosives to two cans of petrol and attached them to the security grille over the windows of the room. They then retreated under the cover of darkness. The massive explosion that resulted sent a sheet of burning petrol through the small function room, incinerating those in its path. In addition, the glass and materials from the explosion shredded the many helpless, innocent and unsuspecting victims. In addition to the many guests in the hotel that evening, there were in the region of 90 staff on the premises.

This was a time of hormonal overdrive for me, newly married, and six months pregnant, no wonder the details seem etched in my brain. There was also the fact that exactly I week later we were to attend the annual dinner for all the staff of the company where Jack worked. It was the quietest week of my life. Nobody wanted to broach the subject. We all worried about attending, yet none of us wanted to be responsible for cancelling the event.

The evening of the Dinner Dance arrived and with it, thick freezing fog. It was impossible to see much further than the nose of the car. We debated whether to cry off or not. I know Jack was worried about me and the safety of our growing baby. We often have bad weather around us and when we travel a few miles south in the direction of Belfast, discover a different climate altogether.

Jack never wanting to let people down decided we would set out and if we found it difficult, we could circle round and come home. The driving condition I hate most of all is fog, never mind freezing fog but I stayed stumb and agreed that we should make an effort to get there. Our destination was Clanbrassil House Hotel, A Georgian Terrace on the sea front at Holywood, Co Down. I think it has since been converted into apartments.

We set forth on our journey, heading for the M2, neither of us wanting to say a word. All concentration was focused on the road and searching for red tail lights ahead. The journey down the M2 southwards into Belfast is lovely on a bright day. On your right Belfast Castle is set into the hillside and peeping through the trees of the Cave Hill. While on the left is the sweep of Belfast Lough glinting in sunshine, forming a natural divide between County Antrim and County Down. Had the night been clear we would have been able to pick out the cluster of lights at Holywood.

That night there was no cluster of lights, we did make out red tail lights of a car in front and tucked well in behind it and followed at a safe speed and distance. Finally reaching the hotel I gave an enormous sigh of relief. I thanked God twice over, once for a safe journey and secondly because there were NO grilles on the windows. We were the first to arrive and Jack found me a comfortable corner and headed to get a warming drink for us. It was only then I realised that my teeth and hands were clenched.

Soon the other members of the party started to arrive and seeing Jack they relaxed. Everyone felt as we did, yet turned out more in support of each other than the desire to party and also not wanting to let terrorism win. We soon had the call to our table. Good food and wine warmed and relaxed everyone. Jack and I shared the good news of our forthcoming event. The band was excellent and we all danced to the wee small hours.

We had a representative over from Head Office, and between the weather that night, and the chat at the table during the meal, he realised the conditions that the staff and particularly those out on the road, had to contend with on a daily basis in Northern Ireland. To give him his due, he picked up the tab for the whole evening!

When the band finally packed up for the night and we said our Goodnights, we headed outside to the car. The fog had cleared and the sky was a mass of stars. Jack and I sang all the way home.

Who would credit the difference a week can make!


21 thoughts on “La Mon

  1. Well captured, Grannymar.

    A lovely tribute to those people who died 30 years ago today. You’ve also clearly shown how the spirit of good, honest and decent people always shines through.

    Sounds like you have a another reason to celebrate later this year? 😀

  2. When you read personal stories like yours it really shows how terrorists affected everyday life back then. I know it is the right thing to show that they will not dictate how you live but I’m not sure that I would have been brave enough to venture out on a night as you describe it!

  3. Steph ~ No doubt if Elly is in the country we will celebrate! I think she has had more birthdays away from Ireland than here.
    Chris ~ Back in the Late 70’s when I came here to Northern Ireland, there were some very black days. My husband travelled all over Ulster for his work. I knew the road to Dublin and back and no more. The hourly news bullitins brought tales of murder and mayhem from all six counties, this left me worried and upset as I did not know at all times where he was. I soon realised that I should not listen to the news unless he was home.

  4. Grannymar,

    Back in the early-90s I was Rector in a parish where one of my parishioners was an ambulanceman (paramedic, he would be called now). He was one of those summoned on that night thirty years ago. He didn’t talk much about it.

    In 1994 he was summoned to a bar in Loughinisland, where an incident had been reported. He knew some of those who lay dead – as did most people in a rural community. He was off work for five months afterwards with severe depression – the Loughinisland killings brought all the La Mon memories back.
    He was about ten years older than me, or would be if he hadn’t developed cancer and died in his early fifties.

    It sticks in the craw seeing Republican and Loyalist terrorists not only on the streets, but also holding public office.

  5. Ian, if you sport a plaster-cast or have a visible scar people have sympathy. If the scars are ‘inside’ like your parishioner, then people choose to ignore them.
    I attended a Garden Party back in 2005 on a beautiful August Bank Holiday in the South of Ireland. I mingled among the various groups of people to catch up on old friends and meet some new. At one table the conversation turned to politics and ‘The North’! I was surprised to hear how delighted they were at the then proposed and now elected representatives, with terrorist backgrounds, that we have making decisions about us. At that time one of these gentlemen was responsible for making decisions about EDUCATION! I asked one question, ‘How would you like an ex terrorist making plans and decisions about the education of your children or Grandchildren?’ Suddenly all speech ceased and there was heard a great shuffling of feet! I moved on and left them to their discomfort.

  6. Well told, Grannymar. You did well in the face of terror and adversity, and I like what you said and did in your last comment. Good for you!

  7. A very sobering story, Grannymar. It fills in the details of the La Mon bombing that I wasn’t aware of. We’ve only lived in NI since 2000 but Jenny has relatives who were here at the time. It was very determined of you to go to the dinner dance despite your fears. As you say, there are people with very deep psychic scars but nobody realises because they aren’t visible. And yes, it must be utterly sickening to a lot of people to see ex-terrorists running the country, but what course is there but reconciliation and moving forward?

    btw, if you’re going to the Blog Awards, can I ask you to accept an award on my behalf in the unlikely event I win the Best Newcomer category? Neither John Self or Alan in Belfast or myself are going so I’m a bit stuck. I’d make it worth your while, naturally!!

  8. Nick said “I’d make it worth your while, naturally!!”

    Now there’s an offer you’d be mad to refuse!!! 🙄

  9. Judy ~ Thank you.

    Nick ~ I agree it is sobering. I realise that we have to move forward. It is a pity that we do not have many Great people in politics these days. I worry that if those down south, who spend their time whinging about Bertie and the Mary Harney’s of the political scene, don’t stop they may well end up with some of our crowd taking over! Then they will know their onions.

    Steph ~ I noticed the ‘naturally!!’….. I’m saying nuttin! 😉

  10. I think I’ve found some words.

    Your reply about scars inside rang bells;

    back in 1991 Iwas off work with severe depression (probably reactive) and was listening to BBC R 4 Woman’s Hour(or is it Women’s Hour?) I heard some words of wisdom: “Why, if my leg is broken is it helped to heal yet if my mind is broken it is ignored? ” The speaker then went on to say that she made up her mind to heal her mind. It helped me.

    I am still in no position to really comment on “The Troubles” except to say that in the mid 60s, if we had thought about, it we should have seen things coming. I was NUS Secretary at my College of Edc’n and at Conferences we heard often(from NI delegates and others) about the ill treatment of the minority population by the majority in NI. One name came up again and again…. but also the anger and hatred came through. Little doubt that that some of those speakers “took up the gun”.

    The other comment is on the ability of us hoomans to turn to humour at almost any time ..viz Nick and Steph!

  11. Magpie I knew you had something to add!

    My maternal Grandmother taught us how to cope through humour. It was the best lesson I ever learned. I never take myself too seriously.

  12. I was downright speechless after reading your post yesterday. I have heard a bit about the the bombing from a friend in Belfast. Your story is touching and wonderful, Grannymar. Indeed, invisible scars are the hardest to heal. They scab over but the wound is always lingering underneath. Learning how to overcome tragedies and adversities is part of life’s journey I reckon.

  13. JD there are several more I could tell from the past 30 years, but we need to move on and think positive thoughts.

  14. A beautiful piece, GM. and very well told. I could tell some stories too and maybe will in time, some scars run very deep and affect the generations. Now I’ve only covered the deep internal problems of others in fiction form. Which works for now. For me.

    I love your description of the night – the atmosphere you create, the dread too, the challengin weather and then safety a whole week later. The horror of terrorism, the deep divides, the innocent bystanders then a memory A week later.

    I remember being in Ireland at the time of Omagh, senseless pointless Omagh and the slaughter of the innocents yet again.

    And today in Iraq and Darfur. Will we ever learn?


  15. WWW, thank you. Alas, murder and mayhem have been around since Adam was a boy! We humans do terrible things to our fellow man, not always with weapons, our actions and words can kill the spirit!

    If nothing else my years living here have taught me to: Start each day as if it were the first, but live it as if it were our last!

  16. Time warp, this is a comment obviously much later than the others, simply because you have pointed me to it in a topic of the current day. This story is chilling to the bone for so many reasons. It is one thing when terrorism and violence are at arm’s length, seen through the media. It is quite another when it is at your doorstep.

    Chilling indeed and the fog was an apt metaphor in this situation.

  17. La Mon. Those two tiny words make me shiver on the inside every time I hear them. We are moving on, but it often feels like one step forward and two backwards. 😦

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