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!