02 February 2006

Today in history: British embassy in Dublin destroyed


**If you have or know of a photograph of this event and would be willing to share it, I would very much like to hear from you.

2 February 1972

The British embassy in Dublin has been destroyed by a furious crowd of demonstrators protesting over the shooting dead of 13 people in Derry on Sunday.

The crowd was estimated at between 20,000 and 30,000 strong. It had been besieging the embassy building, in Merrion Square near the parliament building, for almost three days.

The mob threw hundreds of petrol bombs, as well as stones and other missiles. Fire engines which arrived to tackle the blaze were prevented from getting through for several hours.

All windows in the front of the building were smashed, and shutters torn from their hinges. Burning Union Jacks were hung on the front of the building above symbolic coffins, placed on the embassy steps by march leaders who were allowed through the police cordon around the building.

About 20 demonstrators and police have been injured, including one policeman seriously hurt when a gelignite bomb was used to blow out the front door of the embassy at midnight last night.

The ambassador and his staff evacuated the building earlier today, leaving a few security guards inside the stricken building.

Other buildings with British connections were also attacked. One of the worst incidents was at the port of Dun Laoghaire, just south of Dublin, where a British-owned insurance office was burned down.

Day of mourning

The Irish Republic had been observing a day of national mourning for those who died in Sunday's shooting. Schools, factories and offices closed, and bus and taxi services stopped running. Even the air network closed down for four hours.

The President, Eamonn de Valera, and Prime Minister, Jack Lynch, attended special church services in Dublin, while at the demonstrations outside effigies of the British Prime Minister, Edward Heath, were burned alongside pictures of the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Brian Faulkner.

The British government has made a formal protest over the attack. The Irish government expressed regret, and confirmed that it will pay compensation for the damage.

In Context

The burning of the British embassy happened on the same day as the funerals were held for 11 of the 14 who died in Derry, on what became known as Bloody Sunday.

An inquiry into Bloody Sunday headed by Lord Widgery in 1972 exonerated the Army. It said their firing had "bordered on the reckless" but said the troops had been fired upon first and some of their victims had been armed.

The results of the inquiry were rejected by the Catholic community who began a long campaign for a fresh investigation.

In 1998, Tony Blair's government announced a new inquiry into Bloody Sunday.

The inquiry headed by Lord Saville ended after seven years in November 2004. It is expected to report in summer 2005.

The British Embassy in Dublin was rebuilt a short distance away in Merrion Road, Dublin.

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