Northern Ireland

Centre of Belfast Blitzed after Gun Terror in Strabane – On This Day in 1974

The Irish News building at Donegall Street in Belfast city centre
The Irish News building at Donegall Street was among building damaged in the bomb blitz
February 23 1974

A bomb blitz was launched on Belfast city centre yesterday following a morning of terror in a Strabane camp during a fierce cross-border battle between gunmen and British troops. In it, adults and children huddled beneath their caravans as mortar shells and bullets whistled round them.

Three shells landed on the camp and one of the 25 caravans was badly damaged by a direct hit.

The Belfast bombings started when a car, packed with 200lbs of explosive, blew up outside Rodgers’ Bar at the junction of Union Street and Upper Donegall Street as police were on their way to the scene.

Seven people were slightly injured. Damage was widespread, including the front of the Irish News offices.

The blast was followed in the afternoon by explosions and fire in Woolworths department store in High Street, Belfast, where firemen early today were still engaged in damping down operations.

As a result of the damage, police said last night that traffic and pedestrians would not be able to use several routes until at least noon today. These are High Street from Castle Street to Bridge Street, Cornmarket, and Ann Street from Arthur Street to Joy’s Entry.

Residents of Strabane awoke yesterday to the sound of the cross-border gun battle and mortar attack on an Army checkpoint on the Lifford Road.

It started when about 12 gunmen opened up mortars, machine guns and high-velocity rifles on the Donegal side of the border near Lifford Post Office and the Intercounty Hotel.

The Army estimated that more than 1,000 rounds and 30 mortar shells were fired in one of the fiercest-ever battles along the border. No casualties, however, were reported.

Three of the mortars fell near the camp at the old railway station, and one exploded on a caravan where a man, his wife and nine children were “frozen” to the ground outside.

In the site at the time, there were about 25 occupied caravans and most of the occupants were lying on the ground. With the exception of the one caravan, which was extensively damaged, the remainder were unscathed.

The roof of the Douglas Iron Works at Railway Street was riddled with bullets.

Workers there were sent home for the day because a mortar bomb was lodged in the building.

In the Bog Road area several houses were struck by bullets and early morning buses for pupils and mill workers were unable to travel as the drivers were lying “flat down” in the yard of the depot.

Subsequently, two Garda patrol cars on the Lifford side were held up by armed men and the radio ripped from one of the cars. In the first case, the patrol were given chase to five men in a car when they had five shots fired at them and were held up at gunpoint.

Despite the carnage caused by the bomb blasts and gun battles in Belfast and Strabane respectively, miraculously no-one was seriously injured.