Northern Ireland news

New video to mark 50th anniversary of IRA members' deaths

A plaque at Dunree Gardens in Derry marks the site of the 1970 explosion.
Seamus McKinney

A video has been produced to mark this weekend’s 50th anniversary of the deaths of the first IRA men killed in a premature explosion during the Troubles.

Thomas McCool (40), Joseph Coyle (40) and Thomas Carlin (55) along with McCool’s young daughters, Bernadette (9) and Carole (3) were also the first IRA men to die in Derry during the Troubles.

The three IRA members were working on an incendiary device at McCool’s home at Dunree Gardens in the Creggan in June 1970 when it exploded prematurely. The deaths of the two McCool children were also the first females deaths in the Troubles although they were not the first child deaths.

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Recalling the explosion in “Children of the Troubles” (published last year by Joe Duffy and Freya McClements), McCool’s son, John recalled being in the living room of his home.

“I just heard ‘boom’. I heard screams and I saw a flash coming out, it was like a fireball,” he said.

His sisters who were in bed upstairs died in the explosion while he survived along with another sister, Sinead (4) and his mother, Josie. His sister Sinead had refused to go to bed and was in the living room with him when the bomb went off. His 13-year-old brother, Kieran also survived.

“I remember my mother grabbing Sinead and us all running out into the street. The smoke was billowing out of the house. Neighbours had to pull me away because I was trying to get in to reach them. They had to sit on me to hold me down,” he said.

Joe Coyle (above) and Tommy Carlin were veteran IRA members in 1970.

Veteran IRA men, McCool, Carlin and Coyle had all been active in the IRA’s border campaign from 1956 to 1962. Carlin was sentenced to eight years in prison for possession of guns when he was arrested in 1957.

With the outbreak of the Troubles, the three found themselves among the most senior IRA members in Derry. On the night of the explosion, they were attempting to make an incendiary bomb in response to the arrest of Mid Ulster MP, Bernadette Devlin (McAliskey).

Devlin, who was 23 at the time, was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison the previous December for her involvement in the Battle of the Bogside in 1969. She appealed the conviction but it was upheld in June 1970.

Thomas McCool died along with his daughters, Bernadette and Carole.

The Mid-Ulster MP was to speak in the Bogside before handing herself in to police but was arrested earlier and went on to serve four months in Armagh prison.

Speaking just before her arrest, she said: “I was involved with people in defending their area. They were justified in defending themselves and I believe I was justified in assisting their defence. If the circumstances arose again, I would have no problems helping them again.”

The three IRA men’s names were the first to be added to the Provisionals' Roll of Dead and the republican movement in Derry has also used the anniversary of their deaths as the date for its main commemoration of all IRA members who died.

Each year, a series of events are held culminating in a march to the republican plot in Derry city cemetery.

However, with the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s events are to be held online.

Among the events will be a commemoration marking the 50th anniversary which will be held through Derry Sinn Féin’s Facebook page and on Twitter and YouTube. A new video marking the anniversary will also be launched at the event.

The 1970 deaths are normally marked through Derry Sinn Féin's annual commemoration for all IRA members killed in the Troubles.

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