Timeline of the Omagh bombing
Attack came just four months after signing of the Belfast Agreement
A file photo dated August 15th, 1998, of the damage caused by the bomb explosion in Market Street, Omagh. Photograph: Paul McErlane/PA
On August 15 1998 Northern Ireland’s fragile peace was shattered when a dissident republican car bomb ripped through the Co Tyrone market town of Omagh.
The attack, which came four months after the signing of the Belfast Agreement, was the single deadliest atrocity in the history of the Troubles. This is a timeline of the main events leading up to and beyond the Real IRA bomb explosion, which claimed the lives of 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins.
Thursday August 13th, 1998
Saturday August 15th, 2pm
The same car, now carrying the fake Northern Ireland reg, MDZ 5211, is driven into Market Street, Omagh, and parked outside SD Kells clothes shop. Two male occupants are seen walking away in the direction of Campsie Road.
A man phones Ulster Television (UTV) newsroom with a bomb warning: “There’s a bomb, courthouse, Omagh, Main Street, 500lb, explosion 30 minutes.” The caller gives the Real IRA codeword: ‘Martha Pope’.
Samaritans office in Coleraine called with another warning. “Am I through to Omagh? This is a bomb warning. It’s going to go off in 30 minutes.”
Caller said bomb was 200 yards from courthouse. He also gave codeword “Martha Pope”.
UTV receives another phone warning: “Bomb, Omagh town, 15 minutes.” Two of these warnings were phoned from a call box in Forkhill, south Armagh. The third was made from a phone box in Newtownhamilton, also in south Armagh.
2.31pm to 3.10pm
UTV and Samaritans both place emergency calls to the Royal Ulster Constabulary control centre. Message immediately passed to officers in Omagh and evacuation operation commences. There was no street named Main Street in Omagh. The only target specified was the courthouse, which was at the top of High Street at the west end of the town. The car had actually been parked at the east end of the town, on Market Street, more than 500 yards from the court. Police cordon off High Street and move shoppers and shop owners down to Market Street before commencing a search round the courthouse.
As a result all the people who had been in Omagh town centre when the warning came through had now assembled in Market Street, yards from the red Cavalier. Among those gathered was a group of Spanish students who were spending the summer in Buncrana. They had gone to
Omagh for the day along with a number of local children from the Co Donegal town.
A 500lb bomb packed in the Cavalier is detonated with a remote trigger. The explosion tears through Market Street. Shop fronts on both sides are blown back on top of customers still inside. Glass, masonry and metal tears through the crowd on the street as a fireball sweeps out from the epicentre. Twenty-one people are killed instantly - some of their bodies were never found, such was the force of the blast. A water main under the road ruptures. Gallons of water gushes out. Some of the dead and badly injured are washed down the hill.
Emergency operation begins. The two ambulance crews on call at the nearby Tyrone County Hospital arrive at the scene within minutes. Survivors are already tending to the injured and covering the dead. Civilians who had been on nearby streets also rush to the scene to help. People grab medical supplies from a chemist’s shop while linen from a drapers is used to cover the victims.