UK feared Irish offer over IRA bomb horses would backfire

Foreign office felt British public might think Irish cared more about horses than soldiers

The covered bodies of horses killed in the IRA bombing in Hyde Park, London, on July 20th, 1982. Photograph: PA Wire.

The covered bodies of horses killed in the IRA bombing in Hyde Park, London, on July 20th, 1982. Photograph: PA Wire.

Thu, May 1, 2014, 01:00

An offer by Irish businessmen to replace horses killed in the IRA’s 1982 Hyde Park and Regent’s Park bombings might have been seen by some in Britain as evidence that the Irish cared about horses, but not about British soldiers, the British government feared at the time, according to newly-released files in London.

The offer to replace the horses was made to the British ambassador in Dublin, Leonard Figg, on August 2nd, 1982, by Frank O’Reilly, chairman of the Royal Dublin Society (RDS), who was also chairman of Ulster Bank. He said that, “like many other Irishmen”, they had been horrified by the bombings.

Four soldiers of the Blues and Royals regiment were killed in the Hyde Park bombing on July 20th, 1982, and seven Royal Green Jackets soldiers two hours later in Regent’s Park, along with seven of the horses used by the Blues and Royals.

Mr O’Reilly told the ambassador that if the offer was acceptable to the British, the horses would be replaced in the name of the RDS “to preserve the anonymity” of the businessmen.

The £20,000 offer by the businessmen to replace the horses provoked a flurry of communications inside the British government.

A foreign office official, Patrick Eyers, said he saw “a difficulty”, according to files to be released today by the UK national archives.

While accepting the generosity of the offer, the foreign office feared there was a danger of an “unfair” reaction in Britain, both because of the inflamed tempers created by the bombing, but also bitterness over Ireland’s attitude during the Falklands crisis.

“It is the danger that in the present atmosphere of hostility to the Irish it will be said that the Irish show concern for the horses but not for the men who died, or their widows and children,” he told senior officials, according to the files.

“Such a reaction would be unfair but the risk of it is nonetheless a real one.”

The foreign office eventually turned down the offer as proposed, but suggested the RDS make a contribution to the fund set up to help those bereaved by the bombings – and then make an associated offer to replace the horses.

The announcement that this would happen was made during the Dublin Horse Show, where it was greeted “with cheers and applause” from spectators, and plaudits in Irish newspapers, the foreign office noted later.