March 6th, 1972
FROM THE ARCHIVES:One of the worst atrocities of the early years of the Northern Troubles was the placing of a bomb in a handbag in the Abercorn Restaurant in central Belfast on a busy Saturday afternoon. The IRA denied involvement at the time but is now widely believed to have been responsible. Renagh Holohan described the aftermath of the explosion.
TWENTY-NINE people are still in hospital following the explosion in a Belfast restaurant on Saturday afternoon. Two girls died in the blast and 136 were injured. Five of those injured have lost ten limbs between them and three have lost eyes.
The explosion claimed the highest number of non-fatal casualties in recent years in Northern Ireland and hospitals in the city were stretched to their limits to deal with the emergency.
The girls who died were Miss Ann Francis Owens, aged 22, of Chichester avenue, off the Antrim road, and Miss Janet Bereen, aged 21, of Hampton park, Newtownbreda, Belfast. Miss Owens was a computer programmer at the Northern Ireland Electricity Board headquarters and was injured in the explosion there during last year. Miss Bereen was a radiographer at the Royal Victoria Hospital. Her father, Mr. Fred Bereen, a surgeon of the Royal Victoria Hospital, operated on victims of the explosion, unaware that she was one of the two women to die.
Two girls who received most serious injuries were sisters. Rosaleen, 22, and Jennifer McNairn, 21. Rosaleen lost both legs, an arm and an eye. Jennifer lost both legs. The bomb which contained between 5 and 7 lb. of gelignite, exploded in the restaurant, which is in a very busy shopping area just off Royal avenue, at 4.30 p.m. It is understood that 30 people were downstairs, where the blast occurred, and more than 100 were upstairs in the bar where a cabaret was in progress.
A police spokesman said that at 4.28 p.m. an anonymous man telephoned a G.P.O. operator to say there was a bomb in Castle lane which would explode in five minutes. The operator immediately contacted the police but the bomb exploded 60 seconds after the anonymous call, at 4.29 p.m., and police arrived too late. The spokesman pointed out that in fact no warning at all had been given. Castle lane, he said, contained many shops and it would have been impossible to locate the bomb in time. The restaurant was not mentioned by the caller.
The bomb was a relatively small one but its effect in such a small and crowded space was horrific. When it went off people sitting at tables having tea were thrown into the air, furniture and delph were scattered in all directions, the light went out and smoke and dust filled the room.
In the Royal Victoria Hospital eight operating theatres were in constant use for six hours. One woman lost two legs, an arm and an eye, a man lost two legs, a woman lost two legs, a woman lost a leg and an arm.