FROM THE ARCHIVES: FEBRUARY 18th, 1978One of the worst attacks on civilians during the Northern Troubles was the napalm-style bombing by the Provisional IRA of the La Mon hotel and restaurant in Co Down which killed 12 people, including three married couples. This was the first report of the bombing in The Irish Times, hence the confusion over the number of victims
SIXTEEN PEOPLE, including some children, died when a bomb exploded without warning at the La Mon Hotel, near Comber, Co. Down, late last night. The RUC fear that the death toll may reach 20. Several hundred people were injured. This is the biggest toll in any incident in Northern Ireland since the troubles started in 1969 . . .
About 25 people were injured in the explosion which took place at 8.57 p.m. during functions held by the Northern Ireland Junior Motorcycle Club and Irish Collie Dog Club. About 60 children were at the functions.
As soon as the bomb went off the building was plunged into darkness as electrical services failed. In the panic, rescuers had great difficulty in finding the dead and injured and it was not until RUC and ambulance men arrived with their lighting equipment that the numbers of dead became known . . . A number of children are believed to be among the dead. A Downtown radio reporter, Mr Eamon Mallie said he saw a number of small bodies which looked like lumps of carbon being carried out . . .
A police spokesman said a warning had been phoned to a GPO operator at almost precisely the time the bomb exploded. He said a police vehicle was on its way to the hotel and a policeman phoned ahead to say that a bomb warning had been received.
The man at the hotel who answered the phone said it had already exploded and that a fire had started and ambulances were urgently needed. The call warned of three bombs in the hotel and a car bomb. A second warning call five or six minutes later spoke of a car bomb.
Our Northern Editor, David McKittrick, reporting from the scene at 1.30 today, said: “The building is still smouldering and firemen with torches are searching through ashes in the darkness for more bodies while colleagues in other parts of the sprawling building are hosing what remains of the fire.
“Detectives believe the bomb was set on the ground outside the windows of the Peacock Room, which is a fairly small eating area. First indications were that it consisted of a very small amount of explosive together with a tin of petrol. A piece of tin found on the scene was thought to have been a bit of the petrol container.
“Police said the bomb must have gone off when the room was very full causing the blast injuries and deaths to those inside and also showering them with burning petrol.
“The blast was not confined to the room but travelled throughout the building, killing two people who appeared to be in the reception area and blowing their virtually unmarked bodies outside. Firemen later recovered their bodies from the grass environs of the hotel.
“Detectives said that such explosive devices often included an amount of adhesive to make burning petrol stick on whatever it splashed. It must therefore have had a napalm-like effect on those inside the Peacock Room where most of the bodies were found . . .
“First to reach the hotel were full-time firemen from the Knock station, about five miles away. One of these firemen said that his unit had reached the hotel within seven or eight minutes of the bomb going off. By that time, he added, the hotel was well alight.
“The Chief Constable, Sir Kenneth Newman, visited the scene late last night.
“The hotel is in the Castlereagh hills to the south of Belfast and it has been regarded as a safe place of entertainment. It is not in close proximity to any recognised Republican areas.”