The Strange Tale of the IRA Army Council’s 1976 Tube Bombers

On March 1st, 1976, IRA volunteer Paddy Hackett from Nenagh, Tipperary, was carrying a bomb along Stanhope Gardens in South Kensington, London, when it exploded blowing off his hand and forearm and almost amputating his leg above the knee.

Hackett was found gravely injured on the road between two cars and for a brief period he was regarded as an innocent victim of an IRA bomb.

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Paddy Hackett IRA bomber

A young Australian, Russell McKinnon, ran from his flat nearby and years later recalled on his blog:

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IRA bomber Paddy Hackett’s injuries

While Aussie McKinnon imagined that Hackett must have surely died of his injuries, in fact medics saved Hackett’s life and he was later sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment for his bombing activities.

Hackett was identified after his photograph was released to the press and his sister contacted authorities.

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IRA bomber Patrick Hackett attended by police and paramedics

Hard on the heels of his identification, the police discovered his bomb factory.

Two weeks later at 4.40pm on March 15th, IRA volunteer Vincent Donnelly was carrying a similar bomb on a Metropolitan line tube train when the device began to issue smoke.

Donnelly threw the smoking bomb to the far end of the carriage where it exploded, blowing the roof off the train and injuring nine civilians.

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The bombed Metropolitan train of driver Julius Stephen

The train’s driver, 34 year old West Indian Julius Stephen, had just left West Ham Station when the bomb exploded. He stopped the train and jumped down on the line to try to see what had happened.

Vincent Donnelly also jumped out of the carriage and saw Julius – he pointed his gun at Julius’ chest and shot him dead.

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Julius Stephen and his wife Janet on their wedding day

A post office engineer working nearby, 24 year old Peter Chalk, ran to help the injured – Vincent Donnelly shot him in the chest leaving him critically injured.

Running from the train, Donnelly was followed by an unarmed police constable who continued to chase him even after Donnelly fired shots at him. This constable reported Donnelly’s movements on his radio.

Cornered on the street shortly afterwards by a second unarmed police constable, PC Raymond Kiff, in an act of suicidal drama Donnelly shouted “You English bastards!” and turned the gun on himself.

Aiming at his own heart, he shot himself through the chest and collapsed.

He missed his heart.

Doctors in a nearby hospital saved his life.

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Vincent Donnelly, the IRA’s failed Suicide Bomber

Donnelly was later tried with along with Paddy Hackett and John Hayes.

As the leader of the IRA Army Council’s 1976 own-goal Active Service Unit, he was sentenced to life five times over with a recommended minimum of 30 years for murder, attempted murder and bombing offences.

The trial judge, Sir David Croom-Johnson, told 37 year old Donnelly:

You seem to regard human life to be taken as easily as other people would light a cigarette.”

This characterization was more accurate than the judge could have known as we shall see.

Chemically-activated Bomb Detonators in 1976?

While IRA units throwing blast-bombs might continue to use bomb detonators activated by safety-fuse – light the gunpowder core, see a fizz of sparks and throw the bomb – by the early 1970s the IRA was mostly using more sophisticated devices activated by electric detonators.

Electric detonators could only be detonated by the passage of electric current – in expert or in trained hands, in quarries and elsewhere – they were relatively safe.

What were Hackett, Donnelly and Hayes doing with chemically-activated detonators that issued smoke prior to exploding? Who else was using such incredibly dangerous devices?

What other IRA unit was practically sentenced to death by using these? I can’t think of one…

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“prone not only to failure, but also to premature ignition” – “London: Bombed Blitzed and Blown Up: The British Capital Under Attack Since 1867By Ian Jones

The plain fact is that the IRA Army Council – the same body that was directing, overseeing and commanding the bombings in England, some of whose members from that period are still alive – had clearly decided to add more civilian casualties to the pressure on HMG to withdraw from Northern Ireland by sending out these suicide bombers – Hackett who was blown up by his own bomb, Donnelly who was nearly blown up by his own bomb and who then shot himself – hoping that in the course of their 9 attacks on tube trains, trains and train stations that a goodly number of civilian casualties might accrue.

Vincent Donnelly and the Murder of Kenneth Lennon

On Saturday, April 13 1974 Kenneth Lennon, originally from Northern Ireland, was found face down in a ditch in Park Road, Banstead, Surrey.

He had been shot twice in the back of the head and once in the neck.

Three days earlier Lennon had made a lengthy statement to the National Council for Civil Liberties that he had been an informer working for the Special Branch against IRA units in the Luton area.

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Kenneth Lennon, IRA murder victim

His case became a cause célèbre in the 1970s with many left-wing groups openly claiming that the Special Branch had shot Lennon.

Lennon had very recently been used to convict three IRA members – also members of Luton Sinn Féin – of an armed robbery.

These three IRA volunteers became known as – yes, you guessed it – ‘The Luton Three’.

Lennon had followed this up by getting another IRA member arrested and convicted for plotting to effect the escape of one of these three from prison.

Lennon said that he feared both the IRA and the Special Branch and had nowhere to go after his recent trial experiences.  (New York Times report.)

After making his statement to the NCCL, Lennon went back to his usual haunts.

Bored by the long years of his imprisonment and embarrassed by the details of his arrest and murders of civilians, Vincent Donnelly often told and re-told the tale of how  he had abducted Kenneth Lennon and had shot him in the back of the head – this ‘job’ would surely establish his credentials?

Proffering one of his hands on which there was a massive scar behind the thumb and forefinger, he told how one of the bullets which he fired into Lennon’s skull had ricocheted back out and sliced through his hand.

“What do you think of that?” he would dramatically ask…

Vincent Donnelly and Tony Blair

Vincent Donnelly was one of the very first beneficiaries of The Belfast Agreement when the IRA Army Council got Tony Blair to agree to the early release of IRA prisoners and also to the secret “OTR” letters for wanted IRA volunteers.

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Tony Blair with IRA Army Council veterans McGuinness and Adams

 

There was apparently no mention of victims.

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Tony Blair’s gift to Ireland

9 years before the completion of his 30 year recommended sentence, he was released in 1998 and returned to Ireland, later settling in Glenhull, Omagh, County Tyrone, across the border from his birthplace at Glenfinn in County Donegal.

Plagued by ill-health, Donnelly died in the Mater Hospital in Dublin on August 25, 2019 and was initially cremated at Glasnevin Cemetery (attended by “independent Catholic priest Hugh Gormley“) before the regular Catholic church buried his ashes at St Patrick’s Church, Greencastle, Co Tyrone on Sunday September 15th.

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Vincent Donnelly’s funeral theatre at Glasnevin Crematorium

Apart from 21 years in prison, murdering Kenneth Lennon, murdering Julius Stephen, nearly murdering Peter Chalk and then nearly murdering himself, Donnelly came out of prison to a movment that had swivelled 180 degrees and was embarrassedly edging into the partitionist parliaments both north and south – the very opposite of what Donnelly had preached during his long prison years.

What did his murders, bombings and shootings achieve?

Paddy Hackett had given an actual arm and a leg to “the war”. He was released from prison in 1990 after serving 14 years.

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Paddy Hackett, one-time Sinn Féin candidate in Tipperary gaining 3% of the votes cast

Upon his return to Tipperary, he addressed a crowd gathered to welcome him and offered a rousing war cry:

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Patrick Hackett’s short-lived “The Fight Goes On” War Cry in 1990

Shortly after his arrival back home, the IRA would have had to explain to Paddy that most of “the war” was over, that negotiations with the British were underway to effect the demise of most of the IRA, that the decommissioning of most of the IRA’s weapons was imminent and the entry of the IRA and Sinn Féin into the partitionist parliaments was on the cards – the opposite of everything Hackett  had been saying for 14 years…

So what was it all for?

Where was the victory?

 

 

 

 

 

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