Interviewed on 1 June 2021
Retired Superintendent Michael McKenna was recorded on 1st June 2021 for the GSRMA Oral History Project. As part of that interview, Michael recalled his personal memories of the Dublin bombings of May 1974, during which he was on duty in the city when the bombs detonated. His testimony brings you to the very moment of the explosion and the devastating impact.
JOHN O’BRIEN (INTERVIEWER): Maybe talk to us a bit about what it was like to be working in Dublin around that time, you know, 1974, what was happening on the streets, and then we can move on to the bombing in Parnell Street.
MICHAEL McKENNA: In 1974 Dublin was a busy city but not that much crime, not that many incidents occurring. In ’74 itself there had been loads of bomb explosions in Northern Ireland and when you come down to the South of Ireland then there were people ringing up with bomb-scares. Around O’Connell Street where I would have been doing the traffic points there would have been lots of bomb scares for various hotels in cars, and things like that, and on occasion I would have to close off the whole street. For that purpose I had a load of barriers at the junction of Parnell Street/O’Connell Street and whenever I would get a call on the radio I would just pull them across and redirect the traffic away from wherever the bomb scare was. [Short break in recording]. The Monument, I had taken up duty at 2 o’clock, I had been appointed as a traffic points manager a year previous to that and I directed the traffic out of Parnell Street and I directed traffic down Parnell Square at 5.30pm … there was loads of people, yeah, there would have been loads of people around. There had been a bus strike so most people were walking, there wasn’t that many getting buses. When I was directing the traffic there I directed the traffic out of Parnell Square and stopped it. Then I turned to direct traffic from Parnell Street. I looked at my watch and it was 5.30pm and just as I directed the traffic out of Parnell Street a massive explosion took place up near the Welcome Inn. I saw the explosion burst out with flames from the top of it, kind of blue or white smoke, and the whole place went quiet for just a few seconds, a second, and then the whole devastation of glass breaking and people falling and injured. I saw a gentlemen just up the road from me, he had been talking to people in the Venetian Cafe and he fell, I saw him fall, and the family came running out to help him. I pulled the barriers across to block off any traffic from coming in to the street and I made my way up Parnell Street to see if could help people. The area was covered with glass from all of the windows in the area. I directed the traffic out of Parnell Street to get rid of it all. Then I met people who were injured, not too badly, mostly suffering from shock and cuts, I directed them to wait at the Parnell Street/O’Connell Street junction so maybe an ambulance would arrive to take them to hospital. I then saw a man lying beside the Fiat car, this was the chap who was chatting to the people in the Venetian Cafe, I think it was his family, there was an injury to the back of his head, he was assisted by a man who had first aid knowledge so I moved further up the street. I found two men lying on their own near the footpath beside the Volkswagen car, one had a head injury and appeared to be unconscious, the other man was conscious, he had a hand wound and appeared to be bleeding from the neck. I used my armlets to try and stop the flow of blood and he was suffering from shock and complained of a pain in his leg. There were also two bodies
MR. O’BRIEN: Michael, just so that people will know, the armlets you were referring to were the white armlets that you wore.
MR. McKENNA: They were white armlets and gloves, yeah, white gloves and armlets that you wore to direct the traffic. There were also two bodies lying on the footpath near the garage door and they appeared to be dead. The ambulance and fire brigade arrived reasonably quickly and I saw a body inside in the garage and then all of the injured and all the people were taken away. Prior to the ambulances and things arriving, people on the street itself were very good, they all rushed out to help people who were injured and try and help people who were lying on the ground. The whole place, as I say, was in chaos and turmoil.