Vehicle licence plates from Northern Ireland car bombs – 1973, on display at IWM London

Richard Maddox

TWO LICENCE PLATES from vehicles packed with explosives and set to detonate in towns in Northern Ireland during 1973. Image © R Maddox 2020.

TWO LICENCE PLATES from vehicles packed with explosives and set to detonate in towns in Northern Ireland during 1973. Image © R Maddox 2020.

AS PART OF the British Army deployment to Northern Ireland from 1969 to 2007 – Operation BANNER – eighteen year old Private Steve Kirvan – known as ‘Geordie’ – served with No. 321 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit, Royal Army Ordnance Corps in Northern Ireland during 1973.

He was the No. 2 to the Ammunition Technical Officer – usually a Captain – and the unit conducted bomb disposal operations in and around Lurgan and Omagh in the Province.

Their task was to make a variety of explosive devices – ranging from vehicle bombs to anti-personnel nail bombs – safe.

At the time that ‘chapter’ of ‘Troubles‘ had been going for around five years.

It would continue for another quarter of a century until the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998.

British military operations formally ended in July 2007 after 38 years, thereby ending the longest deployment of British forces ever seen.

The number plates were kept by Private Kirvan as souvenirs from some of the major incidents he attended.

AOI 2039‘ was from a Rover 2000 car that had some 200lbs of home-made explosive connected to a clock timer packed inside.

The car was parked outside a public house in Portadown, October 1973.

In August a similar sized device had been planted by the Protestant Ulster Volunteer Force.

It had exploded outside the Parkside Bar in the town, injuring six people.(1)

Private Kirvan and the rest of the team – who are named on the number plate, together with details of the incident – successfully defused the bomb. (2)

Licence plate ‘3901 WZ‘ is from a Ford Cortina another passenger vehicle also left in Portadown, this time outside a fish and chip shop in August 1973.

The device inside this vehicle was made from 100lb of ANFO – ammonium nitrate and fuel oil.

After a preliminary examination the team believed that they were not going to be able to make the bomb safe before it was due to explode. (3)

They cleared the area and waited.

Two hours later the bomb went off.

Further information

IWM Sound Archives has a series of oral interviews with Steve Kirvan detailling his military experiences in Northern Ireland. These can be found at http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80031124.

As expected information is available from a variety of sources. Those below can be seen as starting points.
https://www.nam.ac.uk/explore/troubles-1969-2007.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/6923342.stm.

Please note that this post was written before the COVID 19 ‘lockdown’ ordered by the UK government came into force.

Sources

(1) https://balaclavastreet.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/orange-bombs-part-2-loyalists-and-explosives-1972-1994/ – retrieved 15 March 2020.

(2) http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30089785 – retieved 15 March 2020.

(3) http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30089786 – retrieved 15 March 2020.