The Paras in Northern Ireland
From the first deployments of British troops to the present day, the Parachute Regiment has been in Northern Ireland. On Sunday 30th January 1972, 1 Para was involved in the Bloody Sunday incident, which is dealt with separately on this site. A Judicial Inquiry into the incident concluded that the soldiers had only fired after being fired upon and had followed their standing orders. New evidence in 1997 suggested that some of the Paras had been reckless. Violence continued through 1971 and 1972. On one night in July 1971 terrorists set off 20 bombs in Belfast, causing widespread damage. A few weeks later, when mobs were roaming the streets setting fire to buildings and hijacking buses, 2 Para and a Company from 1 Para took part in a 'search and arrest' operation, in which a number of suspects were arrested and taken away for internment without trial. Internment was later suspended.
Altogether in 1971 the British Army lost more than 40 men as a result of action by the terrorists. The terror campaign reached its height in 1972, with the terrorists carrying out daily bombing. On Friday 21st July, 19 bomb attacks in Belfast in 65 minutes killed nine people and seriously wounded 130. That episode became known as 'Bloody Friday'. At that time there were 'no go' areas in Roman Catholic parts of Belfast and Londonderry, where it was not safe for police, troops or Protestants to venture, and the authorities decided that it was time to clean them up. In Operation Motorman 21,000 troops were deployed, including 2 Para. As a result the terrorists who had dominated the areas fled, and relative peace returned to them, apart from occasional sniping at the troops.
The attacks in Northern Ireland waxed and waned. A notable one involving 2 Para occurred on 29th August 1979. A convoy consisting of a Land Rover and two four-ton trucks carrying men of 'A' Company was driving along a road near the village of Warrenpoint, on the shores of Carlingford Lough, a sea inlet which forms the boundary between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. At Warrenpoint, the head of the lough is only about 180 metres wide. As the convoy passed a parked trailer, a group of terrorists set off a bomb hidden in the trailer, which destroyed one truck killing six Paras. The rest of the convoy stopped and ran back to help their comrades. The terrorists then opened fire and the Paras returned fire, while a Royal Marine patrol heard the fire and radioed for help.
Reinforcements from the Paras and an airborne reaction force from the Queen's Own Highlanders rushed to the scene by Land Rover and helicopter. The Highlanders own commander, Lieutenant Colonel David Blair was killed when he arrived as the terrorists detonated a second bomb. His body was vaporised and all that remained was one of his rank badges. 'A' Company's commander and ten other men were also killed, with one of the helicopters being slightly damaged as it took off laden with wounded. The Paras endured more years of this violence until the cease-fire of 1994-1995 gave the first break, and the Good Friday agreement of 1998 may have finally brought peace to the troubled Province.