The Irish in Birmingham - 40 years on from the Birmingham pub bombings
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The Irish in Birmingham - 40 years on from the Birmingham pub bombings


On the 40th anniversary of the Birmingham pub bombings, we republish this piece by long-time Irish Post photo journalist BRENDAN FARRELL. Written on the 30th anniversary of the terrorist attack it reports on how the Irish community stepped out of the shadow of that dark day to become an integral part of Birmingham's thriving multi-cultural identity.

 

It will forever go down as one of the darkest days in Birmingham's history.

The evening of November 21 1974 saw 21 people killed and 182 injured as two IRA bombs exploded within minutes of each other at the Tavern In The Town and Mulberry Bush pubs in the centre of the city.

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Those who survived the attacks later described a scene of carnage inside what was left of the two pubs.

Debris buried dozens, searing hot timer beams ripped through Ireland's bloody war witnessed as something remote until then had arrived in Britain's second city.

But while the IRA may have wanted to strike at the heart of Britain it was the Irish community which suffered hardest.

At least 10 per cent of those killed and injured were either Irish or of Irish descent.

The last two victims to be identified were brothers Desmond and Eugene Reilly - whose parents hailed from Ireland.

And the aftermath of that horrific created a backlash against the city's Irish community which took decades to heal.

The Irish who had flocked to Birmingham in the 1940s, 50s and 60s in their thousands and built a thriving community suddenly found themselves ostracised by friends and workmates.

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Irish-owned buildings were vandalised and prominent members of the Irish community bombarded with death threats.

That year the St Patrick's Day annual parade was halted and it seemed the backlash would go on forever.

But nine years later the rebuilding started led by the late Fr. Joe Taffe - Director of the Birmingham Irish Welfare and Information Centre.

He restarted the St Patrick's Parade and decreed it was time for the Irish community to come out of the shadows.

Building on that came the formation of the Birmingham Irish Community Forum - providing a link and the first ever official voice for the Irish community in the city.

From the dark days of 1974 an amazing transformation was under way.

And its impact has been astonishing and a testament to the strength of the Irish spirit in the city.

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For nowadays it's not just the Irish Community who are proud of what is deemed to be the third largest St. Patrick's Parade in the world.

City leaders boast of the event as one of Birmingham's top annual attractions with attendances reaching 130,000.

Irish radio programmes are also booming. Even the BBC in Birmingham - who for years said an Irish radio programme was not viable because of the 1974 bombings - finally relented and Derryman Bob Brolly now broadcasts his popular Sunday afternoon programmes from new studios at the Mailbox in the city centre.

The new face of Birmingham - a reshaped Bull Ring, the prestigious NEC and Centenary Square - boast stonework fashioned by Mayoman Basil Burke and his Burke Masonry firm.

And just as in 1974 every hospital in the city has vital equipment in place paid for by the Irish community's fundraising efforts.

Overseas visitors drop in to the many Irish pubs in the city - especially in the Digbeth area where a six-year project has just begun to build a new Irish Quarter.

But if you want a prime example of how good it is to be Irish in Birmingham these days then look no further than the hugely successful GAA in Schools project - established six years ago by Bishop Challoner School and The Irish Post.

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From that small beginning when eight boys and eight girls from that school took part in a pilot project there are now more than 4,000 primary school children from every ethnic background in the city taking part in the project.

Its success has spread right across Birmingham and seen similar schemes launched across Britain, Europe and even America.

A recent St. Patrick's Day Parade even saw a team from one school whose ethic backgrounds were all Muslim leading the march.

That day the father of the team captain stepped out of the crowd. He said: "Thank-you to you and your Irish newspaper - my son will remember this day for the rest of his life."

The dark memories of that fateful night in November 1974 will never be forgotten - but today the Irish community stands proudly at the centre of a new Birmingham.

*This is an archive article from 2004 republished today to mark the 40th anniversary of the Birmingham pub bombings