The Victims.

15 civilians were murdered in the McGurk’s Bar Massacre and two of these victims were children. Many more were injured and lucky to escape with their lives.

On that crisp winter’s evening, Johnny and Kathleen Irvine said goodbye to their children and walked the short distance to the bar they visited for a couple of drinks each week.

Christmas loomed, but the road leading both to the bar and to the centre of Belfast was deathly quiet.

Even the British military presence that had saturated the north of the city over the previous 48 hours seemed to have been lifted, if only temporarily. The newspapers said that night that there was a ring of steel around the city.

Johnny and Kitty, as her family and friends knew her, could enjoy a few fleeting moments of normality as they sauntered to the pub without getting stopped, searched, or harassed by the British army.

The couple entered the small lounge to the side of the main service area and were immediately welcomed by the usual warmth, light and hum of the busy pub as people chattered and glasses clinked.

The bar counter itself and a door that was locked for safety reasons separated the two areas.

Nevertheless, the couple preferred this smaller space as it was snug and they could enjoy the conversation of any of the locals who happened to be out for a drink. Their neighbours Edward and Sarah Keenan were there already.

McGurks Bar in the 1950s
McGurks Bar in the 1950s. A younger Patrick McGurks is standing at the front door.
One of the victims, Patrick McGurk
Patrick McGurk (third from left) behind McGurk's Bar in the 1950s.

Looking across the bar and into the main lounge, Kitty recognised every one of the customers who sat around talking or reading a paper.

She smiled and nodded acknowledgement to anyone whose eyes she happened to meet.

Thomas Kane, Robert Spotswood, and James (Jimbo) Smyth had taken their usual seats along the bar.

Further along, Thomas McLaughlin, his uncle, and two of their friends were too busy chatting and laughing to notice.

Behind them, Philip Garry, who even at 73 still kept himself busy as a school-crossing patrolman, was having a quiet pint.

Near to him Francis Bradley and David Milligan relaxed after labouring week-long in the docks.

In the corner she could not see, Edward Kane was entertaining his friend, Roderick McCorley, and 80 year-old Mr. Griffin with lively chat over a quick drink before heading home to his young family.

The Tramore was a cosy, family-run bar, frequented by those members of the north Belfast community who were more interested in a punt or a pint rather than the sectarian politics of the day.

Indeed, Patrick and Philomena McGurk, the owners of the pub, were renowned for their intolerance of bigotry and prejudice.

The clientele of the Tramore Bar, or McGurk’s as it was best known, naturally reflected this.

As the family home was in the rooms upstairs, Mr. And Mrs. McGurk, therefore, sought to create an environment that was not only fitting for a well-run pub but also one that was appropriate for the raising of their children.

Upstairs, at that time, the McGurk boys and their friends, including 13-year-old James Cromie, were having a raucous game of table football as their uncle, John Colton, got ready to help his brother-in-law in the bar below.


Time rushed headlong towards the single moment that each one of those who were left behind would play over and over when they locked themselves away in their own minds.

Upstairs Mr. McGurk’s wife, Philomena and only daughter, Maria, unknown to their family, were just coming home from confession at St. Patrick’s church.

Mr. McGurk was pouring a pint of Guinness for another customer. In the snug, Johnny took a sup of his stout as he listened to the animated chat and Kitty...

McGurk’s Bar

A half shop sign
On the rubble,
Half a name
And a half-hundredweight
Of spent gelignite
Bearing no claim.


Half-bricks smothered
Pinned bodies burning
In a buried, gas flame.
Half an inquiry;
Half-truths contemptuous,
In dispatches came.


Half price justice
From a flea-market press,
Embezzling the blame
For Queen and half-crown
And a half-hearted check
To keep the dead in the frame.

The poet, Mario Brian O’ Clery, also authors An Cruiskeen Lawnmower

The Victims: 15 Dead

16 unarmed civilians including more children were injured in the bombing of McGurk's Bar.

15 dead victims of the McGurk's Bar bombing

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