21st November 1974 is a date seared into the collective memory of Birmingham. A double bombing killed twenty one, maimed or injured hundreds more, ruptured community relations and revealed judicial failings whose consequences are still felt. The victims, their families, friends and relatives never forget that date and this fortieth anniversary will be a poignant time for many across the City.
Who are those victims? Today, it is clear that all those affected by the bombings are victims. They are the bereaved and those coping with injury or loss; the traumatised police, fire and medical crews and ordinary members of the public who brought aid and comfort to the dying and wounded that night; those members of the City’s Irish community ostracised and demonised because of their origin, politics or religion; the self-respect of Birmingham’s community relations.
In 1974, some people saw the situation in much simpler terms and unjustified recriminations against a whole community continued for many years, but slowly a general improvement in relations has occurred. Today a more realistic understanding exists about the events of forty years ago.
This passage of time has however had a consequence. A whole generation of Birmingham people now have no personal experience of, or knowledge about, the circumstances of 1974. The pain and raw emotion that remains a reality for some does not directly affect others in the City. They may empathise with but cannot fully appreciate the human stories of this critical moment in Birmingham’s history. This imbues the official Memorial to the Twenty One Victims with great significance. Located in Saint Philip’s Churchyard, it provides a focal point to honour the deceased. It also bears witness to the circumstances by which they lost their lives. In common with all such memorials, it provides both a reminder of past tragedy and a prompt for those who want to understand more about what is being commemorated.
For those wishing to find out more about the historical context and circumstances of the Birmingham Pub Bombings, resources are available in the Library of Birmingham. A range of newspapers and published works are complemented by personal testimonies from some of those who lived through the bombings and their aftermath. The library also continues to seek records about what are [in archival terms] comparatively recent events and for which a comprehensive record does not yet exist.
The Pub Bombings formed part of a wider campaign in Birmingham, across Britain and Ireland which spanned decades. People in many places remember victims and have significant anniversaries. In all these locations, libraries and archives have a role in remembrance and in providing people with the opportunity to learn and understand. The Library of Birmingham takes its responsibility seriously. All victims of the Pub Bombings are remembered.
BCC Birmingham Watch Committee (for references to pre 1974 bombings)
Birmingham Post, Birmingham Evening Mail, Sunday Mercury; Microfilm & cuttings albums
MS 1611 ‘Banner Theatre’ Research Notes
MS 4237 ‘Records relating to Birmingham Irish Association and Predecessor Bodies’
- Gibson ‘The Birmingham Bombs’ (1976) ISBN 0859920704
- Moran ‘Irish Birmingham. A History’ (2010) ISBN 9781846314742
- Mullin ‘Error of Judgement – The Truth about the Birmingham Bombings’ (1986)
- Reilly ‘An Account of 150 Years of Policing Birmingham’ (1989) ISBN 0951515209