Lisburn fun run bomb: ‘It was horrific. It really was just like a bad dream’

A forensics officer surveys the scene of devastation at Market Place in Lisburn after the IRA bomb that killed six soldiers. Pic by Pacemaker
A forensics officer surveys the scene of devastation at Market Place in Lisburn after the IRA bomb that killed six soldiers. Pic by Pacemaker

Three women who were in Lisburn when the IRA murdered six off-duty soldiers with a booby trap bomb 30 years ago have recalled their experiences of that terrible night.

It was around 9pm on June 15, 1988. Thousands of people, including around 200 service personnel, were making their way home after the town’s half marathon and charity fun run.

The mangled wreckage of the soldiers' Transit van. Pic by Pacemaker

The mangled wreckage of the soldiers' Transit van. Pic by Pacemaker

The six soldiers had just completed their runs and were heading back to barracks when the no-warning bomb exploded under their unmarked van at Market Place.

Four of the men died instantly, while the other two succumbed to their horrific injuries a short time later.

Eleven civilians, some of whom had been at the fun run and others who were in nearby shops, were injured in the blast.

Lisburn woman Eleanor Law was a 42-year-old RUC reserve constable at the time of the attack.

Susie Adams.

Susie Adams.

She and her colleague Aileen Dixon were on duty a few hundred yards along Market Place and were among the first police officers on the scene after the explosion.

“The race was over and we were making our way back from various points along the route,” she recalls.

“The army boys had been parked in the old car park beside what was the swimming pool in Lisburn then.

“I was down the street a bit when the bomb went off. There were reserve boys and regulars closer, up at the lights, but when I got there you could see the smoke and smell the burning flesh.”

Mrs Law, who served as an RUC reservist for 29 years, still gets emotional when she recalls the awful events of that night.

“The scene around the van was cordoned off immediately, so myself, Aileen, one of the sergeants and others just did what we could and helped the injured people and got them into ambulances. It was just horrific. It was like a bad dream but sadly it was actually happening.

“I’m no hero. I was just doing the job I was paid to do, though that day it was an awful job.”

Asked what impact the terrible event had on her, Mrs Law continued: “I was able to put it all to the back of my head. There are smells that will bring it back to me though, that smell of flesh.

“I don’t forget about it though. It’s hard to believe that anyone could do that to another human being, but you just have to try to get on with it.

“I think everyone in the town thinks the same: Why did this happen in Lisburn? Why did they do this when there were so many people there, so many children out enjoying themselves on a sunny evening? I’ll never understand the mentality of the people who carried out this terrible attack.

“I just think about the soldiers’ poor mothers, fathers, wives. Your heart just goes out to them. You can’t help but think, that could have been one of my family.”

Mrs Law, a mother-of-two, doesn’t think those responsible for carrying out the murderous attack will ever be brought to justice.

Rosie Belshaw (nee Bailie), who was just seven years old at the time of the bomb, told how some of the soldiers had helped her younger brother, Neil, complete the fun run, just minutes before they were brutally murdered.

“Me and my dad had done the longer run, the half marathon, and my mum had done the fun run with my brother,” she explained.

“When they were coming towards the end Neil was getting tired as he was only four and the soldiers took him by the hand and finished the course with him.

“I just remember whenever me and my dad met up with my mum and brother, my brother was telling me about how he’d made new friends and my mum was saying how the soldiers had helped him at the end of the course.

“When we were on our way home we heard the explosion and then we heard on the news what had happened.

“When my mum saw them on the news she realised they were the same guys that had run with Neil. It was terrible. Everyone was just so shocked and emotional. It was absolutely awful.”

Susie Adams was a 17-year-old part-time shop worker at the time of the sickening attack. She too had been at the fun run shortly before the bomb went off.

“I worked in Poundstretcher on the corner of Bow Street and was called in the next day,” she recalls. “The damage was extensive. The shop had to be emptied because of the damage the glass from the windows had caused.

“It was an eerie and sad day. My dad was drinking in the pub and remembers leaving the pub and seeing the devastation. He recalled seeing body parts and the dead soldiers. Looking back, nobody asked my dad how he was. Sadly he died, but I know that what he saw had an impact on him.”

Susie left Lisburn shortly after the bombing. She moved to London to start a new life, taking a job in the family courts and later setting up a community mediation service.

“At the time I’d had enough of Northern Ireland and the lack of opportunities and the wrong that was happening,” she continued.

“I came back home six years ago and I’m now working to support families on the edge of their children being brought into the care system.

“I still think about that time and all the wrong that happened in Northern Ireland.

“I sincerely believe we need to learn lessons from the past so we are not repeating past wrongdoings.”