Dungannon Hillcrest Bar bomb victim was ‘a good man’

Andrew Small, one of the Hillcrest Bar victims
Andrew Small, one of the Hillcrest Bar victims

Clarke Small was at the cinema in Dungannon with his wife and their friends when they heard an explosion on the evening of St Patrick’s Day in 1976.

Rushing outside to see what was happening, little did Clarke know that his father Andrew, who was walking past, had been fatally injured in a massive car bomb planted outside the Hillcrest Bar on the Donaghmore Road.

His mother spent three weeks in hospital in Belfast following the blast, and was later transferred to South Tyrone but, Clarke told the TIMES, she was never able to leave the trauma of that night behind.

He explained the horror that resulted from the explosion: “My mother remembers going up into the air and coming around and realising that she was wrapped in wire, which we later found out was from the grille at the Autoparts business beside the bar.

“She was always picking shrapnel out of her head and even when she died in 1998, we found shrapnel in her coffin, God rest her.”

Andrew Small and his wife had four sons - Dessie, Barry, Clarke and Terry - with their eldest child facing the impossibly difficult task of identifying their father after his death.

Clarke, who retired after a long and distinguised teaching career with St Patrick’s Academy in 2003, says that neither he nor his brothers expected that their parents could have been caught up in such a devastating attack.

“My wife and I were at the pictures with our friends, Brian Cahalane and Sheila, when we heard the explosion”, he explains.

“Brian and myself ran out to see what was happening, but never for one minute did I think that my father was involved. We just didn’t expect them to be outside the bar at the time.”

Remembering his father as “a good man”, Clarke said Andrew, originally from Cookstown, had worked for many years as a barman in Belfast.

Clarke hopes to take part in the St Patrick’s Day parade, which will start at the site of the former Hillcrest Bar as a mark of respect to the victims of the attack, and adds: “At least we feel part of it. It keeps the memory alive.”

The Small family plan to mark the 40th anniversary of their father’s death by attending Mass and visiting his grave, just as they have always done. Andrew’s sons Terry and Barry are planning to return from Wales for the occasion.