26 November 1972: Dramatic and bloody events occurred in the City of Dublin on this day: A Bombing was carried out on a crowded City Centre cinema. There was also the arrest and imprisonment for contempt of Court of one Kevin O’Kelly, a well known RTE journalist, plus an unsuccessful attempt by the IRA to rescue one of their top men, Seán Mac Stiofáin [above], from the Mater Hospital in the north inner City.
At 1.25 a.m. a bomb exploded in a laneway connecting Burgh Quay to Leinster Market. It was placed beside the rear exit door of the Film Centre cinema, O’Connell Bridge House. A late film was in progress: there were 3 staff and approximately 156 patrons in the cinema at the time of the explosion. No one was killed in the blast, but some 40 people were taken to hospital for treatment. It is believed that agent provocateurs sent over from Britain were responsible for this attack.
The events leading to O’Kelly and Mac Stiofáin’s arrests had begun on Sunday 19 November when RTE Radio broadcast a report based on an interview by Kevin O'Kelly with the IRA Chief of Staff, Seán Mac Stiofáin. The leading Republican figure had been apprehended soon afterwards and brought before the Courts. O'Kelly was found guilty of contempt of Court when, during the conduct of the trial of Mac Stiofáin, he refused to identify the defendant as the subject of that interview.
The IRA Leader had embarked upon a Hunger Strike soon after he was arrested. He was convicted of being ‘a member of an unlawful organisation’ and as his condition was deteriorating he was sent to the Mater Hospital where he was to be placed under observation. That Sunday afternoon a crowd of about seven thousand people had gathered outside the GPO and marched to the hospital to demand his release. Later that night a rescue party of eight IRA men, two disguised as Priests and the others as Hospital Doctors tried to free Mac Stiofáin but were themselves captured. Two of the men had guns, and shots were exchanged with Special Branch detectives, resulting in minor injuries to a detective, two civilians and one of the raiders. The Prisoner was then transferred by helicopter to the Curragh General Military Hospital to serve the rest of his six month sentence while his erstwhile rescuers were each sent down for seven years for their audacity when they in turn faced the Courts.