Claudy Bombing 50 years on: Jim McClelland’s family still searching for answers

Jim McClelland was killed when the third bomb went off after going into the area to help the victims of the first bomb.

Jim is the great-uncle of Tracey Deans McClelland, who wasn’t born yet when the bombing happened, and has been campaigning for justice with her brother Collin and other families whose loved ones were killed.

She said: “Jim was a very quiet man. He kept himself to himself and he was very much in the background. He was a gentleman with a great sense of humour. He loved working the land and growing things and everybody that knew him had a good word to say about him. He got married quite late in life to a lady called Mary Laird. Mary had a daughter called Elizabeth Laird, who died a few years ago but she was very, very close to Jim. She thought the world of him. He was just a good person who went about his life in a very quiet way. His job was what they called a ‘street man’ so he basically did jobs about town to keep the place looking clean and tidy. He was out cutting the grass at the health centre with David Miller when the first bomb went off and they headed up to see if they could do anything to help. Like everyone else, when they found the bomb at the post office they were shepherded down the street. He wasn’t far off retiring and I think, going out to do your days work and not coming home from it is hard to get your head around.

“Three members of my family have stories of that day. My brother Alison was eight at the time and we lived down in Pinewood Crescent below the health centre. He was told to get up to the shop that morning but he was messing around with my other brother and didn’t go when he was told to. After a few minutes, he got clipped round the ear and told to ‘get out that door’. A few minutes later, he went round the corner and the first bomb went off. If he had gone when he was told to, he would have been up the street when the first bomb went off. He knew Kathryn Eakin very well, they would have played together in the street. So the chances are, if he had seen Kathryn, he could have went over to chat to her. Alison had nightmares for months after the bombing and he only told me this recently.

Scene in the village of Claudy, Co Derry after three bombs exploded. Picture courtesy of Victor Patterson

“My uncle is also called Alison and he would have been around 22 at that time. He worked in Brown and Day’s garage. He said when he went to work that day he saw Jim and David Miller cutting the grass at the health centre. He waved going past and he said when the first bomb went off, he headed in the car down to his home past the health centre to make sure everyone was okay. He remembers coming down past the main street and seeing, what he believes to be Mrs McElhinney, and things on fire. He checked everyone was okay, and they were thank God and he went back up to work. The other bombs went off then. He couldn’t have not seen what had happened at the hotel on his way but he has no recollection of that whatsoever. None.

“Aunt Hazel was pregnant and she went to the health centre to lift a prescription. She was the last one in the family to speak to Jim that morning. She said she was probably talking about the weather but she doesn’t remember. She should have went to the chemist on the Main Street to get the prescription but she didn’t because she had slept in that morning so she went home to get breakfast. Same thing as Alison’s story, if she had have done what she should have, she would be right on the spot where that first bomb went off.

“One thing that struck me with all three of these stories, fifty years on, it was still so raw. You could see their minds were going to places that they didn’t want to go.

“I can see how getting justice would ease some of your pain but it’s not going to heal it. It’s not going to take away the pain of losing someone you love. If you have been hurt or seen awful things, it doesn’t take away any of that. I know some people would see that as a victory but there is no victory.

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Jim McClelland who was killed in the Claudy bombing.

“I think for me personally, I would love to know why. I know the theory to divert from Motorman but how could you do what you did that day? You’re never going to know the answer to that. They’ve never had the guts to come out and admit that they did it. That’s a little galling. If you’re prepared to do something like that, you should be prepared to face the consequences for it too. We probably know as much of the story as we’re going to know but you would love someone to have a conscience and come and talk to us. I don’t think it’ll ever happen but I would like to look them in the eye and ask that question - why?”