On the 40th anniversary of the most significant terror attack on the Army in Northern Ireland, there is cross-community consensus that vandalism on the subsequent south Down memorial is unacceptable – and may be happening less often.
The IRA attack at Narrow Water outside Warrenpoint on August 27, 1979 resulted in the highest death toll suffered by the Army on a single day in Northern Ireland.
The first bomb was planted under hay on a flat bed lorry at the side of the road. When it exploded it killed six soldiers who were travelling past in an Army lorry.
As their colleagues arrived to help, a second device exploded some 30 minutes later, killing 12 more soldiers. Sixteen of the 18 soldiers killed were members of the Parachute Regiment.
A civilian coachman for the Queen who was bird watching on the other side of Carlingford Lough was killed by soldiers returning fire.
The explosions happened just hours after the Queen’s cousin, Lord Mountbatten, was killed in an IRA bomb attack in Co Sligo.
South Down DUP MLA Jim Wells said it was the biggest single loss of life in south Down.
“Each year the memorial is vandalised or destroyed by local republicans,” he said. “But also I have to say that police have been excellent in recent years in bringing to book those responsible.
“They took very stern action last year and sent a very clear message out that people cannot vandalise such an important memorial. And in more recent years there has been more hope because of that; the memorial has been more recently left untouched for several months at a time, which was unheard of 20 years ago.”
SDLP councillor Declan McAteer lives less than three miles away from the site and remembers hearing the news as he set off in a camper van for France on holiday.
“It does give people great embarrassment when people carry out destructive acts at the site, when people put down poppy wreaths in commemoration,” he said. “I know local people would be very angry and cross about it when that happens.”
He added: “In my opinion each singular life taken is as tragic and wrong as when high numbers were lost in single incidents.”
Independent unionist councillor Henry Reilly previously held a reception for the Paras in his year as mayor.
“Narrow Water was symbolic in that it was the only one where men representing Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland shed their blood together in their work to protect us all from the evil of terrorism,” he said. “I will always hold those 18 brave soldiers in the highest esteem.”
Local Sinn Fein councillor Gerry O’Hare remembers hearing the bombs exploding when he was a second or third year school boy in Warrenpoint.
“You could have heard the bang from it,” he said. “Any life that was lost in the conflict was sad,” he added, noting that the memorial has been repeatedly vandalised.
“But you can’t agree with somebody vandalising a memorial of any war situation.”