IRA bomb killed five BBC workers on Brougher Mountain - families reflect on loss of fathers and brothers on 50th anniversary

Today marked the 50th anniversary of the IRA murder of five men working for the BBC who had gone to repair a transmitter targetted by the terror group at Brougher Mountain in Co Tyrone.

After damaging the transmitter with a bomb, the IRA left a secondary device 15 yards away. Five workers in a BBC Land Rover hit the tripwire when they approached at 9:15am on February 9, 1971. The explosion threw debris 400 yards down the mountain.

It was reported that the IRA had been targeting the army, who were known to inspect the transmitter, however there are no obvious records of any republican statements or apologies.

Two BBC engineers were killed, Bill Thomas, a 35-year-old father of two, and Malcolm Henson, 24. They were accompanied by three maintenance contractors from Kilkeel, father-of-seven John Eakins, 52, Harry Edgar, 26 and father-of-two George Beck, 43.

The victims of the IRA boobytrap bomb on Brougher Mountain in 1971; Clockwise from top left George Beck, Harry Edgar, John Eakins, Bill Thomas and Malcolm Henson. All five were killed as they went to repair a BBC transmitter damaged by an IRA bomb.

Reflecting on the impact, Malcom Henson’s sister Anthea Ward said he was the only son of his parents, Leonard and Edna of Morecambe in Lancashire.

“Though their lives were inexplicably changed his parents did not let any hatred or malice consume the intervening years with their charity and church works to occupy them,” she said. For many years his father made a pilgrimage to the mountain on the anniversary to play a lament on his bagpipes, which he had written himself.

One of John Eakin’s daughters, Linda Gilmore, said their mother was left “in total shock” by the murder and that as a family they were left “bewildered”.

“We were financially destitute - yes some compensation came eventually, but it couldn’t compensate for the loss of our dad. 

“We girls never got the opportunity to have our dad walk us down the aisle and some grandchildren never got to meet their grandad. We as a family will never forget our dad or that terrible day.”

Bill Thomas was from Wales and had lived in Northern Ireland for six years.

“He died a few days before my 10th birthday and Lynne was only seven,” his daughter Karen Pennington said. “Our childhood was shattered. We left our home, our school, our friends, our pets and the only life we had known, moving countries twice after this... He has missed so much and we miss him still.” 

The South East Fermanagh Foundation arranged for a memorial plaque to be erected on the site at an event which was to be attended by the five families. However the plans have been put on hold due to pandemic restrictions.

Kilkeel came to a standstill on Thursday 11, 1971 for the funerals of the three contractors, with even the fishing fleet staying home.

Nobody was ever charged with the murders but investigators said the explosives were of the type used in nearby Co Leitrim in coal mining. A battery from the bomb was traced to a shop in Ballinamore also in Co Leitrim. Rodney Eakins, son of John, told the BBC there are people “who would have known or had some knowledge of who did this and chose to be silent and that’s a sad reflection of what goes on in our society here today”.

Kilkeel came to a standstill on Thursday 11, 1971 for the funerals of the three contractors, with even the fishing fleet staying home.

Nobody was ever charged with the murders but investigators said the explosives were of the type used in nearby Co Leitrim in coal mining. A battery from the bomb was traced to a shop in Ballinamore also in Co Leitrim. Rodney Eakins, son of John, told the BBC there are people “who would have known or had some knowledge of who did this and chose to be silent and that’s a sad reflection of what goes on in our society here today”.

Fermanagh and South Tyrone TUV spokesperson Donald Crawford said: “Sadly IRA murders became commonplace in the West of the Province but this this incident has left a deep and abiding impression upon people even after half a century has past.

“It is important that such savagery is not forgotten or whitewashed. I commend the South East Fermanagh Foundation for their efforts to ensure that a memorial is erected on the site of the massacre and believe the relatives and SEFF have shown leadership and civic responsibility in postponing the unveiling of the monument until later in the year.”

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.

Subscribe to newsletter.co.uk and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit https://www.newsletter.co.uk/subscriptions now to sign up.

Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Alistair Bushe

Editor