BBC drama Mother’s Day tells IRA Warrington Bomb tragedy

Warrington IRA bomb victims Johnathan Ball (left) and Tim Parry
Warrington IRA bomb victims Johnathan Ball (left) and Tim Parry
  • Mother’s Day airs on BBC 2 at 9pm on Monday (September 3)

On Saturday, March 20, 1993, the day before Mother’s Day, an IRA bomb exploded without warning in a rubbish bin in Warrington’s Bridge Street shopping area.

Three-year-old Johnathan Ball was killed instantaneously.

Colin Parry (Daniel Mays), Wendy Parry (Anna Maxwell Martin)

Colin Parry (Daniel Mays), Wendy Parry (Anna Maxwell Martin)

Moments later a second bomb exploded, seriously injuring 50 people and claiming the life of another child, 12-year-old Tim Parry, who died in hospital five days later after his parents, Colin and Wendy, had to take the unimaginable step of turning off his life-support machine.

The reaction worldwide was one of revulsion (rock band The Cranberries even recorded a protest song, Zombie), while around Warrington, anger was directed at the local Irish community. Across the Irish Sea, however, the anger manifested into something unexpected. The killing of the two innocent boys was a step too far for many who by their silence had supported the armed struggle. At the time Susan McHugh, then 37, was a wife and mother living in Clontarf, Dublin.

After hearing of the Warrington tragedy, she said she felt the impulse to hold a protest meeting: “The IRA did not kill Johnathan Ball in my name or in your name. I want to tell the world tonight they did not kill him in the name of Ireland.”

She appealed to politicians of all parties on both sides of the border: “We demand an immediate peace plan, tonight is a night to remember. We, the silent majority, say enough is enough.”

A peace rally in O’Connell Street followed, attended by 20,000 people. It was a pivotal moment - a demonstration of ‘people power’, as journalist Bernie Ni Fhlatharta put it - that would do something the politicians had failed to do: kick-start the peace process.

At the time, McHugh was lionized by the media as the leader of a new peace movement, but she insisted: “I’m an ordinary mum, a housewife.” A year later the IRA did announce a ceasefire - it didn’t last long, but it was the beginning of the end.

This drama tells the story of McHugh, played by Vicky McClure (Line of Duty) and Wendy Parry, played by Anna Maxwell Martin (Motherland), the mother of victim Tim. McClure says: “Susan McHugh’s actions back in 1993 remain just as inspirational today as they were 25 years ago. I feel truly privileged to play her in this incredibly moving new film.”

Maxwell Martin adds: “I know that many will recall the bravery and dignity shown by the families affected by the Warrington bombings. It’s a real honour to be telling their story.” McClure’s Line of Duty co-star Daniel Mays plays Tim’s father Colin Parry, with David Wilmot (The Alienist) as Arthur McHugh. Writer Nick Leather (Murdered For Being Different) says: “As someone who grew up in Warrington and was on my way into town on the day of the bombing, bringing this astonishing story to the screen has been a career-long mission. I hope people are as moved and affected by this drama as we have been making it.”