By John Walsh
As the 30th anniversary of the Enniskillen atrocity was marked today, I was thinking back to how the bombing was covered by Irish radio in 1987. Although bigger stations such as Energy 103 and its predecessor Radio Nova boasted about their Press Association wire at the end of each bulletin, in reality all stations lifted their national news from RTÉ. I did it myself as a teenager in my first forays into radio news; the slightly more salubrious stations bought copies of the daily newspapers and if you were lucky the station’s television (if it had one) was able to receive Teletext. I assume that the pirates continued to rewrite RTÉ news on the day of the bombing itself – I remember watching the television news that evening in a shocked living room – but I have a particularly clear memory of how radio covered the national day of mourning for the victims on the following Sunday, November 16.
A minute’s silence was announced for 6pm that day, to mark the beginning of a special memorial service in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. The service was attended by thousands of people and hundreds of thousands of others around the country observed the minute’s silence at the same time. As RTÉ radio and television services fell silent at 6pm, I was wondering how Dublin’s other radio stations would react, steeped as I was in the pirate culture of the time. I skimmed along the bands, both AM and FM, to find every station silent including the two where I was working at the time, KLAS and local station Centre Radio in Bayside. With radio legislation on the cards, there was a strong desire for respectability among Dublin’s pirates in 1987, with many openly expressing their hopes to get a licence, so it was to be expected that they too would fall silent. As far as I can remember, just two stations bucked the trend and continued broadcasting music: Radio Dublin in Inchicore and Liberties Local Community Radio (LLCR) in Weaver Square, Dublin 8.
Radio Dublin’s owner, Éamonn Cooke, was from a strongly Republican background and had already been convicted of various offences related to firearms, explosives and shootings. He would later be convicted of sexually abusing children. Even then I was somehow aware of his political outlook and wasn’t surprised to find Radio Dublin still broadcasting. I don’t know if LLCR’s owner Sammy Prendergast had any political leanings but the station was idiosyncratic at the best of times and could simply have decided not to follow the rest.
I have no idea how the many stations along the border reacted to the Enniskillen atrocity on that day. They were all chasing advertising and listeners north of the border and several of them served communities ravaged by the Troubles. I don’t know how overtly political they were but the bitter climate of the time may well have left its mark on their responses to the bombing at 6pm on November 16, 1987.