Noel Brady was standing with his father at the hall door of their family home on St Ignatius Road in Dublin’s North Strand area when they heard the drone of a Nazi Luftwaffe bomber flying overhead.
“I saw flashes in the sky. My father shoved me onto the ground and down on top of me he went. There was a very loud explosion,” he said.
It was May 31, 1941, Noel was 21 at the time and a member of the St John Ambulance Brigade. He grabbed his bicycle and raced to the scene and was soon treating the injured in rubble-strewn streets. He would continue to do so for the next 12 hours.
To this day, the death toll is still a little sketchy – at least 28 were killed, and a hundred injured. Three hundred homes were damaged, and all this from one 500lb bomb, which was dropped at 2am.
The memories of that night are still with Noel 75 years later. The first person he treated was a man with a gash across his forehead.
“A lot of people were bleeding. I bandaged many people that night. Those that were seriously injured were taken immediately to hospital,” he recalled in an interview with The Herald newspaper.
“A lot of people were frightened, but there was no panic.”
The sight of children’s toys and dolls lying among the rubble was particularly hard to take, though.
As bad as things were, they could have been a lot worse, because it wasn’t just one bomb that had been dropped, there were four in total.
The first bomb fell on the suburb of Ballybough, destroying two houses. The second dropped near the President’s residence in the Phoenix Park, shattering some windows, while the third fell on the North Circular Road. Miraculously, nobody was injured.
Reports later described how the German aircraft that dropped the deadly cargo had circled the city for some time, making low passes across what is now Connolly railway station “as if awaiting instructions of some sort”.
On that day – May 31, 1941 – the Mayor of Baghdad was surrendering that city to British forces, thereby ending the Anglo-Iraqi War. In another theatre, British troops were busy evacuating from Crete in the face of German attacks.
Those two events are blips in terms of the history of World War II, as is what happened in Dublin that morning 75 years ago.
I look at the images of North Strand on the day of that tragedy and I shake my head. My heart goes out to those families, but my head thinks of Londoners during the Blitz, and I can’t help but wonder how they coped when bombs rained down on Britain for 57 consecutive days.
German authorities later claimed the bombing to be due to a navigational error – that the real target had been Belfast (British territory, for those unsure of the Irish geo-political map). However, some speculated that it may actually have been a warning to the neutral Irish Government, which had sent fire fighters into Belfast to tackle blazes caused by German air raids.
The West German Government later paid £344,000 in compensation for the death and damage that had been caused – but, of course, you can’t put a price on loved one’s lives.
Thankfully, for Ireland, the North Strand bombing would be the closest we would come to enduring the horror of World War II – a blessing for the country, but scant consolation for the families of those who died.