A conference exploring the social consequences of terrorism is being staged in the Midlands tomorrow. Here Birmingham's Irish Deputy Lord Mayor Mike Nangle tells Neil Connor of his experiences in the days after the 1974 pub bombings
As a young shop shop steward at Lucas in Sparkhill Mike Nangle was used to identifying issues of concern. But he had never seen anything on this scale before.
Friends who had worked together for years in the same department had asked for transfers.
The canteen was becoming segregated along Anglo-Irish lines. Eyes that used to meet over the production line would look away, or to the floor.
And worse, notes were put on the conveyer belts saying: "Go Home. We do not want you here!"
These problems couldn't be ironed out with a few indiscreet words with individual workers. It was more than just a few cold shoulders. It was threatening to bring the factory to a standstill.
It was decided that a meeting should be called to get the suspicions and accusations out in the open.
"Why were we friends five days ago, but we are not now?" said Mr Nangle at the start of the packed meeting.
Feelings were running high, but not every Irishman or women is a terrorist, he said.
Of course, many workers at the factory had known, or were related to people who had been injured or killed in the night of carnage on November 21, 1974. Every-body in Birmingham at that time was affected by the worst atrocity that the city had ever endured.
But these irrational suspicions had to be stopped, said Mr Nangle, who worked at the plastics factory at Lucas.
"When the bombings happened nearly everybody who was not Irish more or less suspected all Irish people could be potential bombers," he said.
"The Irish community kept their heads down for a number of years. It was not until the early 1990s that they came out of purdah."
Immediately after he heard the news of the bombings on that fateful night more than 30 years ago, Coun Nangle was unsure whether he should go out for his traditional Thursday night drink.
However, after much thought, he left home for The Country Girl in Selly Oak.
"As soon as I walked through the door the gaffer made me a double whisky and put it on the bar," he said. "The first people who came up to me were four English lads who told me that I should never think that I could not drink with them.
"But it was not like that elsewhere. It was neighbour against neighbour, community against community. People marched throughout Birmingham calling for the Irish to go home."
Coun Nangle, who led Birmingham's 30-year memorial events when he was Lord Mayor in 2004-2005, said that, over time, people in the city had overcome their fears and suspicions.
The traditional Birmingham St Patrick's Day Parade, which was suspended after the bombings, was relaunched in the early 1990s and is now the third biggest in the world.
Tomorrow in Birmingham, keynote speakers from the Irish and Muslim communities will be at the University of Birmingham exploring how people respond to anti-terror legislation and its social consequences.
Speakers include Sean Hutton, from the Federation of Irish Societies, Paddy Hill-yard, Professor in Sociology at The Queen's University of Belfast, Azad Ali, chairman of the Muslim Safety Forum and Yayha Birt, of the Islamic Foundation.
The conference will attempt to draw parallels between Irish people living in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s and Muslim communities here today.
Joint-organiser Dr Tahir Abbas, Director of the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Culture at the University, said: "Given the contemporary focus, we feel there are some interesting parallels between what the Irish people experienced during the 1970s and what Muslim communities have been experiencing recently and we are very keen to try to develop this thinking into research ideas."
There's a bomb in the Rotunda - Neil Connor looks back at the pub bombings
"The code word is Double X," said the voice in an Irish accent. "There is a bomb planted in the Rotunda and there is a bomb in New Street at the tax office."
Ian Cropper was on the night shift at the Birmingham Post & Mail on November 21 1974 when he took the anonymous call. The time was just after 8.10pm. Six minutes later a bomb exploded in the Mulberry Bush pub at the foot of the Rotunda. Soon after another bomb went off in the Tavern in the Town, around the corner in New Street.
A third device, planted behind the General Accident insurance office on the Hagley Road, failed to go off.
Together the explosions killed 21 people and injured a further 162. It was, at the time, the largest mass murder in British history and brought the IRA campaign of terror to a new level.
A duffel bag was placed under a seat in the bar by one of the men as his accomplice ordered drinks. In the bag was 30lbs of explosives.
The men then walked down New Street to the Mulberry Bush. The bomb was placed by a phone at the back of the bar. Six men - Paddy Hill, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power, Richard McIlkenny, Johnny Walker and Hugh Callaghan - were subsequently arrested and convicted of the bombings in August 1975. They were freed at the Old Bailey in March 1991 after the Court of Appeal quashed their convictions.