Interviewed on 12 October 2021
‘THE LITTLE PAITIENT … WAS NO LONGER WITH US’
On 17th May 1974, Mary Molloy was a nurse attached to the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin where she worked in the orthopaedic section. This is the day of the infamous Dublin and Monaghan bombings where a total of 34 lives were lost. In this segment, taken from the interview undertaken by John Farrelly, Mary recounts her experience of that day. Poignantly, one of the children she had attended to was baby Anne-Marie O’Brien, who, with her parents and sister, were all killed by the explosion. Mary only discovered a week later when Anne-Marie and her family did not show up for their final appointment. Mary also recounts the scene in Dublin where she had gone to after work, for a date, with her future husband, a member of An Garda Síochána.
JOHN FARRELLY: I want to bring you on, if I can, back to where the Rotunda was and back to Friday, 17th May 1974, a day, I think, that’s etched in your mind forever. Tell me about your day that day in the actual hospital; what were you doing and just give me a rundown of what was going on that day with you?
MARY MOLLOY: Well, that day I reported into work. I lived on the Navan Road and I drove in in my little red Mini, BZW38, that my father had bought me and I had a special parking space would you believe, you wouldn’t get that now in the Rotunda and started on duty for eight o’clock in the Outpatients Department. As I’ve said earlier, a lot of my skill was in the intensive care where now I was allocated to the outpatients for some time. And today was Friday and it was the hip day we called it. Little babies, especially if they were born a bit premature, the ball and socket of their hip would be a bit loose and dislocated in some cases. So, that was examined on birth by a midwife or by a doctor and you can feel the click so then the plan was, come back on such a date, say, at four weeks and have a pelvic harness applied. A pelvic harness was just like a little pants that was put on the baby to keep the hips in place and strapped on to the shoulders to extend the hips out. It was a skill in itself to apply this and that’s what I did from maybe two o’clock on that Friday …
MR. FARRELLY: So, that day you were going to finish around 4:30, as I recall, but you had your last patients came in around then?
MS. MOLLOY: Yes, yes, yes. The last patient, John and the little one, Ann Marie [O’Brien] and it was her second last, it was fourth week, no, her fifth week and she was very cute. She would have been, you know, maybe nine weeks at the time and I got to know the mum and dad and the little girl and you found yourself in conversation with them about what went on last week and the baby didn’t cry even when you were doing it, smiled. So, I called she was the last patient when I called that day and I was very happy that this was the end of the day because I was heading off for a nice weekend at home. And even the dad [John O’Brien], I remember him saying to me, “what are you up to today” he called me “Mary”, you know, in those days “nurse” was what people called you but I knew them so well and I said “I’m heading off, I’m going out on the town tonight” and that kind of talk. So, it was so casual and so lovely. And we did that and then I said “we’ll see you next week for just last one”.
MR. FARRELLY: So, your plans that night, you had something special on that night and you were wearing a special –
MS. MOLLOY: Yes. I had bought myself a lovely coat in Kerry’s on Wicklow Street, I was having a date with my now husband who is 86 this month and so I was excited and had the coat and really looking forward to heading down O’Connell Street, home to Kings Bridge, as I called it, and hitting home and off out to a pub called The Hangman’s Arch. It’s still there. And so, that was my plan. And I even shared that with Ann Marie’s dad, I said “I’ve got a date tonight” and he even said “best of luck”, you know that kind of light-hearted.
MR. FARRELLY: Yeah. The City, there was a problem that day in the City of course with the buses, wasn’t there?
MS. MOLLOY: Yeah, there was a bus strike that day. All the girls all the staff were complaining and they were left coming in and going and people that were coming in for appointments said “I’m sorry I’m late, I couldn’t get up O’Connell Street” and it was a sweltering hot day. And I had my Kerry’s bag with my lovely coat in it. I thought I’d never get out of the hospital and make my way down and it was so warm. But the streets were, there were so many people there and I thought ‘how will I get through this crowd?’ And there was bicycles everywhere and the buses seemed to be not just going down straight, they were crossing the street from where Clery’s was over to, was it the Royal? I don’t know what building was there. But there was no organisation in the traffic that day and everybody seemed to be running and racing, on account of the strike, you know, that was it. And then I was only down at Clery’s down when the first bomb when the noise went off, I thought it was some building crashing down behind me … I wasn’t sure what it was, it was just horrendous noise and bang and then I certainly knew what was going on when I got to the entrance road to Guiney’s.
MR. FARRELLY: were you dazed? Were you in shock?
MS. MOLLOY: No. I said “oh my God, what’s that?” Not really. It was awful but I didn’t think in terms of that detriment that it would be bombs or anything. I just thought it was a building that kind of, that blew up. I don’t know. Maybe my mind was it wasn’t just at my ear it was behind the Rotunda you see. I was a good bit I was down at, not Clery’s, at the Gresham … You see. So, I was that bit away that it didn’t deafen me as such but it was just, everybody stopped and said “oh wow, what’s that?” But everybody kept going. Footfall was very heavy. It was on the news that night what happened. But it would have been, I think, news feed thereafter, you know, discussions and debates and what happened and all the discussions about who and what, that kind of thing. But I was very much shocked by everything and didn’t really want to know the ins and outs of who, why and what. It was just so real and feeling very, very lucky to be able to go back to work in a few days. That I was able to go back, do you know, because I could have been part of the casualties there very much so. I went back to work, I think that was Friday, in the middle of the next week, yes. Certainly, because I was expecting to meet my patients on the following Friday at the Orthopaedic Clinic. So, yes, I did go back. I wasn’t very well, very shocked but in those days, nobody took you aside and said ‘would you like to talk about it?’ You must get up and keep going and get on with it. And that was when I realised the little patient [baby Ann-Marie O’Brien and her family] that I had that first Friday evening, that she was no longer with us or her mam. Yeah. And another lady that I would have met ante-natally a few weeks beforehand and due her baby that weekend, she was going home from the Rotunda from a visit and she was a casualty as well and her unborn baby, yeah.
MR. FARRELLY: And you didn’t know that until they didn’t appear for the appointment?
MS. MOLLOY: No, no, I didn’t know that until then. So it all kind of it was in weeks afterwards that the talk was ‘that lady, she’s no longer with us and she was one of the casualties’ and different people kept coming up. You read it maybe on the papers or some other professional would have had someone and they’d fill you in. So, in the end then there was a whole lot of different collection of situations, Gardiner Street where people lived, all there. Then I used to work up in the tenements as well and there were a few casualties from up there as well. And I can’t remember in detail but, you know, I think there was an Indian girl there too and she was killed in that. But, you know, I’m sure it’s all documented somewhere but it’s just everywhere you went you heard something new. And I might just add to it for a bit of, I don’t know what, but that date never happened that night. Well, I went home, and Charles Mitchell was on the radio and my family were there with me and we found out as much as we could about the bombings and it was just not on to go on that date. But it happened afterwards, and we married a year later. And I’d say not a year goes by, but we do bring up the subject of the little baby AnnMarie [O’Brien] and on that day, so I think I really probably have my only personal counsellor forever since that time which was great. To this day.
RESEARCH NOTE: In the piece above, Mary is referring to John O’Brien, a twenty-four-year-old father of two. He along with his wife Anna O’Brien (22), daughter, Jacqueline (17 months) and Anne-Marie (5 months), were all killed in the Parnell Street explosion. They had lived just around the corner in Gardiner Street but were originally from Finglas. John worked in Palm Grove, the ice-cream factory. Anna’s father could only identify his son in law John from a tattoo on his arm that read ‘Anna and Johnny’. He was unable to recognize his own daughter.