British Ambassador to Ireland, H.E. Dominick Chilcott, speaks about the burning of the British Embassy located at No. 39 Merrion Square in Dublin in February 1972. He explains that he has read the memoir of Sir John Peck Dublin from Downing Street (1978) which includes a description of the events of that day. The protests followed the Bloody Sunday killings of 30th January 1972 in Derry. Following days of protest, petrol bombs were put through the letter box at the embassy. No defences had been constructed in the building, and the staff and as many items as possible were taken out by the back exit. The embassy reconvened at the ambassador’s residence, with a core staff, until matters had settled. The Garda Siochána and the Irish State did the best that could be done to protect the embassy, the ambassador explains.
He speaks about the present cordial relations between the UK and Ireland. He discusses the discipline imposed by EU membership on the UK to work with the Republic as a sovereign member state and partner. The Anglo-Irish Agreement is also discussed, as are other efforts made to reach a solution in Northern Ireland. The priority placed by Tony Blair on finding a solution is mentioned. The historic and memorable State visit to Ireland by Queen Elizabeth in 2011 is recalled, and the ambassador feels that the Queen’s visit removed the last vestiges of wariness between the two countries. He considers the question of whether or not the site of the British Embassy at No 39 Merrion Square should be marked, and reflects on the remarkable improvement in relations between Britain and Ireland since the 1970s.
Wendy Doak recalls her training at Alexandra Secretarial Training College and her interview for employment at the British Embassy in Dublin in 1964. At that time Sir Geofroy Tory was British Ambassador to Ireland, and the embassy was located at No 39 Merrion Square, Dublin. Wendy remembers the office as being more formal than it is today. She shared an office with Phyllis Dowse, the ambassador’s personal assistant. During her term of employment she was to work with many ambassadors, one of whom was Sir Andrew Gilchrist who had previously served at Jakarta where the embassy had been burnt down. The increasing levels of tension felt at the embassy during the Northern Troubles are recalled, though Wendy explains that this did not affect her until the advent of the demonstrations of February 1972. On that day she was working in an office on the ground floor, and she clearly recalls the noise created by the demonstration. Fortunately, new shatterproof glass had been installed not long before, though the old wooden shutters had to be closed when the glass was damaged. Wendy and some others then left via a back entrance. She walked around to the front to see the demonstration and she recalls the damage inflicted on the old iron railings. On the third day of the demonstration the building was set alight. Wendy later visited the site to see what remained, and found just a shell of the building. The passport and commercial sections of the embassy were located at No 30 Merrion Square, and this building was only slightly damaged. She explains that she then worked at the ambassador’s residence at ‘Glencairn’ for some time. At the time of Ireland’s presidency of the EEC, the embassy staff were relocated closer to the city centre at Merrion Road. This building had been owned by the Agricultural Institute and was purchased by the embassy. Later the embassy was to be relocated once again. Wendy recalls the day in February 1972 on which the ambassador, Sir John Peck, had to return from London and she remembers the pregnant wife of a member of staff who had to be flown to the UK for medical reasons. The level of communications which existed in the early 1970s is recalled, as are the letters that arrived at ‘Glencairn’, both of sympathy and criticism, in the days following the destruction of the embassy at Merrion Square. The death of Ambassador Christopher Ewart-Biggs in July 1976 is remembered, and Wendy recalls seeing the crater in the road where his car had passed. The killing of Lord Mountbatten in August 1979 is also recalled as a terrible event, and she remembers the many people who came into the embassy to sign the book of condolences.
The new British Embassy at Merrion Road, constructed for enhanced security, is discussed. Wendy reflects on the demonstrations which took place outside the embassies on Merrion Road, and the fire at the embassy at Merrion Square is recalled once again. All non essential staff were evacuated for their own safety, she explains, though the ambassador and his wife, Sir John and Lady Peck, remained as long as possible. Wendy was pleased to briefly meet Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on her State visit to Ireland in 2011. She worked at the British Embassy in Dublin for forty years and her final position was as trade advisor for businesses which were importing to Ireland from the UK. She was awarded an MBE in 2001 “for services to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office” and received the award from HRH The Prince of Wales at Buckingham Palace.