For three decades the Europa Hotel in Belfast hosted more journalists than tourists, survived 33 bombings by the Provisional Irish Republican Army and held the dubious honour of being Europe’s most bombed hotel.
It was both a target and a reporters’ refuge during the bloody conflict in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. One of the reasons the hotel became a focus of attack was that it was a base for the world’s media and reporters covering the conflict. Some of these journalists – Martin Bell, Robin Walsh, Henry Kelly and Gerald Seymour – recall those grim times, while Professor Kenneth Morrison and Martin Mulholland, who worked at the hotel for 18 years, recount the remarkable story of this war hotel.
Built as a symbol of late 1960s optimism and modernity in the city centre, the Europa was a recurrent focus for the IRA’s attacks in the armed struggle between the Protestant Unionist majority, who wanted to remain within the United Kingdom, and the Catholic Republican minority. The hotel withstood these devastating bomb blasts and also saw successful evacuations and complex bomb disposal work. It was managed by the indomitable Harper Brown for much of this time, who oversaw the endless cycle of bombs, repairs, rebuilding and more bombs.
Amid the blasts, journalists thrived on the gossip and intrigue that fluttered around the hotel, from whispers in the dining room to the odd spy story and the comings and goings of various players in the conflict, all part of the cut and thrust of reporting the “Troubles”. The hotel was a hub of communication and at times almost a newsroom for them. With few tourists in these troubled times, the Europa survived on these journalists too, and they all share a deep fondness for this extraordinary hotel, which played its own part in Northern Ireland’s complex history.