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UTV series recalls how hospitality and retail bore brunt of Troubles bombings
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Courtesy: Gary McDonald | News Source:

PUBLICANS, hoteliers and retailers who bore the brunt of a bombing and killing campaign in the north during more than 30 years of the Troubles have told how their stoicism and resilience were vital to keep business ticking over.

The final episode in UTV's Frontline series, which airs tonight at 10.45pm, hears how Belfast's Europa Hotel was bombed 33 times and how one bar manager watched a customer being shot dead then received an "acknowledgement" from the perpetrator as he left with his smoking gun.

It also hears how a Belfast hotel was bombed in the morning, reopened the same evening, then discovered a second device hidden in a sofa.

And a retail boss recalls how staff prayed for a policewoman as she lay dying outside a department store in Derry, then weeks later watched as a male constable was gunned down in virtually the same spot.

The six-part series has highlighted the unsung heroes of the Troubles, including nurses, teachers and social workers, and delves into the station's rich vault of archive footage.

In tonight's final episode, Merchant Hotel owner Bill Wolsey recalls his early days of running a pub in Bangor and the fear of who would come through the door at any time, and having to stand up to drug dealers who wanted to use his nightclub to ply their trade.

"I spotted a bargain to buy my first bar at £50,000 when it should have been £150,000. I was too stupid to ask why it was so cheap. It was the sort of place where Stiff little Fingers could have been playing upstairs and people were trying to chop off your fingers downstairs," he says.

"I remember the door of the bar creaked. When you heard that creak and somebody walked in, it was stomach-churning. I used to think 'Thank God this is a normal customer' and not someone who's going to do damage. Those were years of hell."

Luke and Declan Hasson, directors of Austin's department store, recall how bombs would explode and the business would be functioning within a day, and how "customers got used to walking through the rubble, because they knew they'd get a bargain".

But there was some humour too - like how staff would have disappeared to the pub when Austins was evacuated during bomb scares and "later had to be dragged back to work", and how a posh male customer spotted a bomb in the changing rooms and ran out into the street in his boxers, holding his trousers.

Hoteliers Howard Hastings and (now Lord) Diljit Rana, whose various premises were attacked 33 and 20 times respectively, recalled how the phrase ‘business as usual' during the 70s and 80s was synonymous with the hospitality sector.

There are other moving contributions in Frontline from Duke of York pub owner Willie Jack, and also from Hugh McDade, who still runs Badger's pub in Derry (now with the Derry Girls mural on the side).

Series producer Sinead Hughes said: “This concluding episode, and indeed the whole series, is ‘must watch' not only for those who lived in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, but also for our younger people who gladly did not have to experience life in that time.”

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