The history behind BBC2’s Mother’s Day and the 1993 Warrington bombing

Anna Maxwell Martin and Vicky McClure star in a heartbreaking new film about the Irish Troubles

Anna Maxwell Martin and Vicky McClure, Mother's Day (BBC, EH)

Mother’s Day is a powerful and deeply affecting new factual drama coming to BBC2, which tells the story of the 1993 Warrington bombing and how the tragic deaths of two young boys brought together two women living on either side of the Irish Sea.

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Written by Nick Leather who grew up in Warrington and was on his way into town on the day of the bombing, Mother’s Day is a one-off film starring Anna Maxwell Martin (Motherland) as Wendy Parry, the mother of 12-year-old Tim Parry who was killed in the attack.

Vicky McClure (Line of Duty) plays Susan McHugh, the Dublin mother so appalled by the loss of children’s lives that she organised one of the largest peace rallies in Irish history in protest at the violence of the Troubles.

Scroll down to read about the history of the Troubles, the Warrington bombing, how the Parrys and the McHughs came to meet – and their legacy…

What were the Troubles?

The three decade-long period of violent conflict between Protestant unionists and Catholic republicans, from the mid-1960s to 1998, is commonly referred to as the Troubles.

Northern Ireland’s constitutional status lay at the very heart of the territorial conflict, with the goal of the Protestant unionists, who were the majority, being to remain part of the United Kingdom while the aim of the Catholic republicans, the minority, was to become part of the Republic of Ireland.

The Troubles is considered by many to have spanned the years between the civil rights march in Londonderry in 1968 and the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which restored self-government to Northern Ireland. The number of killings over those three decades – perpetrated by republican and loyalist paramilitaries as well as security forces – reached more than 3,600, while it is estimated that as many as 50,000 were injured.

Free Derry mural at the entrance of the Bogside, a nationalist neighbourhood outside the city walls of Derry (Getty, EH)
Free Derry mural at the entrance of the Bogside, a nationalist neighbourhood outside the city walls of Derry (Getty)

What happened in the 1993 Warrington bombing? 

The bombing was an IRA (Irish Republican Army) attack that killed two young boys on 20th March 1993, the day before Mothering Sunday.

Johnathan Ball, aged three, died in the explosions when he was in town with his babysitter buying a Mother’s Day card.

Tim Parry, aged 12, was also caught in the blasts and died after five days of fighting for his life in hospital.

Some 56 others were injured by the two bombs, which were hidden inside rubbish bins in the city centre. The IRA admitted to carrying out the attack.

Eyewitnesses at the time reported that panicked shoppers running from the first blast made their way into the path of the next explosion just seconds later.

IRA Warrington bombing memorial (Getty, EH)
IRA Warrington bombing memorial (Getty)

How did Susan McHugh become involved?

The global reaction to the deaths of Tim and Johnathan was one of outrage and revulsion, and was a turning point in the Troubles.

When Dublin housewife and mother Susan McHugh heard about the Warrington bombing, she channelled her anger into a willingness to make a change. And so she picked up the phone to book a hall at Trinity College in Dublin to hold a protest meeting, later announcing the event on the radio phone-in Liveline and stating that as an Irish citizen she was disgusted by the violence that had been committed “in her name”:

“I want to tell the world tonight they did not kill him in the name of Ireland. There’s nothing wrong with being emotional about a little baby’s death. I feel horror, revulsion and sadness. But that’s not enough. Tonight I feel anger.”

More than 1,000 people attended that initial meeting and McHugh’s cause grew and grew from then, with 20,000 attending her rally calling for peace.

However McHugh was not without her critics, with the BBC drama showing people on both sides of the conflict questioning her politics and accusing her of favouring one group over another.

What is the legacy of the Parrys and the McHughs?

The Parrys set up the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation in 1995 to work for peace and non-violent conflict resolution. It promotes peace throughout the UK and helped the 900 families affected by the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017. The couple also worked collaboratively with the BBC filmmakers for Mother’s Day.

Susan McHugh’s peace rally in O’Connell Street was a pivotal moment in the conflict, which, as journalist Bernie Ni Fhlatharta put it, achieved what politicians were struggling to do: help to kick-start the peace process that eventually led to the IRA ceasefire in 1994 – the end of most, but not all, of the violence during the Troubles.

As Colin Parry tells Radio Times, “A notable turning point in the Troubles was the outrage and disgust Warrington caused in the Republic of Ireland. It triggered the Irish government to sit down with the UK government and start exploring peace seriously.”

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Mother’s Day airs on Monday 3rd September at 9pm on BBC2