The shattered top four floors of the Grand Hotel in Brighton after the IRA bomb, October 12, 1984
Carnage: The bombed Brighton Grand during the 1984 Tory conference

When a massive bomb tore through?the?fabric of?the?Grand Hotel in Brighton in October 1984, Margaret Thatcher came within inches of death.

She had wound up a late-night session in her suite and was about to go into?the?bathroom when she was called back to sign a last letter, just before 3am.

The?bathroom was destroyed by?the?bomb;?the?letter saved her life.

To many, her defiant reaction - continuing?the?Tory conference?the?fatal bomb targeted - was her finest hour.

To others,?the?disaster was part of a?war?she had escalated against?the?first and fiercest of her "enemies within".

Five died, including Tory MP Sir Anthony Berry.?The?long-delay blast should have been a huge coup for?the?Provisional?IRA, who had been waging?war against Britain for 10 years before Thatcher came to power.

But it was dramatically turned into a victory for?the?government.

Rising to?the?crisis, Thatcher had?the?presence of mind to take a suit?with?her when led out of?the?hotel by police.

She changed from her ballgown and gave a bullish interview to?the?BBC. She refused to be driven back to Downing Street or cancel?the?rest of?the?event.

She spent?the?night at Lewes Police College, and woke?with?the?nation to television pictures of her President of?the?Board of Trade Norman Tebbit being rescued from?the?rubble in agony.

Norman Tebbit MP is rescued from the rubble of the Grand Hotel in Brighton where he was trapped for four hours
Bloodied: Injured Tory minister Norman Tebbit is carried out of the wreckage

His wife Margaret was injured terribly and has been paralysed ever since.

At 9.30am Thatcher strode, as scheduled, on to?the?conference platform.

Ever attentive to detail, she had insisted?the?local Marks & Spencer be opened early so those left only in their night clothes could be kitted out.

The?flag-waving and patriotic music were dropped, her speech was shorn of much of its anti-Labour rhetoric, and she spoke stirringly of her determination to beat?the?bombers.

Some hope.?The?IRA?continued to be a major problem throughout her premiership. Her unyielding determination only made them more aggressive.

"Compromise" and "negotiation" were not words in Margaret Thatcher's lexicon, and?the?men of bullets and bombs were happy to take her on.

Tellingly, her time in power began and ended?with?very personal tragedies wrought by?the?IRA.

At?the?start of?the?campaign that swept her to?the?premiership,?the?friend who masterminded her bid for power, Airey Neave, was blown up driving out of?the Palace of Westminster car park.

Had he survived?the?attack on March 30, 1979, he would have been her Northern Ireland Secretary of State.

Thatcher with Airey Neave - Tory Spokesman on Northern Ireland - who was murdered in a car bomb in the House of Commons Underground Car Park
Loss: Thatcher with her friend Airey Neave
Airey Neave Tory Spokesman on Northern Ireland who was killed in car bomb as he left the House of Commons underground car park
Destruction: The aftermath of the bombing which killed Airey Neave

More than 10 years later another close ally, Eastbourne MP Ian Gow, was murdered at his home in East Sussex. Their deaths book-ended her premiership, suggesting little moved forward during her years in power.

She had been in office only weeks when?the?IRA?killed 18 soldiers at Warrenpoint on August 27, 1979.

That same weekend?the?IRA?planted a bomb on?the?small fishing boat of Lord Mountbatten,?the?Queen's cousin, at his home in?the?Republic. He and two members of his family died.

The?new PM flew to Northern Ireland and, ignoring?the?advice of her security men and diplomats, was photographed in?the?combat jacket and beret of?theUlster Defence Regiment, and walked?the?centre of Belfast.

As well as one?with?bombs and bullets,?the?IRA?fought another campaign - from?the?Maze prison.

Since three years before Thatcher came to power, they had been protesting their loss of political status by refusing prison clothes and smearing cells?withexcrement:?the?infamous dirty protests.

In 1980 hunger strikes started. Thirtyseven men refused food, but?the?strike was called off when one of them came close to death. Three months later Bobby Sands renewed?the?fast, followed by others. They got huge publicity and their situation moved many on?the?mainland.

Thatcher was unswayed. "Murder is a crime. Maiming is a crime. Murder is murder is murder, so there is no question of political status." Four weeks be el bo before he died, Bobby Sands was elected to parliament in a by-election, bolstering?the?protest.

Over?the?next few months, nine more young men slowly starved themselves to death and martyrdom, and violence outside?the?prison killed another 73 soldiers, police and civilians. Finally,?the?strikers began to take food.

Both sides claimed a victory. Violence in Northern Ireland was routine, but now it dramatically increased on?the?mainland.

A nailbomb at Chelsea Barracks in 1981, killed two and horrifically injured another 40.

Bombs in Hyde Park and Regent's Park on July 20, 1982, killed eight military bandsmen and horses.

A bomb outside Harrods on December 17, 1983, killed five Christmas shoppers.

The?coming to power in Dublin in 1982 of Garret Fitzgerald, a man who was prepared to express outrage about?the?bombs in London, meant a hopeful renewal of negotiations.

But then everything was derailed by?the?Brighton bomb.

Thatcher at the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton on her 59th birthday, the day after the IRA bombed the Grand Hotel, 13th October 1984
Defiant: Margaret Thatcher addressing Tory Party Conference the morning after the Brighton bombing

Thatcher's reaction to it won universal admiration and her popularity soared. It also stiffened her resolve and when talks resumed she was intransigent, despite increased US pressure.

She did sign?the?1985 Anglo-Irish agreement which, although she came to regret it, laid?the?basis for negotiations after she left office.

She would never believe it but it came to be her greatest success in Northern Ireland policy. After?the?signing, violence continued.

On Remembrance Day 1987 a bomb in Enniskillen killed 11 and injured 60.

Thatcher flew to?the?town for a service two weeks later.

Attacks on soldiers in Northern Ireland increased,?with?21 killed in 1988 and 12 in 1989. Ten bandsmen died in an attack on?the?Royal Marines School of Music in Kent on September 22, 1989.

When SAS men on Gibraltar shot dead three suspects on September 30, 1988, Thatcher derided those who criticised it as an illegal "shoot to kill" policy.

Soon afterwards she introduced a ban on?the?broadcasting of speeches or interviews by members of Sinn Fein and?the?IRA?on British broadcast channels.

It was a foolish move: actors simply delivered?the?lines for them and Irish Republicans in?the?States were able to make capital out of "censorship" and "loss of freedom of speech".

The?ban was lifted when John Major became Foreign Secretary.

When Ian Gow died on July 30, 1990, she was personally devastated. First, she had lost a close friend at?the?start of her premiership, then another as?thedays drew close to her removal from Downing Street.

She felt to?the?end of her life that she had betrayed Ulster?with?the?Anglo-Irish agreement, and she bitterly regretted never having been able to sort out?theIRA.

In a perfect Thatcherite world, she would have had a pitched battle?with?them, as she did?with?the?miners and General Galtieri.

But?the?IRA?were far too formidable an enemy for that.

Now read how Margaret Thatcher's time in Downing Street ended or look back at Thatcher's success elsewhere in foreign relations, her controversial financial policies at home,? how she went from a Grantham grocer's shop to Prime Minister and Thatcher's fights on all fronts.