Gelignite (/ˈɛlɪɡnt/), also known as blasting gelatin or simply "jelly", is an explosive material consisting of collodion-cotton (a type of nitrocellulose or guncotton) dissolved in either nitroglycerine or nitroglycol and mixed with wood pulp and saltpetre (sodium nitrate or potassium nitrate).


It was invented in 1875, by Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, who also invented dynamite. It is more stable than dynamite, but can still suffer from "sweating" or leaching out nitroglycerine.[1][2] Its composition makes it easily moldable and safe to handle without protection, as long as it is not near anything capable of detonating it.

One of the cheapest explosives, it burns slowly and cannot explode without a detonator, so it can be stored safely.[3]

In the United Kingdom, an explosives certificate, issued by the local Chief Officer of Police, is required for possession of gelignite.[4] Due to its widespread civilian use in quarries and mining, it has historically been used by terrorist groups such as the Provisional Irish Republican Army[5] and the Ulster Volunteer Force[6] who often used gelignite as a booster.


The 1970s saw Irish Industrial Explosives Limited producing annually 6,000 tonnes of Frangex, a commercial gelignite intended for use in mines and quarries. It was produced at Ireland's largest explosives factory in Enfield, County Meath. The Gardaí and the Irish Army patrolled the area, preventing the IRA from gaining direct access.

However, indirectly, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) acquired amounts of the material. At the time of his arrest 3.5 kilograms (8 lb) was found in the possession of Patrick Magee[7] and 300 kilograms (660 lb) discovered in a hijacked road tanker in January 1976.[8]

PIRA volunteer, later informer, Sean O'Callaghan estimated that planting 11 kg (25 lb) of Frangex would kill everyone within an 18-metre (60 ft) radius.[9] The Real IRA (RIRA) also acquired Frangex, and, in December 2000, eighty sticks were discovered on a farm in Kilmacow, County Kilkenny, near Waterford.[10]

In early 1982 the Irish National Liberation Army stole 450 kg (1,000 lb) of Frangex commercial explosives from the Tara mines in County Tipperary, enabling the organisation to intensify its bombing campaign.[11] The INLA carried out its deadliest attack in December 1982 with the bombing of the Droppin' Well disco in Ballykelly, County Londonderry, which catered to British military personnel, in which 11 soldiers on leave and 6 civilians were killed. A bomb, estimated to be 2.5 to 4.5 kg (5 to 10 lb) of Frangex explosive, small enough to fit into a handbag, was left beside a support pillar and when it exploded brought down the roof.[12]


  1. ^ Pickett, Mike (2004). Explosives Identification Guide. Cengage Learning. ISBN 978-1-4018-7821-4.
  2. ^ Braddock, Kevin (3 February 2011). "How to handle gelignite". Wired. Retrieved 30 August 2019.
  3. ^ Irish Industrial Explosives Limited website; accessed 28 July 2014.
  4. ^ CITB Construction Ste safety, A13 Statutory Forms
  5. ^ Coogan, Tim Pat (January 2002). The IRA. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 379. ISBN 978-0-312-29416-8.
  6. ^ "Orange Bombs, part 2: Loyalists and explosives, 1972-1994". Balaclava Street. Retrieved 2020-08-06.
  7. ^ Stewart Tendler, "Brighton charge: man in court today", The Times, 1 July 1985.
  8. ^ Christopher Walker, "Dublin Government embarrassed by Ulster explosives haul as hunt for source continues", The Times, 20 January 1976.
  9. ^ Whitaker, James, "John and Norma Aghast at Wedding", The Daily Mirror, 23 May 1998; accessed 23 June 2015.
  10. ^ "Man Released After Explosives Questioning", BBC News; accessed 30 August 2019.
  11. ^ Jack Holland & Henry McDonald - INLA: Deadly Divisions pp.212-215
  12. ^ "Emotional reminder of Droppin' Well bombing". Irish News. 5 December 2002. Retrieved 7 April 2011.