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Gelignite (/ˈɛlɪɡnt/), also known as blasting gelatin or simply jelly, is an explosive material consisting of collodion-cotton (a type of nitrocellulose or gun cotton) 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 had also invented dynamite[1] and left a will that led to the creation of the Nobel Prizes. Unlike dynamite, gelignite does not suffer from the dangerous problem of sweating, the leaking of unstable nitroglycerine from the solid matrix. 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.[2]

In the United Kingdom an explosives certificate, issued by the local Chief Officer of Police, is required for possession of gelignite.[3] Due to its widespread civilian use in quarries and mining, it has historically been often used by irregular or paramilitary groups such as the Irish Republican Army,[4] and, less frequently, by British loyalists.[5]


The 1970s saw Irish Industrial Explosives Limited producing annually 6000 tonnes[ambiguous] 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. 3.5 kilograms (7.7 lb) was found in the possession of Patrick Magee at the time of his arrest[6] and 300 kilograms (660 lb) discovered in a hijacked road tanker in January 1976.[7]

PIRA volunteer, later informer, Sean O'Callaghan estimated that planting 25 pounds (11 kg) of Frangex would kill everyone within a 60-foot (18 m) radius.[8] The Real IRA (RIRA) also acquired Frangex, and, in December 2000, 80 sticks were discovered on a farm in Kilmacow, County Kilkenny, near Waterford.[9]

Use in popular culture

Near the end of Alan Moore and David Lloyd's graphic novel, V for Vendetta, a massive amount of gelignite is sent through the London underground via a train car in order to blow up 10 Downing Street. It also plays a critical role in the Northern Rhodesia's copper mines depicted in the climax of the Bryce Courtenay's novel The Power of One.

The material is referenced in the title track of Drunken Lullabies by Flogging Molly, in the song The Old Alarm Clock by The Dubliners, in the song There Goes a Tenner by Kate Bush, and in the song You Know I Couldn't Last by Morrissey.

In Doctor Who, it is used in the 13th season episode "Pyramids of Mars" – however, in it, the Doctor cautions that sweaty Gelignite is highly unstable and can go off with so much as a sneeze, despite the fact that Gelignite does not sweat the way dynamite does.[citation needed]

Gelignite was used by Killer Croc in the episode "Choices" of Beware the Batman. Six kilograms were stolen from a construction site along with an amount of quick-setting cement, to set a trap for Batman and Katana.[10]

Gelignite, or as it is often called, "blasting gelatin" was a central plot point in the 1951 film African Queen.

In Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka explains, "That's exploding candy for your enemies. Great idea, isn't it? Not ready yet, though--still too weak. Needs more Gelignite."

Gelignite is the name of Max Flynn's girlfriend in Atom Bomb Angel, a novel by Peter James.

Accidents involving gelignite

On September 12, 2015, two powerful explosions took place in a restaurant during breakfast hours in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh, India. The authority estimated that at least 105 people died in the explosions, more than 100 were injured, some seriously. The first explosion was purportedly caused by a cooking gas cylinder. The ensuing fire was speculated to set off an unknown quantity of gelignite sticks stored illegally in a nearby building. Several adjacent buildings sustained severe damage.[11]


  1. Braddock, Kevin (3 February 2011). "How to handle gelignite". Wired Magazine. Retrieved 25 February 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Irish Industrial Explosives Limited website; accessed 28 July 2014.
  3. CITB Construction Ste safety, A13 Statutory Forms
  4. Coogan, Tim Pat (January 2002). The IRA. Palgrave McMillan. p. 379. ISBN 978-0-312-29416-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Houses of the Oireachtas, Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, Interim Report on the Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings (The Barron Report), December 2003, Appendices: The Hidden Hand: The Forgotten Massacre, pp. 64-71; retrieved 7 October 2011.
  6. Stewart Tendler, "Brighton charge: man in court today", The Times, 1 July 1985.
  7. Christopher Walker, "Dublin Government embarrassed by Ulster explosives haul as hunt for source continues", The Times, 20 January 1976.
  8. Whitaker, James, "John and Norma aghast at wedding", The Daily Mirror, 23 May 1998; accessed 23 June 2015.
  9. BBC coverage of gelignite recovery in Ireland,; accessed 28 July 2014.
  10. Beware the Batman, episode 23 "Choices"
  11. "explosion in India". ABC Australia. Retrieved 12 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>