In November 1973 Newcastle disease suddenly appeared in Northern Ireland, where the viscerotropic disease had not been seen in 3½ years and the two Irelands had been regarded as largely disease free for 30 years. It was successfully controlled with only 36 confirmed affected layer flocks, plus 10 more slaughtered as ‘dangerous contacts’. Contemporary investigations failed to reveal the source of the Irish epidemic. Using archival virus samples from most of the affected flocks, RT–PCR was conducted with primers selected for all six NDV genes. Phylogenetic analyses of three genes, HN, M and F, confirmed vaccine as the cause of one of the outbreaks. The other six samples were identical and closely related to previous outbreaks in the United States and western Europe initiated by infected imported Latin American parrots. The probable cause of the epidemic followed from the importation from The Netherlands of bulk feed grains contaminated with infected pigeon faeces.