seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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IRA Volunteer Mick Fitzgerald Dies on Hunger Strike

Michael Fitzgerald also known as Mick Fitzgerald, dies on hunger strike in Cork County Gaol on October 17, 1920. He is among the first members of the Irish Republican Army and plays an important role in organizing it. His death is credited with bringing world-wide attention to the Irish cause for independence.

Born in December 1881 in Ballyoran, Fermoy, County Cork, Fitzgerald is educated at the Christian Brothers School in the town and subsequently finds work as a mill worker in the locality. He joins the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and plays an important role in building the local organisation which is soon to become the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He soon rises to the rank of Battalion Commandant, 1st Battalion, Cork No.2 Brigade.

On Easter Sunday, April 20, 1919, Fitzgerald leads a small group of IRA volunteers who capture Araglin, Cork Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks located on the border with County Tipperary. He is subsequently arrested and sentenced to three months imprisonment at Cork County Gaol. He is released from prison in August 1919 and immediately returns to active IRA duty. He is involved in the holding up of a party of British Army troops at the Wesleyan Church in Fermoy. The troops are disarmed although one of them is killed. Arrested and held on remand, Fitzgerald feels that the only chance he has for release is via a hunger strike.

Fitzgerald, along with Terence MacSwiney and nine other IRA volunteers, are arrested on August 8, 1920. On August 11, MacSwiney begins a hunger strike in Brixton Gaol. Fitzgerald and the other nine volunteers at Cork County Gaol join in. At the age of 24, he is the first to die on October 17, 1920 as a result of his sixty-seven day fast. His death is followed by the deaths of Joe Murphy and Terence MacSwiney. Their deaths are credited with bringing world-wide attention to the Irish cause for independence.

Fitzgerald is buried at Kilcrumper Cemetery, on the outskirts of Fermoy, County Cork. In addition, a road is named after him in Togher, Cork.

During a November 2008 visit to Fermoy, Sinn Féin Vice-President Pat Doherty lays a wreath at Fitzgerald’s grave. Doherty says Fitzgerald’s sacrifice was like that of the hunger strikers in 1981. He says it is a great honour for him to pay homage to a man “to whom we owe so much.” Also buried in the Republican Plot in Fermoy is General Liam Lynch, who was Chief of Staff of the IRA when he was shot dead by Irish Free State troops in the Knockmealdown Mountains on April 12, 1923. His last wish was to be buried with his great friend and comrade, Mick Fitzgerald.


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Irish Businessman Ben Dunne Kidnapped by the IRA

Ben Dunne, an Irish businessman, is kidnapped by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on October 16, 1981. Former director of his family firm, Dunnes Stores, one of the largest chains of department stores in Ireland, he now owns a chain of fitness centres established by his company Barkisland Developments Limited.

Dunne is born in Cork, County Cork on March 3, 1949 to Nora Maloney and Ben Dunne, a business man who founded Dunnes Stores. He is the last of six children.

In 1981, he is kidnapped by the IRA and held for seven days. He is released unharmed after his friend and fellow businessman, Patrick Gallagher, pays his £1 million ransom.

In 1992, Dunne is arrested for cocaine possession and soliciting while on a golf holiday in Florida. His arrest triggers the end of his leadership of Dunnes Stores, as family turmoil leads to control falling to his sister Margaret Heffernan and the company paying IR£100 million for his share of the business.

Dunne is again embroiled in scandal in the mid-1990s when it emerges he had given large amounts of money to a number of Irish politicians, mainly from the Fianna Fáil party including the then Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. He also gave money to Michael Lowry of Fine Gael. Justice Brian McCracken, sole member of The McCracken Tribunal which is established by the Irish Government in 1997, finds that Dunne knowingly assisted Lowry in evading his tax obligations. On March 22, 2011, the Moriarty Tribunal concludes of Ben Dunne’s dealings with Michael Lowry that “What was contemplated and attempted on the part of Mr. Dunne and Mr. Lowry was profoundly corrupt to a degree that was nothing short of breathtaking.” The report refers to its finding Lowry sought to influence a rent review of a building part-owned by Dunne.

Dunne now owns a chain of fitness centres called Ben Dunne Gyms located in Dublin and Liverpool, which he personally promotes on radio, using recent Irish advertising legislation which allows direct comparisons to named competitors. He was working on a new health club, to open in Dún Laoghaire in Dublin, but abandons the project due to complaints from local residents.

In April 2005 Dunne pays £3,000,000 for a 21-acre site in Motspur Park, New Malden (South London), former home of BBC Football Club and other BBC sports facilities. His intent is to apply for planning permission to build a leisure and fitness centre, but he does not do so. Instead, in February 2008, his company Barkisland Developments Limited submits a planning application to the Kingston upon Thames London Borough Council for change of use of the sports ground to a cemetery. The application to change the former BBC Sports Ground into a cemetery is withdrawn on October 3, 2008 after it had become clear that planning permission was likely to be refused. Objections are lodged by many local residents, sports clubs, Sport England and the Mayor of London.


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The 1923 Mountjoy Prison Hunger Strike

On October 13, 1923, following the end of the Irish Civil War, Michael Kilroy, O/C of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners in Mountjoy Prison, announces a mass hunger strike by 300 prisoners. It soon spreads to other jails and within days 7,033 republicans are on hunger strike.

On the same day, the prisoners in Kilmainham Gaol go on hunger strike, and Ernie O’Malley writes eloquently of it in his book on the Civil War, The Singing Flame. He notes that “practically all volunteered; some were exempted, including myself, but I refused this concession.”

Previously, the Irish Free State government had passed a motion outlawing the release of prisoners on hunger strike. Dan Downey had died in the Curragh on June 10, and Joseph Witty, only 19 years old, also died in the Curragh on September 2. However, because of the large numbers of Republicans on strike, at the end of October the Government sends a delegation to Newbridge Camp to speak with IRA leaders there.

It soon becomes apparent that they are not there to negotiate the strikers’ demands, but rather to give the prisoners the Government’s message: “we are not going to force-feed you, but if you die we won’t waste coffins on you; you will be put in orange boxes and you will be buried in unconsecrated ground.”

O’Malley writes, “Any action was good, it seemed, and everyone was more cheerful when the hunger strike began. We listened to the tales of men who had undergone previous strikes and we, who were novices, wondered what it would be like. We laughed and talked, but in the privacy of our cells, some, like myself, must have thought what fools we were, and have doubted our tenacity and strength of will. I looked into the future of hunger and I quailed.”

All negotiations to curtail the strike are abandoned and the strike goes forward. Poorly planned, within weeks many are going off strike, but by the end of October, there are still 5,000 on strike. O’Malley does not know what effect the strike will have, but he feels he cannot ‘let the side down.’ “Hunger striking was an unknown quantity for me. I did not approve of it. I was frankly afraid, but I could not see boys of sixteen and eighteen take their chance whilst I could eat and be excused. Now, even though one thought one’s death could be of use, there was no passive acceptance. It was a challenge, a fight, and again resistance was built up……The mind would suffer more than the body. The struggle in the end would be between body and spirit.”

On November 20, Denis “Denny” Barry dies in the Newbridge Camp, and Andrew Sullivan dies in Mountjoy on November 22.

When Barry dies, the Bishop of Cork, Daniel Cohalan, refuses to let his body lie in a Cork church. When Terence MacSwiney died on hunger strike in 1921, Bishop Cohalan had written in The Cork Examiner, “I ask the favour of a little space to welcome home to the city he laboured for so zealously the hallowed remains of Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney. For the moment, it might appear that he has died in defeat. Was Robert Emmet’s death in vain? Did Pearse and the other martyrs for the cause of Irish freedom die in vain? We bow in respect before his heroic sacrifice. We pray the Lord may have mercy on his soul.”

At the death of Denis Barry two years later, the very same Bishop Cohalan writes, “Republicanism in Ireland for the last twelve months has been a wicked and insidious attack on the Church and on the souls of the faithful committed to the Church by the law of the Catholic Church.” Denis Barry is not afforded a Catholic burial.

With the deaths of Barry and Sullivan drawing no positive response or concessions from the Free State government, the IRA command orders the strikes ended on November 23.

O’Malley writes that the strike ended with no promises of release, “we had been defeated again.” While the strike itself fails to win releases, it does begin a slow start of a programme of release of prisoners, the State being worried about the political impact of more deaths, though some prisoners remain in jail until as late as 1932.

O’Malley, writing of Tom Derrig who is in Mountjoy, relates that one of the strikers there, on the last day of the strike, had asked a doctor, “What day of the strike is this?” The doctor replies, “The forty-first.” The striker says, “Be cripes! We bate Christ by a day!”

(From: Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland, http://www.stairnaheireann.net)


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Birth of Frank Stagg, Provisional IRA Hunger Striker

Frank Stagg, Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) hunger striker, is born in Hollymount, County Mayo on October 4, 1941.

Stagg is the seventh child in a family of thirteen children. His father, Henry, and his uncle had both fought in the Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War. His brother, Emmet Stagg, becomes a Labour Party politician and a Teachta Dála (TD) for Kildare North. He is educated to primary level at Newbrook Primary School and at CBS Ballinrobe to secondary level. After finishing his schooling, he works as an assistant gamekeeper with his uncle prior to emigrating to England in search of work. Once in England, he gains employment as a bus conductor in North London and later becomes a bus driver. While in England he meets and marries fellow Mayo native, Bridie Armstrong from Carnacon in 1970.

In 1972, Stagg joins the Luton cumann of Sinn Féin and soon after becomes a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

In April 1973, Stagg is arrested with six others alleged to comprise an IRA unit planning bombing attacks in Coventry. He is tried at Birmingham Crown Court. The jury finds three of the seven not guilty. The remaining four are all found guilty of criminal damage and conspiracy to commit arson. Stagg and English-born priest, Father Patrick Fell, are found to be the unit’s commanding officers. Stagg is given a ten-year sentence and Fell is given twelve years. Thomas Gerald Rush is given seven years and Anthony Roland Lynch, who is also found guilty of possessing articles with intent to destroy property, namely nitric acid, balloons, wax and sodium chlorate, is given ten years.

Stagg is initially sent to the top security Albany Prison on the Isle of Wight. In March 1974, having been moved to Parkhurst Prison, he and fellow Mayo man Michael Gaughan join a hunger strike begun by the sisters Marian Price and Dolours Price, Hugh Feeney and Gerry Kelly.

Following the hunger strike that results in the death of Michael Gaughan, the Price sisters, Feeney and Kelly are granted repatriation to Ireland. Stagg is denied repatriation and is transferred to Long Lartin Prison. During his time there he is subject to solitary confinement for refusing to do prison work and is also subjected, along with his wife and sisters during visits, to humiliating body searches. In protest against this, he begins a second hunger strike that lasts for thirty-four days. This ends when the prison governor agrees to an end of the strip-searches on Stagg and his visitors. He is bed-ridden for the rest of his incarceration in Long Lartin, due to a kidney complaint.

In 1975 Stagg is transferred to Wakefield Prison, where it is demanded that he again do prison work. He refuses and is placed in solitary confinement. On December 14, 1975, he embarks on a hunger strike in Wakefield, along with a number of other republican prisoners, after being refused repatriation to Ireland during the IRA/British truce. His demands are an end to solitary confinement, no prison work and repatriation to prison in Ireland. The British government refuses to meet any of these demands and Stagg dies on February 12, 1976 after 62 days on hunger strike.

Stagg’s burial causes considerable controversy. Republicans and two of his brothers seek to have him buried in the republican plot in Ballina beside the grave of Michael Gaughan, in accordance with his wishes. His widow, his brother Emmet Stagg and the Irish government wish to have him buried in the family plot in the same cemetery and to avoid republican involvement in the funeral.

In order to prevent the body from being disinterred and reburied by republicans, the grave is covered with concrete. Local Gardaí keep an armed guard by the grave for six months. However, unknown to them, the plot beside the grave is available for purchase. Stagg’s brother George purchases the plot and places a headstone over it, with it declaring that the “pro-British Irish government” had stolen Frank’s body. In November 1977, a group of republicans dig down into the plot that George had purchased, then dig sideways and recover Stagg’s coffin from the adjacent plot under cover of darkness, before reburying it in the republican plot beside the body of Michael Gaughan. The Republicans hold their own version of a funeral ceremony before disappearing back into the night.

Following the final burial, an anonymous letter is sent to Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, Minister for Justice Patrick Cooney, Minister for Post and Telegraphs Conor Cruise O’Brien and Minister for Foreign Affairs Garret FitzGerald, informing them each that they have been “marked out for assassination” because of their government’s involvement with Stagg’s burials. Stagg’s widow Bridie and his brother Emmett are reported to be intimidated by members of the Provisional IRA due to their opposition to his burial in a Republican plot.

The IRA swears revenge over Stagg’s death, warning the British public it is going to attack indiscriminately. They explode about 13 bombs throughout England within a month after his death.


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Capture of Mallow Barracks

The Cork No. 2 Brigade, Irish Republican Army (IRA), attacks and captures a military barracks in Mallow, County Cork, on September 28, 1920, the only military barracks to be captured during the Irish War of Independence. British forces later burn and sack the town.

Mallow had been a garrison town for several hundred years. Eight miles to the north lay Buttevant where one of the largest military barracks in the country is located. Not far from Buttevant are the great military training camps of Ballyvonaire, while nineteen miles to the northeast is Fermoy with its large permanent military garrisons and huge barracks adjacent to the big training centres of Kilworth and Moorepark. Twenty miles to the southeast is the city of Cork with its many thousands of troops both in the posts within the city and at Ballincollig, about six miles west of it, on the Macroom road. Thirteen miles westward a detachment from a British machine gun corps holds Kanturk. Every town and village has its post of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men armed to the teeth.

The idea of capturing the barracks comes from two members of the Mallow IRA Battalion, Dick Willis, a painter, and Jack Bolster, a carpenter, who are employed on the civilian maintenance staff of the barracks which is occupied by the 17th Lancers. Willis and Bolster are able to observe the daily routine of the garrison and form the opinion that the capture of the place would not be difficult. They are instructed by their local battalion officers to make a sketch map of the barracks. After that is prepared, Liam Lynch and Ernie O’Malley go with Willis and Tadhg Byrnes to Mallow to study the layout of the surrounding district. Among the details of the garrison’s routine that Willis and Bolster report to the Column leaders, is the information that each morning the officer in charge, accompanied by two-thirds of the men, take the horses for exercise outside the town. It is obvious to the two Mallow volunteers that this is the ideal time for the attack.

Situated at the end of a short, narrow street and on the western verge of the Town Park, Mallow barracks stand on an unusually low-lying location and is relatively small in size. Surrounded by a high stone wall, the barracks can be approached from the town park as well as from the main street. The various details are carefully studied by Lynch and O’Malley. While Willis and Bolster are allotted tasks within the walls of the barracks, Byrnes and Jack Cunningham are chosen to attack with the main body of the column which includes Commandant Denny Murphy of Kanturk.

On the morning of September 27, at their Burnfort headquarters, the men are ordered to prepare for action. Under cover of darkness they move into the town and enter the Town Hall by way of the park at the rear. The eighteen men of the column are strengthened by members of the Mallow battalion, a number of men posted in the upper storey of the Town Hall, from which they can command the approaches to the nearby RIC barracks. Initially it is planned that Willis and Bolster will enter the military barracks that morning in the normal manner, accompanied by an officer of the column who will pose as a contractor’s overseer. The officer is Paddy McCarthy of Newmarket, who would die a few months later in a gun battle with the Black and Tans at Millstreet.

McCarthy, Willis and Bolster enter the barracks without mishap. Members of the garrison follow their normal routine, with the main body of troops under the officer in charge leaving the barracks with the horses. In the barracks remain about fifteen men under the command of a senior N.C.O., Sergeant Gibbs.

Once the military has passed, the attackers, numbering about twenty men and led by Liam Lynch, advance toward the bottom of Barrack Street. All are armed with revolvers which are considered the most convenient and suitable weapons for the operation. Lynch has issued strict instructions that there is to be no shooting by the attackers, unless as a last resort. Inside the walls are McCarthy, Willis and Bolster, their revolvers concealed. Then Ernie O’Malley presents himself at the wicket gate with a bogus letter in his hand. Behind him and out of sight of the sentry are the other members of the main attacking party, led by Lynch, O’Brien and George Power. When the gate is opened sufficiently, O’Malley wedges his foot between it and the frame and the soldier is overpowered and the attackers rush in. McCarthy, Bolster and Willis immediately go to the guardroom where they hold up the guard. Realising what is happening, Sergeant Gibbs, rushes toward the guardroom in which rifles are kept. Although called upon to halt, he continues even though a warning shot is fired over his head. As he reaches the guardroom door, the IRA officer and one of the volunteers in the guardroom fire simultaneously. Mortally wounded, the sergeant falls at the guardroom door.

By this time the majority of the attacking party is inside the gate. Military personnel in different parts of the barracks are rounded up and arms are collected. Three waiting motor cars pull up to the gate and all the rifles, other arms and equipment found in the barracks are loaded into them. The prisoners are locked into one of the stables, with the exception of a man left to care for Sergeant Gibbs. The whole operation goes according to plan, except for the shooting of the sergeant. Twenty minutes after the sentry had been overpowered the pre-arranged signal of a whistle blast is sounded and the attackers withdraw safely to their headquarters at Burnfort, along the mountain road out of Mallow.

Expecting reprisals, the column moves to Lombardstown that night, and positions are taken up around the local co-operative creamery as it is the custom of the British to wreak their vengeance on isolated country creameries after incidents such as what had just occurred. The Mallow raid, however, has greater repercussions than the destruction of a creamery and co-operative stores. The following night, large detachments of troops from Buttevant and Fermoy enter Mallow. They rampage through the town, burning and looting at will. High over the town, the night sky is red with the flames of numerous burning buildings.

Townspeople run through the blazing streets, in search of refuge. A number of women and children are accorded asylum in the nearby convent schools. Another group of terrified women, some with children in arms, take refuge in the cemetery at the rear of St. Mary’s Church, where they kneel or lay above the graves. It is a night of terror such as which had never before been endured by the people of Mallow.

The extent of the wanton destruction outrages fair-minded people all over the world. Details of the havoc that had been wrought and pictures of the scenes of destruction are published worldwide.

(Pictured: Townspeople gather in front of one of the many buildings in Mallow which were reduced to ruins during British Army reprisals)


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“Public Safety Bill” Passed by Dáil Éireann

The Free State’s Provisional Government puts the “Public Safety Bill” before Dáil Éireann on September 27, 1922, which passes by 41 votes to 18. This is emergency legislation which allows for the execution of those captured bearing arms against the State. The legislation passes to the National Army powers of punishment for anyone “taking part in or aiding and abetting attacks on the National Forces,” having possession of arms or explosives “without the proper authority” or disobeying an Army General Order.

The legislation gives the Military Courts the right to impose the sentence of death, imprisonment or penal servitude on those found to be guilty of such offences, the sentence only requiring the signatures of two officers. By time the bill is a year old, 81 men are executed under its terms and over 12,000 men and women imprisoned.

The reason for such punitive legislation is the dragging on of the Irish Civil War caused by the Anglo-Irish Treaty. A pro-Treaty offensive against the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the summer of 1922 appears to have won the war for the government but the anti-Treatyites or republicans subsequently fall back on guerrilla tactics which the newly formed Free State or National Army have great difficulty in suppressing. Ernest Blythe, the Minister for Finance in the Provisional Government, later recalls, “there was for some time a feeling that the Civil War would speedily end as major resistance was broken, but actually it began to assume a chronic character.”

In the week preceding the Dáil’s motion, on September 21, six National Army soldiers are killed in a prolonged engagement with Republican fighters near Ballina, County Mayo. On the same day, the Free State barracks in Drumshambo, County Leitrim, is attacked and taken and one soldier is killed. On September 22, a National Army soldier is killed and several soldiers and three civilians injured in a gun and grenade attack by Republicans on Free State troops on Eden Quay in central Dublin. And on the day of the Bill itself coming before the Dáil, in County Kerry several hundred anti-Treaty IRA guerrillas attack the town of Killorglin and are only repulsed after 24 hours of fighting, when Free State troops arrive from Tralee.

At the time and since, the legislation passed in 1922 is known as the Public Safety Bill. However, no such Bill or Act can be found in the records of the Irish state. The Provisional Government have no legal right under the Treaty to enact new legislation without royal assent, the King being represented in the person of the Governor-General. And in theory the Provisional Government’s powers do not apply after the Treaty formally passes into law on December 6, 1922.

So technically speaking the Public Safety Bill is not a law but simply a resolution passed in the Dáil. However, since there was, as yet no Governor-General who could give his assent and as the government felt the situation was too grave for legal niceties, the legislation setting up military courts was passed anyway. It is not until August 1923, when the Free State passes an Act of Indemnity for all actions committed during the Irish Civil War and also pass new, formal special powers legislation – The Emergency Powers Act – that retrospectively legalises what it had enacted in the autumn of 1922.

After an amnesty of two weeks, in which anti-Treaty fighters could surrender without consequences, the legislation comes into force in mid October. Republicans at first do not believe that the government is serious about enforcing what its foes term “the Murder Bill.” It is in practice nearly two months before it is used in earnest.

On November 17, 1922, four IRA men who had been captured in Dublin are shot by firing squad. By the end of the week, Erskine Childers, who had served as secretary to the delegation which signed the Treaty but later organized Republican propaganda against it, is also dead. He had been captured at his home in County Wicklow on November 11 in possession of a small pistol Michael Collins had given him before he departed for Treaty negotiations in London. He is sentenced and shot on November 24. On November 30 another three Republican prisoners are executed in Dublin.

Liam Lynch, IRA Chief of Staff, issues a general order that Teachtaí Dála (TDs) who had voted for the Bill be shot on sight. On December 6, in retaliation for the executions, IRA members assassinate the TD Sean Hales in Dublin. In reprisal for that four senior republicans, Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, who had been captured long before the Public Safety legislation is passed are summarily shot.

The legislation passed on September 27, 1922 may well have helped, as its supporters claimed, to break anti-Treaty resistance and to bring the Irish Civil War to an end. However it also helped to convert the conflict into a feud as bitter and as personal as a vendetta.

(From: “The passing of legislation allowing for executions during the Irish Civil War” by John Dorney, The Irish Story (www.theirishstory.com), September 27, 2013 | Photo: Richard Mulcahy, shown inspecting soldiers in Dublin, argued that permitting official executions would prevent National Army troops from carrying out unofficial killings)


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The Maze Prison Escape

The Maze Prison escape, known to Irish republicans as the Great Escape, takes place on September 25, 1983 in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. HM Prison Maze, also known as Long Kesh, is a maximum security prison considered to be one of the most escape-proof prisons in Europe, and holds prisoners suspected of taking part in armed paramilitary campaigns during the Troubles. In the biggest prison escape in UK history, 38 Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners escaped from H-Block 7 (H7) of the prison. One prison officer dies of a heart attack during the escape and twenty others are injured, including two who are shot with guns that had been smuggled into the prison. The escape is a propaganda coup for the IRA, and a British government minister faces calls to resign. The official inquiry into the escape places most of the blame onto prison staff, who in turn blame the escape on political interference in the running of the prison.

IRA volunteers regard themselves as prisoners of war with a duty to escape. During the Troubles, Irish republican prisoners escape from custody en masse on several occasions between 1971 and 1981.

Prisoners had been planning the 1983 escape for several months. Bobby Storey and Gerry Kelly start working as orderlies in H7, which allows them to identify weaknesses in the security systems. Six handguns are also smuggled into the prison. Shortly after 2:30 PM on September 25, prisoners seize control of H7 by simultaneously taking the prison officers hostage at gunpoint in order to prevent them from triggering an alarm. One officer is stabbed with a craft knife, and another is knocked down by a blow to the back of the head. One officer who attempts to prevent the escape is shot in the head by Gerry Kelly, but survives. By 2:50 PM the prisoners are in control of H7 without an alarm being raised. A dozen prisoners also take uniforms from the officers, and the officers are forced to hand over their car keys and details of where their cars are, for possible later use during the escape. A rearguard is left behind to watch over hostages and keep the alarm from being raised until they believe the escapees are clear of the prison, at which time they return to their cells. At 3:25 PM, a lorry delivering food supplies arrives at the entrance to H7, whereupon Brendan McFarlane and other prisoners take the occupants hostage at gunpoint and move them inside H7. The lorry driver is told the lorry is being used in the escape, and he is instructed what route to take and how to react if challenged.

At 3:50 PM the prisoners leave H7, and the driver and a prison orderly are taken back to the lorry. Thirty-seven prisoners climb into the back of the lorry, while Gerry Kelly lay on the floor of the cab with a gun pointed at the driver, who is also told the cab has been booby trapped with a hand grenade. At nearly 4:00 PM the lorry drives toward the main gate of the prison, where the prisoners intend to take over the gatehouse. Ten prisoners dressed in guards’ uniforms and armed with guns and chisels dismount from the lorry and enter the gatehouse, where they take the officers hostage.

At 4:05 PM the officers begin to resist, and an officer presses an alarm button. When other staff respond via an intercom, a senior officer says while being held at gunpoint that the alarm had been triggered accidentally. By this time the prisoners are struggling to maintain control in the gatehouse due to the number of hostages. Officers arriving for work are entering the gatehouse from outside the prison, and each is ordered at gunpoint to join the other hostages. Officer James Ferris runs from the gatehouse toward the pedestrian gate attempting to raise the alarm, pursued by Dermot Finucane. Ferris had already been stabbed three times in the chest, and before he can raise the alarm he collapses.

Finucane continues to the pedestrian gate where he stabs the officer controlling the gate, and two officers who had just entered the prison. This incident is seen by a soldier on duty in a watchtower, who reports to the British Army operations room that he has seen prison officers fighting. The operations room telephones the prison’s Emergency Control Room (ECR), which replies that everything is all right and that an alarm had been accidentally triggered earlier.

At 4:12 PM the alarm is raised when an officer in the gatehouse pushes the prisoner holding him hostage out of the room and telephones the ECR. However, this is not done soon enough to prevent the escape. After several attempts the prisoners open the main gate, and are waiting for the prisoners still in the gatehouse to rejoin them in the lorry. At this time two prison officers block the exit with their cars, forcing the prisoners to abandon the lorry and make their way to the outer fence which is 25 yards away.

Four prisoners attack one of the officers and hijack his car, which they drive toward the external gate. They crash into another car near the gate and abandon the car. Two escape through the gate, one is captured exiting the car, and another is captured after being chased by a soldier. At the main gate, a prison officer is shot in the leg while chasing the only two prisoners who have not yet reached the outer fence. The prisoner who fires the shot is captured after being shot and wounded by a soldier in a watch tower, and the other prisoner is captured after falling. The other prisoners escape over the fence, and by 4:18 PM the main gate is closed and the prison secured, after 35 prisoners had breached the prison perimeter. The escape is the biggest in British history, and the biggest in Europe since World War II.

Outside the prison the IRA has planned a logistical support operation involving 100 armed members, but due to a miscalculation of five minutes, the prisoners find no transport waiting for them and are forced to flee across fields or hijack vehicles. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary immediately activate a contingency plan and by 4:25 PM a cordon of vehicle checkpoints are in place around the prison, and others are later in place in strategic positions across Northern Ireland, resulting in the recapture of one prisoner at 11:00 PM. Twenty prison officers are injured during the escape, thirteen are kicked and beaten, four stabbed, and two shot. One prison officer, James Ferris, who had been stabbed, dies after suffering a heart attack during the escape.

The escape is a propaganda coup and morale boost for the IRA, with Irish republicans dubbing it the “Great Escape.” Leading unionist politician Ian Paisley calls on Nicholas Scott, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to resign. The British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher makes a statement in Ottawa during a visit to Canada, saying “It is the gravest [breakout] in our present history, and there must be a very deep inquiry.” The day after the escape, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Prior announces an inquiry to be headed by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, James Hennessy. The Hennessy Report is published on January 26, 1984 placing most of the blame for the escape on prison staff, and making a series of recommendations to improve security at the prison. The report also places blame with the designers of the prison, the Northern Ireland Office and successive prison governors who had failed to improve security. Prior announces that the prison’s governor has resigned, and that there will be no ministerial resignations as a result of the report’s findings. Four days after the Hennessy Report is published, the Minister for Prisons Nicholas Scott dismisses allegations from the Prison Governors Association and the Prison Officers Association that the escape is due to political interference in the running of the prison.

Fifteen escapees are captured on the day, including four who are discovered hiding underwater in a river near the prison using reeds to breathe. Four more escapees are captured over the next two days, including Hugh Corey and Patrick McIntyre who are captured following a two-hour siege at an isolated farmhouse. Out of the remaining 19 escapees, 18 end up in the republican stronghold of South Armagh where two members of the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade are in charge of transporting them to safehouses, and given the option of either returning to active service in the IRA’s armed campaign or a job and new identity in the United States.

On October 25, 1984, nineteen prisoners appear in court on charges relating to the death of prison officer James Ferris, sixteen charged with his murder. A pathologist determines that the stab wounds Ferris suffered would not have killed a healthy man. The judge acquits all sixteen as he cannot correlate the stabbing to the heart attack.


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Grote Markt, Brussels Bombing

On August 28, 1979, a bomb explodes under an open‐air stage on the Grote Markt in Brussels, Belgium where a British Army band is preparing to give a concert, injuring at least 15 persons, including four bandsmen, and causes extensive damage. Mayor Pierre van Halteren of Brussels says the Irish Republican Army (IRA) claims responsibility for the bombing in a telephone call to city hall.

The bombing comes just a day after Earl Mountbatten of Burma and three others are killed in a bombing in the Irish Republic, and 18 British soldiers die in an attack in Northern Ireland. The IRA claims responsibility for both attacks.

The band is from the Duke of Edinburgh’s Royal Regiment, which is stationed in Osnabrück, West Germany. The bombing occurs only minutes before the band is to have begun a concert in the broad square, a major tourist site surrounded by centuries‐old buildings. However, only 6 of the 30 members of the band are on the makeshift stage when the bomb explodes at about 3:00 PM. The others had left the stage to change into their red dress uniforms after setting up music stands and instruments.

The band is held up in traffic and is late arriving for the concert. The police say that if the bomb had gone off later, during the concert, the casualty toll would have been heavier.

Before the IRA telephone call is reported, Earl Nicoll, military attaché at the British Embassy in Brussels, says, “I’d guess it is either the IRA or people sympathetic to their aims. It is clearly a manifestation they wanted to hit the band, not any Belgians.”

The temporary stage is used for daily concerts to mark the city’s 1,000th birthday. A police spokesman says the explosives were under the stage floor in the back, on the side away from the square. At the time of the explosion only a few hundred people, most of them tourists, are in the square, which is lined by outdoor cafes, flower stalls and centuries‐old guildhalls.

The blast creates a 90‐by‐30‐foot hole in the stage floor, and severely damages the back wall and the ceiling. It shatters windows in the ancient buildings. A police spokesman says investigators did not yet know what kind of bomb was used. Officials estimate the damage at $134,000 to $167,000.

Irish guerrillas are accused of responsibility for several other attacks in Belgium in recent months, including one in June 1979 involving Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr., then Supreme Allied Commander Europe for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

A number of other recent terrorist attacks on the continent are blamed on the IRA. On March 22, 1979, Sir Richard Sykes, Britain’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, and his Dutch valet are shot and killed as the envoy leaves for work in The Hague. On the same day, a Belgian bank employee is shot to death in front of his home in suburban Brussels in what police believe is a case of mistaken identity on the part of the IRA. Officials believe the gunmen were after Sir John Killick, deputy chief of Britain’s mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which has its headquarters in Belgium.

On July 6, a bomb that officials believe to be planted by the IRA goes off in the British consulate building in Antwerp, Belgium, causing damage but no injuries. Four days later, two bombs go off at two British Rhine Army barracks in Dortmund, West Germany, causing extensive damage but again no injuries. The IRA claims responsibility for those and other bombings at facilities of the 50,000‐member Rhine Army.

(From: “I.R.A. Sets Off Bomb at Belgian Concert,” The New York Times, August 29, 1979)


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The Templemore Miracles

In August and September 1920 the town of Templemore in County Tipperary is the sight of alleged Marian apparitions. Thousands of people come to the town daily to see the apparitions. The affair occurs during the Irish War of Independence and results in a short-lived local truce between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Crown forces. When the truce ends, pilgrims stop coming to the town and the sightings end. The affair is sometimes referred to as the Templemore miracles.

In January 1919 the Irish War of Independence begins and lasts until July 1921. On the night of August 16, 1920, British soldiers of the Northamptonshire Regiment attack Templemore in reprisal for the killing of an Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officer by IRA volunteers earlier that day. They fire volleys and burn homes and businesses. No civilians or IRA men are killed but two soldiers die by accident in the fires.

Shortly after the attack, a sixteen-year old farm labourer named James Walsh claims that he was visited by the Virgin Mary in his cottage in the nearby townland of Curraheen. She told him that she was troubled by what was happening in Ireland. At her request he digs a hole in the ground in his bedroom and this soon fills with spring water. Afterwards he claims that all three statues of the Virgin Mary in his home began to bleed. He takes these statues to Templemore, where the bleeding is witnessed. One man who had been crippled for most of his life claims he is dancing in the streets after visiting Walsh’s cottage. He is the first of many who claim to have been cured of their ailments in the presence of Walsh or the statues.

Locals believe that divine intervention had prevented any of them being killed or wounded during the attack by the British. Walsh gathers people around the statues to say the Rosary in Irish. According to Ann Wilson, the statues are seen “as asserting the Catholic Irish identity of the population in the face of the non-Catholic British opponent, a superior spiritual power which would win out against the much more substantial, but merely worldly, advantages of the enemy.”

The affair is soon reported in local and national newspapers, which causes more pilgrims to go to Tipperary, both to see the statues in Templemore and Walsh’s cottage in Curraheen. On August 31, 1920 an RIC inspector writes to the Dublin Castle administration, estimating that over 15,000 pilgrims per day are coming down. Many come seeking cures for various illnesses and report that they had received them. One RIC officer resigns from his job to join a religious order. One soldier is reported to convert to Catholicism. The influx results in a large economic windfall for the town.

The official position of the church is one of ‘extreme reserve.’ The parish priest Reverend Kiely refuses to see the statues. However, no effort is made to stop people making pilgrimages. Local IRA commander James Leahy notes a division between older and younger clergy in the local church, with older clergy generally being skeptical of Walsh while younger clergy are more enthusiastic about his claims.

Prior to the apparitions beginning, Wilson had given a Virgin Mary statue to a local RIC constable named Thomas Winsey, according to the Tipperary Star. Winsey placed the statue in the barracks. This too is said to be bleeding. One day a large crowd of pilgrims besiege the barracks and have to be physically restrained when they attempt to enter it. The statue is removed from the barracks. Police and military stop appearing on the street shortly after.

The IRA effectively takes over the area at this point. They keep order, organise traffic and help pilgrims. However, they do not appear in the streets in uniform and there is an informal truce in effect between them and Crown forces.

Local IRA commander James Leahy is concerned at the effect that tips given to IRA volunteers were having on discipline. He and other local commanders interrogate Walsh and stop believing him after this. He contacts IRA Director of Intelligence Michael Collins. Collins has Dan Breen interrogate Walsh. Breen reports that Walsh “was a fake.” Collins sarcastically replies, “One can’t take any notice of what you say, Breen, because you have no religion.”

Having failed to get the church to intervene and denounce Walsh, Leahy and other IRA members decide to restart the war anyway. On September 29, IRA volunteers attack a group of RIC men between Templemore and Curraheen. Two constables are killed. As anticipated, this brings police and army reinforcements to the area. Soldiers loot and desecrate sites outside Templemore associated with the pilgrimage. Rumours begin that the town itself would soon be attacked. Pilgrims flee the area. The statues apparently stop bleeding.

Interest in the statues and Walsh’s cottage largely end at this point, ending Templemore as a sight for pilgrimages. However, Michael Collins does receive a statue at his request. Upon receiving the statue, he smashes it. He discovers that inside is an alarm clock connected to fountain pen inserts containing sheep’s blood. When the clock strikes a certain time, it sends a spurt of blood out of the statue, giving the impression it is bleeding. It is not clear whether this statue performed in Templemore or was one of the ones owned by James Walsh. Collins had received complaints from a local priest that IRA volunteers had engineered statues that would bleed at intervals.

James Walsh is labelled as a possible spy by Dan Breen. At the request of Templemore clergy he is taken to Salesian College in Limerick and placed in the care of Father Aloysius Sutherland. He emigrates to Australia in 1923, settling in Sydney. Towards the end of his life he attempts to enter numerous religious orders but is unsuccessful due to a prior divorce. He dies in Sydney in 1977, having never returned to Ireland.

Historian John Reynolds states at a talk that the affair could have been a prank that got out of hand or was a money-making swindle. He speculates that Walsh may have been used by others, who really instigated it. He discounts the local IRA as having been the instigators.

The affair is not well-known despite gaining worldwide attention at the time. However, in November 2012 the Irish-language television broadcaster TG4 screens a documentary about it. In 2019 the book The Templemore Miracles, written by John Reynolds, is published.

(Pictured: Children pray beside statues that were reported to have started bleeding, Belfast Telegraph, http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk)


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Death of Kieran Doherty, Irish Republican Hunger Striker

Kieran Doherty, Irish republican hunger striker and politician who serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Cavan–Monaghan constituency from June 1981 to August 1981, dies on August 2, 1981 in HM Prison Maze (known to republicans as Long Kesh) on the 73rd day of his hunger strike. He is a volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Doherty is the third son in a family of six. He is born on October 16, 1955 in the Andersonstown area of Belfast and is educated at St. Theresa’s Primary School and Glen Road Christian Brothers School (CBS). The Doherty brothers are known cyclists and sportsmen in the Andersontown area. He wins an Antrim Gaelic football medal at minor level in 1971.

Doherty joins Fianna Éireann in 1971 and is interned by the British Government between February 1973 and November 1975. His brothers Michael and Terence are interned between 1972 and 1974.

Doherty works as an apprentice heating engineer. His girlfriend is Geraldine Scheiss and, although they never become formally engaged, they become very close toward the end of his life. Before his arrest, she had not known that he is in the IRA.

In August 1976, while he is out to set a bomb, the van in which he is riding is chased by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). During the chase Doherty manages to leave the van and hijack a car. He later ditches the car and is found one mile away from the car. He is convicted and sentenced to 18 years for possession of firearms and explosives, with another four years for the hijack.

Doherty starts his hunger strike on May 22, 1981. While on hunger strike he is elected as an Anti H-Block TD for the Cavan–Monaghan constituency at the 1981 Irish general election, which is held on June 11. He receives 9,121 (15.1%) first preference votes and is elected on the fourth count. The two seats gained by Anti H-Block candidates denies Taoiseach Charles Haughey the chance to form a government, and the 22nd Dáil Éireann sees a Fine GaelLabour Party coalition government come to office, with Garret FitzGerald as Taoiseach.

Doherty dies at the age of 25 on August 2, 1981. He lasts 73 days on hunger strike, the longest of the 1981 hunger strikers, and only one day short of Terence MacSwiney. He is the shortest-serving Dáil deputy ever, serving as a TD for only two months.

Doherty is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia. In October 2016, a painting of him is unveiled in Leinster House by Sinn Féin.