seamus dubhghaill

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


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Abduction of IRA Captain Noel Lemass

noel-lemass-monumentNoel Lemass, Anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA) officer in Dublin and brother of Seán Lemass, is abducted by Free State plainclothesmen and killed on July 3, 1923. His body is found in the Wicklow Mountains on October 13.

Lemass is a member of the 3rd Battalion, Dublin Brigade of the IRA. He along with his younger brother Seán, later Ireland’s fourth Taoiseach, take part in the Easter Rising where he fights at the General Post Office (GPO). He is employed as an engineer in Dublin Corporation. When the Irish Civil War breaks out in 1922 both he and his brother take the Anti-Treaty side and both fight together at the Four Courts.

After the fall of the Four Courts, Lemass is imprisoned but manages to escape and makes his way to England. He returns to Ireland in the summer of 1923 when the cease-fire has been declared and goes back to his former employers at the Dublin Corporation, hoping to resume his work there. He offers the town clerk, John J. Murphy, if he would forward a letter to the authorities that he plans to write, “stating that he had no intention of armed resistance to the Government.”

In July 1923, two months after the Irish Civil War ends, Lemass is kidnapped in broad daylight by Free State agents outside MacNeils Hardware shop, at the corner of Exchequer and Drury Street. Three months later, on October 13, his decomposed body is found on the Featherbed Mountain near Sally Gap, twenty yards from the Glencree Road, in an area known locally as ‘The Shoots.’

The body is clothed in a dark tweed suit, light shirt, silk socks, spats and a knitted tie. The pockets contain Rosary beads, a watch-glass, a rimless glass, a tobacco pouch and an empty cigarette case. The trousers’ pockets are turned inside out, as if they had been rifled. There is what appears to be an entrance bullet wound on the left temple and the top of the skull is broken, suggesting an exit wound. He has been shot at least three times in the head and his left arm is fractured, his teeth have been brutally forced from his jaws and his right foot is never found. It is likely that he is killed elsewhere and dumped at this spot.

Meeting two days later, Dublin Council passes a strongly worded vote of sympathy with Lemass’s family. Describing their fellow employee as an “esteemed and worthy officer of the Council who had been foully and diabolically murdered,” the Council adjourns for one week as a mark of respect.

(Pictured: Captain Noel Lemass Memorial Stone at the spot where his body was found on Featherbed Mountain)


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The Gough Barracks Raid

gough-barracksThe Irish Republican Army (IRA) makes an audacious raid on Gough Barracks in Armagh, County Armagh, Northern Ireland on June 12, 1954. It marks the re-awakening of IRA activity in Northern Ireland and a re-arming that leads eventually to the 1956-1962 border campaign.

In January 1954, Leo McCormick, the Training Officer for the Dublin Brigade of the IRA, is on a visit to Armagh. As he passes Gough Barracks, the home of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, he notices that the guard on duty outside the barracks is armed with a Sten gun without a magazine. He concludes rightly that Gough Barracks is in effect being guarded by an unarmed guard.

On his return to Dublin, McCormick informs the Dublin Brigade of his chance observation. Alas, he does not see the end result of his information, as he is arrested soon after and receives four years for possession of a document.

By April, the General Head Quarters decides that they will raid Gough Barracks for arms. But first, they need more information. Eamonn Boyce, the Intelligence Officer of the Dublin Brigade, is asked to travel to Armagh and check out the barracks. He makes several trips to Armagh and soon has a detailed account of life outside the barracks. But GHQ wants more inside details. Charlie Murphy gets over this problem by asking Seán Garland to go to Armagh and enlist in the British Army. Not long after Garland’s enlistment, a stream of maps, documents, time schedules and photographs flow into GHQ for processing.

Finally, a last intelligence coup is arranged. Using Garland’s information, the IRA gets inside the barracks to have a look around. On a Saturday night in May, Boyce and Murphy slip into the barracks as “guests” at a weekly dance. With them they bring a girl, Mae Smith, who is later to become chairperson of Sinn Féin. After a few dances, Garland takes Mae outside for what his fellow soldiers assume is an hour of light passion but is in fact a detailed tour of the entire barracks.

The operation is launched on June 12, 1954, from a farm just outside Dundalk. A large red cattle truck is commandeered at the last moment and nineteen IRA men, about half of the Dublin Brigade, climb in and are informed as to what their target is. It is almost 3:00 on a busy Saturday afternoon when the cattle truck and a car drive into Armagh.

Paddy Ford gets out of the car and walks over to the sentry and asks him about enlisting in the British Army. While the sentry is dissuading Ford of what he considers a foolish course of action, he looks down into the barrel of a .45 caliber Colt revolver in the perspective recruit’s hand. As the sentry is held at gunpoint, three IRA men pass him into the guardhouse. The sentry is then brought in after them. While the sentry is being tied up, a new IRA sentry, complete with British uniform, white webbing belt, regimental cap and sten gun with magazine steps out to stand guard over Gough Barracks.

As soon as the IRA sentry appears, the cattle truck drives through the gate and comes to a halt outside the arsenal door. After fumbling through 200 keys, Eamonn Boyce finds the right one and opens the armoury. Murphy races up the stairs and in the first room two British soldiers demand to know what a civilian wants inside the barracks. Murphy has some trouble getting his revolver out of his pocket and is further embarrassed when the two soldiers refuse to put up their hands. However, another IRA man arrives carrying a Thompson submachine gun, which quickly convinces them to do as they are told. Posting a Bren gun at the armoury window to command the barracks square, the IRA begins stripping the armoury.

During the course of the raid a woman, noticing something is wrong, stops a British officer in the street and urges him into the barracks to investigate. Once inside the gate the officer is taken under control and, protesting that he is an officer and a gentleman, refuses to be tied until a gun is put to his head.

An NCO then notices what is happening, gets into a lorry and drives for the gate, intending to block the exit. An IRA man stands at the gate brandishing a revolver and shouts “Back.” He forces the NCO to reverse the lorry. The NCO is placed under arrest in the guard room. By the end of the raid, the IRA has tied up 19 British soldiers and one civilian.

In less than 20 minutes the job is done. The truck carrying 340 rifles, 50 Sten guns, 12 Bren guns, and a number of small arms drives out of the barrack gates and rumbles through Armagh in the direction of the border. Eamonn Boyce and the group in the car follow after locking every gate and door for which they can find keys. At 3:25 PM the first alarm in the barracks is given but it is not until 5:00 that the general alarm is given and by that time the big red truck is long gone.

The raid for arms in Gough Barracks gains international attention. The IRA, which has been described by some as moribund since the ’40s campaign, has once more risen from its slumber to strike a blow against the forces of occupation. The raid awakes a calling in many to join the IRA and take part in the Border Campaign, which keeps alive the flame of republicanism through to the present time.

(From: “The Gough Barracks raid – Remembering the Past” by Shane Mac Thomáis, anphoblacht.com, June 9, 2005)


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George Mitchell begins Northern Ireland Talks with Sinn Féin

george-mitchell-in-belfastOn June 10, 1996, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell begins Northern Ireland talks with Sinn Féin, who are blocked by the lack of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) ceasefire from what are supposed to be all-party talks on Northern Ireland’s future.

Pressure is coming from all sides on the Irish Republican Army to give peace a chance in Northern Ireland. Governments in London, Dublin, and Washington, D.C., as well as the vast majority of Northern Ireland’s citizens, are calling on the paramilitary group to call a new ceasefire. Even Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin, the IRA’s political wing, appeals to the IRA to reconsider its refusal to renew the ceasefire it broke in February with a bomb blast in London.

An opinion poll in the Dublin-based Sunday Tribune shows 97 percent of people, including 84 percent of Sinn Féin voters, want the IRA to renew its ceasefire.

The talks aim to reconcile two main political traditions in Northern Ireland, Protestant-backed unionism, which wants the province to stay part of the United Kingdom, and Catholic-backed Irish nationalism, which seeks to unite Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.

Earlier in the year Senator Mitchell reported to the British government on the prospects for peace in Northern Ireland and drew up six principles which, if fulfilled by all the parties, would produce a lasting political settlement.

As internal and international pressure on the IRA mounts, politicians from the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), a moderate party representing the province’s Protestants, shows signs of drifting apart on whether Sinn Féin should be allowed to participate. Even if the IRA announces “a ceasefire of convenience,” Sinn Féin should be barred from attending, says Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the radical Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Furthermore, the choice of Mitchell to head the talks makes some Protestants uneasy. Earlier, DUP leader Ian Paisley says Mitchell could not be trusted as chairman. “He is carrying too much American Irish baggage.”

Yet David Trimble, leader of the larger UUP, says a new IRA ceasefire might “get Sinn Féin to the door.” To be fully admitted to the all-party talks, however, its leadership will have to “commit itself to peace and democracy.” Trimble adds that he has doubts about Mitchell’s objectivity and had sought “certain assurances” before finally agreeing to lead a UUP delegation to the opening round. Mitchell, at an impromptu news conference in Belfast, says he plans to show “fairness and impartiality.”

The attitudes of the two unionist parties appear to reflect concern that the IRA would declare a ceasefire before the talks open, or during the early stages, technically clearing the way for Sinn Féin participation. David Wilshire, a senior Conservative member of Britain’s Parliament, who supports the unionist cause, says that a ceasefire by the IRA now would be a “cynical ploy.” He adds that “the government should not fall for it.”

Sinn Féin leaders, meanwhile, meet on Saturday, June 8, and announced that regardless of the IRA’s intentions, Adams and other Sinn Féin leaders will turn up at the opening session and demand to be admitted. They cite the party’s strong showing at special elections in May to the peace forum at which they obtain 15 percent of the vote and win a strong mandate from Catholic voters in West Belfast.

It is “the British government’s responsibility” to urge the IRA to renew its truce, says Martin McGuinness, Adams’s deputy. Yet Adams himself makes a direct approach to the IRA. This is confirmed by Albert Reynolds, the former Irish Taoiseach. He says that Adams has advised him that he is about to make a new ceasefire appeal to the IRA leadership. “I am now satisfied Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin will seek an early reinstatement of the ceasefire which, of course, has not broken down in Northern Ireland. I see a set of similar elements to those in 1994, which brought about the ceasefire, now coming together. Everyone must now compromise,” Reynolds says.

On June 8, the IRA tells the British Broadcasting Corporation that its military council has called a meeting to examine the agenda for the Northern Ireland talks.

(From:”Hopes for N. Ireland Talks Rely on Squeezing the IRA” by Alexander MacLeod, The Christian Science Monitor, June 10, 1996)


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The Coagh Ambush

coagh-county-tyroneThe Coagh ambush takes place in Coagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, on June 3, 1991, during The Troubles, when a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) active service unit from its East Tyrone Brigade is ambushed by the British Army‘s Special Air Service (SAS) while on its way to kill a part-time member of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR). The ambush results in the deaths of all three IRA men involved.

The series of killings which lead to the Coagh ambush begin on April 26 1988, when a 23-year-old UDR soldier from Coagh, Edward Gibson, is shot dead by an IRA unit at Ardboe while at work for Cookstown Council on a bin lorry. The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) retaliates by murdering Phelim McNally, brother of local Sinn Féin councillor Francie McNally, on November 24, 1988. This is followed by an IRA attack upon a car maintenance garage business owned by retired UDR soldier Leslie Dallas on March 7, 1989, in which Dallas, along with two civilian pensioners that are in the premises at the time of the attack, are all murdered by machine gun fire from a passing vehicle, the IRA attackers driving off afterwards cheering as reported by eyewitnesses in the vicinity.

The tit-for-tat campaign around Coagh continues on November 29 1989, when UVF gunmen attack a pub owned by IRA member Liam Ryan, shooting Ryan dead. A customer in the premises is also killed in the incident. On March 8, 1990, part-time UDR soldier and construction worker Thomas Jamison is killed by the IRA in a gun and grenade ambush attack on a lorry he is driving near Donaghmore, while delivering concrete to a British Army base. On March 3, 1991, the Ulster Volunteer Force carries out an attack at the village of Cappagh, killing three IRA members. On April 9, 1991, the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade shoots dead Derek Ferguson in Coagh, a cousin of local Member of Parliament Reverend William McCrea, stating afterward that he was a paramilitary with the Ulster Volunteer Force. Ferguson’s family subsequently refutes that he had anything to do with Loyalist paramilitarism.

At 7:30 AM on June 3, 1991, three Tyrone IRA paramilitaries, Tony Doris (21), Michael “Pete” Ryan (37) and Lawrence McNally (39), drive a stolen Vauxhall Cavalier from Moneymore, County Londonderry to the village of Coagh, crossing the border of counties Londonderry and Tyrone, to kill a part-time Ulster Defence Regiment soldier, who is in his civilian life a contractor that works with the security forces. Their intent, however, is known to the British security forces, having been revealed by either a Crown agent within the IRA itself or from covert technical surveillance. In consequence a detachment from the British Army’s Special Air Service is lying in wait on both sides of Coagh’s main street, and also in a red Bedford lorry at the scene.

The stolen car is driven by Doris towards the centre of the village, its journey from Moneymore being tracked on the ground and in the air. At the scene of the ambush the British Army has set up a “decoy” target for the IRA to go for in the form of an SAS trooper who is pretending to be their intended victim, sitting in his car at a regular spot while waiting to pick up a friend on their way to work, which IRA intelligence had established as a behavioral pattern of their intended victim. When the stolen car carrying the IRA men approaches the scene, the Special Air Service detachment opens sustained automatic fire upon it from close range. Doris is immediately hit and the out-of-control car crashes into two nearby parked cars. The shooting continues until the car explodes in flames. According to an eyewitness, one of the IRA men in the car returns fire from within the vehicle after the crash.

Some reports claim at least two of the IRA men attempt to exit the crashed car and are subsequently found lying half out of its doors by the later police investigation of the scene. Relatives of the IRA men subsequently state that they had received information from the scene that two of the IRA attackers had fled on foot from the car after the crash, but had been pursued after and shot down by the British Army in the vicinity, with their bodies being taken back to the car, which is subsequently reported to be riddled with over 200 bullet holes. A Royal Ulster Constabulary crime-scene report states that a balaclava belonging to one of the IRA men is found some distance away from the vehicle.

The bodies of Doris, Ryan and McNally are badly burned and have to be identified by police using their dental records. Two rifles are recovered from within the burned-out stolen car and subsequent police forensic examination reveals that they had both been used in the multiple murders at Leslie Dallas’s garage in March 1989.

(Pictured: Looking towards Coagh village, from the County Londonderry side)


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Official Irish Republican Army Declares Ceasefire

official-ira-ceasefire-1972The Official Irish Republican Army (IRA) announces a ceasefire on May 29, 1972. This marks the end of the Official IRA’s paramilitary campaign. The organization, however, reserves the right of self-defence against attacks by the British Army and sectarian groups. The Provisional Irish Republican Army dismisses the truce as having “little effect” on the situation.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, welcomes the move and a spokesperson says it is “a step in the right direction.”

A statement is read out from Dublin after the previous night’s meeting of the executive of the Northern Republican Clubs, a political movement allied to the IRA. It states, “The overwhelming desire of the great majority of all the people of the north is for an end to military actions by all sides.”

It goes on to say that a suspension of activities will be a chance to prevent all-out civil war in Ulster. The group insists it will continue a campaign of civil disobedience and the political struggle until its demands are met, namely:

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army are the first to benefit from such a ceasefire as they have been the primary targets of the IRA. Residents of Belfast in particular have been worn down by the four-year campaign of violence and this news is very welcome there.

Father Hugh O’Neill, who leads a Londonderry peace movement, says, “Please God, everyone will now sit down and begin to talk.”


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Birth of Irish Republican Joe Cahill

joe-cahillJoe Cahill, a prominent figure in the Irish Republican movement in Northern Ireland and former Chief of Staff of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Belfast on May 19, 1920.

Cahill is educated at St. Mary’s Christian Brothers’ Grammar School. At age 14 he leaves school to assist in his father’s print shop. Soon after, he joins the Catholic Young Men’s Society, which campaigns on social issues with a focus on eradicating moneylenders from working-class areas of Belfast, as they often charge usurious interest rates. At the age of seventeen, he joins Na Fianna Éireann, a republican-orientated Scouting movement. Na Fianna Eireann is regarded as the “Junior Irish Republican Army.”

Cahill joins the local Clonard-based ‘C’ Company of the Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army in 1938. Four years later, during an anniversary march by the IRA for the Easter Rising, he gets into a shootout with five other IRA men against four Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers. Several men are wounded and Constable Patrick Murphy is killed. Cahill and four of the other men spend time in prison in Belfast. The IRA declares a formal ceasefire in 1945. Afterwards, republican prisoners begin to be released. Cahill is released in October 1949.

The IRA launches a new campaign in 1956. The IRA border campaign attacks ten targets in six counties, damaging bridges, courthouses and border roads. By 1957, three RUC officers and seven republicans have been killed during the campaign. Cahill is arrested and interned in January 1957 with several other republicans. He is released from internment in April 1961. Following his release from prison, he is disappointed at the direction of the IRA and resigns from the organisation around 1962.

In 1969, Cahill is a key figure in the founding of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. During his time in the Provisional IRA, he helps import weapons and raise financial support. He serves as the chief of staff in 1972, but is arrested the following year when a ship importing weapons was intercepted.

After his release, Cahill continues to serve on the IRA Army Council and leads all financial dealings for Sinn Féin. In the 1990s, the IRA and Sinn Féin begin to work on seeking peace. Cahill serves on the council that calls a cessation on July 21, 1996. He attends several of the talks that finally lead to the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998. Shortly after the agreement is made, he resigns as treasurer of Sinn Féin. To honour his service, he is made honorary Sinn Féin Vice-President for life. He serves the Republican movement in Ireland all his life, as one of the longest-serving political activists in Ireland of any political party.

Cahill dies at age 84 in Belfast on July 23, 2004. He had been diagnosed with asbestosis, which he probably developed while working at the Harland & Wolff shipyards in his twenties. He and several other former shipyard workers later sue the company for their exposure to the dangerous substances but only win minimal compensation.


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The Battle at Springmartin

kelly-bar-bombingThe Battle at Springmartin, a series of gun battles in Belfast, Northern Ireland, begins on May 13, 1972 and continues into the following day. It involves the British Army, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

The night before the bombing, snipers from the UVF West Belfast Brigade take up position along the second floor of an abandoned row of flats at the edge of the Ulster Protestant Springmartin estate. The flats overlooked the Catholic Ballymurphy estate. Rifles, mostly World War II stock, are ferried to the area from dumps in the Shankill Road.

The violence begins shortly after 5:00 PM on Saturday, May 13, 1972, when a car bomb, planted by Ulster loyalists, explodes without warning outside the crowded Kelly’s Bar, at the junction of the Springfield Road and Whiterock Road. The pub is in a mainly Irish Catholic and nationalist area of Ballymurphy and most of its customers are from the area. At the time of the blast, the pub is crowded with men watching an association football match between England and West Germany on colour television. Following the blast the UVF snipers open fire on the survivors. This begins the worst fighting in Northern Ireland since the suspension of the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the imposition of direct rule from London.

Sixty-three people are injured, eight of them seriously. John Moran, age 19, who had been working at Kelly’s as a part-time barman, dies of his injuries on May 23.

For the rest of the night and throughout the next day, local IRA units fight gun battles with both the UVF and British Army. Most of the fighting takes place along the interface between the Catholic Ballymurphy and Ulster Protestant Springmartin housing estates, and the British Army base that sits between them. Five civilians (four Catholics, one Protestant), a British soldier and a member of the IRA Youth Section are killed in the violence. Four of the dead are teenagers.

At first, the British Army claims that the blast had been an “accident” caused by a Provisional IRA bomb. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, tells the House of Commons on May 18 that the blast is caused by a Provisional IRA bomb that exploded prematurely. However, locals suspect that the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) had planted the bomb. Republican sources say that IRA volunteers would not risk storing such a large amount of explosives in such a crowded pub. It later emerges that the bomb had indeed been planted by loyalists.

A memorial plaque on the site of the former pub names three members of staff who lost their lives as a result of the bomb and the gun battles that followed. It reads:

This plaque marks the spot
where Kelly’s Bar once stood
and here on 13th May 1972
a no warning Loyalist car bomb exploded.
As a result, 66 people were injured
and three innocent members of staff
of Kelly’s Bar lost their lives.
They were:
Tommy McIlroy (died 13th May 1972)
John Moran (died from his injuries 23rd May 1972)
Gerard Clarke (died from his injuries 6th September 1989)
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a namacha”


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Death of IRA Blanket Protester Kieran Nugent

kieran-nugentKieran Nugent, volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army, dies from a heart attack on May 4, 2000. He is best known for being the first person to start the blanket protest against the British Government’s treatment of republican prisoners.

Born in 1958, Nugent’s adolescence comes at a time when Northern Ireland is exploding into turmoil. On March 20, 1973, at the age of 15, he is standing with a friend on the corner of Merrion Street and Grosvenor Road when a car pulls up beside them and one of the occupants asks them for directions. Another occupant of the vehicle then opens fire with a submachine gun. Nugent is seriously wounded after being shot eight times in the chest, arms and back by the Ulster loyalists in the car. His friend, Bernard McErlean, aged 16, is killed.

At some point afterwards, Nugent joins the Provisional IRA. At the age of sixteen he is arrested by the British Army and spends five months on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol. When he is eventually tried, the case against him is withdrawn and he is released. He becomes an active volunteer until his arrest and internment, without trial, on February 9, 1975.

Nugent spends nine months in Cage 4 at the Long Kesh Detention Centre until November 12, 1975. He is arrested and imprisoned again on May 12, 1976, following the hijacking of a bus. On September 14, 1976 he is sentenced to three years and becomes the first Republican prisoner convicted since the withdrawal of Special Category Status for those convicted through juryless courts, due to the new British policy of ‘criminalisation’ introduced that March. Among other things, this change in policy means convicted paramilitaries can no longer wear their own clothes. Viewing himself as a political prisoner and not a criminal, he refuses to wear the uniform saying the prison guards would have to “…nail it to my back.” This begins the blanket protest.

Nugent is soon joined by Jackie McMullan, the next prisoner to don the blanket, followed by six more Irish republican prisoners from the Beechmount area of Belfast. By Christmas 1976 the number of participants has risen to over forty prisoners. Most incoming republican prisoners emulate Nugent and this starts five years of prison protests in pursuit of political status, which culminates in the 1981 Irish hunger strike and the death of eleven, including seven IRA and three Irish National Liberation Army prisoners.

Nugent, the father of four, is found dead of a heart attack at his home in Anderstown, Belfast on May 4, 2000.


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Execution of Major Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith

geoffrey-lee-compton-smithMajor Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith (DSO) of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers is captured and executed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 30, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

Compton-Smith was born in 1889 in South Kensington, London. After finishing school, he decides not to follow the family tradition of studying law. He actually wants to become an artist, but his father insists that he join the army. He studies at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and during World War I his regiment is sent to France. In 1917 he is wounded at the Battle of Arras, but he continues to fight on. He is awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). In 1919 he is sent to serve in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence.

In 1919 Compton-Smith is commander of the British Army base at Ballyvonane, near Buttevant, but he is also an intelligence officer. As an officer he also sometimes presides over courts martial. In January 1921, for instance, three IRA volunteers are tried by him for involvement in the ambush at Shinanagh, near Charleville, and he sentences them each to six months.

February 1921 is a bad time for the IRA in County Cork. They suffer major losses at the ambushes at Clonmult and Mourne Abbey, and several volunteers are taken prisoner, four of whom are sentenced to death. The IRA believes that these death sentences might be commuted if a British officer is held as a hostage. This leads to the capture of Compton-Smith. On April 16, 1921 he travels to Blarney, supposedly on a sketching trip but actually to meet a nurse in Victoria Barracks with whom he is having an affair. The IRA has spies in Victoria Barracks who likely tip off the IRA that Compton-Smith is coming to Blarney. A squad led by Frank Busteed easily capture him after he gets off the train.

Busteed then meets with Jackie O’Leary, the IRA battalion commander. It is decided that Donoughmore is the perfect place to keep a hostage, because parts of the parish are remote and the IRA is strong there.

On April 18, under the cover of darkness, Compton-Smith is transferred by car to Knockane House, an abandoned big house in Donoughmore. The following night he is moved again, this time by pony and trap, to Barrahaurin, a remote townland in the Boggeragh Mountains. He is kept there for the last eleven days of his life, on the small farm of Jack and Mary Moynihan. He is held prisoner in a shed, always under guard. Every evening he is brought into the house, where he eats and stays at the fireside. He and his guards have conversations about history and politics.

The four IRA prisoners are executed on April 28, 1921. On April 30, O’Leary informs Compton-Smith that he is going to be executed. He then writes a final letter to his wife. He tells her that he will die with her name on his lips and her face before his eyes and that he will “die like an Englishman and a soldier.” He also writes a letter to his regiment and one to Lt. General Strickland.

After finishing his letters, Compton-Smith is led up into Barrahaurin bog behind the Moynihan house, to a place where his grave had already been dug, and is given a final cigarette. In his witness statement Maurice Brew writes, “When removed to the place of execution he placed his cigarette case in his breast pocket of his tunic … He then lighted a cigarette and said that when he dropped the cigarette it could be taken as a signal by the execution squad to open fire.”

It is not until late May, following the discovery of the cache of letters in a Dublin raid, that the Compton-Smith family is informed of his death. His father, William, then starts a campaign to find his son’s body. He wrote letters to MPs and to the British Army, seeking information and help. He also writes to Erskine Childers but gets no reply. He offers a reward of £500 for information, but only The Irish Times agrees to print his advertisement.

In November 1921 a cousin of Compton-Smith’s wife, Gladys, meets Michael Collins in London and asks him for help in finding the body. Correspondence between Collins and the Compton-Smith family suggests that Collins is trying to help in 1922, but he fails to get any results before he is assassinated at Béal na Bláth later that same year.

On March 3, 1926 Compton-Smith’s grave is discovered by the Gardaí. The newspapers report that the remains, because of the conditions of the bog, “were not so badly decomposed as to render identification impossible.” The body is brought to Collins Barracks in Cork. On March 5 the Gardaí send a telegram to the Compton-Smiths, informing them that the body has been located.

The reburial of Compton-Smith is carried out with great dignity on March 19, 1926. The Irish Army escorts the coffin from Collins Barracks to Penrose Quay, where British forces from Spike Island take the coffin on board a boat. While the boat travels down the River Lee, the Irish Army’s guard of honour presents arms and sounds the “Last Post.” The British then bring the coffin to Carlisle Fort, near Whitegate, where it was buried in the in the British Military Cemetery with full military honours.


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Death of IRA Volunteer Séamus McElwaine

seamus-turlough-mcelwaineSéamus Turlough McElwaine, a volunteer in the South Fermanagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), is killed on April 26, 1986 by the Special Air Service (SAS) while on active duty with Seán Lynch, who is seriously injured in the shooting.

McElwaine is born on April 1, 1960, the oldest of eight children, in the townland of Knockacullion, beside the hamlet and townland of Knockatallon, near the village of Scotstown in the north of County Monaghan. At the age of 14, he takes his first steps towards becoming involved in physical force republicanism when he joins Na Fianna Éireann. Two years later he turns down an opportunity to study in the United States and joins the Irish Republican Army (IRA), stating “no one will ever be able to accuse me of running away.”

McElwaine becomes Officer Commanding of the IRA in County Fermanagh by the age of 19. On February 5, 1980, he kills off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) corporal Aubrey Abercrombie as he drives a tractor in the townland of Drumacabranagher, near Florencecourt. Later that year, on September 23, he kills off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Reserve Constable Ernest Johnston outside his home in Rosslea. He is suspected of involvement in at least ten other killings.

On March 14, 1981, a detachment of the British Army surrounds a farmhouse near Rosslea, containing McElwaine and three other IRA members. Despite being armed with four rifles, including an Armalite, the IRA members surrender and are arrested. While on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol, McElwaine stands in the February 1982 Irish general election as an independent candidate for Cavan–Monaghan and receives 3,974 votes (6.84% of the vote). In May 1982 he is convicted of murdering the RUC and UDR members, with the judge describing him as a “dangerous killer” and recommending he spend at least 30 years in prison.

On September 25, 1983, McElwaine is involved in the Maze Prison escape, the largest break-out of prisoners in Europe since World War II and in British prison history. Thirty-eight republican prisoners, armed with six handguns, hijack a prison meals lorry and smash their way out of the prison. After the escape McElwaine joins an IRA Active Service Unit operating in the area of the border between Counties Monaghan and Fermanagh. The unit targets police and military patrols with gun and bomb attacks, while sleeping rough in barns and outhouses to avoid capture.

McElwaine holds a meeting with Pádraig McKearney and Jim Lynagh, members of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade, in which they discuss forming a flying column aimed at destroying police stations to create IRA-controlled zones within Northern Ireland. However, this plan never materialises. McKearney and Lynagh are later themselves killed in the Loughgall ambush.

On April 26, 1986, McElwaine and another IRA member, Seán Lynch, are preparing to ambush a British Army patrol near Rosslea, County Fermanagh when they are ambushed themselves by a detachment from the Special Air Service Regiment. Both are wounded but Lynch manages to crawl away. A January 1993 inquest jury returns a verdict that McElwaine had been unlawfully killed. The jury rules the soldiers had opened fire without giving him a chance to surrender, and that he was shot dead five minutes after being wounded. The Director of Public Prosecutions requests a full report on the inquest from the RUC, but no one has been prosecuted for McElwaine’s death.

McElwaine is buried in Scotstown, with his funeral attended by an estimated 3,000 people, including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. McGuinness gives an oration describing McElwaine as “a brave intelligent soldier, a young man who gave up his youth to fight for the freedom of his country” and “an Irish freedom fighter murdered by British terrorists.”

In 1987 McElwaine’s father, Jimmy, a longtime member of Monaghan County Council, became the chairman of the Séamus McElwain Cumann of Republican Sinn Féin.

On April 1, 1990 a monument to McElwaine is erected in Corlat, County Monaghan. The oration is given by a Catholic priest, Father Piaras Ó Dúill, who compares McElwaine to Nelson Mandela, saying they both had the same attitude to oppression and both refused to denounce principle. The inscription on the monument is a quote from Patrick Pearse: “As long as Ireland is unfree the only honourable attitude for Irishmen and Irishwomen is an attitude of revolt.” A monument to McElwaine and six other republicans is erected in Rosslea in 1998, and unveiled by veteran republican Joe Cahill.