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


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Birth of Rory O’Connor, Irish Republican Revolutionary

Rory O’Connor (Irish: Ruairí Ó Conchubhair), Irish republican revolutionary, is born in Kildare Street, Dublin, on November 28, 1883.

O’Connor is educated in St. Mary’s College, Dublin, and then in Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare, a public school run by the Jesuit order. It is also attended by the man who later condemns O’Connor to death, his close friend Kevin O’Higgins. He studies experimental physics, logic, and metaphysics. He also attends the College of Science, Merrion Street. He takes a BA (1906) and receives a B.Eng (1911). In 1910, he takes his Bachelor of Engineering and Bachelor of Arts degrees at University College Dublin (UCD), then known as the National University. Prominent in the university’s Literary and Historical Society, he advocates militant constitutional nationalism as one of the many society members active in the Young Ireland branch of the United Irish League.

O’Connor goes to work as a railway engineer, then he moves to Canada where he is an engineer in the Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian Northern Railway, being responsible for the construction of 1,500 miles (2,400 km) of railroad. He returns to Ireland in 1915 at Joseph Plunkett‘s request and works for Dublin Corporation as a civil engineer. He joins the Catholic nationalist organisation the Ancient Order of Hibernians and serves in the Easter Rising in 1916 in the GPO as an intelligence officer. He is wounded by a sniper during reconnaissance at the Royal College of Surgeons.

During the subsequent Irish War of Independence (1919-21) O’Connor is Director of Engineering of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), a military organisation descended from the Irish Volunteers. The specialist skills of engineering and signaling are essential to the development of the 5th Battalion, Dublin Brigade. Its men are forbidden frontline duty as their contribution is regarded as vital, their number too small. But units only expand on an incremental local basis, disappointing General Richard Mulcahy.

O’Connor is also involved in the Republican breakout from Strangeways Prison in Manchester, England, on October 25, 1919. Michael Collins takes a particular interest in the escape, and actually visits Austin Stack in the prison under a false name to finalise the arrangements. IRA men hold up traffic while a ladder is propped up against the outside of a prison wall. In all six prisoners escape, among them Piaras Beaslaí.

O’Connor refuses to accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which establishes the Irish Free State. It is ratified by a narrow vote in Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament. He and many like him feel that the Treaty copper-fastens the partition of the six counties of Northern Ireland and undermines the Irish Republic declared in 1916.

On January 10, a meeting is held at O’Connor’s home in Monkstown, Dublin. In attendance are all senior anti-Treaty IRA officers except Liam Mellows. O’Connor is appointed to chair this grouping, known as the Republican Military Council. It is agreed that an IRA convention should be called without delay; failing this, a separate GHQ will be formed. At a further meeting in O’Connor’s office on March 20, a temporary IRA GHQ staff is elected under Liam Lynch as chief of staff. O’Connor remains in charge of engineering.

On March 26, 1922, the anti-Treaty officers of the IRA hold a convention in Dublin, in which they reject the Treaty and repudiate the authority of the Dáil. However, they are prepared to discuss a way forward. The convention meets again on April 9. It creates a new army constitution and places the army under a newly elected executive of 16 men, including O’Connor, that are to choose an army council and headquarters staff. Asked by a journalist if this development means the anti-Treatyites ware proposing a “military dictatorship” in Ireland, O’Connor replies, “You can take it that way if you want.”

On April 14, 1922, O’Connor is one of a number of IRA leaders in a 200-strong force that occupies the Four Courts building in the centre of Dublin in defiance of the Provisional Government. They intend to provoke the British troops, who are still in the country, into attacking them, which they believe will restart the war with Britain and re-unite the IRA against their common enemy. They also occupy other smaller buildings regarded as being associated with the former British administration, such as the Ballast Office and the Freemasons‘ Hall in Molesworth Street, but the Four Courts remains the focus of interest. On June 15, O’Connor sends out men to collect the rifles that belong to the mutineers of the Civic Guards.

Michael Collins tries desperately to persuade the IRA men to leave the Four Courts. At the Third IRA Convention on June 18, the Executive is split over whether the Irish Government should demand that all British troops leave within 72 hours. A motion to this effect, opposed by Lynch, is narrowly defeated, whereupon O’Connor and others leave the meeting to set up a separate GHQ. The IRA effectively splits into two factions opposed to the government.

On June 22, 1922, Sir Henry Wilson is assassinated in London by two IRA men, Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, each a former British soldier. Some now argue that this was done on the orders of Michael Collins, who had been a close friend of Dunne’s in the London Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). Prime Minister David Lloyd George writes an angry letter to Collins, which includes the line “…still less can Mr. Rory O’Connor be permitted to remain his followers and his arsenal in open rebellion in the heart of Dublin… organizing and sending out from this centre enterprises of murder not only in the area of your Government…”

On June 28, 1922, after the Four Courts garrison has kidnapped J. J. “Ginger” O’Connell, a general in the National Army, Collins gives orders for the shelling of the Four Courts with borrowed artillery lent by Winston Churchill. The shelling leads to the Four Courts catching fire, damaging parts of the building in addition to destroying numerous government documents. O’Connor is one of 130 men that surrender on June 30, some of whom are arrested and imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison. This incident marks the official start of the Irish Civil War, as fighting breaks out openly around the country between pro- and anti-Treaty factions.

On December 8, 1922, along with three other republicans, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, captured with the fall of the Four Courts, O’Connor is executed by firing squad in reprisal for the anti-Treaty IRA’s killing of Free State Teachta Dála (TD) Sean Hales. The execution order is signed by Kevin O’Higgins. O’Connor had been best man at O’Higgins’s wedding on October 27, 1921. Their deaths remain a symbol of the bitterness and division of the Irish Civil War. O’Connor, one of 77 republicans executed by the Provisional Government, is seen as a martyr by the Republican movement in Ireland.

On O’Connor’s execution, the equestrienne Joan de Sales La Terriere, a close friend of his, names her son in his honour. “Rory O’Connor Place” in Arklow is named in his honour. There is also a pub in Crumlin, Dublin, named after him and a housing estate near Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, called “Rory O’Connor Park.” A Sinn Féin cumann (UCD) is named after him.

(Pictured: Rory O’Connor addressing members of the IRA’s Dublin City Brigade at Smithfield, April 1922)


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Birth of Michael O’Riordan, Founder of the Communist Party of Ireland

Michael O’Riordan, the founder of the Communist Party of Ireland who also fights with the Connolly Column in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, is born at 37 Pope’s Quay, Cork, County Cork, on November 12, 1917.

O’Riordan is the youngest of five children. His parents come from the West Cork Gaeltacht of BallingearyGougane Barra. Despite his parents being native speakers of the Irish language, it is not until he is interned in the Curragh Camp during World War II that he learns Irish, being taught by fellow internee Máirtín Ó Cadhain, who goes on to lecture at Trinity College, Dublin.

As a teenager, O’Riordan joins the Irish nationalist youth movement, Fianna Éireann, and then the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The IRA at the time is inclined toward left-wing politics and socialism. Much of its activity concerns street fighting with the quasi-fascist Blueshirt movement and he fights Blueshirt fascism on the streets of Cork in 1933–34. He is friends with left-wing inclined republicans such as Peadar O’Donnell and Frank Ryan, and in 1934, he follows them into the Republican Congress, a short-lived socialist republican party.

O’Riordan joins the Communist Party of Ireland in 1935 while still in the IRA and works on the communist newspaper The Irish Workers’ Voice. In 1937, following the urgings of Peadar O’Donnell, several hundred Irishmen, mostly IRA or ex-IRA men, go to fight for the Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War with the XVth International Brigade. They are motivated in part by enmity towards the 800 or so Blueshirts, led by Eoin O’Duffy who go to Spain to fight on the “nationalist” side in the Irish Brigade. He accompanies a party led by Frank Ryan. In the Republic’s final offensive of July 25, 1938, he carries the flag of Catalonia across the River Ebro. On August 1, he is severely injured by shrapnel on the Ebro front. He is repatriated to Ireland the following month, after the International Brigades are disbanded.

In 1938 O’Riordan is offered an Irish Army commission by the Irish Free State but chooses instead to train IRA units in Cork. As a result of his IRA activities during World War II, or the Emergency as it is known in neutral Ireland, he is interned in the Curragh internment camp from 1939 until 1943 where he is Officer Commanding of the Cork Hut and partakes in Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s Gaelic League classes as well as publishing Splannc (Irish for “Spark,” named after Vladimir Lenin‘s newspaper).

In 1944 O’Riordan is founding secretary of the Liam Mellows Branch of the Labour Party and in 1945 is a founding secretary of the Cork Socialist Party, whose other notable members include Derry Kelleher, Kevin Neville and Máire Keohane-Sheehan.

O’Riordan subsequently works as a bus conductor in Cork and is active in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU). In 1946 he stands as a Cork Socialist Party candidate in the Cork Borough by-election and afterwards moves to Dublin where he lives in Victoria Street with his wife Kay Keohane of Clonakilty, continues to work as a bus conductor and remains active in the ITGWU.

In 1947, O’Riordan is a founding secretary of the Irish Workers’ League and general secretary thereafter, and of its successor organisation the Irish Workers’ Party from 1962–70.

In the 1960s, O’Riordan is a pivotal figure in the Dublin Housing Action Committee which agitates for clearances of Dublin’s slums and for the building of social housing. There, he befriends Fr. Austin Flannery, leading Minister for Finance and future Taoiseach Charles Haughey to dismiss Flannery as “a gullible cleric” while the Minister for Local Government, Kevin Boland, describes him as a “so-called cleric” for sharing a platform with O’Riordan.

In all O’Riordan runs for election five times, campaigning throughout for the establishment of a socialist republic in Ireland but given Ireland’s Catholic conservatism and fear of communism, he does so without success. He does, however, receive playwright Sean O’Casey‘s endorsement in 1951.

O’Riordan’s participation in the Spanish Civil War is always an important part of his political identity. In 1966 he attends the International Brigades’ Reunion in Berlin and is instrumental in having Frank Ryan’s remains repatriated from Germany to Ireland in 1979.

O’Riordan is a member of the Irish Chile Solidarity Committee and attends the 1st Party Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in 1984. He also campaigns on behalf of the Birmingham Six and attends their Appeal trial in 1990. He serves as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland (1970–83) and as National Chairman of the party (1983–88). He publishes many articles under the auspices of the CPI.

O’Riordan’s last major public outing comes in 2005 at the re-dedication of the memorial outside Dublin’s Liberty Hall to the Irish veterans of the Spanish Civil War. He and other veterans are received by President of Ireland Mary McAleese. He is also presented with Cuba’s Medal of Friendship by the Cuban Consul Teresita Trujillo to Ireland on behalf of Cuban President Fidel Castro.

In 1969, according to Soviet dissident Vasili Mitrokhin, O’Riordan is approached by IRA leaders Cathal Goulding and Seamus Costello with a view to obtaining guns from the Soviet KGB to defend Irish republican areas of Belfast during the communal violence that marks the outbreak of the Troubles. Mitrokhin alleges that O’Riordan then contacts the Kremlin, but the consignment of arms does not reach Ireland until 1972. The operation is known as Operation Splash. The IRA splits in the meantime between the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA and it is the latter faction who receives the Soviet arms. Mitrokhin’s allegations are repeated in Boris Yeltsin‘s autobiography.

O’Riordan’s book, Connolly Column – The Story of the Irishmen who fought for the Spanish Republic 1936–1939, is published in 1979 and deals with the Irish volunteers of the International Brigade who fought in support of the Spanish Republic against Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). An updated version of the book is reprinted in 2005 and is launched by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr. Michael Conaghan at a book launch at SIPTU headquarters, Liberty Hall. The book is the inspiration for Irish singer-songwriter Christy Moore‘s famous song “Viva la Quinta Brigada.”

In 1991, O’Riordan’s wife dies at the age of 81 at their home. He continues to live in their family home before moving to Glasnevin in 2000 to be close to his son Manus who lives nearby. He lives there until falling ill in November 2005 and is taken to the Mater Hospital. His health rapidly deteriorates and he quickly develops Alzheimer’s disease. Soon afterwards he is moved to St. Mary’s Hospital in the Phoenix Park where he spends the final few months of his life, before his death at the age of 88 on May 18, 2006.

O’Riordan’s funeral at Glasnevin Crematorium is attended by over a thousand mourners. Following a wake the previous night at Finglas Road, hundreds turn up outside the house of his son Manus and traffic grounds to a halt as family, friends and comrades – many of whom are waving the red flag of the Communist Party of Ireland – escort O’Riordan to Glasnevin Cemetery. A secular ceremony takes place led by Manus O’Riordan, Head of Research at SIPTU, with contributions from O’Riordan’s family, Communist Party general secretary Eugene McCartan and IBMT representative Pauline Frasier.

The funeral congregation includes politicians such as Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte, his predecessor Ruairi Quinn, party front-bencher Joan Burton, Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe and councillor Larry O’Toole, ex-Workers’ Party leader Tomás Mac Giolla and former Fianna Fáil MEP Niall Andrews. Also in attendance are union leaders Jack O’Connor (SIPTU), Mick O’Reilly (ITGWU) and David Begg (ICTU). Actors Patrick Bergin, Jer O’Leary, singer Ronnie Drew, artist Robert Ballagh, and newsreader Anne Doyle are also among the mourners. Tributes are paid by President of Ireland Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Labour Party TDs Ruairi Quinn and Michael D. Higgins.


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Birth of Seamus Twomey, Two Time Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA

Seamus Twomey (Irish: Séamus Ó Tuama), Irish republican activist, militant, and twice chief of staff of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is born on November 5, 1919 on Marchioness Street in Belfast.

Twomey lives at 6 Sevastopol Street in the Falls district. Known as “Thumper” owing to his short temper and habit of banging his fist on tables, he receives little education and is a bookmaker‘s “runner.” His father is a volunteer in the 1920s. In Belfast he lives comfortably with his wife, Rosie, whom he marries in 1946. Together they have sons and daughters.

Twomey begins his involvement with the Irish Republican Army in the 1930s and is interned in Northern Ireland during the 1940s on the prison ship HMS Al Rawdah and later in Crumlin Road Jail in Belfast. Rosie, his wife, is also held prisoner at the women prison, Armagh Jail, in Northern Ireland. He opposes the left-wing shift of Cathal Goulding in the 1960s, and in 1968, helps set up the breakaway Andersonstown Republican Club, later the Roddy McCorley Society.

In 1969, Twomey is prominent in the establishment of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. By 1972, he is Officer Commanding (OC) of the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade when it launches its bomb campaign of the city, including Bloody Friday when nine people are killed. During the 1970s, the leadership of the Belfast Brigade of the IRA is largely in the hands of Twomey and Ivor Bell.

In March 1973, Twomey is first appointed IRA Chief of Staff after the arrest of Joe Cahill. He remains in this position until his arrest in October 1973 by the Garda Síochána. Three weeks later, on October 31, 1973, the IRA organises the helicopter escape of Twomey and his fellow IRA members J. B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon, when an active service unit hijacks and forces the pilot at gunpoint to land the helicopter in the training yard of Mountjoy Prison. After his escape, he returns to his membership of IRA Army Council.

By June/July 1974, Twomey is IRA Chief of Staff for a second time. He takes part in the Feakle talks between the IRA and Protestant clergymen in December 1974. In the IRA truce which follows in 1975, he is largely unsupportive and wants to fight on in what he sees as “one big push to finish it once and for all.”

IRA informer Sean O’Callaghan claims that on January 5, 1976, Twomey and Brian Keenan give the go-ahead for the sectarian Kingsmill massacre, when ten unarmed Ulster Protestant workmen are executed by the Provisional IRA in retaliation for a rash of loyalist killings of Catholics in the area. It is Keenan’s view, O’Callaghan claims, that “The only way to knock the nonsense out of the Prods is to be ten times more savage.”

Twomey is dedicated to paramilitarism as a means of incorporating Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland. In an interview with French television on July 11, 1977, he declares that although the IRA had waged a campaign for seven years at that point, it can fight on for another 70 against the British state in Northern Ireland and in England. He supports the bombing of wealthy civilian targets, which he justifies on class lines. On October 29, 1977, for example, a no-warning bomb at an Italian restaurant in Mayfair kills one diner and wounds 17 others. Three more people are killed in similar blasts in Chelsea and Mayfair the following month. He says, “By hitting Mayfair restaurants, we were hitting the type of person that could bring pressure to bear on the British government.”

In December 1977, Twomey is captured in Sandycove, Dublin, by the Garda Síochána, who had been tipped off by Belgian police about a concealed arms shipment, to be delivered to a bogus company with an address in the area. They swoop on a house in Martello Terrace to discover Twomey outside in his car, wearing his trademark dark glasses. After a high-speed pursuit, he is recaptured in the centre of Dublin. The Gardaí later find documents in his possession outlining proposals for the structural reorganisation of the IRA according to the cell system. His arrest ends his tenure as IRA chief of staff. In the 1986 split over abstentionism, Twomey sides with the Gerry Adams leadership and remains with the Provisionals.

After a long illness from a heart condition, Twomey dies in Dublin on September 12, 1989. He is buried in the family plot in Milltown Cemetery, Belfast. His funeral is attended by about 2,000 people.


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The Mountjoy Prison Helicopter Escape

The Mountjoy Prison helicopter escape occurs on October 31, 1973 when three Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers escape from Mountjoy Prison in Dublin aboard a hijacked Alouette II helicopter, which briefly lands in the prison’s exercise yard. The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment to the Irish coalition government of the time, led by Fine Gael‘s Liam Cosgrave, which is criticised by opposition party Fianna Fáil. A manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána is launched for the escapees, one of whom, Seamus Twomey, is not recaptured until December 1977. The Wolfe Tones write a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which tops the Irish Singles Chart.

Following the outbreak of the Troubles in the late 1960s, the Provisional IRA conducts an armed campaign that seeks to create a united Ireland by ending Northern Ireland‘s status as part of the United Kingdom. As a result of increasing levels of violence in Northern Ireland, internment without trial is introduced there in August 1971, and in the Republic of Ireland the coalition government led by Fine Gael’s Liam Cosgrave is attempting to curb IRA activity. Fine Gael had come to power on a law and order ticket, with a policy of “getting tough on crime.” Suspected IRA members are arrested and accused of IRA membership by a superintendent in the Garda Síochána, a crime under the Offences against the State Acts. They are tried at the juryless Special Criminal Court in Dublin, where the traditional IRA policy of not recognising the court results in a fait accompli as no defence is offered and IRA membership carries a minimum mandatory one-year sentence, resulting in internment in all but name. In September 1973 IRA Chief of Staff Seamus Twomey appears at the Special Criminal Court charged with IRA membership, and states, “I refuse to recognise this British-orientated quisling court.” He is found guilty and receives a five-year sentence. By October 1973 the IRA’s command structure is seriously curbed, with Twomey and other senior republicans J. B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon all being held in Mountjoy Prison.

The IRA immediately begins making plans to break Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon out of the prison. The first attempt involves explosives that had been smuggled into the prison, which are to be used to blow a hole in a door which will give the prisoners access to the exercise yard. From there, they are to scale a rope ladder thrown over the exterior wall by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade who are to have a getaway car waiting to complete the escape. The plans when the prisoners cannot gain access to the exercise yard and the rope ladder is spotted, so the IRA begins making new escape plans. The idea of using a helicopter in an escape had been discussed before in a plot to break Gerry Adams out of Long Kesh internment camp but had been ruled out because of faster and more sophisticated British Army helicopters being stationed at a nearby base. The IRA’s GHQ staff approves the plan to break out Twomey, O’Hagan and Mallon, and arrangements are made to obtain a helicopter. A man with an American accent calling himself Mr. Leonard approaches the manager of Irish Helicopters at Dublin Airport, with a view to hiring a helicopter for an aerial photographic shoot in County Laois. After being shown the company’s fleet of helicopters, Leonard arranges to hire a five-seater Alouette II for October 31.

Leonard arrives at Irish Helicopters on October 31 and is introduced to the pilot of the helicopter, Captain Thompson Boyes. Boyes is instructed to fly to a field in Stradbally, in order to pick up Leonard’s photographic equipment. After landing Boyes sees two armed, masked men approaching the helicopter from nearby trees. He is held at gunpoint and told he will not be harmed if he follows instructions. Leonard leaves with one gunman, while the other gunman climbs aboard the helicopter armed with a pistol and an ArmaLite rifle. Boyes is instructed to fly towards Dublin following the path of railway lines and the Royal Canal, and is ordered not to register his flight path with Air Traffic Control. As the helicopter approaches Dublin, Boyes is informed of the escape plan and is instructed to land in the exercise yard at Mountjoy Prison.

In the prison’s exercise yard, the prisoners are watching a football match. Shortly after 3:35 p.m. the helicopter swings in to land in the prison yard, with Kevin Mallon directing the pilot using semaphore. A prison officer on duty initially takes no action as he believes the helicopter contains the Minister for Defence, Paddy Donegan. After prisoners surround the eight prison officers in the yard, fights break out as the officers realise an escape attempt is in progress. As other prisoners restrain the officers, Twomey, Mallon and O’Hagan board the helicopter. As the helicopter takes off, in the confusion one officer shouts, “Close the gates, close the fucking gates.” The helicopter flies north and lands at a disused racecourse in the Baldoyle area of Dublin, where the escapees are met by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade. Boyes is released unharmed, and the escapees are transferred to a taxi that had been hijacked earlier and are transported to safe houses.

The escape makes headlines around the world and is an embarrassment for Cosgrave’s government, which is criticised for “incompetence in security matters” by opposition party Fianna Fáil. An emergency debate on security is held in Dáil Éireann on November 1.

The IRA releases a statement on the escape, which reads, “Three republican prisoners were rescued by a special unit from Mountjoy Prison on Wednesday. The operation was a complete success and the men are now safe, despite a massive hunt by Free State forces.” Shortly after the escape Twomey gives an exclusive interview to German magazine Der Spiegel, where the reporter says people throughout Europe are joking about the incident as “the escape of the century.” Irish rebel band the Wolfe Tones writes a song celebrating the escape called “The Helicopter Song,” which is immediately banned by the government yet still tops the Irish Singles Chart after selling twelve thousand copies in a single week.

The escape results in all IRA prisoners being held at Mountjoy Prison and Curragh Camp being transferred to the maximum security Portlaoise Prison. In order to prevent any further escapes the perimeter of the prison is guarded by members of the Irish Army, and wires are erected over the prison yard to prevent any future helicopter escape. Cosgrave states there will be “no hiding place” for the escapees, and a manhunt involving twenty thousand members of the Irish Defence Forces and Garda Síochána ensues.

Mallon is recaptured at a Gaelic Athletic Association dance in a hotel near Portlaoise on December 10, 1973, and imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. He escapes from there in a mass break-out on August 18, 1974, when nineteen prisoners escape after overpowering guards and using gelignite to blast through the gates. He is recaptured in Foxrock in January 1975 and returned to Portlaoise Prison. O’Hagan is recaptured in Dublin in early 1975, and also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison. After the end of his original twelve-month sentence, he is immediately arrested and sentenced to a further two years imprisonment for escaping. Twomey evades recapture until December 2, 1977, when he is spotted sitting in a car in Sandycove by members of the Garda’s Special Branch who are investigating an arms shipment after a tip-off from police in Belgium. He drives away after spotting the officers, before being recaptured in the centre of Dublin after a high-speed car chase. He is also imprisoned in Portlaoise Prison until his release in 1982.

In 2021, Brendan Hughes publishes an autobiography Up Like a Bird, an account of the planning and organisation of the escape, co-authored with Doug Dalby.


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Birth of Declan Arthurs, Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Declan Arthurs, a Volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) East Tyrone Brigade in the mid-1980s, is born in Galbally, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, on October 28, 1965.

Arthurs is one of six children, and the fourth of Paddy and Amelia Arthurs. He works on the family farm learning how to drive diggers. He works as an agricultural contractor for the farm. He has one young daughter.

Arthurs joins the East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional IRA in 1982 in the wake of Martin Hurson‘s death on the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike. Hurson is also from Galbally like Arthurs, and Arthurs and his friends look up to Hurson. At the time he joins so do other young men from the same area, like Tony Gormley, Eugene Kelly, Seamus Donnelly and Martin McCaughey.

Over a year and a half year period in the mid-1980s the East Tyrone Brigade attacks and bombs Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks and stations in Ballygawley, Tynan, The Birches, Coalisland, Dungannon, Carrickmore and Castlederg. They bomb hotels and other businesses in Kildress, Ballyronan, Dungannon and Cookstown.

Arthurs takes part in two of the IRA’s biggest attacks of the 1980s. At the attack on the Ballygawley barracks in December 1985 and the attack on the RUC Birches barracks in August 1986, Arthurs is a key member of the team who drives a digger past a security fence, stops it outside the barracks, lights a fuse, runs to safety and wrecks the barracks with a 200-pound bomb in the JCB Digger.

Arthurs is killed along with seven other IRA Volunteers who are ambushed by the Special Air Service (SAS) during the Loughgall Ambush on May 8, 1987. Before the SAS fires he lights the 40-second fuse on the bomb and it destroys most of the station, injuring a number of British decoys inside. The Loughgall ambush is supposed to be a carbon copy attack of the bombing of The Birches barracks, with the IRA expecting no resistance. One of the photos of the aftermath of the ambush shows that Arthurs died with the Zippo lighter he used to light the fuse still in his hand.

Amelia Arthurs, Declan’s mother, says of the ambush in an interview to journalist Peter Taylor, “He was mowed down. He could have been taken prisoner. They knew that the ‘boys’ were coming and they lay in wait. The SAS never gave them a chance. Declan died for his country and I’m very proud of him. He was caught up in a war and he died.”

Arthurs is buried in St. John’s Cemetery, Galbally, beside IRA Volunteer Seamus Donnelly who also died in the Loughgall ambush.


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Real IRA Pledges Continuation of Campaign of Violence

On October 21, 2002, the Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA) pledges to continue their campaign of violence, ignoring a call by the prisoners in Portlaoise Prison to disband and confirm the organisation has split.

Hardliners on the outside, mostly from Northern Ireland, issue a statement warning people to stay away from British army barracks and police stations.

The caller to a newspaper in Derry says, “We warn all civilians to stay away from military installations and Crown Force personnel. A number of recent attacks have had to be aborted due to the presence of civilians in the vicinity. Anyone entering military installations does so at their own risk.”

No reference is made to a lengthy statement, issued over the previous weekend by prisoners in Portlaoise Prison, that calls for the “Army Council” to stand down.

The prisoners with the exception of three claim the present leadership’s “financial motivations far outweigh their political commitment.” The Real IRA, heavily involved in smuggling cigarettes, is estimated to amass nearly 5m a year. Nearly 40 prisoners are being held in Portlaoise at the time and a further 30 are in jail in Northern Ireland. Three are serving sentences in England.

In the statement, the organisation claims responsibility for a coffee-jar bomb attack on Castlederg Police Station in County Tyrone. They have also been blamed for a series of hoax bomb alerts in the centre of Belfast and at Belfast International Airport.

Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan is one of 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, killed in the group’s bomb attack in Omagh in August 1998, says the statement is a clear message that the Real IRA are going to continue killing innocent people. “The only people who have decided to pursue a peaceful path are those who are locked up in jail and are powerless to do anything about it,” Gallagher says.

“It looks as if it is business as usual for the Real IRA even though there is obviously an internal split,” Gallagher adds.

The Real IRA statement is phoned with a recognised code word to the Derry Journal newspaper, where civilian workman David Caldwell was killed in a Real IRA bomb attack on a Territorial Army base in August 2002.

(From: “Real IRA vows to continue violence” by John Breslin, Irish Examiner, October 22, 2002)


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Patrick Maher’s Remains Returned to County Limerick

The dying wish of Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer Patrick Maher is fulfilled on October 19, 2001, when his remains are brought from Dublin to his native County Limerick for burial the following day with full military honours. He is executed in Mountjoy Prison on June 7, 1921 following his alleged part in the rescue of IRA man Seán Hogan from a heavily guarded train in Knocklong, County Limerick, in May 1919, which results in the death of two Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) officers. Maher always protests his innocence. He is 32 years old at the time of his death.

Maher, a native of County Limerick born around 1889, is hanged along with Edmond Foley for his alleged involvement in the rescue of Seán Hogan at Knocklong Railway Station on May 13, 1919 in which two RIC officers are killed.

Unlike Foley, Maher has no direct involvement in the rescue. He merely works at the station grading poultry and eggs and he is at a crossroads three miles away at the time of the ambush. He strongly protests his innocence. Two civilian juries fail to reach a verdict. He is finally convicted of involvement by a military court-martial and sentenced to death.

In a final message to other members of the IRA, Foley and Maher write:

“Fight on, struggle on, for the honour, glory and freedom of dear old Ireland. Our hearts go out to all our dear old friends. Our souls go to God at 7 o’clock in the morning and our bodies, when Ireland is free, shall go to Galbally. Our blood shall not be shed in vain for Ireland, and we have a strong presentiment, going to our God, that Ireland will soon be free and we gladly give our lives that a smile may brighten the face of ‘Dear Dark Rosaleen.’ Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!”

Maher is one of a group of men hanged and buried in Mountjoy in the period 1920–21, commonly referred to as the Forgotten Ten. In 2001 Maher and the other nine, including Kevin Barry, are exhumed and given a full State funeral. He is the only one of the Ten not to be buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. In accordance with his wishes and those of his family, he is buried at Ladywell Graveyard in Ballylanders, County Limerick.


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State Funeral in Honour of the “Forgotten Ten”

On October 14, 2001, the first multiple state funeral is held in honour of the “Forgotten Ten,” a term applied to ten Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers who were executed by British forces in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin, following courts martial for their role in the Irish War of Independence.

Based upon military law at the time, they are buried within the prison precincts, their graves unmarked in the unconsecrated ground. The names of the Forgotten Ten are Kevin Barry, Thomas Whelan, Patrick Moran, Patrick Doyle, Bernard Ryan, Thomas Bryan, Frank Flood, Thomas Traynor, Edmond Foley, and Patrick Maher. The hangman is John Ellis.

Following the Irish War of Independence, Mountjoy Prison is transferred to the control of the Irish Free State, which becomes the State of Ireland in 1937. In the 1920s, the families of the dead men request their remains be returned to them for proper burial. This effort is joined in the later 1920s by the National Graves Association. Through the efforts of the Association, the graves of the men are identified in 1934, and in 1996 a Celtic cross is erected in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, to commemorate them.

The campaign to rebury the men drags on for 80 years from their deaths. Following an intense period of negotiations, the Irish government relents. Plans to exhume the bodies of the ten men are announced on November 1, 2000, the 80th anniversary of the execution of Kevin Barry. On October 14, 2001, the Forgotten Ten are afforded full state honours, with a private service at Mountjoy Prison for the families of the dead, a Requiem Mass at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral and burial in Glasnevin Cemetery.

According to The Guardian, some criticise the event as glorifying militant Irish republicanism. It coincides with the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis. The progress of the cortège through the centre of Dublin is witnessed by crowds estimated as being in the tens of thousands who break into spontaneous applause as the coffins pass. On O’Connell Street, a lone piper plays a lament as the cortège pauses outside the General Post Office (GPO), the focal point of the 1916 Easter Rising. In his homily during the Requiem Mass, Cardinal Cahal Daly, a long-time critic of the IRA campaign in Northern Ireland, insists that there is a clear distinction between the conflict of 1916–22 and the paramilitary-led violence of the previous 30 years:

“The true inheritors today of the ideals of the men and women of 1916 to 1922 are those who are explicitly and visibly committed to leaving the physical force tradition behind… Surely this state funeral can be an occasion for examination of conscience about the ideals of the men who died, and about our responsibility for translating those ideals into today’s realities.”

In his graveside oration Taoiseach Bertie Ahern echoes these sentiments and also pays tribute to the Ten:

“These 10 young men were executed during the War of Independence. The country was under tremendous pressure at the time. There was a united effort. Meanwhile, elected by the people, Dáil Éireann was developing, in spite of a war going on. Democracy was being put to work. Independent civic institutions, including the Dáil courts, were beginning to function. Before their deaths, the ten had seen the light of freedom. They understood that Ireland would be free and independent.”

The state funeral, broadcast live on national television and radio, is only the 13th since independence. Patrick Maher is not reburied with his comrades. In accordance with his wishes, and those of his family, he is reinterred in Ballylanders, County Limerick.

A feature length Irish language documentary on the re-interments, An Deichniúr Dearmadta (The Forgotten Ten) airs on TG4 on March 28, 2002.

(Pictured: The grave of nine of the Forgotten Ten in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin)


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Birth of Archie Doyle, Anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army Member

Archie Doyle, one of three anti-Treaty members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who assassinated the Irish Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins, is born on September 29, 1903. He has a long subsequent career in the organisation’s ranks.

Doyle fights in the Irish War of Independence (1919-21) and takes the anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War (1922-23), and is subsequently interned among numerous others. Together with two fellow-detainees, Timothy Coughlin and Bill Gannon, he takes part in forming a secret “vengeance grouping.” The three vow that once free of imprisonment they will take revenge on their opponents, whom they consider traitors to the Irish cause.

Most such private revenge pacts are broken up by the IRA leadership when it reorganises following 1924, but Doyle and his two fellow conspirators persist and carry through their deadly aim. On July 10, 1927, the three surprised O’Higgins on his way to Mass at the Booterstown Avenue side of Cross Avenue in Blackrock, Dublin, and shoot him down.

O’Higgins is especially hated by IRA members for having ordered the executions of seventy-seven of their fellows during the Civil War, an act for which he outspokenly takes responsibility and refuses to express any remorse. Moreover, he is a dominant member of the Irish Free State government and the conspirators have good reasons to believe that his death would weaken it.

The three make their escape and are not apprehended. However, Timothy Coughlin is shot to death by police informer Sean Harling on the night of January 28, 1928, on Dublin’s Dartry Road, under circumstances which remain controversial up to the present. A second IRA man is known to have been with Coughlin that night, in surveillance of Harling’s home, and escapes unharmed. It is believed that Doyle is that second man, though this point, as many other details of this still rather mysterious affair, remains not quite certain.

Doyle is among the beneficiaries of the amnesty issued by Éamon de Valera when he comes to power in 1932, under which numerous IRA men are released from prison and the charges against others dropped. In later times Doyle openly admits his part in the killing of O’Higgins, and indeed takes pride in it, without fear of prosecution.

With the end of the IRA’s alliance with de Valera and the increasing confrontation between them, Doyle, now a veteran highly respected in the IRA circles, becomes deeply involved in the organisation’s 1940s campaigns. Harry, the memoirs of IRA man Harry White, make repeated admiring references to “Archie Doyle of Dublin, the Tan War veteran who had fought through it all.”

During the IRA’s Northern campaign, Doyle is said to have participated in the abortive raid on the British barracks at Crossmaglen, County Armagh, on September 2, 1942, in retaliation for the execution of Tom Williams earlier that morning. The IRA unit, some twenty men in a commandeered lorry and accompanying car, is discovered by a passing Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) patrol near the village of Cullaville. Doyle is mentioned in White’s memoirs as having “jumped out of the car, Thompson in hand, and started shooting at the RUC.” Since the element of surprise is lost, the attack on the barracks has to be cancelled.

A week later, on September 9, White mentions Doyle as having commanded the assassination of Sergeant Denis O’Brien, Irish Special Branch detective and himself a former IRA man, near Dublin. It is a highly controversial affair, opposed by the IRA GHQ in Belfast as damaging to the Northern campaign, and precipitates a massive manhunt by the Irish police. It is IRA Chief of Staff Charlie Kerins who is caught two years later, charged with the O’Brien assassination and eventually executed for it. White, however, claims that it is Doyle who actually commands that action, on Kerins’s orders. Doyle, who openly spoke of his part in killing O’Higgins, seems far more reticent about this part of his career.

In 1943 Doyle is assigned as the IRA’s Quartermaster General in Belfast.

On July 1, 1943, Doyle is mentioned as having participated, together with Kerins and with Jackie Griffith, in an operation of “fund-raising” for the hard-pressed IRA (i.e., robbery). The three men arrive on bikes at the gates of Player Wills factory on the South Circular Road, Dublin, and with scarves around their faces stop at gunpoint a van loaded with some £5,000 for wages, and drive away with the van and the money.

Griffith is shot down by the police in Dublin less than a week later, in what is charged to be an extrajudicial assassination, and Kerins is caught in 1944 and executed, becoming a major IRA martyr. Doyle, however, continually survives decades of a very dangerous way of life and manages to die of old age. He dies in St. James’s Hospital in Dublin in 1980.


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The North King Street Ambush

Three British soldiers are killed, the first in the city since the Easter Rising of 1916, and two more wounded in a short exchange of gunfire with an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit on the morning of September 20, 1920, at the corner North King Street and Church Street in Dublin.

Just before 11 o’clock, fifteen soldiers of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment arrive in a motor lorry at Monks’ Bakery, North King Street, to acquire a supply of bread for Collinstown aerodrome. What happens next is disputed. Soldiers involved in the incident testify later that the volunteers began the shooting, after shouting “Hands Up!” and demanding they hand over their rifles.

Two key testimonies tally. The driver of the truck, Private C. Barnes, testifies at IRA volunteer Kevin Barry‘s court martial that he had been looking under the bonnet of the vehicle when he saw a civilian carrying a pistol walk up, shout “Hands Up!,” and fire a single round into the air. Decades later, the officer commanding the IRA unit that day, Seamus Kavanagh, tells the Bureau of Military History that it was indeed one of his men, but not Barry, that had fired the first shot, perhaps due to “overanxiety.”

Kavanagh sees the soldiers in the truck immediately rise to their feet, rifles in hand. The plan has fallen apart at the first hurdle, the element of surprise is lost, and there are no guns captured that day. He says he then gives the order to open fire, and retreat from the bakery. The exchange lasts four or five minutes.

In the last seconds of the ambush, Barry is in trouble. His gun has jammed twice, and has only fired two shots. Trying to clear the second jam, he fails to realise the rest of the unit has retreated, leaving him alone. He rolls under the lorry to hide, but a woman in the crowd of onlookers points him out to the soldiers, actually out of concern that he might be run over. He is taken prisoner and brought to the nearest base, at the North Dublin Union.

One reporter who attends the scene counts 22 bullet marks on walls, doors and windows in nearby homes and shops and adds that the military lorry is also riddled with bullet holes.

The three dead soldiers are identified as 18 year-old Private Harold Washington, who is found dead at the scene, Private Marshall Whitehead and Private Thomas Humphries who both die subsequently in King George V Hospital in Stoneybatter. The two wounded are Private William Smith and Private Frank Noble, neither of whom is armed.

It is rumoured that one or two of the attackers are killed, but this is not confirmed. Several volunteers are slightly wounded, but get away. Bob Flanagan’s wound is the most serious, a bullet literally parting his scalp. One onlooker expresses disbelief that the episode did not result in further fatalities given how close the soldiers and their assailants were to each other.

One person is understood to have been arrested in connection with the incident, however, according to eyewitnesses, the civilian in question has nothing to do with the attack and is taking shelter under a dray when arrested.

(Pictured: The funeral of the soldiers killed in the North King Street ambush, Irish Life, October 1, 1920)