seamus dubhghaill

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


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Assassination of Field Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson

Field Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson is shot and killed by two Irish Republican Army (IRA) men in London on June 22, 1922.

Wilson is born in County Longford and a long-time opponent of the Irish Home Rule movement. He joins the British army in 1884 and sees action during the Boer War. He is assigned to British army headquarters during the infamous Curragh incident and supports the near-mutiny of British officers who refuse to lead troops against Ulster opponents of home rule. He serves in France during the World War I and, when the war ends, continues his staunch support of the Unionist cause while serving as Chief of General Staff. He is a strong supporter of the coercion tactics of the British in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence, even suggesting that the leaders of Sinn Féin be executed. He leaves the army when David Lloyd George decides not to renew his term as chief of staff and is elected Member of Parliament (MP) for North Down as a Conservative in 1922. In Parliament, he urges even stronger coercion methods than those then being carried out by the Black and Tans.

On June 22, 1922, two London-based volunteers of the Irish Republican Army, Reginald Dunne and Joseph O’Sullivan, assassinate Wilson outside his house at 36 Eaton Place at approximately 2:20 PM. He is in full uniform as he is returning from unveiling the Great Eastern Railway War Memorial at Liverpool Street station at 1:00 PM. He has six wounds, two of them fatal wounds to the chest.

Stories later circulate that the first shot misses but rather than taking shelter in the house, he draws his sword and advances on his attackers, who are able to shoot and kill him. These stories often stress that he dies a martyr. His housemaid testifies that she found his drawn sword lying by his side. These details do not feature in the witness accounts by Reginald Dunne, which is smuggled out of prison, the inquest testimony of one of two road menders working nearby, and the taxi driver who had just dropped Wilson off. One of the road mender’s accounts, as published in the Daily Mail, mentions Wilson turning on his attackers with the words “you cowardly swine!” but this is believed to be a possible embellishment by the newspaper.

Two police officers and a chauffeur are also shot as the men attempt to avoid capture. They are then surrounded by a crowd and arrested by other policemen after a struggle. Dunne and O’Sullivan are convicted of murder and hanged on August 10, 1922. On the day Wilson’s killers were hanged, Currygrane, the family homesite in Ballinalee, County Longford is burned to the ground, possibly as a reprisal although possibly as an unrelated part of the unrest in that county.

Wilson’s widow blames the government for his death and is only persuaded to allow government representation at the funeral on the grounds that not to do so would be disrespectful to the King. Wilson’s funeral is a public affair attended by David Lloyd George and the cabinet, Ferdinand Foch, Robert Nivelle and Maxime Weygand from France as well as many of his former army colleagues including John French, Nevil Macready, Douglas Haig and William Robertson. He is buried in the crypt of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.


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Death of Irish Hunger Striker Raymond McCreesh

Raymond McCreesh, volunteer in the South Armagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies on hunger strike at 2:11 AM on May 21, 1981 in the H Blocks of Long Kesh Prison. McCreesh is one of ten Irish republicans who died on hunger strike in Long Kesh Prison.

Raymond Peter McCreesh, the seventh in a family of eight children, is born in St. Malachy’s Park, Camlough, on February 25, 1957. He is born into a strong Irish republican family, and is active in the republican movement from the age of sixteen. He attends the local primary school in Camlough, St. Malachy’s, and later attends St. Colman’s College, Newry.

McCreesh first joins Fianna Éireann, the IRA’s youth wing, in 1973, and later that year he progresses to join the Provisional IRA South Armagh Brigade. He works for a short time as steelworker in a predominately Protestant factory in Lisburn. However, as sectarian threats and violence escalate, he switches professions to work as a milk roundsman in his local area of South Armagh, an occupation which greatly increases his knowledge of the surrounding countryside, as well as enables him to observe the movements of British Army patrols in the area.

On June 25, 1976, McCreesh and three other IRA volunteers attempt to ambush a British Army observation post in South Armagh. It lay opposite the Mountain House Inn, on the Newry–Newtonhamilton Road. As the armed, masked and uniformed IRA volunteers approached the observation post, they are spotted by British paratroopers on a hillside. The paratroopers open fire on the volunteers, who scatter. Two of them, McCreesh and Paddy Quinn, take cover in a nearby farmhouse. The paratroopers surround the house and fire a number of shots into the building. After some time, McCreesh and Quinn surrender and are taken to Bessbrook British Army base. Local Catholic priests facilitate their surrender. The third volunteer, Danny McGuinness, takes cover in a disused quarry outhouse but is captured the following day. The fourth member of the unit manages to escape despite being shot in the leg, arm and chest.

On March 2, 1977, McCreesh and Quinn are sentenced to fourteen years in prison for the attempted murder of British soldiers, possession of a rifle and ammunition, and a additional five years for IRA membership. The rifle that McCreesh has in his possession when captured is one of the rifles used in the Kingsmill massacre on January 5, 1976, when ten Protestant civilians are shot dead.

McCreesh is sent to the Maze Prison. He joins the blanket protest and takes part in the 1981 Irish hunger strike. He dies on 21 May, after 61 days on hunger strike.


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The Ballyturin House Ambush

In what is known as the Ballyturin House Ambush, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit in County Galway ambushes a motor car as it leaves Ballyturin House near Gort on May 15, 1921.

The IRA gets into position at about 1:00 PM. They see Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) District Inspector Cecil Blake arrive, as they have positively identified him through prior reconnaissance. They take over the gatehouse, and make any passersby prisoner in it, seventeen in all, until Blake’s car is seen about 8:30 PM. Passengers in the car with Blake include his wife Eliza, Captain Cornwallis of the 17 Lancers, Lieutenant McCreery of the 17 Lancers, and the daughter-in-law of Lady Gregory of Coole Park.

The car drives down the long drive to the gate. When they get there, one of the gates is closed, unbeknown to them a ploy by the IRA ambushers to force the car to stop. The car stops and Captain Cornwallis gets out to open the gate. It is at this point that they are ambushed by a group of twenty IRA men.

One of the IRA men in the bushes to the right shouts, “Hands up.” Cornwallis dashes outside the gate to protect himself from the men in the bushes, and fires a couple of revolver shots at the group. He is completely protected from them by the wall, but completely exposed to the men in the gatehouse and is shot and killed.

Mrs. Gregory gets out of the car on the side facing the IRA ambushers, which is believed to have saved her life, as they leave her alone. She works her way around to the back of the car and is led back towards the house by some of the IRA men after the firing stops.

Blake, Mrs. Blake, and Lt. McCreery are apparently killed without firing a shot. The IRA men then move in and remove the guns of their victims.

John and Anna Bagot, who are the owners of Ballyturin House, run down the long drive to the gate when they hear the shooting. Mrs. Gregory was handed over to Miss Molly Bagot. She tells the inquiry that she does not recognise any of the men. John Bagot is held at gunpoint and handed a note which apparently reads, “Volunteer HQ. Sir, if there is any reprisals after this ambush, your house will be set on fire as a return. By Order IRA.”

John Bagot dies on the April 27, 1935. His wife, Anna, lives until January 17, 1963. She dies in London at the age of 96 and is buried at Gresford Church near Wrexham, North Wales. Ballyturin House is abandoned and falls into a total ruin.

The ambush is believed to be in retaliation for an incident in which soldiers or police had tortured three local men for information by forcing them to dig their own graves and then threatening to bury them alive. It is also rumoured in the vicinity, although unsubstantiated, that Lady Gregory conspires with the IRA in planning the ambush which is why her daughter-in-law survives.

(Pictured: Death on a Summer’s evening: The deadly ambush at Ballyturin House on May 15 1921. London Illustrated News May 28 1921)


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Sinn Féin Votes to Accept the Good Friday Agreement

Members of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the republican Irish Republican Army (IRA), vote to accept the Good Friday Agreement on May 10, 1998 effectively acknowledging the north-south border. This marks a major shift in modern republicanism as, up until now, Sinn Féin has regarded participation in a Northern Ireland body as a tacit acceptance of partition.

The agreement comes at the party’s annual conference, which includes about thirty IRA prisoners granted special leave in order to vote.

The British and Irish governments welcome the decision to formally approve the peace agreement signed at Stormont in April to create the Northern Ireland Assembly and new cross-border institutions. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says he now looks forward to an overwhelming “yes” vote in referendums on the deal later in the month. The British government praises Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams saying the decision marks a final realisation that violence does not pay.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam expresses her delight at the outcome, “I recognise how significant this decision is for republicans and pay tribute to the leadership of Gerry Adams in bringing his party to support the agreement, north and south of the border.” In what she describes as an “exceptional decision,” the IRA’s commanding officer, Patrick Wilson, who is confined in HM Prison Maze, is among the 30 republican inmates freed for the conference in an effort to bring about a “Yes” vote.

Sinn Féin also votes to amend its constitution to allow members to sit in a new Northern Ireland Assembly after Adams tells his members they have a real chance to influence the strategy of the party and the way towards a united Ireland.

Martin McGuinness, one of Sinn Féin’s UK Members of Parliament (MP), tells the BBC he is optimistic about achieving a “Yes” vote in the referendum due to be held on May 22. “I think there are concerns naturally among a small section of the Sinn Féin membership, but I have to say I think the mood all over the island is that moving into the assembly to further our republican objectives towards our ultimate goal of a united Ireland is at this moment in time the sensible thing to do,” he says.

(Pictured: Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams)


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Bobby Sands Dies on Hunger Strike

Robert Gerard Sands, commonly known as Bobby Sands, Irish nationalist and member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, dies on hunger strike while imprisoned at Long Kesh Prison on May 5, 1981.

Born in Belfast on March 9, 1954, Sands is the oldest of four children born to John and Rosaleen Sands, and the couple’s first son. Sands grows up in Belfast under the cloud of nationalist and loyalist divisions. At an early age, Sands’s life is affected by the sharp divisions that shape Northern Ireland. At the age of ten, he is forced to move with his family out of their neighborhood due to repeated intimidation by loyalists.

“I was only a working-class boy from a Nationalist ghetto,” Sands later writes about his childhood. “But it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom.” Loyalist intimidation proves to be a theme throughout Sands’ life. At the age of 18, he is forced out of his job as an apprentice car builder. Not long afterwards, he and his family have to move again, as a result of political trouble.

The steady number of conflicts pushes Sands to join the Republican Movement in 1972. His ties to the movement soon capture the attention of the authorities, and later that year, he is arrested and charged with possessing firearms in his house. He spends the next three years of his life in prison. Upon his release, Sands immediately returns to the Republican Movement. He signs on as a community activist in Belfast’s rough Twinbrook area, quickly becoming a popular go-to person for a range of issues affecting the neighborhood.

In late 1976, authorities arrest Sands again, this time in connection with the bombing of a large furniture company and an ensuing gun battle. After weathering a brutal interrogation and then a court proceeding that offers up questionable evidence connecting Sands and three others to the attack, a judge sentences Sands to 14 years in prison at Long Kesh Prison, a facility used to house Republican prisoners from 1971 until 2000, located just outside of Belfast.

As a prisoner, Sands’s stature only grows. He pushes hard for prison reforms, confronting authorities, and for his outspoken ways he is frequently given solitary confinement sentences. Sands contention is that he and others like him, who are serving prison sentences, are actually prisoners of war, not criminals as the British government insists.

Beginning on March 1, 1981, Sands leads nine other Republican prisoners in the H Block section of the Maze prison on a hunger strike that lasts until death. Their demands range from allowing prisoners to wear their own clothes to permitting visits and mail, all of which are central in improving the inmates’ way of life.

Unable to move authorities to give in to his requests, and unwilling himself to end his hunger strike, Sands’s health begins to deteriorate. During the first seventeen days of the strike alone, he loses 16 pounds. A hero among his fellow nationalists, Sands is elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone while in prison. Sands becomes the youngest MP at the time. However he dies less than one month later without ever having taken his seat in the House of Commons.

Only days after slipping into a coma, on the morning of May 5, 1981, Sands dies from malnutrition due to starvation. He is 27 years old and has refused to eat for 66 days. He becomes so fragile over his final weeks that he spends his final days on a water bed to protect his deteriorating and fragile body. At time of his death, Sands is married to Geraldine Noade, with whom he has one son, Gerard.

The announcement of Sands’s death prompts several days of rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. Over 100,000 people line the route of Sands’s funeral. He is buried in the ‘New Republican Plot’ alongside 76 others. Their graves are maintained by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

While loyalists dismiss Sands’s death, others are quick to recognize its significance. Over the next seven months, nine other IRA supporters die on hunger strike. Eventually, the British government gives proper political recognition to the prisoners, many of them earning their release under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Bobby Sands’ final days are depicted in the 2008 Steve McQueen film Hunger, with actor Michael Fassbender portraying Sands.


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Birth of Irish Republican Tom Maguire

Tom Maguire, Irish republican who serves as commandant-general in the Western Command of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and leads the South Mayo flying column, is born on March 28, 1892.

On September 18, 1920, the Mayo Brigade of the IRA is reorganized and spilt up into four separate brigades. Tom Maguire is appointed commander of the South Mayo brigade.

Maguire leads an ambush on a Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) patrol in Toormakeady, County Mayo, on May 3, 1921, killing four. Maguire’s flying column then heads for the Partry Mountains. According to one account, the column is surrounded by many soldiers and policemen guided by aeroplanes. Maguire is wounded and his adjutant is killed, but the column manages to escape with no further casualties. Maguire is involved in numerous other engagements including the Kilfall ambush.

At the 1921 election to Dáil Éireann, Maguire is returned unopposed as Teachta Dála (TD) for Mayo South–Roscommon South as a Sinn Féin candidate. He opposes the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and apart from voting against the treaty when the vote is called, does not participate in any substantial way in the Dáil treaty debates. He is returned unopposed at the 1922 general election. At the 1923 general election, Maguire faces a contest and succeeds in securing the second of five seats in the Mayo South constituency.

Maguire is a member of the anti-Treaty IRA executive which commands rebel troops during the Irish Civil War. Maguire is captured by the National Army while in bed and is told that he would be executed, but his life is spared. While in prison his brother, Sean Maguire, aged 17, is executed by the government.

Maguire remains a TD until 1927. He initially indicates a willingness to contest the June 1927 general election as a Sinn Féin candidate but withdraws after the IRA threatens to court-martial any member under IRA General Army Order 28, which forbids its members from standing in elections.

Maguire subsequently drifts out of the IRA. In 1932, a Mayo IRA officer reports that Maguire, now firmly aligned with Sinn Féin, refuses to call on men to join the IRA when speaking at republican commemorations. When challenged on this, Maguire claims that, as the IRA “were no longer the same as they used to be,” he disagrees with the organisation.

In December 1938, Maguire is one of a group of seven people, who had been elected to the Second Dáil in 1921, who meet with the IRA Army Council under Seán Russell. At this meeting, the seven sign over what they contend is the authority of the Government of Dáil Éireann to the Army Council. Henceforth, the IRA Army Council perceives itself to be the legitimate government of the Irish Republic and, on this basis, the IRA and Sinn Féin justify their rejection of the states of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and political abstentionism from their parliamentary institutions.

When the majority of IRA and Sinn Féin decide to abandon abstentionism in the 1969–1970 split, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill seek and secure Maguire’s recognition of the Provisional IRA as the legitimate successor to the 1938 Army Council. Of the seven 1938 signatories, Maguire is the only one still alive at the time.

Likewise, in the aftermath of the 1986 split in the Republican Movement, both the Provisional IRA and the Continuity IRA seek Maguire’s support. Maguire signs a statement which is issued posthumously in 1996. In it, he confers legitimacy on the Army Council of the Continuity IRA. In The Irish Troubles, J. Bowyer Bell describes Maguire’s opinion in 1986, “abstentionism was a basic tenet of republicanism, a moral issue of principle. Abstentionism gave the movement legitimacy, the right to wage war, to speak for a Republic all but established in the hearts of the people.”

Tom Maguire dies on July 5, 1993, and is buried in Cross, County Mayo. Republican Sinn Fein have held multiple commemorations by his graveside.


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Ahern & Blair Conduct Talks at Hillsborough Castle

ahern-blair-hillsboroughTaoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair conduct talks at Hillsborough Castle on March 3, 2003, in the latest bid to salvage the floundering Good Friday Agreement. The negotiations last eight hours.

This meeting is very important, as it is Tony Blair’s last chance at intensive negotiation before his attention is totally caught up in the Iraq War. Progress cannot afford to slip further as the Stormont Assembly election has to be formally declared by March 21 if it is to take place as scheduled on May 1.

David Trimble, representing the unionists, has said the Irish Republican Army (IRA) must “go out of business” before his party will re-enter a coalition government with Sinn Fein. In late 2002, he uses the word “disbandment” but he is now careful to avoid being overly prescriptive.

He wants visible, verifiable decommissioning to restore unionist confidence, severely damaged by the IRA spy ring allegations which led to the collapse of devolution in October 2002. Trimble is also urging sanctions to punish republican politicians if the Provisionals renege.

The key demands of the republicans are demilitarisation, guarantees that unionists cannot pull down the Stormont Assembly again, devolution of policing and criminal justice, further police reforms, and a dispensation for 30-40 fugitive IRA members to go back to Northern Ireland without prosecution.

Republicans insist discussions must not revolve around getting rid of the IRA. They prefer to interpret the prime minister’s talk of “acts of completion” as an admission of failure to implement his obligations under the Good Friday Agreement, shortcomings they outlined in a 57-page dossier handed in to Downing Street.

Tony Blair claims he does not want to get involved in a bartering game – but in fact the government is prepared make major moves in return for IRA concessions. The prime minister is offering a radical three-year plan to withdraw 5,000 of the 13,000 soldiers in Northern Ireland and tear down a large number of border watchtowers and military bases.

Sinn Fein wants written guarantees on troop withdrawal and police reform, criminal justice and on-the-run terrorists. But important details need ironing out.

Policing and the return of fugitive paramilitaries are extremely sensitive issues for both republicans and unionists. A balance must be struck so that on-the-runs, mostly republican, are freed on licence after some sort of judicial process but not given amnesty, unacceptable to unionists.

Government sources claim Sinn Fein is poised to join the policing board, endorsing the police service for the first time, but this too will require delicate handling to ensure unionists don’t walk away.

One British government source states, “Everybody knows what has to be done, the question is if the will is there to achieve it. One of the problems is no one is absolutely clear what the IRA is prepared to do.”