seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Widgery Report Is Released

john-passmore-widgeryJohn Passmore Widgery, Baron Widgery, English judge who serves as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales from 1971 to 1980, issues his report exonerating “Bloody Sunday” troops on April 19, 1972.

Widgery receives promotion to the Court of Appeal in 1968. He has barely gotten used to his new position when Lord Parker of Waddington, who had been Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales since 1958, announces his retirement. There is no obvious successor and Widgery is the most junior of the possible appointees. The Lord Chancellor, Quintin Hogg, Baron Hailsham of St. Marylebone, chooses Widgery largely on the basis of his administrative abilities. On April 20, 1971 he is created a life peer taking the title Baron Widgery, of South Molton in the County of Devon.

Shortly after taking over, Widgery is handed the politically sensitive job of conducting an inquiry into the events of January 30, 1972 in Derry, where troops from 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment had murdered 13 civil rights marchers, commonly referred to as Bloody Sunday. A 14th person dies shortly after Widgery’s appointment. He hears testimony from the paratroopers, who claim they had been shot at, while the marchers insist that no one from the march was armed. Widgery produces a report that takes the British Army‘s side. He placed the main blame for the deaths on the march organisers for creating a dangerous situation where a confrontation was inevitable. His strongest criticism of the Army is that the “firing bordered on the reckless.”

The Widgery Report is accepted by the British government and Northern Ireland‘s unionists but is immediately denounced by Irish nationalist politicians, and people in the Bogside and Creggan areas are disgusted by his findings. The British Government had acquired some goodwill because of its suspension of the Stormont Parliament, but that disappears when Widgery’s conclusions are published. The grievance with Widgery’s findings lingers and the issue remains live as the Northern Ireland peace process advances in the 1990s.

In January 1998, on the eve of the 26th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, Prime Minister Tony Blair announces a new inquiry, criticising the rushed process in which Widgery failed to take evidence from those wounded and did not personally read eyewitness accounts. The resulting Bloody Sunday Inquiry lasts 12 years before the Saville Report is published on June 15, 2010. It demolishes the Widgery Report, finding that soldiers lied about their actions and falsely claimed to have been attacked.

Prime Minister David Cameron, on behalf of the United Kingdom, formally apologises for the “unjustified and unjustifiable” events of Bloody Sunday. As a result of the Saville Report, even observers who are natural supporters of the British Army now regard Widgery as discredited. The conservative historian and commentator Max Hastings describes the Widgery report as “a shameless cover-up.”

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The 1979 Bessbrook Bombing

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coalisland.jpgThe Bessbrook bombing takes place on the April 17, 1979 when four Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers are killed when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) explodes an estimated 1,000 pound roadside van bomb at Bessbrook, County Armagh.

The bombing occurs during a period of heightened IRA activity. The previous two years are some of the less active and less violent years during the Troubles. The British policy of criminalization seems to be working but the IRA is gearing up for a new offensive. In 1976, 295 people are killed compared with 111 in 1977 and 80 in 1978 but in 1979 the number increases to 120 with 76 being British security force members compared to just 34 in 1978. The entire IRA “battalion structure” has been reconstructed using more smaller, tight knit cells making the IRA more secretive, harder to infiltrate and makes them much more effective at carrying out larger operations. The only brigade area which does not go under this reconstruction is the South Armagh Brigade which is viewed by the IRA Army Council as an independent Republic. In fact, by the mid-1970s South Armagh has become so dangerous for the British security forces, who are snipped at and have bombs thrown at them whenever they enter the area on foot, they have to be airlifted into the area and ground patrols are stopped altogether effectively giving up the ground to the South Armagh PIRA.

While the four Protestant members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary are on an evening patrol, they are all killed when a Provisional IRA unit detonates a remote-controlled bomb hidden in a parked van. The IRA unit detonates the well hidden bomb at the exact second the RUC mobile patrol is passing giving the officers no chance of survival. The dead RUC men are, Paul Gray (25), Robert Lockhart (44), Richard Baird (28) and Noel Webb (30). The bomb is estimated at 1,000 lbs. and is believed to be the largest bomb used by the IRA up to that date.

In January 1981, Patrick Joseph Traynor (27) from Crossmaglen is found guilty of the four murders and a range of other charges. He is jailed for life on each of the four murder charges and is sentenced to 12 years for the related crimes.

The IRA continues to intensify their campaign. On August 29, 1979 the IRA carries out two separate attacks in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that shock the world and give huge media coverage to their campaign. The first is the killing of Lord Mountbatten and his grandson when the boat they are on off the Sligo coast is blown up by a remote controlled bomb. The second is the Warrenpoint Ambush where the IRA kills 18 British soldiers in a double bomb attack, the highest loss of life for the British Army during the Troubles. The IRA carries out several of these type of large attacks against the British forces throughout the 1980s like the 1983 Ballygawley land mine attack which kills four soldiers, the 1988 Lisburn van bombing which kills six soldiers and the Ballygawley bus bombing also carried out in 1988 which kills eight soldiers and injures 28.


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RMS Titanic Strikes Iceberg in North Atlantic

titanic-strikes-icebergJust before midnight on April 14, 1912 in the North Atlantic, the RMS Titanic, the world’s largest ship, fails to divert its course from an iceberg, ruptures five compartments along its starboard side, and begins to sink. The liner, four days into her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City, sinks at 2:20 AM on the morning of April 15, 1912.

RMS Titanic, the largest ship afloat at the time it enters service on April 2, 1912, is the second of three Olympic class ocean liners operated by the White Star Line, and is built by the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

RMS Titanic‘s maiden voyage, commanded by 62-year-old Captain Edward John Smith, begins shortly after noon on April 10, 1912 when she leaves Southampton on the first leg of her journey to New York City. A few hours later she reaches Cherbourg, France, where she takes on passengers. Her next port of call is Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland, which she reaches around midday on April 11. After taking on more passengers and stores, RMS Titanic departs in the afternoon with an estimated 2,224 people on board.

RMS Titanic receives six warnings of sea ice on April 14 but is traveling near her maximum speed when her lookouts sight the iceberg. Unable to turn quickly enough, the ship suffers a glancing blow that buckles her starboard side and opens five of her sixteen compartments to the sea. RMS Titanic has been designed to stay afloat with four of her forward compartments flooded but not more, and the crew soon realises that the ship is going to sink. They use distress flares and wireless radio messages to attract help as the passengers are put into lifeboats. However, in accordance with existing practice, RMS Titanic‘s lifeboat system is designed to ferry passengers to nearby rescue vessels, not to hold everyone on board simultaneously. With the ship sinking quickly and help still hours away, there is no safe refuge for many of the passengers and crew. Compounding this, poor management of the evacuation means many boats are launched before they are totally full.

At about 2:15 AM, RMS Titanic‘s angle in the water begins to increase rapidly as water pours into previously unflooded parts of the ship through deck hatches. Her suddenly increasing angle causes a giant wave to wash along the ship from the forward end of the boat deck, sweeping many people into the sea. RMS Titanic‘s stern lifts high into the air as the ship tilts down in the water, reaching an angle of 30–45 degrees. After another minute, the ship’s lights flicker once and then permanently go out, plunging RMS Titanic into darkness. Shortly after the lights go out, the ship splits apart at one of the weakest points in the structure, the area of the engine room hatch. The submerged bow likely remains attached to the stern by the keel for a short time, pulling the stern to a high angle before separating and leaving the stern to float for a few minutes longer. The forward part of the stern floods very rapidly, causing it to tilt and then settle briefly before sinking.

RMS Titanic sinks with over a thousand passengers and crew still on board. Almost all those who jump or fall into the water die from hypothermia within minutes. RMS Carpathia arrives on the scene about 90 minutes after the sinking and has rescued the last of the survivors by 9:15 AM on April 15, some nine and a half hours after the collision with the iceberg.

The death toll has been put at 1,513, including many Irish, although the number of casualties remains somewhat unclear due to a number of factors, including confusion over the passenger list, which includes some names of people who cancelled their trip at the last minute, and the fact that several passengers traveled under aliases for various reasons and were double-counted on the casualty lists.

The disaster causes widespread outrage over the lack of lifeboats, lax regulations, and the unequal treatment of the three passenger classes during the evacuation. Subsequent inquiries recommend sweeping changes to maritime regulations, leading to the establishment in 1914 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), which still governs maritime safety today.


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Passage of the Special Powers Act 1922

special-powers-act-1922The Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922, often referred to simply as the Special Powers Act, is passed by the Parliament of Northern Ireland on April 7, 1922, shortly after the establishment of Northern Ireland, and in the context of violent conflict over the issue of the partition of Ireland. Its sweeping powers make it highly controversial, and it is seen by much of the Northern Irish nationalist community as a tool of Ulster unionist oppression. The Act is eventually repealed by the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973, following the abolition of Northern Ireland’s parliament and the imposition of direct rule by the British government.

At the start of the twentieth century, the people of Ireland are divided into two mutually hostile factions. Nationalists, the much larger group, are mostly Roman Catholic, identify primarily as Irish, and want some form of Irish home rule or independence from Britain. Unionists, the smaller group, concentrates primarily in the province of Ulster, are mostly Protestant, identify primarily as British (although many see themselves as Irish and British), and are committed to remaining within the United Kingdom.

Partition is formally established with the Government of Ireland Act 1920. This also establishes the Parliament of Northern Ireland, which comes into being the following year. Partition is followed by high levels of inter-communal violence, especially in Belfast. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), although it spends most of these years fighting in the Irish Civil War, aims to use armed force to end partition and compel the United Kingdom to withdraw sovereignty from Northern Ireland.

The Act is presented as being necessary to re-establish peace and law and order in Northern Ireland, and enables the government to “take all such steps and issue all such orders as may be necessary for preserving the peace and maintaining order,” although it is specified that the ordinary course of law should be interfered with as little as possible. Because it is presented as emergency legislation, the Act is initially current only for one year and has to be renewed annually. In 1928, however, it is renewed for five years and when this period expires in 1933 the Act is made permanent.

Despite rhetoric accompanying the Act which asserts that it is for the purpose of restoring public order, its provisions continue to be used for the entire period of the Northern Irish parliament’s existence. Because the Ulster Unionist Party is the only party ever to form a government in this parliament, the Act is used “almost exclusively on the minority population.” Initially, regulations under the Act are used mostly to curb immediate violence and disorder. One of the most controversial of these is internment without trial.

After the troubles of the early 1920s dies down, the provision for internment is not used until the IRA’s Border Campaign of the 1950s, in which several hundred republicans are interned. Following the outbreak of The Troubles in 1968, many within the Protestant community call for the reintroduction of internment. This occurs in 1971 and authorises internment of those suspected to be involved in terrorism. Although there are loyalist as well as republican terrorists at this time, of the 1,981 men interned, only 107 are loyalists. Due to inadequate intelligence-gathering, many of the interned republicans are members of the Official Irish Republican Army rather than the recently formed Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), which is much more heavily involved in terrorist activity at the time.

Internment ends in 1975, but is credited with increasing support and sympathy for the PIRA amongst the Catholic community and outside of Northern Ireland. It helps to create political tensions which culminate in the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike and the death of MP Bobby Sands. Imprisonment under anti-terrorism laws specific to Northern Ireland continue until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, but these laws require the right to a fair trial be respected.


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Death of Peter Doherty, Northern Ireland Footballer

peter-dohertyPeter Dermot Doherty, Northern Ireland international footballer and manager who played for several clubs, including Manchester City F.C. and Doncaster Rovers F.C., dies in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire, England on April 6, 1990.

Born in Magherafelt, County Londonderry on June 5, 1913, Doherty begins his career with Glentoran F.C. in the Irish League. After helping Glentoran to the 1933 Irish Cup, early in the 1933–1934 season he joins English club Blackpool F.C., at the age of 19. He then joins Manchester City on February 19, 1936 for a then-club record of £10,000. Blackpool needs the money urgently, and Doherty is summoned from his lunch to report to Bloomfield Road. He tries hard to persuade Blackpool directors that he does not wish to leave the club, for he is due to marry a local girl and has just bought a new house in the town. The fee is an exceptionally high transfer fee for the period, coming within £1,000 of the British record. Doherty’s Manchester City debut, against Preston North End F.C., is not a successful one. Tightly man-marked by Bill Shankly throughout, he fails to make an impact. He later describes the remainder of his first Manchester City season as “uneventful,” however his second is anything but.

Manchester City starts the 1936–1937 season poorly and are in the bottom half of the table until December. Occasional big wins, including a 6–2 defeat of West Bromwich Albion F.C. and a 4–1 defeat of Everton F.C., are mixed with extended barren runs. At one point the club gains just one win in twelve matches. However, Doherty scores goals regularly. A goal in a 5–3 Christmas day loss to Grimsby Town F.C. is his twelfth of the season. Christmas proves to be a turning point for the club, as a win against Middlesbrough F.C. the following day is the start of a long unbeaten run. By April, Manchester City is second in the table and faces a fixture against Arsenal F.C., league leaders and the dominant club of the period. Doherty scores the first goal in a 2–0 win, and City reaches the top of the table. The unbeaten run continues until the end of the season, and City secures their first league championship with a 4–1 win over Sheffield Wednesday F.C.. Doherty, with 30 league goals, is the club’s leading scorer, helped by a run of eleven goals in seven games as the season draws to a close.

Doherty scores 79 goals in 130 appearances during his time at Maine Road. During the World War II years of 1939–1945, Doherty serves in the Royal Air Force. He remains registered as a Manchester City player, scoring 60 goals in 89 wartime matches, though wartime games are not generally included in official records. He also guests for numerous clubs across the country. During a guest appearance for Port Vale F.C. in 1945, he famously goes to take a penalty but instead of shooting he lays it off to a teammate who scores.

After the conclusion of the war, Doherty transfers to Derby County F.C., with whom he wins the FA Cup, scoring a goal in the final itself. He also goes on to play for Huddersfield Town A.F.C., scoring 33 goals in 83 league appearances.

Doherty makes his final move to Doncaster in 1949, where he assumes the role of player-manager. He later becomes manager of the Northern Ireland national football team (1951–1962), for whom he has 16 caps as a player. He leads the country to the 1958 FIFA World Cup, reaching the quarter-finals. He also manages Bristol City F.C..

Doherty’s coaching techniques are revolutionary at the time. He emphasises ball practice and instead of endless laps of the pitch, suggests volleyball “to promote jumping, timing and judgement,” basketball “to encourage split-second decision-making and finding space,” and walking football “to build up calf muscles.”

Later life sees Doherty become a scout for Liverpool F.C., helping to unearth such talents as Kevin Keegan. He is inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

Following Doherty’s death in 1990, a plaque to mark his birthplace is placed in Magherafelt. It can be found at what is now a barber shop.


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The Bloody Sunday Inquiry

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 75The Bloody Sunday Inquiry, also known as the Saville Inquiry or the Saville Report after its chairman, Mark Saville, Baron Saville of Newdigate, is launched on April 3, 1998 by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The inquiry follows campaigns for a second inquiry by families of those killed and injured in Derry on Bloody Sunday during the peak of ethno-political violence known as The Troubles. The inquiry is set up to establish a definitive version of the events of Sunday, January 30, 1972, superseding the tribunal set up under John Widgery, Baron Widgery that had reported on April 19, 1972, eleven weeks after the events, and to resolve the accusations of a whitewash that had surrounded it.

The inquiry takes the form of a tribunal established under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, and consists of Lord Saville, the former Chief Justice of New Brunswick William L. Hoyt and John L. Toohey, a former Justice of the High Court of Australia.

The judges finish hearing evidence on November 23, 2004, and reconvene once again on December 16 to listen to testimony from another witness, known as Witness X, who had been unavailable earlier.

The report is published on June 15, 2010. That morning thousands of people walk the path that the civil rights marchers had taken on Bloody Sunday before fourteen were killed, holding photos of those who had been shot. The families of the victims receive advance copies of the report inside the Guildhall.

Then British prime minister David Cameron addresses the House of Commons that afternoon where he describes what British soldiers had done as “both unjustified and unjustifiable, it was wrong.” He acknowledges, among other things, that the paratroopers had fired the first shot, had fired on fleeing unarmed civilians, and shot and killed one man who was already wounded. He then apologises on behalf of the British Government by saying he is “deeply sorry.”

(Pictured: Lord Saville and his colleagues visit the Bogside during their first day in the city on April 3, 1998. Credit: Derry Journal)


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Ian Paisley’s Retirement from the Power-Sharing Assembly

ian-paisleyOn March 23, 2011, Ian Paisley calls for a new era of sharing and reconciliation in an emotional farewell at his final sitting of the power-sharing Assembly he helped to create at Stormont. Dr. Paisley continues his political career in the House of Lords.

Protestant and Catholic leaders in Northern Ireland‘s unity government celebrate their first full four-year term in power and lauded Paisley, the unlikely peacemaker who made it possible, on his effective retirement day.

Paisley, a stern anti-Catholic evangelist who spent decades rallying pro-British Protestants against compromise, stuns the world in 2007 by agreeing to forge a coalition alongside senior Irish Republican Army (IRA) veterans. Their polar-opposite combination governs Northern Ireland with surprising harmony for the four years leading up to his retirement.

The Northern Ireland Assembly that elects the administration is dissolved on March 14, 2011 in preparation for a May 5 election in the British territory. The 84-year-old Paisley makes his last debate in an elected chamber on March 6, 2011, noting that this local government is not ending in chaos and acrimony, as 1999-2002 attempts at power-sharing repeatedly had done.

At this point, Paisley has already stepped down as a member of the British and European parliaments and as leader of the Democratic Unionists, a party of hard-line Protestant protesters that he founded in 1970 and watched grow over the previous decade into the most popular in Northern Ireland.

Those lauding him include Peter Robinson, who succeeded him in 2008 as leader of both the government and the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin‘s Martin McGuinness, the senior Catholic politician who spends decades as a commander of Paisley’s archenemy, the IRA.

The IRA kills nearly 1,800 people in a failed 1970-1997 effort to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom when the overwhelmingly Catholic rest of Ireland gains its independence in 1922. The outlawed IRA formally renounces violence and disarms in 2005, clearing the way for its allied Sinn Féin party to recognize the legal authority of Northern Ireland and its police.

Still, few observers expected Paisley to agree to a pact so quickly after the IRA-Sinn Féin peace moves or to get along so warmly with McGuinness during their year in partnership.

McGuinness, whose organization once considered Paisley a prime target for assassination, addressing his remarks to the stooped, silver-haired Paisley across the chamber, notes that Ulster wits had christened the two of them “the Chuckle Brothers.” He adds, “And I would like to think that we showed leadership. I think my relationship with him will undoubtedly go down in the history books.”

(From: “Northern Ireland power-sharing marks 1st full term,” the Associated Press and CTV News, March 23, 2011)