seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Downpatrick Land Mine Attack

On April 9, 1990, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonates a massive improvised land mine under a British Army convoy outside Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland. Four soldiers of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) are killed, the regiment’s greatest loss of life since 1983.

The Provisional IRA had been attacking British Army patrols and convoys with land mines and roadside bombs since the beginning of its campaign in the early 1970s. The deadliest attack was the Warrenpoint ambush of August 1979, when 18 soldiers were killed by two large roadside bombs near Warrenpoint, County Down. In July 1983, four soldiers of the local Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) were killed when their vehicle struck an IRA land mine near Ballygawley, County Tyrone. It was the UDR’s biggest loss of life up until then.

On the morning of April 9, 1990, two UDR armoured landrovers are traveling from Abercorn Barracks to Downpatrick. An IRA unit has planted a 1,000-pound improvised land mine in a culvert under the Ballydugan Road, just outside the town. The unit waits in woodland overlooking the road, about 350 feet away. As the landrovers drive over the culvert, the IRA detonates the bomb by command wire. The huge blast blows the vehicle into a field and gouges a large crater in the road, 50 feet wide and 15 feet deep. A witness describes “a scene of utter carnage.” Four soldiers are killed: Michael Adams (23), John Birch (28), John Bradley (25), and Steven Smart (23). It is the biggest loss of life suffered by the UDR since the 1983 Ballygawley land mine attack. The soldiers in the other landrover suffer severe shock and are airlifted to hospital. According to police, a civilian driver also suffers shock and another receives cuts and bruises.

The bombers escape on a motorcycle which had been stolen in Newry a week earlier, and is later found abandoned in Downpatrick. The IRA issues a statement saying the attack was carried out by members of its South Down Brigade.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher says on BBC Radio, “You take these murders of these four people today alongside those decisions in the Supreme Court of the Republic not to extradite those accused of violent crime – and one is very, very depressed.” Charles Haughey, the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, condemns the attack as an “atrocity.”

A 23 year-old man is later sentenced to 15 years in prison for the attack. He had driven a scout car for the bombers when it was planted the day before the attack.


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Death of Joseph McGrath, Politician & Businessman

Joseph McGrath, Irish politician and businessman, dies in Ballsbridge, Dublin, on March 26, 1966. He is a Sinn Féin and later a Cumann na nGaedheal Teachta Dála (TD) for various constituencies: Dublin St James’s (1918–1921), Dublin North-West (1921–1923) and Mayo North (1923–1924), and develops widespread business interests.

McGrath is born in Dublin on August 12, 1888. By 1916 he is working with his brother George at Craig Gardiner & Co., a firm of accountants in Dawson Street, Dublin. He works with Michael Collins, a part-time fellow clerk and the two strike up a friendship. In his spare time he works as secretary for the Volunteer Dependents’ Fund.

McGrath soon joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He fights in Marrowbone Lane in the 1916 Easter Rising. He is arrested after the rising, and jailed in Wormwood Scrubs and Brixton prisons in England. In the 1918 Irish general election, he is elected as Sinn Féin TD for the Dublin St. James’s constituency, later sitting in the First Dáil. He is also a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and successfully organises many bank robberies during the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921), where a small percentage of the proceeds is retained as a reward by him and his fellow-soldiers. During this time he is interred briefly at Abercorn Barracks but escapes by dressing in army uniform and walking out of the gate with soldiers going on leave. He is eventually recaptured and spends time in jail in Belfast.

In October 1921 McGrath travels with the Irish Treaty delegation to London as one of Michael Collins’ personal staff. When the Provisional Government of Ireland is set up in January 1922, he is appointed Minister for Labour. In the Irish Civil War of 1922–1923, he takes the pro-Treaty side and is made Director of Intelligence, replacing Liam Tobin. In a strongly worded letter, written in red ink, he warns Collins not to take his last, ill-fated trip to County Cork.

McGrath is later put in charge of the police Intelligence service of the new Irish Free State, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). It is modelled on the London Metropolitan Police department of the same name, but is accused of the torture and killing of a number of republican (anti-Treaty) prisoners during the civil war. It is disbanded at the war’s end with the official reason given that it is unnecessary for a police force in peacetime. He goes on to serve as Minister for Labour in the Second Dáil and the Provisional Government of Ireland. He also serves in the 1st and 2nd Executive Councils holding the Industry and Commerce portfolio.

In September 1922 McGrath uses strikebreakers to oppose a strike by Trade Unionists in the Post Office service, despite having threatened to resign in the previous March of the same year when the government threatened to use British strikebreakers.

In December 1922 McGrath is a reluctant supporter of the government’s decision to execute four high profile IRA prisoners: Liam Mellows, Dick Barrett, Rory O’Connor, and Joe McKelvey.

McGrath resigns from office in April 1924 because of dissatisfaction with the government’s attitude to the Army Mutiny officers and as he says himself, “government by a clique and by the officialdom of the old regime.” By this he means that former IRA fighters are being overlooked and that the Republican goals on all Ireland has been sidelined. He and eight other TDs, who had resigned from Cumann na nGaedheal, resign their seats in the Dáil and form a new political party, the National Party. However, the new party does not contest the subsequent by-elections for their old seats. Instead, Cumann na nGaedheal wins seven of the seats and Sinn Féin wins the other two.

In 1927, McGrath takes a libel case against the publishers of The Real Ireland by poet Cyril Bretherton, a book that claims he is responsible for the abduction and murder of Noel Lemass, the brother of Seán Lemass, in June 1923 during the civil war, as well as a subsequent coverup. He wins the court case. During the 1930s, he and Seán Lemass reconcile and regularly play poker together.

Following his political career, McGrath goes on to become involved in the building trade. In 1925 he becomes labour adviser to Siemens-Schuckert, German contractors for the Shannon hydroelectric scheme near Limerick. He founds the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake in 1930, and the success of its sweepstakes makes him an extremely wealthy man. He has other extensive and successful business interests always investing in Ireland and becomes Ireland’s best-known racehorse owner and breeder, winning The Derby with Arctic Prince in 1951.

McGrath dies at his home, Cabinteely House, in Ballsbridge, Dublin on March 26, 1966. Cabinteely House is donated to the state in 1986 and the land is developed as a public park. His son, Patrick W. McGrath, inherits many of his father’s business interests, and also serves as Fine Gael Senator from 1973 to 1977.

(Pictured: Screenshot of a film of Irish politician Joseph McGrath shot in 1922)


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Operation Demetrius

long-kesh-internment-campOperation Demetrius, a British Army operation in Northern Ireland begins on August 9, 1971, during the Troubles. The operation involves the mass arrest and internment (imprisonment without trial) of 342 people suspected of being involved with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which is waging a campaign for a united Ireland against the British state.

Operation Demetrius, proposed by the Government of Northern Ireland and approved by the Government of the United Kingdom, begins throughout Northern Ireland in the early morning hours of Monday, August 9 and progresses in two parts:

  1. Arrest and movement of the detainees to one of three regional holding centers: Girdwood Barracks in Belfast, Abercorn Barracks in Ballykinler, County Down, or HM Prison Magilligan near LimavadyCounty Londonderry.
  2. The process of identification and questioning, leading either to release of the detainee or movement into detention at HM Prison Crumlin Road or aboard HMS Maidstone, a prison ship in Belfast Harbour.

The operation sparks four days of violence in which 20 civilians, two IRA members and two British soldiers are killed. All of those arrested are Irish nationalists, the vast majority of them Catholic. Due to faulty intelligence, many have no links with the IRA. Ulster loyalist paramilitaries are also carrying out acts of violence, which are mainly directed against Catholics and Irish nationalists, but no loyalists are included in the sweep.

The introduction of internment, the way the arrests are carried out, and the abuse of those arrested, lead to mass protests and a sharp increase in violence. Amid the violence, about 7,000 people flee or are forced out of their homes. The interrogation techniques used on some of the internees are described by the European Commission of Human Rights in 1976 as torture, but the superior court, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), rules on appeal in 1978 that, although the techniques are “inhuman and degrading”, they do not, in this instance, constitute torture. It is later revealed that the British government had withheld information from the ECHR and that the policy had been authorized by British government ministers. In December 2014, in light of the new evidence, the Irish government asks the ECHR to revise its 1978 judgement. The ECHR declines the request in 2018.

The backlash against internment contributes to the decision of the British Government under Prime Minister Edward Heath to suspend the Northern Ireland Government and replace it with direct rule from Westminster, under the authority of a British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This takes place in 1972.

Following the suspension of the Northern Ireland Government and Parliament, internment is continued by the direct rule administration until December 5, 1975. During this time 1,981 people are interned, 1,874 are nationalist while 107 are loyalist. The first loyalist internees are detained in February 1973.

(Pictured: The entrance to Compound 19, one of the sections of Long Kesh internment camp)