seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Balcombe Street Siege Ends

balcombe-street-siegeThe six-day Balcombe Street siege in London ends peacefully on December 12, 1975 after four Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen free their two hostages and give themselves up to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS).

In 1974 and 1975, London is subjected to a 14-month campaign of gun and bomb attacks by the Provisional IRA. Some 40 bombs explode in London, killing 35 people and injuring many more. The four members of what becomes known as the “Balcombe Street gang,” Joe O’Connell, Edward Butler, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, are part of a six-man IRA Active Service Unit (ASU) that also includes Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn.

The Balcombe Street siege starts after a chase through London, as the MPS pursues Doherty, O’Connell, Butler and Duggan through the streets after they had fired gunshots through the window of Scott’s restaurant in Mount Street, Mayfair. The four IRA men ultimately run into a block of council flats in Balcombe Street, adjacent to Marylebone station, triggering the six-day standoff.

The four men go to 22b Balcombe Street in Marylebone, taking its two residents, middle-aged married couple John and Sheila Matthews, hostage in their front room. The men declare that they are members of the IRA and demand a plane to fly both them and their hostages to Ireland. Scotland Yard refuses, creating a six-day standoff between the men and the police. Peter Imbert, later Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, is the chief police negotiator.

The men surrender after several days of intense negotiations between Metropolitan Police Bomb squad officers, Detective Superintendent Peter Imbert and Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Nevill, and the unit’s leader Joe O’Connell, who goes by the name of “Tom.” The other members of the gang are named “Mick” and “Paddy,” thereby avoiding revealing to the negotiators precisely how many of them are in the living room of the flat. The resolution of the siege is a result of the combined psychological pressure exerted on the gang by Imbert and the deprivation tactics used on the four men. The officers also use carefully crafted misinformation, through the BBC Radio news to further destabilise the gang into surrender. A news broadcast states that the British Special Air Service are going to be sent in to storm the building and release the hostages. This seems to deter the gang and they eventually give themselves up to the police.

The four are found guilty at their Old Bailey trial in 1977 of seven murders, conspiring to cause explosions, and falsely imprisoning John and Sheila Matthews during the siege. O’Connell, Butler and Duggan each receive 12 life sentences, and Doherty receives 11. Each of the men is later given a whole life tariff, the only IRA prisoners to receive this tariff. During the trial they instruct their lawyers to “draw attention to the fact that four totally innocent people were serving massive sentences” for three bombings in Woolwich and Guildford. Despite telling the police that they are responsible, they are never charged with these offences and the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven remain in prison for 15 more years, until it is ruled that their convictions are unsafe.

After serving 23 years in English prisons, the four men are transferred to the high security wing of Portlaoise Prison, County Laois, in early 1998. They are presented by Gerry Adams to the 1998 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis as “our Nelson Mandelas,” and are released together with Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement.


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Death of IRA Hunger Striker Michael Gaughan

michael-gaughanMichael Gaughan, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) member, dies on hunger strike on June 3, 1974 in HM Prison Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight, England.

Gaughan, the eldest of six children, is born in Ballina, County Mayo, on October 5, 1949. He grows up at Healy Terrace and is educated at St. Muredach’s College, Ballina. After finishing his schooling, he emigrates from Ireland to England in search of work.

While in London, Gaughan becomes a member of the Official Irish Republican Army through Official Sinn Féin‘s English wing Clann na hÉireann and becomes an IRA volunteer in a London-based Active Service Unit. In December 1971, he is sentenced at the Old Bailey to seven years imprisonment for his part in an IRA fundraising mission to rob a bank in Hornsey, north London, which yields just £530, and for the possession of two revolvers.

Gaughan is initially imprisoned at Wormwood Scrubs, where he spends two years before being transferred to the top security HM Prison Albany on the Isle of Wight. While at Albany Prison, he requests political status, which is refused, and he is then placed in solitary confinement. He is later transferred to Parkhurst Prison, where four of the Belfast Ten are on hunger strike for political status.

On March 31, 1974, Gaughan, along with current Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly, Paul Holme, Hugh Feeney and fellow Mayoman Frank Stagg, go on hunger strike to support the fight of Dolours and Marion Price to obtain political status and to be transferred to a jail in Ireland. The prisoners demands are as follows:

  • The right to political status
  • The right to wear their own clothes
  • A guarantee that they would not be returned to solitary confinement
  • The right to educational facilities and not engage in penal labour
  • The setting of a reasonable date for a transfer to an Irish prison

British policy at this time is to force-feed hunger strikers. According to the National Hunger Strike Commemoration Committee, “six to eight guards would restrain the prisoner and drag him or her by the hair to the top of the bed, where they would stretch the prisoner’s neck over the metal rail, force a block between his or her teeth and then pass a feeding tube, which extended down the throat, through a hole in the block.”

After visiting Gaughan in jail, his brother John describes his condition, “His throat had been badly cut by force feeding and his teeth loosened. His eyes were sunken, his cheeks hollow and his mouth was gaping open. He weighed about six stone.”

During his hunger strike, Gaughan’s weight drops from 160 lbs. to 84 lbs. He is force-fed for the first time on April 22 and this occurs 17 times during course of his hunger strike. The last time he is force-fed is the night before his death. After a hunger strike that lasts 64 days, Michael Gaughan dies on Monday, June 3, 1974, at the age of 24.

The cause of Gaughan’s death is disputed. The British government states that he died of pneumonia. The Gaughan family state that he died after prison doctors injured him fatally when food lodged in a lung punctured by a force-feeding tube. His death causes controversy in English medical circles, as some forms of treatment can be classed as assault if given without the express permission of the patient.

The timing of Gaughan’s death comes just one week after the British Government had capitulated to the demands of Ulster loyalist hunger strikers. After his death, the British government’s policy of force-feeding ends and the remaining hunger strikers are given assurances that they will be repatriated to Irish prisons. However, these promises are reneged on by the British government.

Gaughan’s body is initially removed from London and on June 7-8 over 3,000 mourners line the streets of Kilburn and march behind his coffin, which is flanked by an IRA honour guard, to a Requiem Mass held in the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Following the Requiem Mass, his body is transported to Dublin, where again it is met by mourners and another IRA honour guard who bring it to the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Merchant’s Quay, where thousands file past as it lay in state. The following day, his body is removed to Ballina, County Mayo. A funeral mass takes place on June 9, at St. Muredach’s Cathedral, and the procession then leads to Leigue Cemetery. Gaughan is given a full IRA funeral and is laid to rest in the republican plot, where Frank Stagg would join him after being reburied in November 1976. His funeral is attended by over 50,000 people and is larger than the funeral of former president Éamon de Valera the following year.


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Deportation of Joe Doherty

joseph-dohertyJoe Doherty, a volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) who escapes during his 1981 trial for killing a member of the Special Air Service (SAS) in 1980, is arrested in the United States in 1983 and is deported to Northern Ireland by the U.S. government on February 19, 1992. A first season episode of Law & Order entitled “The Troubles” is based on his case.

The trial of Doherty and the other members of their four-man active service unit nicknamed the “M60 gang” begins in early May 1981, on charges including three counts of murder. On June 10, Doherty and seven other prisoners, including Angelo Fusco and the other members of the IRA unit, take a prison officer hostage at gunpoint in Crumlin Road Gaol and ultimately escape in waiting cars. Two days after the escape, Doherty is convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum recommended term of thirty years.

Doherty escapes across the border into the Republic of Ireland, and then travels to the United States on a false passport. He lives with an American girlfriend in Brooklyn and New Jersey, working on construction sites and as a bartender at Clancy’s Bar in Manhattan, where he is arrested by the FBI on June 28, 1983. He is imprisoned in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, and a legal battle ensues with the British government seeking to extradite him back to Northern Ireland. Doherty claims he is immune from extradition as the killing of Royal Irish Constabulary Captain Herbert Westmacott was a political act. In 1985 federal judge John E. Sprizzo rules Doherty can not be extradited as the killing is a “political offense.” Doherty’s legal battle continues as the United States Department of Justice then attempts to deport him for entering the country illegally.

Doherty remains in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center and attempts to claim political asylum, and on June 15, 1988 Attorney General Edwin Meese overturns an earlier ruling by the Federal Board of Immigration Appeals that Doherty can be deported to the Republic of Ireland, and orders his deportation to Northern Ireland. In February 1989 new Attorney General Dick Thornburgh chooses not to support the decision made by his predecessor, and asks lawyers for Doherty and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to submit arguments for a review of the decision and Doherty’s claim for asylum. By this time Doherty’s case is a cause célèbre with his sympathisers including over 130 Congressmen and a son of then President of the United States George H. W. Bush. In 1990 a street corner near the Metropolitan Correctional Center is named after him.

In August 1991, Doherty is transferred to a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and on January 16, 1992 the Supreme Court of the United States overturns a 1990 Federal Appeals Court ruling by a 5-to-3 decision, paving the way for his deportation. On February 19, 1992 Doherty is deported to Northern Ireland, despite pleas to delay the deportation from members of Congress, Mayor of New York City David Dinkins, and the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, John Joseph O’Connor.

Doherty is returned to Crumlin Road Gaol before being transferred to HM Prison Maze. He is released from prison on November 6, 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. After his release Doherty becomes a community worker specialising in helping disadvantaged young people. In 2006, he appears in the BBC television show Facing the Truth opposite the relatives of a soldier killed in the Warrenpoint ambush.


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The Guildford Pub Bombings

The Guildford pub bombings occur on October 5, 1974 when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonate two 6-pound gelignite bombs at two pubs in Guildford, Surrey, southwest of London. The pubs are targeted because they are popular with British Army personnel stationed at the barracks in Pirbright. Four soldiers and one civilian are killed, while 65 others are wounded.

The bomb in the Horse and Groom pub detonates at 8:30 PM. It kills Paul Craig, a 22-year-old plasterer, two members of the Scots Guards and two members of the Women’s Royal Army Corps. The Seven Stars pub is evacuated after the first blast, and thus there are no serious injuries when the second bomb explodes at 9:00 PM.

These attacks are the first in a year-long campaign by an IRA Active Service Unit who are eventually captured after the Balcombe Street siege. A similar bomb to those used in Guildford, with the addition of shrapnel, is thrown into the Kings Arms pub in Woolwich on November 7, 1974. Gunner Richard Dunne and Alan Horsley, a sales clerk, die in that explosion. On August 27, 1975 the same IRA unit detonates a bomb in Surrey at the Caterham Arms pub which injures over 30 people. Surrey police say it is “a carbon copy of the Guildford bombs.”

The bombings occur at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Metropolitan Police Service is under enormous pressure to apprehend the IRA bombers responsible for the attacks in England. The bombings contribute to the speedy and unchallenged passing of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts in November 1974.

In December 1974 the police arrest Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Patrick Armstrong and Carole Richardson, later known as the Guildford Four. The Guildford Four are falsely convicted of the bombings in October 1975 after the Metropolitan Police use the Prevention of Terrorism Acts to force false confessions. All four are sentenced to life in prison.

The Guildford Four are held in prison for fifteen years, although Gerry Conlon dies near the end of his third year of imprisonment. All the convictions are overturned years later in the appeal courts after it is proved the Guildford Four’s convictions had been based on confessions obtained by torture, while evidence specifically clearing the Four is not reported by the police.


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The Burgery Ambush in County Waterford

burgery-ambushThe Burgery Ambush takes place during the Irish War of Independence on the night of March 18, 1921 near Dungarvan, County Waterford.

A British military convoy of Black and Tans and including a Royal Irish Constabulary Sergeant named Michael Hickey, sets off from Dungarvan Castle on the night of March 18, heading east for the coastal village of Clonea. Their goal that night is the arrest of Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer John Murphy, who has been involved in gun running between Clonmel, County Tipperary, and Dungarvan.

Irish Republican Army volunteers of the West Waterford flying column have plans that night to demolish Tarr’s Bridge over the Colligan River between Dungarvan and the Abbeyside. However, when they receive word of the British convoy heading east out of Dungarvan, a last-minute action is organized by the Active Service Unit (ASU) to intercept it on its way back to Dungarvan.

The IRA volunteers ambush the convoy at the Burgery, about a mile and a half northeast of Dungarvan. In overall command of the IRA unit is IRA General Headquarters (GHQ) Officer George Plunkett. Also present are West Waterford Brigade Commandant Pax Whelan, Active Service Unit (ASU) leader George Lennon, and Mick Mansfield.

A British Crossley tender is set on fire and prisoners are taken by the IRA, including Sergeant Hickey. Early on the morning of March 19, Hickey is executed by an IRA firing squad with a sign reading “police spy” affixed to his tunic. Hickey is later buried in an unmarked grave. Other prisoners, including Captain DV Thomas, the commander of the British garrison, are released.

After the ambush, a group of volunteers under Plunkett return to search for any armaments left behind by the British forces. Crown forces who are now searching the area engage the IRA party. IRA volunteers Seán Fitzgerald and Pat Keating are shot dead. Constable Sydney R. Redman, a Black and Tan, is shot dead during the return fire.