seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Tony Ward, Former Rugby Union & Association Football Player

Anthony Joseph Patrick Ward, Irish former rugby union and association football player during the 1970s and 1980s commonly referred to as Tony Ward, is born in Dublin on October 8, 1954. He plays rugby as a fly-half for, among others, Munster, Leinster, Ireland, the British & Irish Lions and the Barbarians. He is selected 1979 European rugby player of the year.

Ward wins 19 caps for Ireland between 1978 and 1987. He makes his international debut against Scotland at Lansdowne Road on January 21, 1978 at the age of 23. He helps Ireland win 12–9 and during the 1978 Five Nations Championship he scores 38 points, a record for a debutant. He makes one major tour with Ireland, to Australia in 1979. During his career as an Ireland international he scores 113 points, including 29 penalties, 7 conversions and 4 drop goals. He plays his last game for Ireland on June 3, 1987 in a 32–9 win over Tonga during the 1987 Rugby World Cup.

Leinsterman Ward also inspires Munster to a legendary win over New Zealand, scoring two drop goals and a conversion in a 12–0 victory at Thomond Park on October 31, 1978. To date Munster are the only Irish provincial men’s team ever to beat the All-Blacks, although having played them far more frequently than any other province and joining dozens of smaller Welsh clubs and English regions who defeated mid-week All Black teams over the same period.

Ward also plays one Test game for the British & Irish Lions during the 1980 South Africa tour. He sets a Lions Test record by scoring 18 points, including 5 penalties and a drop goal. It is also a record for any player against South Africa.

Ward is the first ever recipient of a European Rugby Player of the Year award for his performances in the 1979 Five Nations Championship.

Ward also plays association football for both Shamrock Rovers and Limerick United. In his last season with Rovers, 1974–75, he scores 6 league goals. He plays for Limerick United in the 1981–82 UEFA Cup and in 1982 he helps them win the FAI Cup.

While playing rugby Ward is a geography and PE teacher at St. Andrews School in Booterstown, Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown. During the 1990s, he is a highly valued and well respected coach for St. Andrews.

Since retiring as a sportsman, Ward has worked as a sports journalist, most notably with the Irish Independent, and as a rugby commentator for Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ). He starts as a co-commentator for the 1988 Five Nations Championship, and remains in that role for many years.

Ward is currently involved in St. Gerard’s School in Bray, County Wicklow, where he is coaching the Senior Rugby team and has been doing so for a number of years. He constantly downplays his fame and success and does not even want to be in the room if another coach plays video footage of his legendary tries.


Leave a comment

Founding of Cliftonville Football Club

Cliftonville Football & Athletic Club, the oldest association football club in Ireland, is founded on September 20, 1879 by John McCredy McAlery in the suburb of Cliftonville in north Belfast.

Since 1890, the club has played home matches at Solitude. Cliftonville contests the North Belfast derby with nearest rivals Crusaders F.C., and also has historical rivalries with Glentoran F.C. and Linfield F.C. The club has won the NIFL Premiership five times outright including one shared title, the Irish Cup eight times and the Irish League Cup five times.

The foundation of Cliftonville F.C. is announced on September 20, 1879 in notices in the Belfast News Letter and Northern Whig, which asks “gentlemen desirous of becoming members” of the “Cliftonville Association Football Club (Scottish Association Rules)” to communicate with John McAlery, a young Belfast businessman and manager of the “Irish Tweed House”, Royal Avenue, and later with premises in Rosemary Street, or R.M. Kennedy, and advertising an “opening practice today at 3:30.”

Only one week after the advertisement is published, Cliftonville plays its first recorded game at Cliftonville Cricket Ground on September 29, 1879 against a selection of rugby players known as Quidnunces. The newly formed club, however, is beaten 2–1. In its first match against the Scottish club Caledonian, it fares worse, suffering a 1–9 defeat.

In 1880, it is again John McAlery who is the moving spirit in the formation of the Irish Football Association. He issues an invitation to interested parties in Belfast and district for a meeting to be called. The first meeting takes place on November 18, 1880 at Queen’s Hotel, Belfast, presided over by John Sinclair, from which the Irish Football Association is formed. While Lord Spencer Chichester is appointed president, McAlery becomes the honorary secretary of the association. This meeting also paves the way for the Irish Cup.

The first Irish Cup final, played at Cliftonville on April 9, 1881, sees a 1–0 defeat against Moyola Park F.C., an opponent that is well known for “rough and brutal play.” In the following year Cliftonville loses again in the Irish Cup final, 1–0 against Queen’s Island F.C. In 1883 Cliftonville wins the cup for the first time with a 5–0 win over Ulster F.C.

The club celebrates its 142nd anniversary in September 2021.


Leave a comment

Birth of Steve Morrow, Professional Footballer & Manager

Stephen Joseph Morrow, Northern Irish former professional footballer and manager, is born on July 2, 1970 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Morrow makes his full international debut for Northern Ireland in May 1990 against Uruguay. He goes on to win 39 caps for his country from then until 1999.

Morrow becomes a semi-regular with Arsenal in 1992–93. He plays most of his matches in midfield, replacing the injured Paul Davis as Arsenal reaches the League Cup and FA Cup finals. He starts the League Cup final against Sheffield Wednesday. After falling behind to a John Harkes goal, Arsenal equalises through Paul Merson, and then Merson sets up Morrow to score the winner, which is also his first for the club. In the celebrations after the match, Arsenal skipper Tony Adams attempts to pick up Morrow and parade him on his shoulders, but Adams slips and Morrow awkwardly hits the ground. He breaks his arm and has to be rushed to hospital.

As a result, Morrow misses the rest of that season, including the 1993 FA Cup Final, where Arsenal completes the Cup Double. Before the final kicks off, he receives his League Cup winners’ medal.

Morrow is fit enough by the start of the next season but plays only 13 matches, compared to 25 the previous season. One of those is the scene of an Arsenal triumph, the club’s 1994 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final win over Parma. In an Arsenal midfield depleted of John Jensen and David Hillier, he makes his first appearance in the competition that season partnering 20-year-old Ian Selley in central midfield as Arsenal beats Parma 1–0 with an Alan Smith goal.

Morrow nearly leaves the club in March 1994, following an approach from the Premier League‘s bottom club Swindon Town, but the transfer falls through and he signs a new contract with Arsenal, where he spends three more years.

Morrow goes on to play over 20 matches the following season, including a second Cup Winners’ Cup final, which Arsenal loses to Real Zaragoza. He scores his second Arsenal goal in the League Cup once again against Sheffield Wednesday, and scores his first Arsenal league goal in a 3–1 defeat at Blackburn Rovers, who win the Premier League that season. However, he never finds favour under new Arsenal boss Bruce Rioch, who only gives the Irishman five matches in 1995–96.

After the arrival of Arsène Wenger in 1996, Morrow is told he is surplus to requirements at Highbury, and he is loaned to Queens Park Rangers (QPR) in March 1997, the deal being made permanent that summer. He plays 85 games for Arsenal in total, scoring three goals.

At QPR, Morrow is initially a regular, but the club struggles, going from contenders for promotion to the Premiership to facing relegation to the Football League Second Division. Injuries to his shoulder ligaments ruled him out for most of the 1999–2000 season, and he loses his place in the side. He later has a loan spell at Peterborough United, but it does not become permanent, and he is released on a free transfer in the summer of 2001.

Struggling to find a club in the United Kingdom, Morrow moves to the United States to play for Major League Soccer (MLS) side Dallas Burn. He spends two seasons at Dallas, who rename themselves FC Dallas in 2004, before retiring because of a persistent neck injury.

On February 3, 2004, Morrow is named as an assistant coach to FC Dallas but resigns in late May due to personal reasons. However, he returns to the club on January 27, 2005 under coach Colin Clarke. When Clarke is fired on November 7, 2006, Morrow is named interim head coach. On December 11, 2006, FC Dallas removes the ‘interim’ from his title. He is fired as coach on May 20, 2008.

On September 12, 2008 Morrow returns to Arsenal as International Partnerships – Performance Supervisor, managing Arsenal’s international partnerships, which includes the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer in the United States, BEC Tero of Thailand and Hoàng Anh Gia Lai of Vietnam, and assisting Arsenal’s academies in countries such as Egypt and Ghana. From 2014, he works as Arsenal’s head of youth development. He leaves Arsenal in 2019 following a coaching staff shake up.

On May 7, 2021, Morrow is appointed The FA’s head of player selection and talent strategy working across England men’s teams.


Leave a comment

Death of Elisha Scott, Northern Irish Goalkeeper

Elisha Scott, Northern Irish football goalkeeper, dies in Belfast on May 16, 1959. He plays for Liverpool from 1912 to 1934, and still holds the record as their longest-serving player.

Scott is born in Belfast on August 24, 1893. He plays for Linfield and Broadway United before Liverpool manager Tom Watson signs him on September 1, 1912, following a recommendation from Scott’s older brother Billy Scott. Liverpool only gets the opportunity to sign Scott when Everton decides that the 19-year-old is too young.

Scott is reported as signed by Crewe Alexandra in August 1913, presumably under some sort of loan arrangement. He succeeds Thomas Charles Allison as deputy for the first choice keeper, Arthur Box, and plays for them in the early part of the 1913-14 season.

Scott finally makes his Liverpool debut on January 1, 1913 at St. James’ Park. The team plays Newcastle United to a 0–0 draw.

During the early days of his career, Scott is understudy to Kenny Campbell and only appears occasionally. World War I interrupts his career for four years. He finally gets a chance of a run in the Liverpool goal at the end of the season. His goalkeeping position is set in stone when Campbell is allowed to leave in April 1920. He establishes himself as Liverpool’s number one. He is a major part of the back-to-back Championship winning teams of 1922 and 1923, missing just three games of the first title and none in the second.

Numerous stories about Scott exist in Liverpool folklore. One such story relates to a 1924 game, after Scott has just made a phenomenal save at Ewood Park against Blackburn Rovers. A man appearing from the crowd goes over to Scott and kisses him. He is part of one of the legendary rivalries of the day along with Everton’s Dixie Dean. The two of them are the main topic of discussion when the day of the Merseyside derby is approaching. Everton declares that Dean will score while Liverpool disagrees, saying Scott will not let a single shot past. A famous story, possibly apocryphal, associated with the two men is that of how they once encountered each other in Belfast city centre the day before an Ireland versus England game. Dean, famed for his remarkable heading ability, touches his hat and nods to Scott as they are about to pass. Scott responds by diving as if to try to save an imaginary header, much to the initial shock and then delight of the locals who witness it while a mildly shocked Dean smiles and quietly continues on his walk.

Towards the end of the decade, Scott loses his starting position to another Liverpool goalkeeper, Arthur Riley, but he never gives up the battle for the position of goalkeeper. However, at the beginning of the 1930s it becomes more and more difficult for Scott to get into the line-up. Eventually he asks if he can return to his homeland when his old team Belfast Celtic offers him a player-manager role in 1934. Liverpool consents. He plays the last of his 467 appearances at Chelsea on February 21, 1934, where Chelsea defeats Liverpool 2–0.

Upon Liverpool’s final home match of the season Scott heads to the director’s box to give his adoring fans a farewell speech. He plays his final game for the Belfast club in 1936 at the age of 42. In his time as manager of the Celtics, he wins ten Irish League titles, six Irish Cups, three City Cups, eight Gold Cups and five County Antrim Shields.

Scott dies in Belfast on May 16, 1959 and is buried in Belfast City Cemetery.


Leave a comment

Ireland Awarded the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games

On March 31, 1999, Ireland is selected as the location for the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games. It is the first time the event has been staged outside the United States. The organising committee, which is formed in 1999 following the success of the bid, is chaired by entrepreneur Denis O’Brien. The chief executive is Mary Davis.

The Games are hosted in Dublin, with participants staying in 177 towns, cities and villages and the Aran Islands in the lead up to the Games before moving to Dublin for the events. Events are held from June 21-29, 2003 at many venues including Morton Stadium, the Royal Dublin Society, the National Basketball Arena, all in Dublin. Croke Park serves as the central stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies, even though no competitions take place there. Belfast is the venue for roller skating events at the King’s Hall, as well as the Special Olympics Scientific Symposium held on June 19-20.

Approximately 7,000 athletes from 150 countries compete in the Games in 18 official disciplines and three exhibition sports. The participants from Kosovo are the region’s first team at an international sporting event. A 12-member team from Iraq receives special permission to attend the games, despite ongoing war in their home nation. This is the largest sporting event held in 2003.

The opening ceremony is held in Croke Park and features an array of stars and is hosted by Patrick Kielty. The ceremony is officially opened by President of Ireland Mary McAleese and attended by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Performances include U2, The Corrs and the largest Riverdance troupe ever assembled on one stage. There are 75,000 athletes and spectators in attendance at the opening ceremonies. Irish and international celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jon Bon Jovi walk with the athletes, with Muhammad Ali as a special guest and Manchester United and Republic of Ireland football player Roy Keane taking the athletes oath with one of the Special Olympians. Nelson Mandela officially opens the Games.

The Games Flame is lit at the culmination of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, in which more than 2,000 members of the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland participate. This is a series of relays carrying the Special Olympics Torch, the “Flame of Hope,” from Europe to the Games’ official opening.

The 2003 Games are the first to have their opening and closing schemes broadcast on live television, and Raidió Teilifís Éireann provides extensive coverage of the events through their ‘Voice of the Games’ radio station which replaces RTÉ Radio 1 on medium wave for the duration of the event. There is also a nightly television highlight programme. A daily newspaper, the Games Gazette, was published for each day of the Games.

Among the activities carried out during the Games are thorough medical checks on the athletes, some of whom have previously undiagnosed conditions uncovered, as some of the athletes come from countries with limited medical facilities or have difficulty communicating their symptoms.

Among the contributors to the Games is the Irish Prison Service. Prisoners from Mountjoy Prison, Midlands Prison, Wheatfield Prison and Arbour Hill Prison construct podiums and make flags, towels, signs, benches and other equipment.


Leave a comment

Pat Jennings Becomes First to Make 1,000 Senior Appearances

On February 26, 1983, Northern Irish footballer Pat Jennings becomes the first player in English football to make 1,000 senior appearances, celebrating this milestone with a clean sheet in a goalless league draw for Arsenal at West Bromwich Albion.

Jennings is born in Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland on June 12, 1945. After playing for Shamrock Rovers‘ under-18 side at the age of 11, he concentrates on Gaelic football until he is sixteen years old, when he makes his soccer comeback with his hometown side Newry Town. After impressing with the team he moves to English Third Division side Watford in May 1963. He again impresses in his first season in England, playing every league game for his club. He makes his international debut with the Northern Ireland national football team at the age of eighteen while playing for Watford. This game, on April 15, 1964, is a British Home Championship match against Wales, with Northern Ireland winning the game 3–2. George Best makes his international debut in the same game. Jennings is signed by Tottenham Hotspur for £27,000 in June 1964.

Jennings spends thirteen years at White Hart Lane, where he plays in 472 league games for Spurs, and 591 in all competitions. He wins the FA Cup in 1967, the League Cup in 1971 and 1973, and the UEFA Cup in 1972. In the 1967 Charity Shield he scores once from his own area, kicking the ball from his hands and sending a large punt down the field that bounces over Manchester United goalkeeper Alex Stepney and into the net. In 1973 the Football Writers’ Association names him as its footballer of the year. Three years later he wins Professional Footballers’ Association‘s version of the award, the first goalkeeper to receive this accolade, and to this date remains only one of two, along with Peter Shilton.

In August 1977, he is transferred to Tottenham’s arch-rivals, Arsenal, with Tottenham thinking he is nearing the end of his career. However, he sees off rivals for the goalkeeper’s jersey to play for Arsenal for another eight years. While at Highbury, he helps Arsenal to four Cup finals in three successive years, the FA Cup final in 1978, 1979, and 1980, as well as the European Cup Winners’ Cup final that year. However, Arsenal only manages to win the second of these finals, a 3–2 victory against Manchester United. In total, he makes 327 appearances for Arsenal, 237 of them in the League, between 1977 and his eventual retirement from first-team club football in 1985.

Despite his retirement from club football in 1985, Jennings returns to Tottenham Hotspur, playing mostly in their reserve side to maintain his match sharpness for Northern Ireland’s 1986 FIFA World Cup campaign. He plays his final international game at the 1986 World Cup, on his 41st birthday, making him at the time the World Cup’s oldest-ever participant. The match is Northern Ireland’s final group game, a 3–0 defeat against Brazil. In total, he participates in the qualifying stages of six World Cups between 1966 and 1986.

Jennings final appearance for Tottenham is in the Football League Super Cup against Liverpool in January 1986. He is also briefly on Everton‘s books, having been signed as goalkeeping cover for the 1986 FA Cup Final against Liverpool, Neville Southall having been injured playing for Wales.

Jennings works as a goalkeeping coach at Tottenham since 1993. In 2003 he is inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in recognition of the skills he demonstrated in the English league. He and his family have lived for many years in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, where his son attended The Broxbourne School along with the sons of fellow Spurs players Chris Hughton, Osvaldo Ardiles and Ray Clemence. He is still associated with the Spurs and hosts Corporate Hospitality fans in the Pat Jennings Lounges at White Hart Lane and Windsor Park, Belfast.


Leave a comment

Birth of Professional Footballer Paul McGrath

Paul McGrath, former professional footballer for St. Patrick’s Athletic F.C., Manchester United F.C., Aston Villa F.C., Derby County F.C., and the Republic of Ireland national football team, is born in Greenford, Middlesex on December 4, 1959.

McGrath is born to an Irish mother and a Nigerian father. His father disappears soon after his conception. His mother, Betty McGrath, is terrified that her father will find out she had become pregnant outside marriage and in an interracial relationship. She travels in secret to London to have her child, who is considered illegitimate, and gives him up for fostering when he is four weeks old. When he is five years old, the family he had been fostered by comes to Betty saying they cannot control him. Betty places him into an orphanage.

McGrath begins as a schoolboy with Pearse Rovers and plays junior football for Dalkey United. While at the latter, he attracts the attention of Manchester United scout Billy Behan. Before becoming a full-time professional with League of Ireland club St. Patrick’s Athletic in 1981, he briefly works as an apprentice metal worker and a security guard in Dublin.

McGrath makes his debut in a League of Ireland Cup clash with the Shamrock Rovers F.C. in August at Richmond Park. He ultimately excels at St. Patrick’s, earning the nickname “The Black Pearl of Inchicore” and receiving the PFAI Players’ Player of the Year Award in his first and only season, scoring four goals in 31 total appearances.

In 1982, McGrath moves to Manchester United, then managed by Ron Atkinson. He misses out on a place in the FA Cup victory over Brighton & Hove Albion F.C. the following year. He is named man of the match for the 1985 FA Cup Final, which United wins 1–0 against Everton F.C. In his early years at Manchester United, he is frequently used as a midfielder, changing to defender while still at Old Trafford.

In 1985–86, it appears that McGrath is on course to pick up a league title medal after United wins their first 10 league games of the season, but injuries to key players including Bryan Robson soon take their toll on the side and they eventually finish fourth in the table, 12 points behind champions Liverpool F.C. Despite a dismal start to the 1986–87 season and a managerial change, McGrath remains a regular member of the first team. United finishes second behind Liverpool in the league a year later.

By the 1988–89 season, McGrath is struggling with knee injuries and is becoming a less regular member of the first team. His relationship with manager Alex Ferguson is becoming strained, as McGrath’s alcohol addiction and physical problems lead to United offering him a retirement package of £100,000. He refuses and Ferguson begins to inform clubs of his availability. Aston Villa’s offer is accepted and McGrath signs on August 3, 1989 for a fee of £400,000.

While at Aston Villa, McGrath plays some of the best football of his career, despite recurrent knee problems. Villa comes close to winning the title in his first season, finishing second to Liverpool. In the inaugural season of the Premier League (1992-93), Aston Villa again finishes as runners-up, behind Manchester United. As a sign of the regard he is now held in by his fellow professionals, McGrath wins the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award at the end of the season. He wins his first trophy with Villa, defeating Manchester United in the 1993–94 Football League Cup. In 1996 he wins a second League Cup for Villa. By the end of his Villa career he has chalked up 323 appearances for the club.

McGrath departs Aston Villa in the autumn of 1996, leaving a legacy as one of the greatest players in the club’s history. He is sold to Derby County for £200,000 and helps the newly promoted Rams finish 12th in its first Premier League season. He then drops down a division to sign for Sheffield United F.C. in the summer of 1997. He plays his final game as a professional for Sheffield United against Ipswich Town F.C. on November 9, 1997. He officially retires at the end of the season.

In McGrath’s international career he wins his first full cap against Italy in 1985, last playing 12 years later, against Wales. During that time, he is often regarded as the single most influential player Ireland has in the national team’s glory days.

In McGrath’s international career he is a major part of the breakthrough of Ireland’s national team of the late 1980s and early 1990s. During the early part of Jack Charlton‘s era, he plays as a defensive midfielder, due to the wealth of talent Ireland has in defence. In UEFA Euro 1988, as the national side first qualifies for an international tournament, he is present in the 1–0 group stage win against England.

In 1990, Ireland qualifies for its first FIFA World Cup, eventually reaching the quarter-finals, where they lose to Italy 1-0, with McGrath ever present in the lineups. He captains the team four times in 1992 after the retirement of Mick McCarthy, and ignores a painful shoulder virus to play in the 1994 FIFA World Cup.

In Ireland’s opening game of the 1994 World Cup, a 1–0 win against favourites Italy, in a perfect example of his commitment to the game, McGrath puts up an astonishing defensive performance in spite of excruciating knee problems. Even after his retirement from international football in 1997, he is still regarded today as one of the greatest players ever to put on Ireland’s green shirt.

Upon retiring, McGrath settles in Monageer, County Wexford. In 2004, one year after being taken to court, charged with a breach of the peace, he returns to the football world after five years, moving to Waterford F.C. in Ireland as director of football.

In 2011, McGrath launches a singing career with a cover version of the Gerry Goffin and Carole King song “Goin’ Back.” The recording is followed by the planning of an album of covers by the footballer, with a percentage of the album’s proceeds going to the Acquired Brain Injury Foundation and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Ireland.


Leave a comment

Death of Professional Footballer Johnny Carey

john-joseph-careyJohn Joseph “Johnny” Carey, professional footballer, manager and one of Manchester United F.C.’s great captains, dies in Macclesfield, Cheshire, England on August 22, 1995.

Carey is born in Dublin on February 23, 1919. As a schoolboy, he plays football for Home Farm F.C. As a youth, he also plays Gaelic football and is selected to represent Dublin GAA at minor level before he signs for St. James’s Gate F.C. at the start of the 1936–1937 season.

After just two months of League of Ireland football, he is spotted by Billy Behan, a Dublin-based Manchester United scout. In November 1936 United signs him for a then League of Ireland record fee of £250. He makes his debut as an inside left for United on September 23, 1937 against Southampton F.C. During his first season with United, Carey, together with Harry Baird, Jack Rowley, Tommy Bamford, Tommy Breen and Stan Pearson, help United gain promotion to the First Division.

As a player Carey spends most of his career with Manchester United, where he is team captain from 1946 until he retires as a player in 1953. He also plays as a guest for several other clubs including Cardiff City F.C., Manchester City F.C., Everton F.C., Liverpool F.C. and Middlesbrough F.C.

Carey is also a dual internationalist, playing for and captaining both Ireland teams – the FAI XI and the IFA XI. In 1947 he also captains a Europe XI which plays a Great Britain XI at Hampden Park. In 1949 he is voted the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year and in the same year captains the FAI XI that defeats England 2–0 at Goodison Park, becoming the first non-UK team to beat England at home.

Carey is also the first non-UK player and the first Irishman to captain a winning team in both an FA Cup Final and the First Division. Like his contemporary Con Martin, he is an extremely versatile footballer and plays in nine different positions throughout his career. He even plays in goal for United on one occasion.

(Pictured: Manchester United captain Johnny Carey is carried on the shoulders of his teammates, after they win the FA Cup final of 1948 against Blackpool. Date: April 24, 1948)


Leave a comment

Final Republican & Loyalist Prisoners Released from Maze Prison

maze-prison-releaseThe final seventy-eight republican and loyalist prisoners are released from the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland on July 28, 2000 as the final phase of the Good Friday peace accord scheme to release 428 inmates early.

Some of the most prolific bombers and gunmen involved in the Troubles have been imprisoned in the Maze, originally called Long Kesh, since it opened in 1971.

One of the freed republicans, Seán Lynch, describes what he saw as the real and symbolic importance of the Maze. “We had achieved the status of political prisoners even if the British Government never admitted it. The prison struggle was a microcosm of the larger struggle.”

Founder member of the Ulster Defence Association, Thomas McKeown, released in 1990 is one of over 10,000 loyalists sent to the prison. He reflects, “We had it pretty easy. We made replica weapons and instruments from wood and conducted military parades and drill every morning. There were also political classes and other sorts of education.”

After the H-block hunger strikes of the 1980s there are numerous escape attempts and by 1994 the authorities have given in to many of the prisoners’ demands for freedom of association and high levels of autonomy. A total of 2,700 incidents of officers being threatened or attacked are reported. A granite memorial outside the gates bears the names of the 29 prison guards murdered since the prison opened in 1971.

On September 29, 2000, the remaining four prisoners at the Maze are transferred to other prisons in Northern Ireland and the Maze Prison is closed. Redundancy packages are arranged for staff. These are accepted by 300 who left in June 2000.

The future of the buildings is uncertain, but some republicans want it to be turned into a museum to commemorate their struggle.

A monitoring group is set up on January 14, 2003 to debate the future of the 360-acre site. There are many proposals, including a museum, a multi-purpose sports stadium and an office, hotel and leisure village. In January 2006, the government unveils a masterplan for the site incorporating many of these proposals, including a 45,000 seat national multi-sport stadium for association football, rugby and Gaelic games. In October 2006, demolition work begins in preparation for construction on the site, however, in January 2009 plans to build the new multi-purpose stadium are cancelled, with Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure Gregory Campbell citing a lack of support and concerns for a net loss to the economy.

Discussion is still ongoing as to the listed status of sections of the old prison. The hospital and part of the H-Blocks are currently listed buildings, and will remain as part of the proposed site redevelopment as a “conflict transformation centre” with support from republicans such as Martin McGuinness and opposition from unionists, who consider that this risks creating “a shrine to the IRA.”

In January 2013, plans are approved by the Northern Ireland Minister of the Environment, Alex Attwood, for the site to be redeveloped as showgrounds as the result of an application by the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society with the objective of relocating Balmoral Show from its current location in Belfast. The site is now known as Balmoral Park.

In October 2019, the European Union withdraws £18m that had been approved to develop a peace centre, due to disagreements between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party.

(Pictured: IRA prisoners walk out through the Maze turnstile, BBC News Online, July 28, 2000)


Leave a comment

The Battle at Springmartin

kelly-bar-bombingThe Battle at Springmartin, a series of gun battles in Belfast, Northern Ireland, begins on May 13, 1972 and continues into the following day. It involves the British Army, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF).

The night before the bombing, snipers from the UVF West Belfast Brigade take up position along the second floor of an abandoned row of flats at the edge of the Ulster Protestant Springmartin estate. The flats overlooked the Catholic Ballymurphy estate. Rifles, mostly World War II stock, are ferried to the area from dumps in the Shankill Road.

The violence begins shortly after 5:00 PM on Saturday, May 13, 1972, when a car bomb, planted by Ulster loyalists, explodes without warning outside the crowded Kelly’s Bar, at the junction of the Springfield Road and Whiterock Road. The pub is in a mainly Irish Catholic and nationalist area of Ballymurphy and most of its customers are from the area. At the time of the blast, the pub is crowded with men watching an association football match between England and West Germany on colour television. Following the blast the UVF snipers open fire on the survivors. This begins the worst fighting in Northern Ireland since the suspension of the Parliament of Northern Ireland and the imposition of direct rule from London.

Sixty-three people are injured, eight of them seriously. John Moran, age 19, who had been working at Kelly’s as a part-time barman, dies of his injuries on May 23.

For the rest of the night and throughout the next day, local IRA units fight gun battles with both the UVF and British Army. Most of the fighting takes place along the interface between the Catholic Ballymurphy and Ulster Protestant Springmartin housing estates, and the British Army base that sits between them. Five civilians (four Catholics, one Protestant), a British soldier and a member of the IRA Youth Section are killed in the violence. Four of the dead are teenagers.

At first, the British Army claims that the blast had been an “accident” caused by a Provisional IRA bomb. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw, tells the House of Commons on May 18 that the blast is caused by a Provisional IRA bomb that exploded prematurely. However, locals suspect that the loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA) had planted the bomb. Republican sources say that IRA volunteers would not risk storing such a large amount of explosives in such a crowded pub. It later emerges that the bomb had indeed been planted by loyalists.

A memorial plaque on the site of the former pub names three members of staff who lost their lives as a result of the bomb and the gun battles that followed. It reads:

This plaque marks the spot
where Kelly’s Bar once stood
and here on 13th May 1972
a no warning Loyalist car bomb exploded.
As a result, 66 people were injured
and three innocent members of staff
of Kelly’s Bar lost their lives.
They were:
Tommy McIlroy (died 13th May 1972)
John Moran (died from his injuries 23rd May 1972)
Gerard Clarke (died from his injuries 6th September 1989)
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a namacha”