seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Declan Arthurs, Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Declan Arthurs, a Volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) East Tyrone Brigade in the mid-1980s, is born in Galbally, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, on October 28, 1965.

Arthurs is one of six children, and the fourth of Paddy and Amelia Arthurs. He works on the family farm learning how to drive diggers. He works as an agricultural contractor for the farm. He has one young daughter.

Arthurs joins the East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional IRA in 1982 in the wake of Martin Hurson‘s death on the 1981 Irish Hunger Strike. Hurson is also from Galbally like Arthurs, and Arthurs and his friends look up to Hurson. At the time he joins so do other young men from the same area, like Tony Gormley, Eugene Kelly, Seamus Donnelly and Martin McCaughey.

Over a year and a half year period in the mid-1980s the East Tyrone Brigade attacks and bombs Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks and stations in Ballygawley, Tynan, The Birches, Coalisland, Dungannon, Carrickmore and Castlederg. They bomb hotels and other businesses in Kildress, Ballyronan, Dungannon and Cookstown.

Arthurs takes part in two of the IRA’s biggest attacks of the 1980s. At the attack on the Ballygawley barracks in December 1985 and the attack on the RUC Birches barracks in August 1986, Arthurs is a key member of the team who drives a digger past a security fence, stops it outside the barracks, lights a fuse, runs to safety and wrecks the barracks with a 200-pound bomb in the JCB Digger.

Arthurs is killed along with seven other IRA Volunteers who are ambushed by the Special Air Service (SAS) during the Loughgall Ambush on May 8, 1987. Before the SAS fires he lights the 40-second fuse on the bomb and it destroys most of the station, injuring a number of British decoys inside. The Loughgall ambush is supposed to be a carbon copy attack of the bombing of The Birches barracks, with the IRA expecting no resistance. One of the photos of the aftermath of the ambush shows that Arthurs died with the Zippo lighter he used to light the fuse still in his hand.

Amelia Arthurs, Declan’s mother, says of the ambush in an interview to journalist Peter Taylor, “He was mowed down. He could have been taken prisoner. They knew that the ‘boys’ were coming and they lay in wait. The SAS never gave them a chance. Declan died for his country and I’m very proud of him. He was caught up in a war and he died.”

Arthurs is buried in St. John’s Cemetery, Galbally, beside IRA Volunteer Seamus Donnelly who also died in the Loughgall ambush.


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The Birches RUC Base Attack

The East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacks the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base at The Birches near Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, on August 11, 1986. The unmanned base is raked with gunfire before being destroyed by a 200-pound (91 kg) bomb, which is driven through the gate of the base in the bucket of a JCB digger.

In 1985 the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade, commanded by Patrick J. Kelly, begins a campaign of destroying remote RUC stations and preventing anyone from rebuilding them, to create no-go zones. On December 7, 1985 it launches an attack on the RUC barracks in Ballygawley, County Tyrone, destroying the base and killing two RUC officers.

On January 22, 1986 the East Tyrone Brigade fires mortars at the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) base in Dungannon, County Tyrone, injuring two UDR soldiers and damaging the base. Just over a week later, on February 1, it carries out a large van bomb attack on the RUC base at Coalisland, County Tyrone, damaging the base and several houses and shops.

The Birches base attack is a complex attack that involves several units, including teams of lookouts, an armed team and bomb-makers as well as a team to carry out a diversionary attack. A diversionary bomb attack is staged at Pomeroy to draw security forces away from the real target at the Birches. Another team hijacks a JCB digger, getaway vehicles and scout cars at Washing Bay.

The digger is used to deliver the bomb to its target. The IRA does not expect any resistance as the RUC station is unmanned at the time of the attack. The IRA first rakes the base with automatic gunfire while the digger, with the bomb in its bucket, is driven through the high wire perimeter fence which had been constructed to protect the base from grenade or mortar attack. The digger is most likely driven by young IRA volunteer Declan Arthurs from Galbally, County Tyrone, who has experience driving diggers on his family’s farm. A volunteer then lights a fuse and the bomb explodes after the IRA hads retreated to safety in a waiting van. The blast destroys most of the base and also damages nearby buildings, blowing the roof off a pub across the road. The IRA team then makes its getaway. According to journalist Mark Urban, the armed members of the unit evade British security force roadblocks by escaping in a boat across Lough Neagh.

About 35 people are reportedly involved in the Birches attack, from planning, executing the attack and creating an escape route. A partially-disabled American tourist and six local civilians are slightly injured in the blast.

A member of the British security forces tells Mark Urban of the attack: “The Birches RUC station was destroyed by the bomb, creating problems for the authorities about how to re-build it. The Tyrone IRA was able to combine practical skills such as bomb-making and the welding needed to make mortars with considerable resources. Its members went on operations carrying the latest assault rifles and often wore body-armour similar to that used by the security forces, giving them protection against pistol or sub-machine-gun fire. By 1987 they had also succeeded in obtaining night-sights, allowing them to aim weapons or observe their enemy in darkness.”

The IRA unit’s next major target is the RUC station at Loughgall, which is attacked in the same manner. This operation is a disaster for the IRA as the IRA unit is ambushed by the Special Air Service (SAS). The entire IRA unit of eight, along with a Catholic civilian, are shot dead. Many of those IRA volunteers killed at Loughgall had taken part in the Birches attack, like Pádraig McKearney, Jim Lynagh and Patrick J. Kelly.


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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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The Ballygawley Barracks Attack

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) launches an assault on the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks in Ballygawley, County Tyrone, on December 7, 1985. Two RUC officers are shot dead and the barracks are raked with gunfire before being completely destroyed by a bomb, which wounds an additional three officers.

In 1985, Patrick Kelly becomes leader of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade. He, along with East Tyrone Brigade members Jim Lynagh and Pádraig McKearney, advocate using flying columns to destroy isolated British Army and RUC bases and stop them from being repaired. The goal is to create and hold “liberated zones” under IRA control that will be gradually enlarged. Although IRA Chief of Staff Kevin McKenna turns down the flying column idea, IRA Northern Command approves the plan to destroy bases and prevent their repair. In 1985 alone there are 44 such attacks. Among the most devastating is the mortar attack on Newry RUC barracks in March.

The Ballygawley attack involves two IRA active service units from the East Tyrone Brigade: an armed assault unit and a bomb unit. There are also several teams of IRA observers in the area. The assault team is armed with AK-47 and AR-15 rifles, while the bombing unit is responsible for planting and detonating a 100-pound (45 kg) bomb. Both units are commanded by Patrick Kelly.

The assault is launched on Saturday, December 7, at 6:55 PM, when the handful of RUC officers manning the base are getting ready to hand over to the next shift. In the first burst of automatic fire, the two guards at the entrance are killed, Constable George Gilliland and Reserve Constable William Clements. Constable Clements’s Ruger Security-Six revolver is taken by the attackers. The base is then raked with gunfire. Another three RUC officers who are inside run out to the back of the base, where they hope the walls might offer some cover. IRA members go into the building and take documents and weapons. The bomb is placed inside and, upon detonation, destroys the entire base, injuring three officers.

The republican IRIS Magazine (#11, October 1987) describes the attack as follows:

“One volunteer took up a position close to the front gate. Two RUC men opened the gate and the volunteer calmly stepped forward, shooting them both dead at point blank range. Volunteers firing AK-47 and Armalite rifles moved into the barracks, raking it with gunfire. Having secured the building they planted a 100-lb. bomb inside. The bomb exploded, totally destroying the building after the volunteers had withdrawn to safety.”

The first British Army unit to arrive at the base in the wake of the attack is X Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

The attack is one of the Provisional IRA’s biggest during this period. Twelve days later the same IRA brigade mortar the RUC station at Castlederg badly damaging the base and injuring four people. The Ballygawley base is rebuilt by the Royal Engineers in 1986.

The East Tyrone IRA launches two similar attacks in the following years: the successful attack on the Birches base in 1986, and the ill-fated attack on the Loughgall base in 1987, in which eight IRA members are killed. Ballygawley itself had seen conflict before with the Ballygawley land mine attack in 1983, and would see more violence in 1988 with the Ballygawley bus bombing, that cost the lives of eight British soldiers. The gun taken from Constable Clements is found by security forces after the SAS ambush at Loughgall.

The RUC base at Ballygawley is once again targeted by the East Tyrone Brigade on December 7, 1992, in what becomes the debut of the IRA’s brand new Mark-15 improvised mortar, better known as “Barrack Buster.” Another attack with a horizontal mortar occurs on April 30, 1993, when a RUC mobile patrol leaving Ballygawley compound is targeted. According to an IRA statement, the projectile misses one of the vehicles, hits a wall and explodes.

(Pictured: A Provisional Irish Republican Army badge, with the phoenix symbolising the origins of the Provisional IRA)


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Death of Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States

Ulysses S. Grant, American military leader who serves as the 18th president of the United States (1869 to 1877), dies on July 23, 1883 after a long and painful battle with throat cancer.

Grant is born Hiram Ulysses Grant in Point Pleasant, Ohio, on April 27, 1822 to Jesse Root Grant, a tanner and merchant, and Hannah Simpson Grant. His mother descends from Presbyterian immigrants from Ballygawley, County Tyrone.

Raised in Ohio, Grant possesses an exceptional ability with horses, which serves him well through his military career. He is admitted to West Point, graduates 21st in the class of 1843 and serves with distinction in the Mexican–American War. In 1848, he marries Julia Dent, and together they have four children. He abruptly resigns his army commission in 1854 and returns to his family, but lives in poverty for seven years.

Grant joins the Union Army after the American Civil War breaks out in 1861 and rises to prominence after winning several early Union victories on the Western Theater. In 1863 he leads the Vicksburg campaign, which gains control of the Mississippi River. President Abraham Lincoln promotes him to lieutenant general after his victory at Chattanooga. For thirteen months, he fights Robert E. Lee during the high-casualty Overland Campaign and at Petersburg. On April 9, 1865, Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox. A week later, Lincoln is assassinated and is succeeded by Andrew Johnson, who promotes him to General of the Army in 1866. Later he openly breaks with Johnson over Reconstruction policies as he used the Reconstruction Acts, which had been passed over Johnson’s veto, to enforce civil rights for recently freed African Americans.

A war hero, drawn in by his sense of duty, Grant is unanimously nominated by the Republican Party and is elected president in 1868. As president, Grant stabilizes the post-war national economy, supports ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, and crushes the Ku Klux Klan. He appoints African Americans and Jewish Americans to prominent federal offices. In 1871, to help reduce federal patronage, he creates the first Civil Service Commission. The Liberal Republicans and Democrats unite behind his opponent in the 1872 presidential election, but he is handily re-elected. His Native American policy is to assimilate Indians into the White culture. The Great Sioux War of 1876 is fought during his term. In his foreign policy, the Alabama claims against Great Britain are peacefully resolved, but his prized Caribbean Dominican Republic annexation is rejected by the United States Senate.

Grant’s responses to corruption charges, in his federal departments rife with scandal, are mixed, often naïvely defending the culprits, particularly his war-time comrade Orville E. Babcock. But he also appoints cabinet reformers, such as John Brooks Henderson, for the prosecution of the Whiskey Ring. The Panic of 1873 plunges the nation into a severe economic depression that allows the Democrats to win the House majority. In the intensely disputed 1876 presidential election, he facilitates the approval by Congress of a peaceful compromise.

In his retirement, Grant is the first president to circumnavigate the world on his tour, meeting with Queen Victoria and many prominent foreign leaders. In 1880, he is unsuccessful in obtaining the Republican presidential nomination for a third term. In the final year of his life, facing severe financial reversals and dying of throat cancer, he writes his memoirs, which prove to be a major critical and financial success.

After a year-long struggle with throat cancer, surrounded by his family, Grant dies at 8:08 AM at his Mount McGregor cottage on July 23, 1885, at the age of 63. Philip Sheridan, then Commanding General of the Army, orders a day-long tribute to Grant on all military posts, and President Grover Cleveland orders a thirty-day nationwide period of mourning. After private services, the honor guard places Grant’s body on a special funeral train, which travels to West Point and New York City. A quarter of a million people view it in the two days before the funeral. Tens of thousands of men, many of them veterans from the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), march with Grant’s casket drawn by two dozen black stallions to Riverside Park in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. His pallbearers include Union generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan, Confederate generals Simon Bolivar Buckner and Joseph E. Johnston, Admiral David Dixon Porter, and Senator John A. Logan, the head of the GAR. Following the casket in the seven-mile-long procession are President Cleveland, the two living former presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester A. Arthur, all of the President’s Cabinet, as well as the justices of the Supreme Court.

Attendance at the New York funeral tops 1.5 million. Ceremonies are held in other major cities around the country, while Grant is eulogized in the press and likened to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. His body is laid to rest in a temporary tomb in Riverside Park. Twelve years later, on April 17, 1897, he is reinterred in the General Grant National Memorial, also known as “Grant’s Tomb,” the largest mausoleum in North America.


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The Ballygawley Land Mine Attack

ballygawley-land-mine-attackThe Ballygawley land mine attack is a bomb attack carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on July 13, 1983. The IRA explodes a land mine under an Ulster Defense Regiment‘s (UDR) mobile patrol at Ballygawley Road, near Dungannon, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. Four UDR soldiers are killed in the incident.

After the 1981 Irish hunger strike, floods of recruits sign up to join the IRA. Republicans in County Tyrone are especially angry over the death of Martin Hurson who was from the small Tyrone village of Cappagh and was one of Cappagh’s most famous sons. Cappagh becomes a Republican stronghold in the 1980s. Many young men flock to join the East Tyrone Brigade to avenge Hurson’s death. Some of those who join after being radicalized by the Hunger Strike go onto become famous IRA Volunteers like Declan Arthurs and Martin McCaughey who were both small children when the conflict broke out in 1969.

Sinn Féin member Francie Molloy said the following on Hurson’s funeral and the effect his death had on the young people of Cappagh:

“There was people everywhere. The village was black with them. It was the first sign in Tyrone of thousands and thousands of people assembling to honor the remains of a native son coming home. Martin was young when he went to jail and young when died on hunger strike. His death just made young people more determined that they were going to replace him. They saw ten men dead as the British government taking people out of the struggle. I think the young people of Cappagh and surrounding areas decided there and then that they were going to replace every one of them and replace them tenfold. And that is what they did. The number of young people who joined up in response was massive.”

On July 13, 1983, four British Army (Ulster Defence Regiment) soldiers (Ronald Alexander, Thomas Harron, John Roxborough, and Oswald Neely), all Protestant members of the 6th Battalion UDR, are travelling in their mobile patrol along a road in Tyrone close to the small town of Ballygawley. IRA Volunteers from the East Tyrone Brigade plant a 500 lb. land mine along the road the UDR patrol is traveling. The IRA unit notices the UDR takes a similar route every so often and has spotted weakness in the patrol. The IRA Volunteers are watching the UDR patrol while being well hidden. Once the UDR patrol is close to the land mine the IRA Volunteers detonate the land mine by remote control killing the four UDR soldiers almost immediately. This is the highest casualty rate suffered by the UDR in a single incident during The Troubles and worst attack suffered by the security forces since 1981. The attack is carried out by an Active Service Unit (ASU) of the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade which is one of the most active and successful Brigade areas in the IRA during the 1980s.

Within five years the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade launches two more high-profile attacks in Ballygawley. In 1985, during the Attack on Ballygawley barracks, an IRA unit led by Patrick Joseph Kelly and Jim Lynagh attacks the Ballygawley RUC barracks, shooting dead two RUC officers who are at the front of the station. A 200 lb. bomb destroys the entire barracks and injures three more RUC officers. In 1988, the IRA kills eight British soldiers and injures twenty-eight others during the Ballygawley bus bombing. Many Republicans see this as revenge for the Loughgall ambush the year before when the Special Air Service (SAS) shot dead eight IRA Volunteers.


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Birth of Cardinal Joseph MacRory in Co. Tyrone

cardinal-joseph-macroryJoseph MacRory, an Irish Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church who serves as Archbishop of Armagh from 1928 until his death in 1945, is born in Ballygawley, County Tyrone, on March 19, 1861.

MacRory is one of ten children of Francis MacRory, a farmer, and his wife, Rose Montague. He studies at St. Patrick’s College, Armagh, and St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth. He is ordained to the priesthood on September 13, 1885 and serves as the first president of St. Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon from 1886 to 1887. MacRory teaches Scripture and Modern Theology at St. Mary’s College, Oscott in England until 1889, when he is appointed Professor of Scripture and Oriental Languages at his alma mater of Maynooth College. In 1906, he co-founds the Irish Theological Quarterly. In 1912, he is made Vice-President of Maynooth.

On August 9, 1915, MacRory is appointed Bishop of Down and Connor by Pope Benedict XV and receives his episcopal consecration on November 14 from Cardinal Michael Logue. During his tenure, his life is threatened repeatedly due to the turbulent atmosphere in Belfast. He is a member of the Irish Convention from 1917 to 1918.

MacRory is promoted to Archbishop of Armagh and thus Primate of All Ireland on June 22, 1928, in succession to Patrick O’Donnell. He is elevated to the cardinalate on December 16, 1929, by Pope Pius XI.

MacRory is the papal legate at the 1933 laying of the foundation stone of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral in England. He also serves as one of the cardinal electors who participate in the 1939 papal conclave which ultimately selects Pope Pius XII.

MacRory is a strenuous opponent of social injustice, National Socialism, Protestantism, and the Partition of Ireland. It is MacRory who suggests to Eoin O’Duffy that he raise an Irish Brigade to aid Generalissimo Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. In 1940, he voices strong objections to conscription in the North.

MacRory is a supporter of the Gaelic League. Errigal Ciarán GAC, one of the most famous GAA clubs in Ireland, plays at Cardinal MacRory Park in Dunmoyle, County Tyrone, which is built in 1956 in his honour.

After a brief illness, Cardinal MacRory dies on October 13, 1945, at the age of 84 from a heart attack at Ara Coeli, the residence in Armagh. He is interred in St. Patrick’s Cathedral Cemetery, Armagh.