seamus dubhghaill

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


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Assassination of Norman and James Stronge

Sir Charles Norman Lockhart Stronge and his son James, both former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Members of Parliament, are assassinated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) at their home, Tynan Abbey, on January 21, 1981. The home is then burned to the ground.

Before his involvement in politics Stronge fights in World War I as a junior officer in the British Army. He fights in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and is awarded the Military Cross. His positions after the war include Speaker of the House of Commons of Northern Ireland for twenty-three years.

Stronge (86) and his son, James (48), are watching television in the library of Tynan Abbey when members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, armed with machine guns, use grenades to break down the locked heavy doors to the home.

The Stronge family home is then burned to the ground as a result of two bomb explosions. On seeing the explosions at the house, as well as a flare Stronge lit in an attempt to alert the authorities, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and British Army troops arrive at the scene and establish a roadblock at the gate lodge. They encounter at least eight fleeing gunmen. A twenty-minute gunfight ensues in which at least two hundred shots are fired. There are no casualties among the security forces but the gunmen escape. The bodies of the father and son are later discovered in the library of their burning home, each with gunshot wounds in the head. It is not known who died first, Norman or James. Under the legal fiction known as the doctrine of survival, James is still listed as succeeding to the baronetcy.

The village of Tynan is crowded for the joint funeral of Stronge and his son. Mourners come from throughout the province and from England, including lords, politicians, policemen, judges and church leaders. The coffin is carried by the 5th Battalion the Royal Irish Rangers, the successors to his old regiment. The sword and cap of the Lord Lieutenant of Tyrone, Major John Hamilton-Stubber, are placed on his coffin in lieu of his own, which had been destroyed with his other possessions in the fire. During the service, a telegram sent from Queen Elizabeth II to one of Sir Norman’s daughters, is read. After the service, the chief mourners move out into the churchyard where the “Last Post” is sounded and a Royal British Legion farewell is given. The two coffins are laid in the family plot, where Lady Stronge, Sir Norman’s wife and mother of James, was buried a year previously.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Humphrey Atkins, is informed by friends of the Stronge family that he would not be welcome at the funeral because of government policy on Irish border security. Atkins leaves the Northern Ireland Office later that year, to be replaced by Jim Prior. Stronge is commemorated with a tablet in the Northern Ireland Assembly Chamber in Parliament Buildings on the Stormont Estate.

The IRA releases a statement in Belfast, quoted in The Times, claiming that “This deliberate attack on the symbols of hated unionism was a direct reprisal for a whole series of loyalist assassinations and murder attacks on nationalist peoples and nationalist activities.” This follows the loyalist attempted murder of Bernadette McAliskey and her husband Michael McAliskey on January 16, and the loyalist assassinations of four republican activists (Miriam Daly, John Turnley, Noel Lyttle and Ronnie Bunting) which had taken place since May 1980.

The killings are referred to as murder by multiple media sources including The Daily Telegraph, The Scotsman, The New York Times and Time magazine, by the Reverend Ian Paisley in the House of Commons and by Alec Cooke, Baron Cooke of Islandreagh in the House of Lords.

Stronge is described at the time of his death by Social Democratic and Labour Party politician Austin Currie as having been “even at 86 years of age … still incomparably more of a man than the cowardly dregs of humanity who ended his life in this barbaric way.”

The ruins of Tynan Abbey are demolished in 1998, having stood for 249 years.


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Bernadette Devlin McAliskey Assassination Attempt

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, Northern Ireland civil rights campaigner and former Westminster Member of Parliament (MP), is shot by members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, a cover name of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), who burst into her home at Coalisland, County Tyrone on January 16, 1981. She survives the assassination attempt.

The three men shoot McAliskey nine times in the chest, arm and thigh as she goes to wake up one of her three children. Her husband, Michael, is also shot twice at point blank range. British soldiers are watching the McAliskey home at the time, but fail to prevent the assassination attempt. It is claimed that Devlin’s assassination was ordered by British authorities and that collusion was a factor. An army patrol of the 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment enter the house and wait for half an hour. McAliskey claims they are waiting for the couple to die.

Another group of soldiers then arrive and transport them by helicopter to a nearby Dungannon hospital for emergency treatment and then to the Musgrave Park Hospital, Military Wing, in Belfast, under intensive care. Their condition is initially said to be serious, but not life-threatening.

The attackers, Ray Smallwoods, Tom Graham, both from Lisburn, and Andrew Watson from Seymour Hill, Dunmurry, are captured by members of the Parachute Regiment, who are on patrol nearby when they hear the shots and are taken in for questioning by the police and subsequently jailed. All three are members of the South Belfast UDA. Smallwoods is the driver of the getaway car. Police say it is a professional attack. The gunmen cut the telephone wires to the house before breaking down the front door with a sledgehammer.

McAliskey had played a leading role in the campaign for Republican prisoners in the HM Prison Maze, who are demanding “prisoner of war” or political status. They want to be held separately from loyalist supporters in the Maze. Four other members of the campaign for the H-block inmates have been murdered.

Seven Maze prisoners went on hunger strike before Christmas in support of their demands for political status. The strike is called off on December 12 after Taoiseach Charles Haughey convinces the inmates their families want them to start eating again.