seamus dubhghaill

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


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Knocknagoshel Booby Trapped Mine Attack

Five Free State soldiers, including three officers are killed by a booby trapped mine while clearing a road in Knocknagoshel, County Kerry, on March 6, 1923, during the Irish Civil War. Another soldier is badly wounded. National Army commander Paddy Daly issues a memorandum that Republican prisoners are to be used to clear mined roads from now on.

A party of eight Free State soldiers are sent to investigate a tip-off about an Irish Republican Army (IRA) arms dump. The tip-off is a ruse devised by the local IRA brigade to lure the enemy into a trap. At about 2:00 AM as they move stones to investigate the location where arms are allegedly buried, a mine explodes. Body parts are “strewn in all directions.” Paddy O’Connor, Michael Galvin, Laurence O’Connor, Michael Dunne and Edward Stapleton die instantly and a sixth is so badly injured, his legs are amputated. The IRA members who set the mine are hiding in a dugout about a mile away. The Knocknagoshel explosion represents the highest daily death toll among the Free State army in over six months.

Retaliation is swift and ferocious. Over the following two weeks, nineteen Republican prisoners die in County Kerry at the hands of the Free State. Knocknagoshel prompts an army statement that any future barricades or obstructions on the roads will be removed by republican prisoners. In his letter to officers in the Kerry Command, Brigadier Paddy O’Daly insists that “the taking out of prisoners is not to be regarded as a reprisal, but as the only alternative left us to prevent the wholesale slaughter of our men.” The implementation of O’Daly’s instructions is immediate and hugely repercussive.

On the night after the explosion, and in a move which reverberateds politically for generations, nine republican prisoners in Ballymullen Barracks in Tralee are taken to Ballyseedy on the Tralee to Killorglin road to clear a pile of rubble blocking the road. The nine, who had already been interrogated and abused in revenge for Knocknagoshel, are driven to the scene. It is suggested that one of the reasons these nine are selected from a wider group of prisoners is that they have no known links to the Catholic clergy or hierarchy so as not to antagonise the church which is actively and vocally supportive of the Free State and its leadership.

The army had planted a bomb in the rubble. They tie the prisoners by the wrists and their shoelaces and detonate the device. Eight of the nine are blown to pieces and killed instantly. The ninth, Stephen Fuller of Fahavane, Kilflynn, is thrown a considerable distance by the force of the explosion and, despite his injuries, manages to flee with the only eyewitness account of the incident.

When the dismembered remains of the eight dead men are placed in coffins and returned to their families at Ballymullen Barracks, there follows a “frenzy.” It is alleged that O’Daly orders the army band to play ragtime music as the bodies are handed over to the families at the gates of the barracks. The families react furiously, throwing stones at the soldiers and smashing the army coffins on the ground as they place the deceased in coffins they had brought themselves.

The funerals which follow prompted an outcry of condemnation of the actions of the Free State Army. As a result, it is decided that henceforth, prisoners who die in military custody in the Kerry Command areas will be buried by troops where they die rather than in their own parish. This is, as T. Ryle Dwyer argues, “tantamount to approving the barbarities that we being perpetrated and merely telling the soldiers to cover up their vile acts properly.”

Meanwhile, the police authorities move quickly to absolve themselves of any connections with the deaths at Ballyseedy on the basis that it was not reported to the Civic Guard in Kerry. The area is under an 11:00 PM curfew at the time and no patrols are undertaken after this hour. However, the superintendent Tralee notes, “In any event, in the Ballyseedy area at that time there were a considerable number of Irregulars, which rendered it unsafe for the Guards to patrol there.”

(From: “Body parts were ‘strewn in all directions’ – the bloody climax of the Civil War in Kerry” by Owen O’Shea, http://www.owenoshea.ie, March 7, 2021)


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The Maze Prison Escape

The Maze Prison escape, known to Irish republicans as the Great Escape, takes place on September 25, 1983 in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. HM Prison Maze, also known as Long Kesh, is a maximum security prison considered to be one of the most escape-proof prisons in Europe, and holds prisoners suspected of taking part in armed paramilitary campaigns during the Troubles. In the biggest prison escape in UK history, 38 Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners escaped from H-Block 7 (H7) of the prison. One prison officer dies of a heart attack during the escape and twenty others are injured, including two who are shot with guns that had been smuggled into the prison. The escape is a propaganda coup for the IRA, and a British government minister faces calls to resign. The official inquiry into the escape places most of the blame onto prison staff, who in turn blame the escape on political interference in the running of the prison.

IRA volunteers regard themselves as prisoners of war with a duty to escape. During the Troubles, Irish republican prisoners escape from custody en masse on several occasions between 1971 and 1981.

Prisoners had been planning the 1983 escape for several months. Bobby Storey and Gerry Kelly start working as orderlies in H7, which allows them to identify weaknesses in the security systems. Six handguns are also smuggled into the prison. Shortly after 2:30 PM on September 25, prisoners seize control of H7 by simultaneously taking the prison officers hostage at gunpoint in order to prevent them from triggering an alarm. One officer is stabbed with a craft knife, and another is knocked down by a blow to the back of the head. One officer who attempts to prevent the escape is shot in the head by Gerry Kelly, but survives. By 2:50 PM the prisoners are in control of H7 without an alarm being raised. A dozen prisoners also take uniforms from the officers, and the officers are forced to hand over their car keys and details of where their cars are, for possible later use during the escape. A rearguard is left behind to watch over hostages and keep the alarm from being raised until they believe the escapees are clear of the prison, at which time they return to their cells. At 3:25 PM, a lorry delivering food supplies arrives at the entrance to H7, whereupon Brendan McFarlane and other prisoners take the occupants hostage at gunpoint and move them inside H7. The lorry driver is told the lorry is being used in the escape, and he is instructed what route to take and how to react if challenged.

At 3:50 PM the prisoners leave H7, and the driver and a prison orderly are taken back to the lorry. Thirty-seven prisoners climb into the back of the lorry, while Gerry Kelly lay on the floor of the cab with a gun pointed at the driver, who is also told the cab has been booby trapped with a hand grenade. At nearly 4:00 PM the lorry drives toward the main gate of the prison, where the prisoners intend to take over the gatehouse. Ten prisoners dressed in guards’ uniforms and armed with guns and chisels dismount from the lorry and enter the gatehouse, where they take the officers hostage.

At 4:05 PM the officers begin to resist, and an officer presses an alarm button. When other staff respond via an intercom, a senior officer says while being held at gunpoint that the alarm had been triggered accidentally. By this time the prisoners are struggling to maintain control in the gatehouse due to the number of hostages. Officers arriving for work are entering the gatehouse from outside the prison, and each is ordered at gunpoint to join the other hostages. Officer James Ferris runs from the gatehouse toward the pedestrian gate attempting to raise the alarm, pursued by Dermot Finucane. Ferris had already been stabbed three times in the chest, and before he can raise the alarm he collapses.

Finucane continues to the pedestrian gate where he stabs the officer controlling the gate, and two officers who had just entered the prison. This incident is seen by a soldier on duty in a watchtower, who reports to the British Army operations room that he has seen prison officers fighting. The operations room telephones the prison’s Emergency Control Room (ECR), which replies that everything is all right and that an alarm had been accidentally triggered earlier.

At 4:12 PM the alarm is raised when an officer in the gatehouse pushes the prisoner holding him hostage out of the room and telephones the ECR. However, this is not done soon enough to prevent the escape. After several attempts the prisoners open the main gate, and are waiting for the prisoners still in the gatehouse to rejoin them in the lorry. At this time two prison officers block the exit with their cars, forcing the prisoners to abandon the lorry and make their way to the outer fence which is 25 yards away.

Four prisoners attack one of the officers and hijack his car, which they drive toward the external gate. They crash into another car near the gate and abandon the car. Two escape through the gate, one is captured exiting the car, and another is captured after being chased by a soldier. At the main gate, a prison officer is shot in the leg while chasing the only two prisoners who have not yet reached the outer fence. The prisoner who fires the shot is captured after being shot and wounded by a soldier in a watch tower, and the other prisoner is captured after falling. The other prisoners escape over the fence, and by 4:18 PM the main gate is closed and the prison secured, after 35 prisoners had breached the prison perimeter. The escape is the biggest in British history, and the biggest in Europe since World War II.

Outside the prison the IRA has planned a logistical support operation involving 100 armed members, but due to a miscalculation of five minutes, the prisoners find no transport waiting for them and are forced to flee across fields or hijack vehicles. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary immediately activate a contingency plan and by 4:25 PM a cordon of vehicle checkpoints are in place around the prison, and others are later in place in strategic positions across Northern Ireland, resulting in the recapture of one prisoner at 11:00 PM. Twenty prison officers are injured during the escape, thirteen are kicked and beaten, four stabbed, and two shot. One prison officer, James Ferris, who had been stabbed, dies after suffering a heart attack during the escape.

The escape is a propaganda coup and morale boost for the IRA, with Irish republicans dubbing it the “Great Escape.” Leading unionist politician Ian Paisley calls on Nicholas Scott, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to resign. The British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher makes a statement in Ottawa during a visit to Canada, saying “It is the gravest [breakout] in our present history, and there must be a very deep inquiry.” The day after the escape, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Prior announces an inquiry to be headed by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, James Hennessy. The Hennessy Report is published on January 26, 1984 placing most of the blame for the escape on prison staff, and making a series of recommendations to improve security at the prison. The report also places blame with the designers of the prison, the Northern Ireland Office and successive prison governors who had failed to improve security. Prior announces that the prison’s governor has resigned, and that there will be no ministerial resignations as a result of the report’s findings. Four days after the Hennessy Report is published, the Minister for Prisons Nicholas Scott dismisses allegations from the Prison Governors Association and the Prison Officers Association that the escape is due to political interference in the running of the prison.

Fifteen escapees are captured on the day, including four who are discovered hiding underwater in a river near the prison using reeds to breathe. Four more escapees are captured over the next two days, including Hugh Corey and Patrick McIntyre who are captured following a two-hour siege at an isolated farmhouse. Out of the remaining 19 escapees, 18 end up in the republican stronghold of South Armagh where two members of the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade are in charge of transporting them to safehouses, and given the option of either returning to active service in the IRA’s armed campaign or a job and new identity in the United States.

On October 25, 1984, nineteen prisoners appear in court on charges relating to the death of prison officer James Ferris, sixteen charged with his murder. A pathologist determines that the stab wounds Ferris suffered would not have killed a healthy man. The judge acquits all sixteen as he cannot correlate the stabbing to the heart attack.


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The Bahaghs Incident

During the Irish Civil War, five prisoners from Irish Republican Army (IRA) Kerry No. 3 Brigade are killed at Bahaghs, near Cahersiveen, County Kerry, on March 12, 1923. They are taken from a National Army post in the town at gunpoint by Dublin Guard officers under protest from the garrison.

The government and military consistently claim the men died while clearing a land mine although it is generally believed, especially in Republican circles, that the five men were victims of an horrific war crime which saw them shot and strapped to a mine by an Irish Free State death squad.

The victims of the shocking and notorious incident are Michael Courtney Jnr, Eugene Dwyer, Daniel Shea, John Sugrue and William Riordan, all from the Waterville area. The five men are held by Free State troops at Bahaghs workhouse, then in use as a temporary detention centre, following their arrest for irregular activities several days earlier.

In the early hours of March 12 members of the Free State’s Dublin Guard, who had been tasked with defeating irregular forces in Kerry and who had earned a notorious reputation for brutality in the process, arrive at the workhouse and select five of the twenty men in custody there. The five are then brought to an irregular roadblock several miles away where the IRA men are, allegedly, shot in the legs before being laid over a land mine which is detonated by the Free state troops blowing the five men to pieces.

The Bahaghs killings are part of a series of deaths which begin with another horrific incident on March 6, 1923 in which five soldiers are killed by a booby trap bomb at the village of Knocknagoshel. Immediately after the Knocknagoshel incident the Free State commander for Kerry, Maj. Gen. Paddy O’Daly, previously head of Michael Collin‘s Dublin assassination squad, authorises the use of republican prisoners to clear mined roads, as “the only alternative left us to prevent the wholesale slaughter of our men.” Two separate incidents occur the following day in which thirteen additional Republican prisoners are killed by land mines.

When questioned in the Dáil by Labour Party leader Thomas Johnson, the National Army’s commander-in-chief, Gen. Richard Mulcahy, says he accepts the findings of a military court of inquiry which exonerates the troops of all wrongdoing in any of the incidents.

In recent years, previously confidential state papers have been released which shed new light on one of Kerry’s most terrible episodes. The evidence in the file sharply contradicts the official line on the killings and paints a damning portrait of Free State army brutality and subsequent government efforts to cover up three massacres perpetrated by its troops in Kerry.

Further documents prove that a top official in the Ministry of Home Affairs utterly dismissed the findings of a military inquiry into the killings but the cabinet of the day took no action and rejected all claims for compensation by relatives.

Nothing has ever been done in relation to the three Kerry massacres after the executive council decision and, to this day, the true events of Bahaghs, Countess Bridge and, most famously, Ballyseedy have never been revealed.

(Pictured: Irish Republican Army Brigade in County Kerry)


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The Ballyseedy Massacre

The Ballyseedy Massacre takes place near Ballyseedy, County Kerry, on March 7, 1923. Kerry had seen more violence in the guerrilla phase of the Irish Civil War than almost anywhere else in Ireland. By March 1923, 68 Free State soldiers had already been killed in Kerry and 157 wounded – 85 would die there by the end of the war.

The day after five Free State soldiers are killed by a booby trap bomb while searching a republican dugout at the village of Knocknagoshel, Paddy Daly, in command of the Free State’s Kerry forces, announces that prisoners will be used in the future to clear mined roads.

In Ballyseedy, nine Republican prisoners – Pat Buckley, John Daly, Pat Hartnett, Michael O’Connell, John O’Connor, George O’Shea, Tim Tuomey, James Walsh and Steven Fuller – are driven to the remote Ballyseedy Wood near Ballyseedy Cross to be executed. The troops make sure that they are ‘all fairly anonymous, no priests or nuns in the family, those that’ll make the least noise.’ As they are being loaded into the lorry, the Free State Army guards ask them if they would care to smoke, telling them it will be their last cigarette.

They are taken to a remote location near the banks of the River Lee, where a large log stretches across the Castleisland Road. The Republicans are all tied to the log alongside a mine which is then detonated. Several of the Republicans, however, survive the initial explosion. The Free State soldiers then proceed to throw a number of grenades and shoot at them ensuring they are dead.

They succeed in killing all but Steven Fuller. The force of the explosion hurls him clear across the road. Falling, dazed, but conscious that he is alive and unhurt he quickly realises that the blast had even burst apart the cords used to tie him. As the soldiers come out from their cover after the detonation he crawls along the shelter of the ditch into the river at the roadside, escaping to a nearby Irish Republican Army (IRA) hideout. For days afterwards the birds are eating human flesh off the trees at Ballyseedy Cross.

Eight anti-treaty volunteers and prisoners are killed in the explosion. The exact details are murky. Official government sources state that the men were killed while clearing mines left by anti-treaty forces. Conversely anti-treaty sources claim the men were attached to a mine which was then detonated in retaliation for an explosion the previous day which killed six government forces in Knocknagashel, 30 miles away. If anyone believes that the explosion at Ballyseedy had been an accident, they would have trouble explaining the deaths of nine more Republican prisoners in the next four days.

There is no way of knowing how many men had been killed. Eight prisoners of war are murdered that night at Ballyseedy Cross. Nine coffins are sent back to Tralee the next day. What are the people of Tralee to do with that ninth coffin? A mother wails, “But my son was six feet tall. How can he come home to me in such a small coffin?” They will not let the mother open that coffin.

For three generations following the Irish Civil War, the country is riven by the pain and anguish of the violent conflict. Ballyseedy is just one example of the horrors inflicted.

(From: Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland, https://stairnaheireann.net/, Photo: Ballyseedy Massacre Monument, Curraghmacdonagh, County Kerry)


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The Clive Barracks Bombing

clive-barracks-bombingThe Clive Barracks bombing, a bomb attack carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army on a British Army barracks at Ternhill, Shropshire, takes place on February 20, 1989. The attack injures two soldiers from the Parachute Regiment and destroys a large part of the barracks.

The IRA intensifies their campaign outside of Northern Ireland in 1988. In May 1988 the IRA enjoys one of their most successful ambushes on British Military figures in mainland Europe with attacks in the Netherlands where they kill three and injured three Royal Air Force soldiers. Four months later in August 1988, the Provisional IRA carries out the Inglis Barracks bombing, which kills one British soldier and injures ten others. It is the first IRA attack in England since the infamous Brighton hotel bombing in October 1984.

On Monday, February 20, 1989, the Provisional IRA explodes two bombs at Clive Barracks at Ternhill. Only two of the planned three bombs are primed and ready to explode when the two IRA members, both of whom are wearing combat jackets, are spotted and approached by a sentry, Lance-Corporal Alan Norris, who raises the alarm. They throw the third bomb, which was inside a backpack, at him and run to a car they had stolen earlier and drive away. Soldiers fire three rounds at the IRA members as they are fleeing but no shots hit their target.

The bombs explode about ten minutes after the IRA men escape. Even though nobody is killed in the attack, the explosions causes large damage to the barracks. The alarm sounded by Norris gives about fifty British soldiers a chance to escape almost certain death. Only two soldiers are injured, one being hit by flying glass the other with only minor injuries.

The IRA claims responsibility for the bombings and British police believe IRA fugitive Patrick Sheehy is the main operator in the attack. The IRA issues a statement saying, “While Britain maintains its colonial grip on the north of Ireland, the IRA will continue to strike at those who oversee and implement British Government policy in our country.”

Five months later, in July 1989, the IRA kills a British soldier in Hanover, West Germany when they place a booby trap IED under his car. On September 7 the IRA mistakenly shoots dead Heidi Hazell, the German wife of a British soldier, in a hail of bullets in Dortmund. In the climax of the England and European campaign by the IRA is the Deal barracks bombing in which the IRA kills eleven Royal Marines and seriously injures 22 others. It is the highest death toll from an operation in England in seven years since the Hyde Park and Regent’s Park bombings on September 22, 1982, which kill 11 soldiers and injured more than fifty.


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Murder of PSNI Officer Ronan Kerr

Police Constable Ronan Kerr, a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer, is killed by a booby trap car bomb planted outside his home in Killyclogher near Omagh on April 2, 2011. Responsibility for the attack is later claimed by a dissident republican group claiming to be made of former members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army.

Kerr is Roman Catholic, a group which at the time constitutes approximately 30% of PSNI officers, and is 25 years old at the time of his death. He is a member of a Gaelic Athletic Association club, the Beragh Red Knights. The guard of honour at Kerr’s funeral is formed of club members and PSNI officers, a funeral also attended by the leaders of Ireland’s four main churches.

Kerr’s murder is condemned by almost all sections of Northern Irish politics and society as well as bringing international condemnation. On April 6, a Peace Rally is organised in Belfast by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which is reported to be attended by up to 7,000 persons. Similar events are held in Omagh, Enniskillen, and London.

BBC Ireland correspondent Mark Simpson comments, in relation to the unified response of the community, “A murder designed to divide people has actually brought them closer together.” Graffiti praising the murder is daubed on walls in predominantly republican areas of Derry.

On July 26, 2011 five men are arrested in connection with the investigation. They are later released. On November 26, 2012, investigating detectives announce the arrest of a 22-year-old man in Milton Keynes. On November 27, a 39-year-old man in County Tyrone is arrested and questioned. However, as of 2017 no persons have been charged with Constable Kerr’s murder.