seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Warrenpoint Ambush

The Warrenpoint ambush, also known as the Narrow Water ambush, the Warrenpoint massacre or the Narrow Water massacre, is a guerrilla attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on August 27, 1979. The IRA’s South Armagh Brigade ambushes a British Army convoy with two large roadside bombs on the A2 road at Narrow Water Castle, just outside Warrenpoint, County Down, Northern Ireland.

The road and castle are on the northern bank of the Newry River, which marks the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Republic’s side of the river, the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth, is an ideal spot from which to launch an ambush. It is thickly wooded, which gives cover to the ambushers, and the river border prevents British forces from giving chase.

On the afternoon of August 27, a British Army convoy of one Land Rover and two four-ton lorries carrying soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment is driving from Ballykinlar Barracks to Newry. The British Army is aware of the dangers of using the stretch of road along the Newry River and often declares it out of bounds. However, they sometimes use it to avoid setting a pattern. At 4:40 p.m., as the convoy is driving past Narrow Water Castle, an 800-pound fertiliser bomb, hidden among bales of straw on a parked flatbed trailer, is detonated by remote control by IRA members watching from across the border in County Louth. The explosion catches the last lorry in the convoy, hurling it onto its side and instantly killing six paratroopers, whose bodies are scattered across the road. There are only two survivors amongst the soldiers traveling in the lorry, both of whom receive serious injuries. The lorry’s driver, Anthony Wood (19), is one of those killed. All that remains of his body is his pelvis, welded to the seat by the fierce heat of the blast.

According to the soldiers, immediately after the blast they are targeted by rifle fire from the woods on the Cooley Peninsula on the other side of the border, with this view supported by two part-time firefighters assisting the wounded. Shortly afterwards, the two IRA members arrested by the Garda Síochána and suspected of being behind the ambush, are found to have traces of gunsmoke residue on their hands and on the motorbike they are riding. The IRA’s first statement on the incident, however, denies that any shots had been fired at the troops, and according to Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) researchers, the soldiers might have mistaken the sound of ammunition cooking off for enemy gunfire. Nevertheless, at the official inquiry the soldiers declare on oath that they had been fired on.

The surviving paratroopers radio for urgent assistance, and reinforcements are dispatched to the scene by road. A rapid reaction unit is sent by Gazelle helicopter, consisting of Lieutenant Colonel David Blair, commanding officer of the Queen’s Own Highlanders, his signaler Lance Corporal Victor MacLeod, and army medics. Another helicopter, a Wessex, lands to pick up the wounded. Colonel Blair assumes command once at the site.

William Hudson, a 29-year-old from London, is killed by the British Army and his cousin Barry Hudson, a 25-year-old native of Dingle, is wounded when shots are fired across the Newry River into the Republic of Ireland about 3 km from the village of Omeath, County Louth.

The pair are partners in ‘Hudson Amusements’ and had been operating their amusements in Omeath for the duration of the Omeath Gala. When the first explosion is heard across the Lough, the pair go down to the shore to see what is unfolding. The pair makes their way to Narrow Water on the southern side of the border to get a better view of what is happening on the northern side. Barry Hudson is shot in the arm and as he falls to the ground he sees his cousin, who is the son of a coachman at Buckingham Palace, fall to the ground, shot in the head. He dies almost immediately.

The IRA had been studying how the British Army behaves after a bombing and correctly predicts that they would set up an incident command point (ICP) at the stone gateway on the other side of the road. At 5:12 p.m., thirty-two minutes after the first explosion, another 800-pound bomb hidden in milk pails explodes at the gateway, destroying it and hurling lumps of granite through the air. It detonates as the Wessex helicopter is taking off carrying wounded soldiers. The helicopter is damaged by the blast but does not crash.

The second explosion kills twelve soldiers, ten from the Parachute Regiment and the two from the Queen’s Own Highlanders. Lieutenant Colonel Blair is the second Lieutenant Colonel to be killed in the Troubles up until then, following Lieutenant Colonel Corden-Lloyd of the 2nd Battalion Royal Green Jackets in 1978. Only one of Colonel Blair’s epaulettes remains to identify him as his body had been vaporised in the blast. The epaulette is taken from the scene by Brigadier David Thorne to a security briefing with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to “illustrate the human factor” of the attack. Mike Jackson, then a major in the Parachute Regiment, is at the scene soon after the second explosion and later describes seeing human remains scattered over the road, in the water and hanging from the trees. He is asked to identify the face of his friend, Major Peter Fursman, still recognisable after it had been ripped from his head by the explosion and recovered from the water by divers from the Royal Engineers.

Press photographer Peter Molloy, who arrives at the scene after the first explosion, comes close to being shot by an angry paratrooper who sees him taking photographs of the dead and dying instead of offering to help the wounded. The soldier is tackled by his comrades. Molloy says, “I was shouted at and called all sorts of things but I understood why. I had trespassed on the worst day of these fellas’ lives and taken pictures of it.”

The Warrenpoint ambush is a victory for the IRA. It is the deadliest attack on the British Army during the Troubles and the Parachute Regiment’s biggest loss since World War II, with sixteen paratroopers killed. General Sir James Glover, Commander of British forces in Northern Ireland, later says it was “arguably the most successful and certainly one of the best planned IRA attacks of the whole campaign.” The ambush happens on the same day that Lord Mountbatten, a prominent member of the British royal family, is killed by an IRA bomb aboard his boat at Mullaghmore, County Sligo, along with three others.

Republicans portray the attack as retaliation for Bloody Sunday in 1972 when the Parachute Regiment shot dead 13 unarmed civilians during a protest march in Derry. Graffiti appears in republican areas declaring “13 gone and not forgotten, we got 18 and Mountbatten.” The day after the Mountbatten and Warrenpoint attacks, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) retaliates by shooting dead a Catholic man, John Patrick Hardy (43), at his home in Belfast‘s New Lodge estate. Hardy is targeted in the mistaken belief that he is an IRA member.

Very shortly after the ambush, IRA volunteers Brendan Burns and Joe Brennan are arrested by the Gardaí. They are stopped while riding a motorbike on a road opposite Narrow Water Castle. They are later released on bail due to lack of evidence. Burns dies in 1988 when a bomb he is handling explodes prematurely. In 1998, former IRA member Eamon Collins claims that Burns had been one of those who carried out the Warrenpoint ambush. No one has ever been criminally charged.

According to Toby Harnden, the attack “drove a wedge” between the Army and the RUC. Lieutenant General Sir Timothy Creasey, General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, suggests to Margaret Thatcher that internment should be brought back and that liaison with the Gardaí should be left in the hands of the military. Sir Kenneth Newman, the RUC Chief Constable, claims instead that the British Army practice, since 1975, of supplying their garrisons in south County Armagh by helicopter gives too much freedom of movement to the IRA. One result is the appointment of Sir Maurice Oldfield to a new position of Co-ordinator of Security Intelligence in Northern Ireland. His role is to co-ordinate intelligence between the military, MI5 and the RUC. Another is the expansion of the RUC by 1,000 members. Tim Pat Coogan asserts that the deaths of the 18 soldiers hastens the move to Ulsterisation.

Lieutenant Colonel Blair is remembered on a memorial at Radley College, Oxfordshire.


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Birth of Actress Valerie Hobson

valerie-hobsonValerie Hobson, Irish-born actress who appears in a number of films during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, is born Babette Valerie Louise Hobson in Larne, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on April 14, 1917. Her second husband is John Profumo, 5th Baron Profumo, a government minister who becomes the subject of a sensational sex scandal in 1963.

In 1935, still in her teens, Hobson appears as Baroness Frankenstein in Bride of Frankenstein with Boris Karloff and Colin Clive. She plays opposite Henry Hull that same year in Werewolf of London, the first Hollywood werewolf film. The latter half of the 1940s sees Hobson in perhaps her two most memorable roles: as the adult Estella in David Lean‘s adaptation of Great Expectations (1946), and as the refined and virtuous Edith D’Ascoyne in the black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949).

In 1952 she divorces her first husband, film producer Sir Anthony Havelock-Allan. In 1954, she marries Brigadier John, 5th Baron Profumo, an MP, giving up acting shortly afterwards. Baron Profumo is a prominent politician of Italian descent. Hobson’s last starring role is in the original London production of Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s musical play The King and I, which opens at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, on October 8, 1953. She plays Mrs. Anna Leonowens opposite Herbert Lom‘s King. The show runs for 926 performances.

After Profumo’s ministerial career ends in disgrace in 1963, following revelations he had lied to the House of Commons about his affair with Christine Keeler, Hobson stands by him. They worked together for charity for the remainder of her life, though she does miss their more public personas.

Hobson’s eldest son, Simon Anthony Clerveaux Havelock-Allan, is born in May 1944 with Down syndrome. Her middle child, Mark Havelock-Allan, is born on April 4, 1951 and becomes a judge. Her youngest child is the author David Profumo, who writes Bringing the House Down: A Family Memoir (2006) about the scandal. In it, he writes his parents told him nothing of the scandal and that he learned of it from another boy at school.

Valerie Hobson dies on November 13, 1998 at the age of 81 at a Westminster, London Hospital following a heart attack. After her death, her body is cremated in accordance with her wishes. Half her ashes are interred in the family vault in Hersham. The rest are scattered on January 1, 1999 by her sons David Profumo and Mark Havelock-Allan, near the family’s farm in Scotland.

Hobson is portrayed by Deborah Grant in the film Scandal (1989), and by Joanna Riding in Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s stage musical Stephen Ward, which opens at the Aldwych Theatre on December 19, 2013.


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Birth of Thomas Arthur, comte de Lally, baron de Tollendal

thomas-arthur-lallyThomas Arthur, comte de Lally, baron de Tollendal, French General of Irish Jacobite ancestry, is born on January 13, 1702. Lally commands French forces in India during the Seven Years’ War, including two battalions of his own red-coated Regiment of Lally of the Irish Brigade.

Lally is born at Romans-sur-Isère, Dauphiné, the son of Sir Gerald Lally, one of the original “Wild Geese” of 1691 and an Irish Jacobite from Tuam, County Galway, who married a French lady of noble family. His title is derived from the Lally’s ancestral home, Castel Tullendally in County Galway where the Lally’s, originally called O’Mullallys, are prominent members of the Gaelic Aristocracy who can trace their ancestry back to the second century High King of Ireland, Conn of the Hundred Battles.

Entering the French army in 1721 he serves in the war of 1734 against Austria. He is present at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, and commands the regiment de Lally in the famous Irish brigade in the Battle of Fontenoy in May 1745. He is made a brigadier on the field by Louis XV of France.

Lally is a staunch Jacobite and in 1745 accompanies Charles Edward Stuart to Scotland, serving as aide-de-camp at the Battle of Falkirk Muir in January 1746. Escaping to France, he serves with Marshal Maurice de Saxe in the Low Countries. At the Siege of Maastricht in 1748 he is made a maréchal de camp.

When war breaks out with Britain in 1756 Lally is appointed governor-general of French India and commands a French expedition to India, made up of four battalions, two of whom are from his own Regiment of Lally of the Irish Brigade. He reaches Pondicherry in April 1758, and within six weeks has pushed the British back from the coast to Madras, the headquarters of the British East India Company.

He is a man of courage and a capable general, but his pride and ferocity make him unpopular with his officers and men. He is unsuccessful in an attack on Tanjore, and as he lacks French naval support he has to retire from the Siege of Madras in 1758, owing to the timely arrival of the British fleet. He is defeated by Sir Eyre Coote at the Battle of Wandiwash in 1760, and besieged in Pondicherry, where he is forced to capitulate in 1761.

Lally is sent to England as a prisoner of war. Public opinion in France is very hostile, blaming him for the defeat by the British, and there are widespread calls for Lally to be put on trial. While in London, he hears that he is accused of treason in France, and insists, against advice, on returning on parole to stand trial. He is kept prisoner for nearly two years before the trial begins in 1764. When the Advocate General of the Paris Parlement Joseph Omer Joly de Fleury begins the prosecution, Lally has not received any documentation of the charges and is not allowed a defence lawyer. Throughout the trial, which lasts for two years, Lally fights against Joly de Fleury’s charges but on May 6, 1766 he is convicted and sentenced to death.

Lally makes an unsuccessful attempt at suicide in prison after his sentencing. On May 9, 1766, three days after his conviction, he is gagged to prevent him from protesting his innocence further and is transported in a garbage cart to the Place de Grève to be beheaded. The executioner’s first blow only slices open his skull and it takes a second blow to kill him.