The outbreak of the United Irish rebellion in Leinster on May 23 had prompted calls from Ulster United Irishmen to take to the field in support of their southern comrades. However, the organisation in Ulster had been severely damaged in a brutal disarmament campaign the previous year, and the new leadership are less radical and are not willing take to the field without French assistance, which is expected daily.
After waiting for two weeks while the rebellion rages in the south, the grassroots United Irish membership in Antrim decides to hold a number of meetings independent of their leaders. The outcome is the election of Henry Joy McCracken as their adjutant general and the decision to rise immediately. McCracken, together with James Hope, quickly formulate a plan to attack and seize all government outposts in County Antrim and then for the main attack to fall on Antrim town. Then using artillery seized at Antrim, the rebels are to march on Belfast in conjunction with the United Irish rebels in County Down.
McCracken has high hopes that many members of the militia will desert and join him, as disaffection is believed to be widespread, evidenced by the execution of four of the Monaghan militia for treason in Belfast in May.
On 6 June, McCracken and James Hope issue a proclamation calling for the United army of Ulster to rise. The initial plan meets with success, as the towns of Larne, Ballymena, Portaferry and Randalstown are taken and the bridge at Toome damaged to prevent the government from rushing reinforcements into Antrim from west of the River Bann. The rebels then assemble at Donegore Hill in preparation for the march and attack on Antrim town, where an emergency meeting of the county’s magistrates called by the county governor, Lord O’Neill, is due to take place.
Although almost 10,000 rebels assemble at Donegore, many display reluctance for the coming fight and stay on the hill in reserve or desert later so that probably fewer than 4,000 actually take part in the attack. The United Irishmen in Ulster are mostly Presbyterian, but are joined with CatholicDefenders and the tension between the two groups on the march likely causes some desertions. These difficulties lead to a loss of momentum, and the attack is delayed. McCracken is forced to make adjustments to his plan of attack, which had envisaged a simultaneous overwhelming assault on the town from four separate points.
The town is garrisoned by a small force of about 200 yeomen, cavalry under Lt. Col. William Lumley and armed volunteers but they also have four artillery pieces and the delay in the rebel attack allows them to send requests for assistance to Belfast and Lisburn from where reinforcements are already on the way. The garrison forms themselves at the base of the demesne wall of Antrim Castle, with artillery to the front and cavalry to the rear with their flanks anchored by the Market House and Presbyterian Meeting House. A part of the Scottish Quarter in the town is also burned by the garrison as it is perceived to be a stronghold of rebel sympathisers.
The attack finally begins shortly before 3:00 p.m. when the rebels begin a cautious march through the town. As rebel front ranks arrive to face the garrison’s defensive line, artillery opens fire on the rebels, causing them to pull back out of range. Large clouds of dust and smoke are thrown up which, together with the fires from the Scottish Quarter, obscure the garrison’s view of events.
The rebel withdrawal is mistaken for a full retreat and the cavalry moves out to pursue and rout the supposed fleeing rebels. The cavalry effectively runs into a gauntlet of rebels who are protected by a long churchyard wall and stationed in houses along the main street, suffering heavy losses to the gunfire and pikes of the rebels.
After routing the cavalry, the rebels attack the remainder of the garrison, which then begins to pull back to the safety of the castle wall. This is mistaken by a newly arrived rebel column as an attack on them, causing them to flee in panic. In the confusion, the county commander, Lord O’Neill, trapped with his magistrates, is fatally wounded by James Clements who avoids trial by joining the army. A rebel attempt to seize the artillery is only narrowly beaten off by troops stationed behind the demesne wall.
At this critical juncture, British reinforcements from Belfast arrive outside the town and, assuming it to be held by the rebels, begin to shell it with their artillery. This prompts more desertions and the rebel army begins to disintegrate, but their withdrawal is protected by a small band under James Hope which fights a successful rearguard action from the church grounds along the main street. This allows the bulk of the rebels to withdraw safely.
When the military enters the town, they begin a spree of looting, burning and murder, of which the most enthusiastic perpetrators are reported to be the Monaghan militiamen, who are anxious to prove their loyalty and expunge the shame of the recent executions of their comrades for sedition. The town of Templepatrick is burned to the ground and Old Stone Castle is razed to the ground. McCracken, Hope and their remaining supporters withdraw northward, establishing camps of ever dwindling size along the route of their retreat until news of the defeat at Ballynahinch causes their final dispersion. McCracken is arrested by yeomen on July 7 and is hanged in Belfast on July 17, having refused an offer of clemency in return for informing on his comrades.
Commemoration of the centenary of the battle, marked by a nationalist parade in Belfast on June 6, 1898, provokes loyalist riots.
The 10,000 strong march sets off from Irish Street at 1500 GMT to call for an end to the “no-go” areas on the east bank side of the River Foyle.
The biggest security operation since the start of the Troubles is set up for the march with soldiers on every corner. The bridge is the centre of the trouble as it joins the Protestant side of the town to the “no-go” Roman Catholic areas of Bogside and Creggan.
Despite pleas from march organisers for the violence to stop it does not end until the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) steps in. They form a human barrier between the protesters and the Army. The confrontation lasts an hour and results in one man being injured but no arrests.
A spokesman for the Army says, “Naturally it is regretted that we have to fire rubber bullets but there we are. The only alternative is the Bogside would be invaded by the Protestant marchers.”
Despite the violence, William Craig, the leader of the Ulster Vanguard movement, who organised the march, says the marches will go on. “We are no longer protesting – we are demanding action,” he says.
The bombing takes place at a time when the Northern Ireland Office arranges multi-party talks, known as the Brooke/Mayhew talks, on the future of Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin members are not invited to attend because of their links with the IRA, which prevents them from being recognised as a “constitutional” party. The talks end in failure soon after.
At 11:30 PM, a driverless truck loaded with 2,500 lb (1,100 kg) of a new type of homemade explosive is rolled down a hill at the rear of the barracks and crashes through the perimeter fence. According to a witness, a UDR lance corporal who alerts the base, the truck is a Mercedes, and a Toyota HiAce van carrying at least two men acts as a support vehicle. The men are seen outside the parked van, masked and armed, one with a handgun and the other with a submachine gun. This same witness alerts the base believing the IRA team are about to carry out a mortar attack, and debris thrown up on the roof by the lorry as it plunges down the hill is misinterpreted by some inside the base as a mortar projectile. Automatic fire is heard by other witnesses just before the main blast. A Reuters report claims that IRA members trigger the bomb by firing upon the driverless vehicle. It is later determined that the lorry had been stolen the day before in Kingscourt, County Cavan, in the Republic of Ireland.
The blast leaves a crater 200 ft. (61 m) deep and throws debris and shrapnel as far as 300 yards (270 m). The explosion can be heard over 30 miles (48 km) away, as far as Dundalk. This is the biggest bomb detonated by the IRA up to this point. Most of the UDR base is destroyed by the blast and the fire that follows. At first, a massive mortar attack is suspected. Some livestock are killed and windows broken around the nearby Mossfield housing as a result of the explosion. The cars parked outside the base are obliterated. Ceilings are brought down and the local primary school is also damaged.
The barracks is usually manned by eight soldiers, but at the time there are 40 people in the complex, attending a social event. Three UDR soldiers – Lance Corporal Robert Crozier (46), Private Sydney Hamilton (44) and Private Paul Blakely (30) – are killed and ten are wounded. Two of them are caught by the explosion when they come out to investigate after a sentry gives the alarm. A third dies inside the base. Four civilians are also wounded. The Provisional IRA claims responsibility two days later.
The base is never rebuilt. It had outlived its operational usefulness and a decision had already been taken to close it down. The decision not to rebuild the compound raises some controversy among unionists. A memorial stone is erected by the main entrance road with the names of the UDR soldiers killed over the years while serving in Glenanne.
A major at the outbreak of the Second Boer War in 1899, Hickie serves on the staff of Lieutenant-Colonel P. W. J. Le Gallais, commanding officer of the mounted infantry. On November 6, 1900, he is involved in an attempt to capture General Christiaan De Wet at the Battle of Bothaville, when a force led by Le Gallais and Lieutenant-Colonel Wally Ross storm De Wet’s camp. De Wet escapes, while a rearguard of 100 men engage the British force. In a fierce fight Le Gallais is killed and Wally Ross is badly wounded. Hickie decides to charge the Boer position and leads his small force forward just as reinforcements under Major-General C. E. Knox arrive. The Boers immediately surrender and some are found with explosive bullets. He wants to execute them immediately but Knox insists that they be tried. Exasperated with the whole affair, Hickie gives a highly critical interview after the action which is later published in The TimesHistory of the War in South Africa (7 vols, 1900–09), edited by Leo Amery.
Hickie is professional, politically adept, and popular with his men, and under his leadership the 16th is renowned for its aggressive fighting spirit. He commands the division during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and, while proud of his men’s success in capturing Guillemont and Ginchy (September 1916), is appalled by their losses. When the division is ordered to capture Messines (now Mesen) in June 1917, he gives Major Willie Redmond permission to advance as far as the first objective and, following Redmond’s death, reproaches himself bitterly. After this attack the division is transferred to the fifth army and provides assault troops for future attacks. During the Third Battle of Ypres, and especially during the attack on Langemarck in August 1917, the division suffers horrendous casualties, losing 221 officers and 4,064 men. Among the casualties is Fr. Willie Doyle, who Hickie unsuccessfully recommends for a Victoria Cross. The division’s losses at Langemarck are highlighted by Irish MPs in the House of Commons, and Hickie’s handling of the attack is criticised. By this time, nationalist disillusionment with the war means that few Irish replacements are available, and Hickie is forced to accept increasing numbers of non-Irish conscripts into the division. Worn down by years of command, his health finally breaks and, in February 1918, he is sent home on sick leave, being replaced by Major-General Sir Richard Amyatt Hull.
In 1918, Hickie is created a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) and is also awarded the French Croix de Guerre. During the Irish War of Independence (1919–21), he is critical of the methods used by Crown forces, denouncing in particular the indiscipline of the Black and Tans. In 1921 he retires from the army and becomes a prominent figure in the Royal British Legion in Ireland, tirelessly campaigning on behalf of ex-servicemen. In the 1920s he is involved with the Irish battlefield memorial committee, which erects memorial crosses at Wytschaete, Guillemont, and Salonika, commemorating the 10th and 16th divisions. He later serves as a senator of the Irish Free State (1925–36). Retiring from public life in 1936 to his residence at Terryglass, County Tipperary, he devotes his last years to gardening and reading.
Hickie dies on November 3, 1950, in Dublin, and is buried at Terryglass. He marries a daughter of the novelist Rev. J. O. Hannay, who predeceases him. There is a small collection of his papers in the National Library of Ireland (NLI).
(From: “Hickie, Sir William Bernard” by David Murphy, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, October 2009)
It is on the night of April 23, 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium that Hall discovers a number of men are missing. On the ridge above he can hear the moans of the wounded men. Under cover of darkness, he goes to the top of the ridge on two separate occasions and returns each time with a wounded man.
By nine o’clock on the morning of April 24 there are still men missing. In full daylight and under sustained and intense enemy fire, Hall, Cpl. Payne and Pvt. Rogerson crawl out toward the wounded. Payne and Rogerson are both wounded but return to the shelter of the front line. When a wounded man who is lying some 15 yards from the trench calls for help, Company Sergeant-Major Hall endeavors to reach him in the face of very heavy enfilade fire by the enemy. He then makes a second most gallant attempt and is in the act of lifting up the wounded man to bring him in when he falls, mortally wounded in the head. The soldier he is attempting to help is also shot and killed.
In 1925, Pine Street in Winnipeg is renamed Valour Road because three of Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients resided on the same 700 block of that street: Frederick Hall, Leo Clarke and Robert Shankland. It is believed to be the only street in the British Commonwealth to have three Victoria Cross recipients to live on it, let alone the same block. A bronze plaque is mounted on a street lamp at the corner of Portage Avenue and Valour Road to tell the tale of these three men.
Lynch is born on November 9, 1893, in Barnagurraha, Anglesboro, County Limerick, the fifth child among six sons and a daughter of Jeremiah Lynch, farmer, and Mary Lynch (neé Kelly). The family is politically active. His father’s brother, John, had taken part in the Fenian Rising of 1867 and his mother had been joint secretary of the Ballylanders branch of the Ladies’ Land League.
Lynch attends Anglesboro national school (1898–1909). In 1910 he moves to Mitchelstown, County Cork, to take up a three-year apprenticeship in the hardware store of P. O’Neill on Baldwin Street. He remains there until the autumn of 1915. While in Mitchelstown he is a member of the Gaelic League and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He also joins the Irish Volunteers. In 1914, when that organisation splits, he does not immediately join the militant rump. He then moves to Fermoy, County Cork, where he works in the store of Messrs J. Barry & Sons Ltd. His move coincides with a period of inactivity as neither Volunteer faction is very active nor is he known. Consequently, he does not take part in the 1916 Easter Rising, but it is a turning point for him. On May 2, 1916, he watches as the Kent family are led through Fermoy, having been captured by British soldiers. Richard Kent dies from a wound sustained that day and Thomas Kent is executed a week later. Lynch becomes a committed Volunteer at this point.
Once committed, Lynch’s enthusiasm and aptitude ensures that he quickly attains positions of responsibility. From early 1917 he is first lieutenant in the small Fermoy company. In September 1917, the Irish Volunteers in east Cork are reorganised. Nine local companies are formed into the Fermoy battalion and he is elected adjutant. In April 1918, at the height of the conscription crisis, he briefly quits his job to concentrate on organising the Volunteers. In May he is lucky to escape arrest during the sweep that accompanies the “German plot.” When the immediate danger ends he returns to Barry & Sons.
In January 1919, at the beginning of the Irish War of Independence, the Volunteer organisation in Cork undergoes a major restructuring. Three brigades are established, and Lynch becomes brigade commandant of Cork No. 2. In April he visits Irish Republican Army GHQ in Dublin to discuss plans and to seek arms. It is a frustrating experience as the GHQ has few guns and are cautious about action. Throughout the summer of 1919 he presses GHQ to authorise attacks on British targets as a method of acquiring arms and to prevent boredom and stagnation setting in among his men. Finally, GHQ sanctions attacks if the primary aim is the capture of arms. In response, on September 7, 1919, twenty-five men from the Fermoy company, led by Lynch, ambush fourteen British soldiers on their way to service in the Wesleyan church in Fermoy. Fifteen rifles are captured, one soldier killed, and three wounded. Lynch is shot in the shoulder, probably by one of his own men. As a result, he has to leave his job and hides out in Waterford for a time. A series of arrests follow, among those is Lynch’s close friend, Michael Fitzgerald, who dies on hunger strike in Cork County Gaol in 1920.
Lynch spends the early months of 1920 at GHQ in Dublin. During this time, he is offered the position of deputy chief of staff, but turns it down, preferring to return to Cork. Although not an articulate speaker, he impresses those he meets. His organisational talents, attention to detail, ability to inspire, and intolerance for those who waste meetings endlessly discussing side issues, are noted. He has a low tolerance for politicians and at all times considers the military wing of the movement to be of primary importance. He is engaged to Bridie Keyes, but marriage is postponed pending a final settlement of hostilities.
On June 26, 1920, Lynch, Seán Moylan, and two colleagues capture Major-GeneralCuthbert Lucas while he is fishing on the Munster Blackwater. He gives a false name when he is arrested on August 12, 1920, at City Hall, Cork, with Terence MacSwiney, Lord Mayor of Cork, and ten others. All but MacSwiney are released four days later. He then sets about organising a flying column within the brigade. Ernie O’Malley arrives from headquarters to train the men. This column achieves a major coup on September 28, 1920, when they briefly capture the British Army barracks at Mallow, leaving with a large booty of rifles, ammunition, and two machine guns. The British respond to this increase in activity and the war settles into a pattern of ambush and counter-ambush. The Mallow battalion suffers severe losses in February 1921 and Lynch himself narrowly escapes when four are killed during an encounter at Nadd in March 1921.
In early 1921 Lynch seeks to encourage greater cooperation between the various brigades in the south. Senior brigade officers meet on three occasions to discuss cooperation and a plan to import arms from Italy. The importation project fails, but the First Southern Division is formed on April 26, 1921, bringing eight brigades from Cork, Kerry, Waterford, and west Limerick together. He is elected divisional commandant, making him the most powerful officer outside GHQ. His influence is further increased by his appointment as Southern Divisional Centre and Supreme Council member of the clandestine Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in March 1921.
Lynch is wary when the truce is called in July 1921. He works hard to maintain order in his division and to achieve a state of readiness in case the negotiations fail. For him the Anglo-Irish Treaty is a failure. When the Supreme Council of the IRB meets on December 10, 1921, he is the only voice against the agreement. He is among the officers who insist that an army convention should be called to discuss the treaty, effectively asserting that the army no longer accepts a position subordinate to the Dáil. The army, he believes, is the army of the Republic, and no civilian body can order it to abandon the Republic. The provisional government tries to ban this convention, but it goes ahead on March 26, 1922, and elects an army executive. Lynch is elected Chief of Staff. Between March and June, he works hard to prevent a civil war. He believes unity can be maintained, even under the Treaty, if a republican constitution can be enacted. He also cooperates with Michael Collins in promoting Irish Republican Army (IRA) activity in Ulster. In his adherence to the idea of a republic, the practicalities of politics have little impact on his consciousness and he is dismissive of the popular support for the Treaty. He is horrified at the thought of civil war but fails to see that his position is leading almost inexorably in that direction. Distrusted as too moderate by Liam Mellows and Rory O’Connor, he is locked out of the Four Courts for a time.
When the Four Courts are attacked, Lynch immediately leaves his headquarters at the Clarence Hotel to travel south. He is briefly detained, before reaching Kingsbridge Station, and has a meeting with Eoin O’Duffy. He is disgusted when Free State figures later claim that he was released, having promised not to take arms against the government. The most plausible explanation of the incident appears to be that O’Duffy interpreted Lynch’s comments, merely indicating disappointment that a war had started, as constituting a statement of intent not to involve himself.
Lynch’s initial actions seem designed to avoid full-scale conflict. He does not order an attack on Dublin, nor does he attempt to seize Limerick. He chooses a containment strategy, seeking to hold a line from Limerick to Waterford for the republican forces. This fails, as the government sends troops in from the rear by sea. The republicans have no urban base when Lynch abandons Fermoy on August 11, 1922. He continues to meet individuals who seek a way to end the war, but intransigence has set in and he insists that armed struggle will only end with a republic or absolute defeat. As early as August many republicans believe the war is lost and urge a reassessment of tactics, but Lynch rejects all such calls. Operating from secret headquarters in Santry, he orders the shooting of pro-Treaty politicians in retaliation for the execution of republican prisoners.
Under war conditions it is impossible for the army executive to meet regularly, and this leaves Lynch in almost complete control. As the pro-surrender lobby grows within the republican forces, he delays a meeting of the executive, claiming with some justification that it is too dangerous. He leaves Santry and attends a meeting of the Southern Division Council in the last days of February 1923. Sixteen of the eighteen officers there tell him that the military position is hopeless. This forces the calling of an executive meeting on March 6, 1923. No agreement is reached. He strongly favours fighting on, but a motion from Tom Barry, calling for an immediate end to hostilities, is barely rejected. Another meeting is arranged for April 10. On that morning a group, including Lynch and Frank Aiken, suddenly find themselves in danger of capture in a farmhouse on the slopes of the Knockmealdown Mountains in County Tipperary. They flee and are pursued. During the chase Lynch is shot in the abdomen. It seems clear that he is shot by the pursuing Free State soldiers, although Irish historian Meda Ryan has considered the theory that he may have been shot by one of his own in order to remove the major stumbling block to surrender. His colleagues are forced to abandon him, and he is captured. Initially the Free State troops believe they have caught Éamon de Valera. He is taken first to a public house in Newcastle, County Tipperary, and then to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Clonmel, but dies from his wound at 8:45 p.m. that evening. His last request is to be buried beside Michael Fitzgerald in Kilcrumper Cemetery, Fermoy, County Cork. On hearing of Lynch’s death, Ernie O’Malley writes, “You who were a living force are now a battle cry.” O’Malley is wrong, however, as the peace faction within republicanism is strengthened by his death and Aiken orders the suspension of activities on April 27.
In 1935, a massive memorial, consisting of a 60-foot-tall round tower, guarded by four bronze Irish Wolfhounds, is erected at Goatenbridge, County Tipperary, near the site of his capture. It is unveiled on April 7, 1935. Separate annual commemorations are held at Goatenbridge and Kilcrumper. Three biographies have been written and the Liam Lynch memorial pipe band is based in his native Anglesboro. The Lynch family possess a substantial collection of private correspondence.
The Brady funeral is making its way along the Andersonstown Road toward Milltown Cemetery when the corporals’ car appears from the opposite direction. The car drives straight towards the front of the funeral, which is headed by several black taxis. It drives past a Sinn Féin steward who signals it to turn. Mourners at the funeral say they believed they were under attack from Ulster loyalists, as three days earlier, loyalist Michael Stone had attacked an IRA funeral and killed three people. The car then mounts a pavement, scattering mourners, and turns into a small side road. When this road is blocked, it then reverses at speed, ending up within the funeral procession. Corporal Wood attempts to drive the car out of the procession but his exit route is blocked by a black taxi.
An angry crowd surrounds the car, smashes the windows and attempts to drag the soldiers out. Wood produces a Browning Hi-Power 9mm handgun. He climbs partly out of a window and fires a shot in the air, which briefly scatters the crowd. The crowd then surges back, with some of them attacking the car with a wheel-brace and a stepladder snatched from a photographer. The corporals are eventually pulled from the car and punched and kicked to the ground.
The attack is witnessed by the media and passersby. JournalistMary Holland recalls seeing one of the men being dragged past a group of journalists. “He didn’t cry out; just looked at us with terrified eyes, as though we were all enemies in a foreign country who wouldn’t have understood what language he was speaking if he called out for help.”
The men are taken to nearby Casement Park sports ground, just opposite. Here they are beaten, stripped to their underpants and socks, and searched by a small group of men. The BBC and The Independent write that the men were “tortured.” A search reveals that the men are British soldiers. Their captors find a military ID on Howes which is marked “Herford,” the site of a British military base in Germany, but it is believed they misread it as “Hereford,” the headquarters of the Special Air Service (SAS).
Redemptoristpriest Father Alec Reid, who plays a significant part in the peace process leading to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, intervenes and attempts to save the soldiers, and asks people to call an ambulance. “I got down between the two of them and I had my arm around this one and I was holding this one up by the shoulder….They were so disciplined, they just lay there totally still and I decided to myself they were soldiers. There was a helicopter circling overhead and I don’t know why they didn’t do something, radio to the police or soldiers to come up, because there were these two of their own soldiers.”
One of the captors warns Father Reid not to interfere and orders two men to take him away.
The two soldiers are placed in a taxi and driven fewer than 200 yards to a waste ground near Penny Lane (South Link), just off the main Andersonstown Road. There they are taken out of the vehicle and shot dead. Wood is shot six times and Howes is shot five times. Each also has multiple injuries to other parts of their bodies. The perpetrators quickly leave the scene. Father Reid hears the shots and rushes to the waste ground. He believes one of the soldiers is still breathing and attempts to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Upon realizing that the soldiers are dead, he gives them the last rites. According to photographer David Cairns, although photographers have their films taken by the IRA, he is able to keep his by quickly leaving the area after taking a photograph of Reid kneeling beside the almost naked body of Howes, administering the last rites. Cairns’ photograph is later named one of the best pictures of the past 50 years by Life magazine.
The whole incident is filmed by a British Army helicopter hovering overhead. An unnamed soldier of the Royal Scots says his eight-man patrol is nearby and sees the attack on the corporals’ car but are told not to intervene. Soldiers and police arrive on the scene three minutes after the corporals had been shot. A British Army spokesman says the army did not respond immediately because they needed time to assess the situation and were wary of being ambushed by the IRA. The large funeral procession also prevents them getting to the scene quickly.
Shortly after, the IRA releases a statement:
“The Belfast Brigade, IRA, claims responsibility for the execution of two SAS members who launched an attack on the funeral cortege of our comrade volunteer Kevin Brady. The SAS unit was initially apprehended by the people lining the route in the belief that armed loyalists were attacking them and they were removed from the immediate vicinity. Our volunteers forcibly removed the two men from the crowd and, after clearly ascertaining their identities from equipment and documentation, we executed them.”
Two men, Alex Murphy and Harry Maguire, are sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, but are released in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Several other men receive lesser sentences for their part in the corporals killings.
(Pictured: Catholic priest Father Alec Reid administers the last rights to Corporal David Howes, one of two British soldiers brutally beaten and murdered in Belfast)
The IRB is a small, secret, revolutionary body whose sole object is to “establish and maintain a free and independent Republican Government in Ireland.” Stephens is a Young Irelander and is a lieutenant to William Smith O’Brien at the Battle of Widow McCormack’s Cabbage Patch in Ballingary, County Tipperary, in August 1848. He is wounded three times and is smuggled onto a ship to England and then to France, where he spends the next eight years. Upon his return to Dublin in 1856, he determines to organise a revolutionary movement and that leads to the founding of the IRB.
The IRB becomes known as the Fenian movement in the 1850s and 1860s and is committed to the use of force to establish an independent Irish republic. After organising an abortive rising in March 1867, it suffers deep internal divisions over its leadership and strategy in both the United States and Ireland—whether it is best to strike at England, in Ireland or in Canada. The issue is resolved after a series of failed interventions in Canada in 1866, 1867 and 1871, and after bombings in England that do not lead Ireland closer to independence. The IRB is unable to exploit the weaknesses and divisions in the constitutional movement following Charles Stewart Parnell’s divorce scandal (1890–91).
The IRB is eventually rejuvenated in Ireland about 1907, led by Bulmer Hobson and Tom Clarke, thus preparing the way for all that follows.The governing body is the Supreme Council. Before 1916 this consists of eleven members, and after the 1917 reorganisation it contains fifteen members. When not in session, all powers of the Supreme Council, except for declaring war, devolve onto an executive of three: the president, secretary and treasurer.
The constitution provides for the establishment of a military council, subordinate to the Supreme Council. The seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic constitute the entire military council at the time. The constitution is dedicated to the use of force against England at any favourable opportunity, but this is to be a democratic decision: “The IRB shall await the decision of the Irish Nation as expressed by a majority of the Irish people as to the fit hour of inaugurating a war against England and shall, pending such an emergency, lend its support to every movement calculated to advance the cause of Irish independence, consistent with the preservation of its own integrity,” a clause adopted in 1873 in response to the controversies arising from the 1867 Fenian Rising.
The IRB plans the 1916 Easter Rising but the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army make it possible. The establishment of the Irish Volunteers gives the IRB the great opportunity to train and equip its members as a military body for the purpose of securing independence for Ireland by force of arms and securing the cooperation of all Irish military bodies in the accomplishment of its objectives. Numerically the IRB probably never exceeds 2,000 members, but they are all extremely loyal and well trained, and there is very tight security. The executions of 1916 just about wipe out the Supreme Council, and after the prisoners are released, the IRB has to reconstitute itself.
Following the Easter Rising some republicans—notably Éamon de Valera and Cathal Brugha—leave the organization, which they view as no longer necessary, since the Irish Volunteers now perform its function. The IRB, during the Irish War of Independence (1919-21), is under the control of Michael Collins, who is secretary, and subsequently president, of the Supreme Council. Volunteers such as Séumas Robinson say afterwards that the IRB by then is “moribund where not already dead,” but there is evidence that it is an important force during the war.
When the Anglo-Irish Treaty is signed on December 6, 1921, it is debated by the Supreme Council, which votes to accept it by eleven votes to four. Those on the Supreme Council who oppose the Treaty include former leader Harry Boland, Austin Stack and Liam Lynch. Anti-Treaty republicans like Ernie O’Malley, who fought during the Irish Civil War against the Treaty, sees the IRB as being used to undermine the Irish Republic. The IRB becomes quiescent during the Irish Civil War, which ends in May 1923, but it emerges again later that year as a faction within the National Army that supports Minister for Defence Richard Mulcahy against the “Old IRA,” which fought against the recruitment of ex-British Army personnel and the demobilization of old IRA men. This comes to a head with the Irish Army Mutiny of 1924, in the wake of which Mulcahy resigns and other IRB members of the army are dismissed by acting President of the Executive CouncilKevin O’Higgins. The IRB subsequently dissolves itself, although it is not known whether a formal decision is taken, or it simply ceases to function.
McCorley, the son of a miller, and is born near Toome in the civil parish of Duneane, County Antrim, in what is now Northern Ireland. A few years before the Irish Rebellion of 1798, his father is believed to have been executed for stealing sheep. These charges appear to be politically motivated in an attempt to remove a troublesome agitator at a time of great social unrest. Following his father’s execution, his family is evicted from their home.
There is uncertainty as to whether McCorley is actually actively involved with the predominantly Presbyterian United Irishmen or the predominantly CatholicDefenders. His role in the 1798 rebellion itself is unrecorded. In a ballad called “Roddy McCorley” written in the 1890s by Ethna Carbery, he is claimed to have been one of the leaders of the United Irishmen at the Battle of Antrim, however there is no contemporary documentary evidence to support this claim or prove that he was even active in the rebellion.
After the rebellion, McCorley joins a notorious outlaw gang known as Archer’s Gang, made up of former rebels and led by Thomas Archer. Some of these men had been British soldiers who changed sides in the conflict, and as such are guilty of treason and thus exempt from the terms of amnesty offered to the rank and file of the United Irishmen. This means that they are always on the run in an attempt to evade capture. This “quasi-rebel” group are claimed to have attacked loyalists and participated in common crime. It is believed that McCorley is caught while in hiding, having been betrayed by an informer.
After McCorley is arrested he is tried by court martial in Ballymena on February 20, 1800, and sentenced to be hanged “near the Bridge of Toome,” in the parish of Duneane. His execution occurs on February 28, 1800. The bridge had been partially destroyed by rebels in 1798 to prevent the arrival of loyalist reinforcements from west of the River Bann.
McCorley’s body is then dismembered and buried under the gallows, on the main Antrim to Derry road. A letter published in the Belfast News Letter a few days after his execution gives an account of the execution and how he was viewed by some. In it he is called Roger McCorley, which may be his proper Christian name.
In addition to Ethna Carbery’s ballad, historian Guy Beiner uncovers earlier references to McCorley in Presbyterian folklore, which he shows to have been repeatedly forgotten and obscured on the background of mainstream Presbyterian identification with Unionism.
An account of McCorley’s career compiled in the early twentieth century from local traditions and correspondence with his descendants, Who Fears to Speak of ’98?, is written by the Belfast antiquary and nationalist Francis Joseph Bigger. It contains an edited version of an early 19th-century ballad about Roddy McCorley’s fate.
From 1985 onwards, the IRA in East Tyrone had been at the forefront of a campaign against British state police and army facilities and their personnel. In 1987, an East Tyrone IRA unit was ambushed with eight of its members being killed by the SAS while they were making an attack on a police station in Loughgall, County Armagh. This was the IRA’s greatest loss of life in a single incident during The Troubles. Despite these losses, the IRA’s campaign continued, with it attacking nearly 100 police and military facilities over the next five years, wrecking thirty three and damaging the remainder to varying degrees. The SAS ambush has no noticeable long-term effect on the level of IRA activity in East Tyrone. In the two years before the Loughgall ambush, the IRA killed seven people in East Tyrone and North Armagh, and eleven in the two years following the ambush.
Three other IRA members – Gerard Harte, Martin Harte and Brian Mullin – had been ambushed and killed by the SAS as they tried to kill an off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier near Carrickmore, County Tyrone. British intelligence identified them as the perpetrators of the Ballygawley bus bombing, which killed eight British soldiers. After that bombing, all troops going on leave or returning from leave were ferried in and out of East Tyrone by helicopter. Another high-profile attack of the East Tyrone Brigade was carried out on January 11, 1990, near Augher, where a Gazelle helicopter was shot down.
On June 3, 1991, three IRA men, Lawrence McNally, Michael “Pete” Ryan and Tony Doris, were killed at the town of Coagh, when a stolen car they were driving in on their way to kill an off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment soldier was ambushed by the Special Air Service. Ryan was the same man who, according to Irish journalist and author Ed Moloney, had led an attack on Derryard checkpoint on the orders of IRA Army Council member Thomas “Slab” Murphy two years earlier.
The IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade lost 53 members killed by the British Forces during the Troubles – the highest of any “Brigade areaz.” Of these, 28 were killed between 1987 and 1992.
At 10.30 p.m. on the night of February 16, 1992, a stolen car and lorry carrying multiple IRA attackers drives into the centre of the village of Coalisland and, pulling up at its fortified Royal Ulster Constabulary security base, fires 30 rounds of armour-piercing tracer ammunition into it at close range from a Soviet Union made DShK heavy machine-gun that they had mounted on the back of the lorry. The heavy machine gun is fired by IRA member Kevin O’Donnell, the rest of the unit being armed with Soviet-made AKMassault rifles. The IRA attackers then drive off at speed up Annagher hill, without any apparent pursuit from the security forces. While making their escape they drive past the home of Tony Doris, an IRA man who had been killed by the British Army the previous year, where they stop to fire into the air, shouting, “Up the ‘RA, that’s for Tony Doris!” Witnesses also report the IRA men waving Irish Tricolours from the back of the lorry. After this they drive on at speed to the car park of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in the village of Clonoe, two miles away from Coalisland police station, arriving at 10.45 p.m., where getaway cars are waiting.
Immediately on arrival, the IRA attackers are in the process of preparing to abandon the attack vehicles and dismounting the DShK to take with them when they are assailed by a British Army detachment that had been lying in wait for them in the car park’s perimeter, primarily composed of soldiers from the Special Air Service, who engage them with sustained automatic fire. Patrick Vincent, age 20, the driver of the stolen lorry, is shot dead with five bullets while still in its cab. Peter Clancy, age 19, and Kevin O’Donnell, age 21) are killed while dismounting the DShK on the back of the lorry. Sean O’Farrell, age 23, is pursued on foot across the church grounds over a distance of 100 yards before being shot dead with five bullets while trying to climb over a fence. Two other IRA men, one of them being Aidan McKeever, who are found sitting in a car in the car park with the intention of acting as getaway drivers, surrender after being wounded and are taken prisoner. The roof of the church is accidentally set on fire after a stray round hit a fuel storage tank. One British soldier is wounded during the confrontation. An IRA statement reports that another active service unit made up of at least four volunteers taking part in the operation at Coalisland “escaped unharmed” under heavy fire in other vehicles after splitting up into two teams.
Several witnesses to the ambush later claim that some of the IRA men tried to surrender to the British Army engaging unit during the ambush but were summarily executed. Justice Seamus Treacy of Northern Ireland’s High Court awards McKeever, the IRA getaway driver, £75,000 in damages in 2011. It is unclear whether or not this decision is appealed, or whether the damages are ever paid.
A local IRA source points out areas of incompetence in the attack by the IRA unit involved that leads to its destruction:
The use of a long-range weapon for a short-range shooting. The DShK can be used up to 2,000 metres from the target, and its armour-piercing capabilities at 1,500 metres are still considerable.
The use of tracer rounds is ill-judged as they easily reveal the firing location of the gun if it is not being fired from a well-hidden position.
The escape route is chosen at random, with the machine-gun in full sight and the support vehicle flashing its hazard lights.
The gathering of so many men at the same place after such an attack is another factor in the failure to escape for most of the attacking force.
During the funeral services for O’Donnell and O’Farrell in Coalisland, the parish priest criticises the security forces for what happened at Clonoe church, which had resulted in the deaths of the four IRA men. The priest, Fr. MacLarnon, then appeals to the IRA and Sinn Féin to replace “the politics of confrontation with the politics of cooperation.” While Francie Molloy, a local Sinn Féin councillor, walks out of the church in protest, leading Sinn Féin politicians Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness remain in their seats. There are hundreds of Royal Ulster Constabulary police officers outside the church during the funeral, the RUC having changed its policy after the Milltown Cemetery attack. This show of force is criticised by Sinn Féin.
This is the last occasion that IRA members are killed in a series of ambushes by the British Army, spearheaded by the Special Air Service, in Northern Ireland. Growing tension between locals and the British military foot-patrols lead to street confrontations with soldiers from the Parachute Regiment three months later.
(Pictured: The ambush scene at Clonoe, County Tyrone, where four IRA men were shot dead by the British army in February 1992)