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


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The Beginning of the IRA’s Border Campaign

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) begins what it calls “The Campaign of Resistance to British Occupation” on December 12, 1956. Also known as the “Border Campaign,” it is a guerrilla warfare campaign carried out by the IRA against targets in Northern Ireland, with the aim of overthrowing British rule there and creating a united Ireland. Although the campaign is a military failure, but for some of its members, the campaign is justified as it keeps the IRA engaged for another generation.

The border campaign is the first major military undertaking carried out by the IRA since the 1940s, when the harsh security measures of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland governments had severely weakened it. In 1939 the IRA tries a bombing campaign in England to try to force British withdrawal from Northern Ireland. From 1942 to 1944 it also mounts an ineffective campaign in Northern Ireland. Internment on both sides of the border, as well as internal feuding and disputes over future policy, all but destroy the organisation. These campaigns are officially called off on March 10, 1945. By 1947, the IRA has only 200 activists, according to its own general staff.

Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army Tony Magan sets out to create “a new Army, untarnished by the dissent and scandals of the previous decade.” Magan believes that a degree of political mobilization is necessary and the relationship with Sinn Féin, which had soured during the 1930s, is improved. At the 1949 IRA Convention, the IRA orders its members to join Sinn Féin, which partially becomes the “civilian wing” of the IRA.

By the mid-1950s, the IRA has substantially re-armed. This is achieved by means of arms raids launched between 1951 and 1954, on British military bases in Northern Ireland and England. By 1955, splits are occurring in the IRA, as several small groups, impatient for action, launch their own attacks in Northern Ireland. In November 1956, the IRA finally begins planning its border campaign.

On December 12 the campaign is launched with simultaneous attacks by around 150 IRA members on targets on the Border in the early hours. A BBC relay transmitter is bombed in Derry, a courthouse is burned in Magherafelt by a unit led by an 18-year-old Seamus Costello, as is a B-Specials post near Newry and a half-built Army barracks at Enniskillen is blown up. A raid on Gough Barracks in Armagh is beaten off after a brief exchange of fire.

The IRA issues a statement announcing the start of the campaign, “Spearheaded by Ireland’s freedom fighters, our people have carried the fight to the enemy…Out of this national liberation struggle a new Ireland will emerge, upright and free. In that new Ireland, we shall build a country fit for all our people to live in. That then is our aim: an independent, united, democratic Irish Republic. For this we shall fight until the invader is driven from our soil and victory is ours.”

The year 1957 is the most active year of the IRA’s campaign, with 341 incidents recorded. The most dramatic attack of the whole campaign takes place on January 1 when fourteen IRA volunteers, including Séan Garland, Alan O Brien and Dáithí Ó Conaill plan an attack on a joint Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)/B-Specials barracks in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, though they attack the wrong building. On 11 November, the IRA suffers its worst loss of life in the period when four of its members die preparing a bomb in a farm house at Edentubber, County Louth, which explodes prematurely. The civilian owner of the house is also killed.

By 1958, the campaign’s initial impetus has largely dissipated. Certain IRA activities produce public hostility and, by 1958, there are already many within the IRA in favour of calling off the campaign. The Cork IRA, for instance, has effectively withdrawn. By mid-1958, 500 republicans are in gaol or interned, North and South.

The period after the summer of 1958 sees a steep drop in the intensity of the IRA campaign. That the IRA’s campaign had run its course by 1960 is testified by the fact that the Republic of Ireland’s government closes the Curragh Camp, which housed internees in the South, on March 15, 1959, judging them to be no further threat. The Northern Irish government follows suit on April 25, 1961.

In November 1961 a RUC officer, William Hunter, is killed in a gun battle with the IRA in south County Armagh. This is the final fatality of the conflict. Minister for Justice Charles Haughey reactivates the Special Criminal Court, which hands down long prison sentences to convicted IRA men.

Although it had petered out by the late 1950s, by late 1961 the campaign is over and is officially called off on February 26, 1962 in a press release issued that day, drafted by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh who consults with several other persons including members of the IRA Army Council. The campaign costs the lives of eight IRA men, four republican supporters and six RUC members. In addition, 32 RUC members are wounded. A total of 256 Republicans are interned in Northern Ireland during this period and another 150 or so in the Republic. Of those in Northern Ireland, 89 sign a pledge to renounce violence in return for their freedom.

(Pictured: A group of IRA men before embarking on an operation in the 1950s | Photo credited to http://laochrauladh.blogspot.ie/)


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Death of IRA Volunteer Seán South

sean-southSeán South, a member of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) military column led by Sean Garland on a raid against a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, on January 1, 1957, dies of wounds sustained during the raid along with another IRA volunteer, Fergal O’Hanlon.

South is born in 1928 in Limerick where he is educated at Sexton Street Christian Brothers School, later working as a clerk in a local wood-importing company called McMahon’s. South is a member of a number of organisations including the Gaelic League, Legion of Mary, Clann na Poblachta, and Sinn Féin. In Limerick he founds the local branch of Maria Duce, a social Catholic organisation, where he also edits both An Gath and An Giolla. He receives military training as a lieutenant of the Irish army reserve, the LDF which later becomes the FCA (An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil or Local Defence Force), before he becomes a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army.

South is a devout Catholic, being a member of An Réalt, the Irish-speaking chapter of the Legion of Mary, and a conservative, even by the standards of the day. He is also a member of the Knights of Columbanus.

On New Year’s Day 1957, fourteen IRA volunteers cross the border into County Fermanagh to launch an attack on a joint RUC/B Specials barracks in Brookeborough. During the attack a number of volunteers are injured, two fatally. South and Fergal O’Hanlon die of their wounds as they are making their escape. They are carried into an old sandstone barn by their comrades which is later demolished by a British army jeep. Stone from the barn is used to build a memorial at the site.

The attack on the barracks inspires two popular rebel songs: “Seán South of Garryowen” and “The Patriot Game.” “Seán South of Garryowen,” is written by Sean Costelloe from County Limerick to the tune of another republican ballad “Roddy McCorley” and is made famous by The Wolfe Tones. The popularity of this song leads to the misconception that South is from Garryowen, a suburb in Limerick city. In fact, South is actually from 47 Henry Street in Limerick.

South is also mentioned in The Rubberbandits song “Up Da Ra”, which pokes fun at the concept of armchair republicanism using the literary device of the unreliable narrator.

There is a plaque dedicated to Seán South outside his birthplace on Henry Street, Limerick.


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The End of the “Border Campaign”

united-irishman-1962On February 26, 1962, due to lack of support, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) ends what it calls “The Campaign of Resistance to British Occupation,” which is also known as the “Border Campaign.”

The Border Campaign is the first major military undertaking carried out by the IRA since the harsh security measures of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland governments had severely weakened it in the 1940s.

The campaign is launched with simultaneous attacks by approximately 150 IRA members on targets on the Border in the early hours of December 12, 1956. A BBC relay transmitter is bombed in Derry, a courthouse is burned in Magherafelt, a B-Specials post near Newry is burned, and a half-built Army barracks at Enniskillen is blown up. A raid on Gough barracks in Armagh is beaten off after a brief exchange of fire.

On December 14, an IRA column under Seán Garland detonates four bombs outside Lisnaskea Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) station before raking it with gunfire. Further attacks on Derrylin and Roslea RUC barracks on the same day are beaten off.

On the evening of December 30, 1956, the Teeling Column attacks the Derrylin RUC barracks again, killing RUC constable John Scally, the first fatality of the campaign. The new year of 1957 begins with Seán Garland and Dáithí Ó Conaill planning an attack on the Police station at Brookeborough but they assault the wrong building. Two IRA men, Seán South and Fergal O’Hanlon, are killed in the abortive attack. Garland is seriously wounded in the raid. He and the remainder of the group are pursued back over the border by British soldiers.

The year 1957 is the most active year of the IRA’s campaign, with 341 incidents recorded. In November, the IRA suffers its worst loss of life in the period when four of its members die preparing a bomb, which explodes prematurely, in a farm house at Edentubber, County Louth. The civilian owner of the house is also killed.

By 1958, the campaign’s initial impetus has largely dissipated with many within the IRA in favour of calling the campaign off. By mid-year, 500 republicans are in gaol or interned. The decline in IRA activity leads the Fianna Fáil government in the South to end internment in March 1959.

Following their release, some of the interned leaders met Seán Cronin in a farmhouse in County Laois and are persuaded to continue the campaign “to keep the flame alive.” The number of incidents falls to just 26 in 1960, with many of these actions consisting of minor acts of sabotage.

The final fatality of the conflict comes in November 1961, when an RUC officer, William Hunter, is killed in a gun battle with the IRA in south County Armagh.

By late 1961, the campaign is over and has cost the lives of eight IRA men, four republican supporters, and six RUC members. In addition, 32 RUC members are wounded. A total of 256 Republicans are interned in Northern Ireland during the campaign and another 150 or so in the Republic.

The Campaign is officially called off on February 26, 1962, with a press release drafted by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and several other persons including members of the Army Council. The statement is released by the Irish Republican Publicity Bureau and signed “J. McGarrity, Secretary.”