seamus dubhghaill

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


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1985 Newry Mortar Attack

On February 28, 1985, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) launches a heavy mortar attack on the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base at Corry Square in Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland. The attack kills nine RUC officers and injures almost 40 others, the highest death toll ever suffered by the RUC. Afterwards, a major building scheme is begun to give police and military bases better protection from such attacks.

In the early 1970s, after the onset of the Troubles, the Provisional IRA launches a campaign aimed at forcing the British to withdraw from Northern Ireland.

The IRA, particularly its South Armagh Brigade, has repeatedly attacked the British Army and RUC with home-made mortars, but with limited success. Between 1973 and early 1978 a total of 71 mortar attacks are recorded, but none cause direct British Army or RUC deaths. There are only two deadly mortar attacks before 1985. The first is on March 19, 1979, when Private Peter Woolmore of the Queen’s Regiment is killed in a mortar attack on Newtownhamilton British Army base. The second is on November 12, 1983, when a RUC officer is killed and several hurt in a mortar attack on Carrickmore RUC base.

The attack is jointly planned by members of the South Armagh Brigade and an IRA unit in Newry. The homemade mortar launcher, dubbed the ‘Mark 10,’ is bolted onto the back of a Ford lorry that had been hijacked in Crossmaglen.

Shortly after 6:30 PM on February 28, nine shells are launched from the lorry, which had been parked on Monaghan Street, about 250 yards from the base. At least one 50-lb. shell lands on a portacabin containing a canteen, where many officers are having their evening tea break. Nine police officers are killed and 37 people are hurt, including 25 civilian police employees, the highest death toll inflicted on the RUC in its history. The nine dead officers range in age from 19 to 41, seven male and two female, seven Protestants and two Catholics. Another shell hits the observation tower, while the rest land inside and outside the perimeter of the base.

The day is dubbed “Bloody Thursday” by the British press. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher calls the attack “barbaric,” while Ireland’s Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, says it is “cruel and cynical,” and pledges the help of the Irish security forces to catch those responsible. Although not involved in the attack, Newry IRA member Eamon Collins is arrested shortly afterwards and interrogated. After five days of questioning, Collins breaks under interrogation and turns supergrass, leading to more than a dozen arrests of other IRA members. The attack prompts calls from unionist politicians to “increase security,” and the British government launches a multi-million pound programme of construction to protect bases from similar attacks. This involves installing reinforced roofs and building blast-deflecting walls around the base of buildings.

After the successful attack in Newry, the IRA carries out a further nine mortar attacks in 1985. On September 4, an RUC training centre in Enniskillen is attacked. Thirty cadets narrowly escape death due to poor intelligence-gathering by the IRA unit responsible. The cadets are expected to be in bed sleeping, but are instead eating breakfast when the bombs land. In November 1986, the IRA launches another attack on the RUC base in Newry, but the bombs fall short of their target and land on houses. A four-year-old Catholic girl is badly wounded and another 38 people are hurt, prompting the IRA to admit that “this incident left us open to justified criticism.”

Beginning in the 1990s, operations at the Corry Square base are progressively shifted to a new facility on the outskirts of Newry. The base is closed in 2002, and a park occupies the site today.

(Pictured: Destroyed cars and remains of the Newry RUC Corry Square police Station in Catherine Street taken the day after the attack by the Provisional IRA using homemade mortar bombs)


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Birth of Joseph McGarrity, Irish American Political Activist

Joseph McGarrity, Irish American political activist best known for his leadership in Clan na Gael in the United States and his support of Irish republicanism back in Ireland, is born on March 28, 1874 in Carrickmore, County Tyrone.

McGarrity’s family grows up in poverty, motivating his need to immigrate later in life. He grows up hearing his father discussing Irish politics, including topics such as the Fenians, the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), and Irish Home Rule. By the time he is an adult, he has developed a keen interest in politics himself.

McGarrity immigrates to the United States in 1892 at the age of 18. He is reputed to have walked to Dublin before boarding a cattle boat to Liverpool disguised as a drover, and then sailing to the United States using a ticket belonging to someone else. He settles in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and becomes successful in the liquor business. His business fails, however, on three occasions, twice due to embezzlement by his business partner.

In 1893 McGarrity joins Clan na Gael, an Irish organisation based in the United States committed to aiding the establishment of an independent Irish state. Clan na Gael had been heavily involved with the Fenian Brotherhood that McGarrity had grown up hearing about, and by the latter half of the 19th century had become a sister organisation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). In the decade just before McGarrity joins, Clan na Gael and the Fenian movement had waged the Fenian dynamite campaign, where they attempted to force the British state to make concessions on Ireland by bombing British Infrastructure. However, this had caused a split within Clan na Gael that is not mended until seven years after McGarrity joins when, in 1900, the factions reunite and plead to support “the complete independence of the Irish people, and the establishment of an Irish republic.” In the years that follow the 1880s and 1890s, he is, amongst others, credited with helping to stitch the organisation back together and bring it renewed strength.

McGarrity helps sponsor several Irish Race Conventions and founds and runs a newspaper called The Irish Press from 1918-22 that supports the Irish War of Independence. He is the founder of the Philadelphia chapter of Clan Na Gael.

During World War I, while the United States is still neutral, McGarrity is involved in the Hindu–German Conspiracy. He arranges the Annie Larsen arms purchase and shipment from New York to San Diego for India.

When Éamon de Valera arrives in the United States in 1919 they strike up an immediate rapport and McGarrity manages de Valera’s tour of the country. He persuades de Valera of the benefits of supporting him and the Philadelphia branch against the New York branch of the Friends of Irish Freedom organisation led by John Devoy and Judge Daniel F. Cohalan. He becomes president of the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic. He christens his newborn son Éamon de Valera McGarrity, although their relationship becomes strained upon de Valera’s entry back into Dáil Éireann in the Irish Free State.

McGarrity opposes the Anglo-Irish Treaty and travels to Dublin in 1922 and assists the development of the short-lived Collins/De Valera Pact by bringing de Valera and Michael Collins together before the 1922 Irish general election.

The Irish Civil War sees a split in Clan na Gael just as it had split Sinn Féin back in Ireland. McGarrity and a minority of Clan na Gael members support the anti-treaty side but a majority support the pro-treaty side, including John Devoy and Daniel Cohalan. Furthermore, in October 1920 Harry Boland informs the Clan na Gael leadership that the IRB will be cutting their ties to the Clan unless the IRB is given more influence over their affairs. Devoy and Cohalan resist this but McGarrity sees the Clan’s connection with the IRB as vital. While McGarrity’s faction is initially labelled “Reorganised Clan na Gael,” they are able to inherit total control of the Clan na Gael name as Devoy is not able to keep effective organisation of the group. In general, however, the in-fighting amongst the Irish on both sides of the Atlantic is quite disheartening for Irish Americans and in the years to come neither pro or anti-treaty sides of Clan na Gael see much in the way of donations.

With the scope of Clan na Gael now narrowed, and Devoy and Cohalan removed from the picture, McGarrity becomes chairman of the organisation. He does not support the founding of Fianna Fáil in 1926 and opposes the party’s entry into the Dáil in 1927. Even after the Irish Civil War, he still supports the idea that a 32-county Irish Republic can be achieved through force. in the spring of 1926, he receives Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army Andrew Cooney to the United States. Cooney and Clan na Gael formally agree that each organisation will support the other and that Clan na Gael will raise funds, purchase weapons and build support for the IRA in the United States.

Going into the late 1920s though Clan na Gael, as are most Irish American organisations, is struggling. Having limped past the split caused by the Irish Civil War, the rejection of Fianna Fáil has caused a second split in the membership. Many Irish Americans see the IRA and Fianna Fáil as one and the same at that point and Clan na Gael and McGarrity’s hostility to them causes much friction.

By July 1929, the Clan’s membership in one of its strongholds, New York City, is down to just 620 paid members. Then in October of that same year Wall Street crashes and the Great Depression hits. In 1933 McGarrity is left almost bankrupt after he is found guilty of “false bookkeeping entries.” His livelihood is saved when he becomes one of the main ticket agents in the United States for the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake. He is a personal friend of Joseph McGrath, one of the founders of the Sweepstake. The sweepstakes allow him to turn his fortunes around.

Despite the trying times of both Clan na Gael and his personal life, McGarrity holds fast in his belief in physical force Irish Republicanism. In 1939 he supports the demand from Seán Russell for the “S-Plan” bombing campaign in Britain, which proves disastrous. He allegedly meets Hermann Göring in Berlin in 1939 to ask for aid for the IRA, which leads indirectly to “Plan Kathleen.”

McGarrity is a lifelong friend of fellow Carrickmore native and avid Republican, Patrick McCartan. When he dies on September 4, 1940 a mass is held in the St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. He remains an unrepentant physical force republican all his life. A number of McGarrity’s papers are in the National Library of Ireland. He donates his personal Library to Villanova University.

The IRA signs all its statements ‘J.J. McGarrity’ until 1969 when the organisation splits into the ‘Official‘ and ‘Provisional‘ movements. Thereafter the term continues to be used by the Officials while the Provisionals adopt the moniker ‘P.O’Neill.’