seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Ballygawley Barracks Attack

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) launches an assault on the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks in Ballygawley, County Tyrone, on December 7, 1985. Two RUC officers are shot dead and the barracks are raked with gunfire before being completely destroyed by a bomb, which wounds an additional three officers.

In 1985, Patrick Kelly becomes leader of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade. He, along with East Tyrone Brigade members Jim Lynagh and Pádraig McKearney, advocate using flying columns to destroy isolated British Army and RUC bases and stop them from being repaired. The goal is to create and hold “liberated zones” under IRA control that will be gradually enlarged. Although IRA Chief of Staff Kevin McKenna turns down the flying column idea, IRA Northern Command approves the plan to destroy bases and prevent their repair. In 1985 alone there are 44 such attacks. Among the most devastating is the mortar attack on Newry RUC barracks in March.

The Ballygawley attack involves two IRA active service units from the East Tyrone Brigade: an armed assault unit and a bomb unit. There are also several teams of IRA observers in the area. The assault team is armed with AK-47 and AR-15 rifles, while the bombing unit is responsible for planting and detonating a 100-pound (45 kg) bomb. Both units are commanded by Patrick Kelly.

The assault is launched on Saturday, December 7, at 6:55 PM, when the handful of RUC officers manning the base are getting ready to hand over to the next shift. In the first burst of automatic fire, the two guards at the entrance are killed, Constable George Gilliland and Reserve Constable William Clements. Constable Clements’s Ruger Security-Six revolver is taken by the attackers. The base is then raked with gunfire. Another three RUC officers who are inside run out to the back of the base, where they hope the walls might offer some cover. IRA members go into the building and take documents and weapons. The bomb is placed inside and, upon detonation, destroys the entire base, injuring three officers.

The republican IRIS Magazine (#11, October 1987) describes the attack as follows:

“One volunteer took up a position close to the front gate. Two RUC men opened the gate and the volunteer calmly stepped forward, shooting them both dead at point blank range. Volunteers firing AK-47 and Armalite rifles moved into the barracks, raking it with gunfire. Having secured the building they planted a 100-lb. bomb inside. The bomb exploded, totally destroying the building after the volunteers had withdrawn to safety.”

The first British Army unit to arrive at the base in the wake of the attack is X Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

The attack is one of the Provisional IRA’s biggest during this period. Twelve days later the same IRA brigade mortar the RUC station at Castlederg badly damaging the base and injuring four people. The Ballygawley base is rebuilt by the Royal Engineers in 1986.

The East Tyrone IRA launches two similar attacks in the following years: the successful attack on the Birches base in 1986, and the ill-fated attack on the Loughgall base in 1987, in which eight IRA members are killed. Ballygawley itself had seen conflict before with the Ballygawley land mine attack in 1983, and would see more violence in 1988 with the Ballygawley bus bombing, that cost the lives of eight British soldiers. The gun taken from Constable Clements is found by security forces after the SAS ambush at Loughgall.

The RUC base at Ballygawley is once again targeted by the East Tyrone Brigade on December 7, 1992, in what becomes the debut of the IRA’s brand new Mark-15 improvised mortar, better known as “Barrack Buster.” Another attack with a horizontal mortar occurs on April 30, 1993, when a RUC mobile patrol leaving Ballygawley compound is targeted. According to an IRA statement, the projectile misses one of the vehicles, hits a wall and explodes.

(Pictured: A Provisional Irish Republican Army badge, with the phoenix symbolising the origins of the Provisional IRA)


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Death of Edward Daly, Catholic Bishop of Derry

The retired Catholic Bishop of Derry, Dr. Edward Daly, whose photograph becomes the iconic image of Bloody Sunday in 1972, dies at the age of 82 on August 8, 2016.

Daly is born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, but raised in Belleek, County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. He attends and boards at St. Columb’s College in Derry on a scholarship, after which he spends six years studying towards ordination to the priesthood at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome. He is ordained a priest of the Diocese of Derry in Belleek on March 16, 1957. His first appointment is as a Curate in Castlederg, County Tyrone. In 1962, he is appointed a Curate in St. Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry, with responsibility for the Bogside area of the city. He leaves briefly in the 1970s to serve as a religious advisor to RTÉ in Dublin in the Republic of Ireland but spends the majority of his career in Derry.

During his time in Derry, Daly takes part in the civil rights marches. He has first-hand experience of the Battle of the Bogside in 1969, the early years of the Troubles, internment, and the events of Bloody Sunday, in which British soldiers fire on unarmed protesters on January 30, 1972, killing 14 people. He becomes a public figure after he is witnessed using a blood-stained handkerchief as a white flag in an attempt to escort 17-year-old Jackie Duddy, a wounded protester, to safety. Duddy dies of his injuries soon after and Daly administers the last rites. He later describes the events as “a young fella who was posing no threat to anybody being shot dead unjustifiably.”

Daly gives an interview to the BBC in which he insists, contrary to official reports, that the protesters were unarmed. He testifies as such to the Widgery Tribunal, though he also testifies that he had seen a man with a gun on the day, to the anger of some of those involved. The Widgery Report largely exonerates the British Army, perpetuating the controversy. Years later, he says that the events of Bloody Sunday were a significant catalyst to the violence in Northern Ireland, and that the shootings served to greatly increase recruitment to the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Prior to Bloody Sunday, Daly is sympathetic to the “old” IRA, of which his father was a member, but the events of Bloody Sunday leave him of the opinion that “violence is completely unacceptable as a means to a political end,” which leads to tension with the Provisional Irish Republican Army throughout his career.

Daly is appointed Bishop of Derry in 1974, a position he holds until he is forced to retire in October 1993 after suffering a stroke. He continues in the role of chaplain to Derry’s Foyle Hospice until February 2016.

Daly makes headlines in 2011 when he says there needs to be a place in the modern Catholic Church for married priests. He addresses the controversial issue in his book about his life in the Church, A Troubled See. Allowing clergymen to marry would ease the church’s problems, he says.

Daly is awarded the Freedom of the City by Derry City Council in 2015 in a joint ceremony with Bishop James Mehaffey, with whom he had worked closely while the two were in office. He is “hugely pleased to accept [the award], particularly when it is being shared with my friend and brother, Bishop James.” The city’s mayor, Brenda Stevenson, announces that the joint award is in recognition of the two bishops’ efforts towards peace and community cohesion.

Daly dies on August 8, 2016 at Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Derry, having been admitted after a fall several weeks previously. He had also been diagnosed with cancer. He is surrounded by family and local priests.

Daly’s remains are taken to St. Eugene’s Cathedral, where he lay in state with mourners able to file past. His coffin is sealed at midday on August 11, 2016 and buried after Requiem Mass in the grounds of St. Eugene’s Cathedral alongside his predecessor as Bishop of Derry, Neil Farren. The bells of the cathedral toll for one hour on the morning of Daly’s death while many local people arrived to pay tribute. The mayor of Derry, Hilary McClintock, opens a book of condolence in the city’s guildhall for members of the public to sign. The funeral, conducted by the incumbent Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown, is attended by multiple religious and political leaders from across Ireland and retired leaders from throughout his career. A message from Pope Francis is read aloud at the beginning of the service. Hundreds of members of the public also attend the funeral, some lining the route from the cathedral to the gravesite. His coffin is greeted with applause as it is carried out of the cathedral for burial.

(Pictured: Father Edward Daly, waving a blood-stained white handkerchief as he escorts a mortally-wounded protester to safety during the events of Bloody Sunday (1972) in Derry, Northern Ireland, an image which becomes one of the most recognisable moments of the Troubles)