seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Dolours Price, Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Dolours Price, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer, dies in her Malahide, County Dublin home on January 23, 2013.

Price is born in Belfast on December 16, 1950. She and her sister, Marian, also an IRA member, are the daughters of Albert Price, a prominent Irish republican and former IRA member from Belfast. Their aunt, Bridie Dolan, is blinded and loses both hands in an accident handling IRA explosives. 

Price becomes involved in Irish republicanism in the late 1960s and she and Marian participate in the Belfast to Derry civil rights march in January 1969 and are attacked in the Burntollet Bridge incident.

In 1971 Price and her sister join the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). In 1972 she joins an elite group within the IRA called “The Unknowns” commanded by Pat McClure.  The Unknowns are tasked with various secretive activities and transport several accused traitors across the border into the Republic of Ireland where they are “disappeared.” She personally states that she had driven Joe Lynskey across the border to face trial. In addition she states that she, Pat McClure and a third Unknown were tasked with killing Jean McConville, with the third Unknown actually shooting her.

Price leads the car bombing attacks in London on March 8, 1973, which injure over 200 people and is believed to have contributed to the death of one person who suffers a fatal heart attack. The two sisters are arrested, along with Gerry Kelly, Hugh Feeney and six others, on the day of the bombing as they are boarding a flight to Ireland. They are tried and convicted at the Great Hall in Winchester Castle on November 14, 1973. Although originally sentenced to life imprisonment, which is to run concurrently for each criminal charge, their sentence is eventually reduced to 20 years. She serves seven years for her part in the bombing. She immediately goes on a hunger strike demanding to be moved to a prison in Northern Ireland. The hunger strike lasts for 208 days because the hunger strikers are force-fed by prison authorities to keep them alive.

On the back of the hunger-striking campaign, Price’s father contests Belfast West at the February 1974 United Kingdom general election, receiving 5,662 votes (11.9%). The Price sisters, Hugh Feeney, and Gerry Kelly are moved to Northern Ireland prisons in 1975 as a result of an IRA truce. In 1980 she receives the royal prerogative of mercy and is freed on humanitarian grounds in 1981, purportedly suffering from anorexia nervosa due to the invasive trauma of daily force feedings.

After her release in 1980, Price marries Irish actor Stephen Rea, with whom she has two sons, Danny and Oscar. They divorce in 2003.

The Price sisters remain active politically. In the late 1990s, Price and her sister claim that they have been threatened by their former colleagues in the IRA and Sinn Féin for publicly opposing the Good Friday Agreement (i.e. the cessation of the IRA’s military campaign). she is a contributor to The Blanket, an online journal, edited by former Provisional IRA member Anthony McIntyre, until it ceases publication in 2008.

In 2001, Price is arrested in Dublin and charged with possession of stolen prescription pads and forged prescriptions. She pleads guilty and is fined £200 and ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

In February 2010, it is reported by The Irish News that Price had offered help to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains in locating graves of three men, Joe Lynskey, Seamus Wright, and Kevin McKee. The bodies of Wright and McKee are recovered from a singular grave in County Meath in August 2015. It is unclear if Price played a role in their recovery. The remains of Joe Lynskey have not been recovered as of April 2021.

Price is the subject of the 2018 feature-length documentary I, Dolours in which she gives an extensive filmed interview.

In 2010 Price claims Gerry Adams had been her officer commanding (OC) when she was active in the IRA. Adams, who has always denied being a member of the IRA, denies her allegation. She admits taking part in the murder of Jean McConville, as part of an IRA action in 1972. She claims the murder of McConville, a mother of ten, was ordered by Adams when he was an IRA leader in West Belfast. Adams subsequently publicly further denies Price’s allegations, stating that the reason for them is that she is opposed to the Provisional Irish Republican Army’s abandonment of paramilitary warfare in favour of politics in 1994, in the facilitation of which Adams has been a key figure.

Oral historians at Boston College interview both Price and her fellow IRA paramilitary Brendan Hughes between 2001 and 2006. The two give detailed interviews for the historical record of the activities in the IRA, which are recorded on condition that the content of the interviews is not to be released during their lifetimes. Prior to her death in May 2011, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) subpoena the material, possibly as part of an investigation into the disappearance of a number of people in Northern Ireland during the 1970s. In June 2011, the college files a motion to quash the subpoena. A spokesman for the college states that “our position is that the premature release of the tapes could threaten the safety of the participants, the enterprise of oral history, and the ongoing peace and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland.” In June 2011, U.S. federal prosecutors ask a judge to require the college to release the tapes to comply with treaty obligations with the United Kingdom. On July 6, 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit agrees with the government’s position that the subpoena should stand. On October 17, 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States temporarily blocks the college from handing over the interview tapes. In April 2013, after Price’s death, the Supreme Court turns away an appeal that seeks to keep the interviews from being supplied to the PSNI. The order leaves in place a lower court ruling that orders Boston College to give the Justice Department portions of recorded interviews with Price. Federal officials want to forward the recordings to police investigating the murder of Jean McConville.

On January 24, 2013 Price is found dead at her Malahide, County Dublin home, from a toxic effect of mixing prescribed sedative and anti-depressant medication. The inquest returns a verdict of death by misadventure. Her body is buried at Milltown Cemetery in West Belfast.


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People’s Democracy March Ambush at Burntollet Bridge

On January 4, 1969, during the first stages of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the civil rights group People’s Democracy is attacked at Burntollet Bridge on the final day of a four-day march from Belfast to Derry by 200 loyalists and off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers armed with iron bars, bricks, and bottles.

The People’s Democracy organizes the four-day march from Belfast to Derry, starting on January 1, 1969. The march is to be the acid test of the government’s intentions. Either the government will face up to the extreme right of its own Unionist Party and protect the march from the ‘harassing and hindering,’ or it will be exposed as impotent in the face of sectarian thuggery, and Westminster will be forced to intervene, re-opening the whole Irish question for the first time in 50 years. The march is modelled on the Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama in 1965, which had exposed the racist thuggery of America’s Deep South and forced the United States government into major reforms.

The departure on New Year’s Day 1969 of approximately 40 People’s Democracy supporters on the march to Derry is marked by a protest in Belfast by loyalists under the direction of Major Ronald Bunting, a close associate of Rev. Ian Paisley. It is the loyalist’s intention to harass the march along its entire journey.

On the first day of the march, the group makes its way unhindered towards Antrim. Just outside Antrim the marchers run into a police barricade, behind which several hundred loyalists are gathered, led by Major Bunting. The RUC refuses to remove the blockade and after a lengthy delay, and minor scuffles, the marchers are driven in police tenders to Whitehall Community Centre where they spend an unsettled night interrupted by a bomb threat.

The next day, the marchers set off for Randalstown but again find their way blocked by Major Bunting and a crowd of loyalists. Once again the RUC refuses to remove the loyalist protesters and the marchers are eventually transported to Toome by car. The marchers are welcomed at Toome and after taking lunch in the village they set out for Maghera. After 30 minutes the march is again halted and then rerouted away from the loyalist village of Knockloughlin. After two miles, loyalist protestors led by Major Bunting again halt the march. Another stand off ensues and, as locals gather to support the marchers, the RUC’s County Inspector Kerr asks the loyalists to stand aside, which they do. The marchers then make their way towards Maghera, where loyalists have gathered to await their arrival. On hearing of this ‘reception’ committee, which is armed with clubs and sticks, the marchers decide to bypass the village and spend the night at Bracaghreilly. That night Maghera witnesses considerable violence from frustrated loyalists.

On January 3, the third day of the march, the marchers set out for Dungiven and encounter little opposition. After lunch in Dungiven they travel on to Feeny. A mile outside Dungiven the marchers are halted by the RUC with reports of a loyalist protest further along the road. A civil rights supporter then arrives along the road that is allegedly blocked and reports no obstructions ahead. The marchers decide to breach police lines and encounter no protest ahead. After reaching Feeny the marchers move on to Claudy, where they receive a friendly reception and settle down for the night. That night a loyalist attack on the hall in which the marchers are staying is repulsed by locals.

The same night in Derry, a rally by Ian Paisley in the Guildhall leads to serious disorder. While those inside the hall are listening to Major Bunting call for loyalists to gather the next day at Burntollet, a crowd of nationalists gather outside the building in protest. During clashes as the rally disperses, Major Bunting’s car is destroyed. Later that night stockpiles of bottles and stones are left by loyalists in the fields at Burntollet.

On the morning of January 4, the marchers, who now number approximately 500, set out on the last league of their journey to Derry. Just before reaching Burntollet District Inspector Harrison stops the march in order to investigate reports of loyalists ahead. Harrison, together with County Inspector Kerr, speak of 50 loyalists ahead and claim to be confident that there is no danger. With the RUC leading the way the marchers advance. In the field overlooking the road the marchers observe approximately 300 loyalists, identified by white armbands and armed with cudgels. They come under a bombardment of missiles. Marchers seek to escape the bombardment by speeding up the road but there is to be no escape as they immediately encounter a second contingent of loyalists blocking their escape.

As many marchers flee into the fields they are pursued by attackers and the RUC makes no attempt to intervene. Others are thrown into the nearby River Faughan. As what is left of the marchers continue on to Derry, they are also attacked twice in Derry’s Waterside before receiving a rousing welcome in Guildhall Square.

That night clashes occur between the RUC and local people and the first “Free Derry” is born. At 2:00 AM members of the RUC attack the Bogside, running amok in the Lecky Road and St. Columbs Wells districts. Windows are broken, residents are assaulted and sectarian abuse is directed at the people of the Bogside. The reaction to this ‘invasion’ ranges from the painting of the Free Derry legend to the formation of vigilante squads in the area, based at the Foyle Harps Hall in the Brandywell and Rossville Hall in the Bogside. The barricades remain up for a number of days and relations between the community in the Bogside and the RUC, which has never been particularly good, grows steadily worse.

These events, together with the steady increase of conflict between local youths and the RUC as the year progress, is to lay the foundations for the resistance that is to take place during the Battle of the Bogside.

(From: “People’s Democracy march, January 4, 1969” by Jude Collins, http://www.judecollins.com, January 4, 2016)


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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)


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Launch of Irish Language Radio Station RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta

RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, abbreviated RnaG, an Irish language radio station owned and operated by Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), goes on the air for the first time on April 2, 1972, launched by President Éamon de Valera. The station is available on FM in Ireland and via satellite and on the Internet. The station’s main-headquarters are in Casla, County Galway with major studios also in Gweedore, County Donegal and Dingle, County Kerry.

After the Irish Free State is formed and the Irish Civil War is concluded, the new state sets up a single radio channel named 2RN in 1926, launched by Douglas Hyde. The channel, operating out of Dublin, largely serves the Anglosphere population and at best reaches as far as County Tipperary, a situation that does not change until more powerful transmitters are adopted in the 1930s at Athlone.

In 1943, de Valera, at the time serving as Taoiseach and whose wife Sinéad Ní Fhlannagáin is a keen Conradh na Gaeilge activist, promotes the idea of a Gaeltacht station, but there is no breakthrough. By this time, 2RN has become Radio Éireann and still only has one channel, with limited broadcasting hours, often in competition for listeners with BBC Radio and Radio Luxembourg.

In the 1950s, a general liberalisation and commercialisation, indeed Americanisation begins to occur in Ireland, as a push is made to move Ireland from a rural-agrarian society with a protectionist cultural policy towards a market economy basis, with supply and demand the primarily basis of public communications. In 1960, RTÉ is established and direct control of communications moves from a government ministry position to a non-governmental RTÉ Director-General position, first filled by Edward Roth

In the late 1960s, a civil rights movement in the Gaeltacht emerges, seeking development and services for Irish speakers, including a radio service. Out of the Gluaiseacht Chearta Siabhialta na Gaeltachta‘s advocacy comes the pirate radio station Saor Raidió Chonamara in 1970. This sets the subsequent discourse for Irish language and Gaeltacht issues as a civil rights and minority rights imperative.

Gerry Collins, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, announces in Dáil Éireann in February 1971 that a new radio station for the Gaeltacht will be created. Raidió na Gaeltachta begins broadcasting at 3:00 PM on April 2, 1972 as part of an Easter Sunday programming. During the very first broadcast, the main station at Casla, County Galway is not yet finished and the studios in County Kerry and County Donegal are still under construction, so the broadcast originates from Galway. The first Ceannaire (Controller) Pádraic Ó Raghallaigh opens the show, which is followed by a recording from President Éamon de Valera. A recording of Seán Ó Riada‘s Irish language Mass, Ceol an Aifrinn, from the Seipéal Mhic Dara at Carraroe is also played.

At foundation, the station begins with a staff of seven, including six former teachers and a businessman, and broadcasts for only two hours a day and is only available in or near the three largest Gaeltacht districts. The local studio at Derrybeg in Gweedore, County Donegal aids the native Irish music scene there. In the 1970s, Raidió na Gaeltachta gives early coverage to Clannad and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, later the singer for Altan. These groups gain popularity not only in Ireland, but on the international stage, selling millions of records during the 1980s especially. The station is dedicated to bringing the listener general news, both national and international, as well as Gaelic sports coverage and more localised affairs of significance to the community in the Gaeltacht.

For many years RnaG is the only Irish language broadcaster in the country. In recent years it has been joined by a television service, Telefís na Gaeilge (TG4), and by regional community radio stations Raidió na Life in Dublin, Raidió Fáilte in Belfast, and Raidió Rí-Rá.


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Death of Poet & Journalist John Boyle O’Reilly

john-boyle-o-reillyJohn Boyle O’Reilly, Irish American poet, journalist, author and activist, dies on August 10, 1890 in Hull, Massachusetts, due to accidental poisoning. His literature and work with civil rights have been celebrated throughout the years.

O’Reilly is born on June 28, 1844 at Dowth Castle to William David O’Reilly (1808–1871) and Eliza O’Reilly (née Boyle) (1815–1868) near Drogheda. His father is a headmaster. He is the third of six children. A year after his birth, the Great Famine begins, an event that shapes his life and beliefs. Most of his closest family manage to survive the famine, however many of his classmates lose their lives to the famine.

O’Reilly moves to his aunt’s residence in England as a teenager and becomes involved in journalism and shortly after becomes involved in the military. He leaves the military, however, in 1863 after becoming angry with the military’s treatment of the Irish, and returns to Ireland the same year.

In 1864 O’Reilly joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood under an assumed name and is part of the group for two years until he and many others are arrested by authorities in early 1866. After a trial that same year he is sentenced to death but the sentence is later commuted to 20 years’ penal servitude. In 1867 he is transported to Western Australia and moves to the town of Bunbury where he escapes two years later. He is assisted in escaping by a Fr. Patrick McCabe from Arnaghan, Gowna, County Cavan.

Following his escape O’Reilly moves to Boston, Massachusetts and embarks on a successful writing and journalism career that produces works such as Moondyne (1879) and Songs from the Southern Seas (1873), and poems such as The Cry of the Dreamer and The White Rose and In Bohemia (1886). He becomes a prominent spokesperson for the Irish community and culture through his editorship of the Boston newspaper The Pilot, his prolific writing and his lecture tours.

O’Reilly marries Mary Murphy (1850-1897), a journalist who writes for the Young Crusader under the name of Agnes Smiley, on August 15, 1872 and has four daughters. In the final four years of his life he suffers various health issues.

On August 9, 1890, O’Reilly takes an early boat to his residence in Hull, Massachusetts. He has been suffering from bouts of insomnia during this time. That evening he takes a long walk with his brother-in-law, John R. Murphy, hoping that physical fatigue will induce the needed sleep. Later on that night he takes some of his wife’s sleeping medicine, which contains chloral hydrate.

In the early morning hours of August 10 his wife wakes up to find O’Reilly unconscious, sitting in a chair with one hand resting on the table near a book and a cigar in the other. She sends a servant for the family’s physician, Dr. Litchfield, and he spends nearly an hour trying to revive him, but O’Reilly dies shortly before 5:00 AM. Public announcements attribute O’Reilly’s death to heart failure but the official death register claims “accidental poisoning.” His memorial service held at Tremont Temple in Boston is a major public event.

The song “Van Diemen’s Land” on U2‘s Rattle and Hum (1988) album refers to and is dedicated to O’Reilly.


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David Cameron Issues Formal State Apology for Bloody Sunday

cameron-bloody-sunday-apologyOn June 15, 2010, David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, issues a formal state apology for the “unjustified and unjustifiable” killing of fourteen civil rights marchers in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972. Cameron says Lord Saville inquiry’s long-awaited report shows soldiers lied about their involvement in the killings and that all of those who died were innocent.

Bloody Sunday, as the events on January 30, 1972 come to be known, is one of the most controversial moments of the Troubles. Paramilitary open fire while trying to police a banned civil rights march. They kill 13 marchers outright, and, according to Saville, wound another 15, one of whom subsequently dies later in the hospital.

In the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, Cameron begins his statement by saying he is “deeply patriotic” and does not want to believe anything bad about his country. Cameron says the inquiry, a 5,000-page, 10-volume report, which takes twelve years to compile at a cost of almost £191m, is “absolutely clear” and there are “no ambiguities” about the conclusions. He adds, “What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.”

The report concludes there is no justification for shooting at any of those killed or wounded on the march. “None of the firing by the Support Company [Paratroopers] was aimed at people posing a threat or causing death or serious injury.” The report adds that the shootings “were not the result of any plan to shoot selected ringleaders” and that none of those killed by British soldiers was armed with firearms and no warning was given by the soldiers.

“The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces, and for that, on behalf of the government and on behalf of the country, I am deeply sorry,” says Cameron. The inquiry finds that the order sending British soldiers into the Bogside “should not have been given.” Cameron adds the casualties were caused by the soldiers “losing their self control.”

The eagerly awaited report does not hold the British government at the time directly responsible for the atrocity. It finds that there is “no evidence” that either the British government or the unionist-dominated Northern Ireland administration encouraged the use of lethal force against the demonstrators. It also exonerates the army’s then commander of land forces, Major General Robert Ford, of any blame.

Most of the damning criticism against the military is directed at the soldiers on the ground who fired on the civilians. Saville says that on Bloody Sunday there had been “a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline among the soldiers.” He concludes that many of the soldiers lied to his inquiry. “Many of these soldiers have knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing.” Under the rules of the inquiry this conclusion means that soldiers could be prosecuted for perjury.

The report also focuses on the actions of two Republican gunmen on the day and says that the Official Irish Republican Army (IRA) men had gone to a prearranged sniping position. But Saville finds that their actions did not provoke in any way the shootings by the paramilitary regiment.

Relatives cheer as they watch the statement, relayed to screens outside the Guildhall in Derry. A minute of silence is held as thousands of supporters fill the square outside, waiting to be told about the report’s contents. A representative of each of the families speaks in turn and a copy of the hated report by Lord Widgery, which in 1972 accuses the victims of firing weapons or handling bombs, is torn apart by one of the families’ representatives.

Denis Bradley, who played a key part in secret talks that brought about the IRA ceasefire of 1994 and who was on the Bloody Sunday march in 1972, welcomes the report’s findings. The former Derry priest, who narrowly escaped being shot on the day, says he is “amazed” at how damning the findings are against the soldiers. He adds, “This city has been vindicated, this city has been telling the truth all along.”

(Pictured: Family and supporters watch David Cameron’s formal state apology in Guildhall Square in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland)


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Formation of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association

northern-ireland-civil-rights-associationThe Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), an organisation that campaigns for civil rights in Northern Ireland during the late 1960s and early 1970s, is formed in Belfast on April 9, 1967. The civil rights campaign attempts to achieve reform by publicising, documenting, and lobbying for an end to discrimination in areas such as elections (which are subject to gerrymandering and property requirements), discrimination in employment, in public housing and alleged abuses of the Special Powers Act.

Since Northern Ireland’s creation in 1922, the Catholic minority suffers from varying degrees of discrimination from the Protestant and Unionist majority. Many nationalist historians regard the ethos of Northern Ireland as unambiguously sectarian, however, academic and author Senia Paseta posits that discrimination was never as calculated as republicans maintained nor as fictional as unionists claimed. In fact, laws against religious discrimination are enshrined in the Government of Ireland Act 1920, Northern Ireland’s constitution. No government of Northern Ireland, even if they want to, can create laws which overtly discriminated against any religious body of peoples.

The genesis of NICRA lay in a meeting in Maghera in August 1966 between the Wolfe Tone Societies which is attended by Cathal Goulding, then chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). During its formation, NICRA’s membership extends to trade unionists, communists, liberals, socialists, with republicans eventually constituting five of the thirteen members of its executive council. The organisation initially also has some unionists, with Young Unionist Robin Cole taking a position on its executive council. Official Sinn Féin and Official Irish Republican Army influence over NICRA grows in later years, but only as the latter’s importance declines, when violence escalated between late 1969 until 1972, when NICRA ceased its work.

Events escalate in Northern Ireland until August 1969, when the annual Apprentice Boys of Derry march is attacked as it marches through the city’s walls and past a perimeter with the nationalist Bogside. Initially some loyalist supporters throw pennies down from the walls onto Catholics in the Bogside. Catholics then throw nails and stones at loyalists leading to an intense confrontation. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) intervenes, and a three-day riot known as the Battle of the Bogside ensues. Rioting quickly spreads throughout nationalist areas in Northern Ireland, where at least seven are killed and hundreds wounded. Thousands of Catholics are driven from their homes by loyalists. These events are often seen as the start of the Troubles.

In a subsequent official inquiry, Lord Leslie Scarman concludes, “We are satisfied that the spread of the disturbances [in Derry in August 1969] owed much to a deliberate decision of some minority groups to relieve police pressure on the rioters in Londonderry. Amongst these groups must be included NICRA, whose executive decided to organise demonstrators in the Province so as to prevent reinforcement of the police in Londonderry.” In December 1969 and January 1970, both Sinn Féin and the IRA split into “Official” and “Provisional” wings, with the “Official” wings retaining influence in NICRA.

The British government introduces internment on August 9, 1971 at the request of Northern Ireland Prime Minister Brian Faulkner. The British Army, in co-operation with the RUC, intern 342 people. One hundred sixteen of those interned are innocent of involvement with the IRA and are quickly released.

The introduction of internment is not a closely guarded secret, with newspaper editorials appearing and discussion on television. The IRA goes underground or flees across the border. As a result, fewer than 100 arrests are from the IRA. By this stage, support for NICRA begins to wane, however NICRA continues to organise anti-internment marches. In Derry on January 30, 1972 NICRA takes part in a mass anti-internment march which had also been banned. Fourteen unarmed demonstrators are shot and killed by British troops during the march which becomes known as Bloody Sunday.


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The Battle of Antietam

irish-brigade-at-antietamThe Irish Brigade of the Union Army fights in the Battle of Antietam, one of the most famous battles of the American Civil War, on September 17, 1862. The battle has the sad distinction of being the bloodiest single day of fighting in America’s bloodiest war. Combined casualties at the Battle of Antietam are 26,134. Few regiments suffered more than the Irish Brigade.

The Irish Brigade is the brainchild of their commanding officer Thomas Francis Meagher. The former Young Ireland rebel, creator of the Irish Tricolor of green, white and orange, escaped political prisoner, lawyer, newspaper editor and politician forms the brigade with the twin objectives of gaining respect for the Irish by their patriotism for their adopted country and developing a nucleus for a future fight for Ireland’s freedom. The Brigade is formed of the almost exclusively Irish American 69th, 63rd and 88th New York and the “honorary Irish” of the 29th Massachusetts. The regiments of the Irish Brigade had already earned a formidable reputation as a crack unit, having distinguished themselves in every battle of the earlier Seven Days Battles. It is small wonder, many in the Brigade’s ranks had already distinguished themselves in the Mexican-American War or in fighting with the Papal forces in Italy against Giuseppe Garibaldi.

The Union Army is already heavily engaged, when the Irish Brigade is ordered to advance through an open field to take an area of high ground. Subjected to accurate Confederate rifle fire as they cross the field, the Brigade marches on in disciplined order, the National and the famed Green Regimental Colors (flags) fluttering overhead. When they encounter a fence across their line of march, eighty volunteers rush forward to knock it down, rather than see the whole Brigade slowed by the obstacle and exposed to fire. Over half of these volunteers are killed. Seeing the Irish continue to press forward, the Confederates fall back as the Irish advance up the hill.

What no one on the Union side knows is that on the other side of the hill is a farmer’s dirt road that years of rain has eroded into a ditch five feet below the surrounding ground level. The sunken road is a perfect rifle pit and is filled with Colonel John Brown Gordon’s Georgians. As the Irish crest the hill, they are met with a volley that decimates the Brigade, including killing or wounding every single standard-bearer. Seeing the flags fall from across the field, an aide to Union General George B. McClellan exclaims, “The battles lost, the Irish are fleeing!” only for McClellan to respond, “No, the flags are raised again, they are advancing.” Eight successive standard-bearers of the 69th New York alone fall that day as men pick up the flags from fallen comrades. Captain Patrick Clooney, though wounded himself, snatches up the colors from the 88th’s fallen standard-bearer only to be killed by multiple shots, the Green Flag wrapping around him like a shroud befitting a hero. Another standard-bearer, the staff of his Irish Brigade flag snapped in two by a rifle shot, drapes the flag over his shoulder like a sash and continues to move forward, personifying the Gaelic phrase on the flag he is carrying “Riamh Nar Dhruid O Spairn lann”, “Who never retreated from the clash of spears.”

The fire of the Confederates is so intense that the Irish Brigade cannot advance, but they do not flee either. Despite the failure of promised reinforcements that never materialize, the Brigade pours “Buck and Ball” (a 69 caliber ball and three 30 caliber buckshot) into the enemy at 300 paces, turning the “Sunken Road” into “Bloody Lane.” When their ammunition is depleted, the remnants of the Brigade, with drill ground precision, form and march back to the Union lines. The Irish Brigade never “ran” from the enemy. Another Union unit takes the “Bloody Lane,” but most credit the punishment that the Irish Brigade inflicted on the enemy, at a terrible cost to themselves, with making it possible. The New York Regiments take over 50% casualties. The Irish Brigade is now no bigger than a single regiment. As the depleted ranks of the 88th march passed, Union Major General Israel Bush Richardson salutes as it passes with the words “Bravo 88th, I shall never forget you!”

During the course of the War, the Irish Brigade suffers over 4,000 casualties, more men than the Brigade ever had at any one time. The Fighting 69th loses more men than any other New York regiment. The Battle of Antietam is remembered as the Union victory that allows President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which frees the slaves in the Confederate states. It is all too often forgotten that this emancipation was secured in no small part with the blood of Irish immigrants, immigrants who were denied civil rights in their own country and faced discrimination in their adopted county before and after the Civil War.

In thinking of the Civil War, all Americans should remember the words of a defeated Confederate Officer to his Union counterpart at Appomattox, “You only won as you had more Irish than we did.”

(Credit: “The Irish Brigade at Antietam” by Neil F. Cosgrove, October 17, 2009)


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Birth of Nell McCafferty, Journalist & Feminist

nell-mccaffertyNell McCafferty, Irish journalist, playwright, civil rights campaigner and feminist, is born in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland on March 28, 1944. In her journalistic work she has written for The Irish Press, The Irish Times, Sunday Tribune, Hot Press and The Village Voice.

McCafferty is born to Hugh and Lily McCafferty, and spends her early years in the Bogside area of Derry. She is admitted to Queen’s University Belfast, where she takes a degree in Arts. After a brief spell as a substitute English teacher in Northern Ireland and a stint on an Israeli kibbutz, she takes up a post with The Irish Times.

McCafferty is a founding member of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement. Her journalistic writing on women and women’s rights reflect her beliefs on the status of women in Irish society. In 1971, she travels to Belfast with other members of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement in order to protest the prohibition of the importation and sale of contraceptives in the Republic of Ireland.

After the disintegration of the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement, McCafferty remains active in other women’s rights groups, as well as focusing her journalism on women’s rights. Her most notable work is her coverage of the Kerry Babies case, which is recorded in her book, A Woman to Blame. She contributes the piece “Coping with the womb and the border” to the 1984 anthology Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women’s Movement Anthology, edited by Robin Morgan.

In 1990, McCafferty wins a Jacob’s Award for her reports on the 1990 FIFA World Cup for RTÉ Radio 1‘s The Pat Kenny Show. She publishes her autobiography, Nell, in 2004. In it, she explores her upbringing in Derry, her relationship with her parents, her fears about being gay, the joy of finding a domestic haven with the love of her life, the Irish writer Nuala O’Faolain, and the pain of losing it.

In 2009, after the publication of the Murphy Report into the abuse of children in the Dublin archdiocese, McCafferty confronts Archbishop Diarmuid Martin asking him why the Catholic Church has not, as a “gesture of redemption,” relinquished titles such as “Your Eminence” and “Your Grace.”

McCafferty causes a controversy in 2010 with a declaration in a live Newstalk radio interview that the then Minister for Health, Mary Harney, is an alcoholic. This allegation leads to a court case in which Harney is awarded €450,000 the following year. McCafferty has very rarely been featured on live radio or television in Ireland as a commentator since the incident, despite being ever present in those media from 1990 forward. However, she has been featured on a number of recorded programs.

The Irish Times writes that “Nell’s distinctive voice, both written and spoken, has a powerful and provocative place in Irish society.”

McCafferty receives an honorary doctorate of literature from University College Cork on November 2, 2016 for “her unparalleled contribution to Irish public life over many decades and her powerful voice in movements that have had a transformative impact in Irish society, including the feminist movement, campaigns for civil rights and for the marginalised and victims of injustice.”

McCafferty lives in Ranelagh, an area of Dublin.


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Birth of Writer John Boyle O’Reilly

John Boyle O’Reilly, poet, journalist and fiction writer, is born in Dowth, County Meath on June 28, 1844.

O’Reilly is the third child of a headmaster and a schoolteacher. When he is fifteen he moves to Lancashire and lives with his aunt and uncle. There he becomes a reporter with a local newspaper and joins the 11th Lancashire Rifle Volunteers in 1861. He returns to Ireland in 1863 and enlists with the 10th Royal Hussars in Dublin. However, after realising the way the British are treating his fellow people he leaves the army and joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood around 1865.

In 1866 O’Reilly, along with many other members of the Brotherhood, are arrested and put on trial for treason. O’Reilly is found guilty and sentenced to death however, due to his young age, his sentence is reduced to 20 years penal servitude. He spends a year and a half in some English prisons before being transported to Western Australia in 1867, arriving in 1868.

A month after arriving O’Reilly is moved to the town of Bunbury where he starts receiving attention for protesting the chopping down of a tree. A year after arriving he decides to escape from the colony with the help of a local Catholic priest and some farmers from the nearby town of Dardanup. In February 1869 O’Reilly absconds from his convict camp and makes his way towards the Leschenault Peninsula where he waits for a ship to arrive. After approximately two weeks O’Reilly escapes on the Gazelle bound for the United States, arriving there in November 1869.

O’Reilly moves to Boston and becomes a well-known figure in the town where he becomes involved in civil rights, sports, and Irish American causes. He also becomes part owner of The Pilot newspaper. He publishes four books of poetry – Songs from the Southern Seas (1873), Songs, Legends and Ballads (1878), The Statues in the Block (1881) and In Bohemia (1886). He also publishes a novel Moondyne (1879) based on the convict of the same name and O’Reilly’s experiences in Western Australia. It becomes his most popular work. He also writes one last book of poems entitled Watchwords, which is released after his death.

John Boyle O’Reilly dies in Hull, Massachusetts on August 10, 1890 from heart failure after overdosing on his wife’s medication. His sudden death receives an outpouring of grief and tributes from the Boston community and also globally.

His funeral is held at St. Mary’s Church in Charlestown on August 13 and is attended by thousands. The streets near the church are lined with mourners. His wife does not attend the funeral due to grief and is unable to leave her bed. He is originally buried at Calvary Cemetery in Roxbury, but in November 1890 his remains are exhumed and moved to Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline.