seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Release of the Birmingham Six

birmingham-sixThe Birmingham Six – Paddy Joe Hill, Hugh Callaghan, Richard McIlkenny, Gerry Hunter, Billy Power and Johnny Walker – are released from jail on March 14, 1991 after their convictions for the murder of 21 people in two pubs are quashed by the Court of Appeal.

The Birmingham pub bombings take place on November 21, 1974 and are attributed to the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Explosive devices are placed in two central Birmingham pubs – the Mulberry Bush at the foot of the Rotunda and the Tavern in the Town, a basement pub in New Street. Up until this point, the resulting explosions collectively are the most injurious attacks in Great Britain since World War II. Ten people at the Mulberry Bush and eleven at the Tavern in the Town are killed and 182 people are injured. A third device, outside a bank in Hagley Road, fails to detonate.

Five of the six are taken into custody on the evening of November 21. The men agree to be taken to Morecambe police station for forensic tests.The following morning, after the forensic tests and questioning at the hands of the Morecambe police, the men are transferred to the custody of West Midlands Serious Crime Squad police unit. Hugh Callaghan is taken into custody on the evening of November 22.

On May 12, 1975 the six men are charged with murder and conspiracy to cause explosions. The trial begins on June 9, 1975 at the Crown Court sitting at Lancaster Castle. After legal arguments the statements made in November are deemed admissible as evidence. The unreliability of these statements is later established. Forensic scientist Dr. Frank Skuse uses positive Griess test results to claim that Hill and Power had handled explosives. Callaghan, Hunter, McIlkenny and Walker all had tested negative. The jury finds the six men guilty of murder. On August 15, 1975, they are each sentenced to 21 life sentences.

In March 1976 their first application for leave to appeal is dismissed by the Court of Appeal. Their second full appeal, in 1991, is allowed. New evidence of police fabrication and suppression of evidence, the successful attacks on both the confessions and the 1975 forensic evidence causes the Crown to decide not to resist the appeals. The Court of Appeal states that “in the light of the fresh scientific evidence, which at least throws grave doubt on Dr. Skuse’s evidence, if it does not destroy it altogether, these convictions are both unsafe and unsatisfactory.” On March 14, 1991 the six walk free.

In 2001, a decade after their release, the six men are awarded compensation ranging from £840,000 to £1.2 million.

The success of the appeals and other miscarriages of justice cause the Home Secretary to set up a Royal Commission on Criminal Justice in 1991. The commission reports in 1993 and leads to the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 which establishes the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 1997. Superintendent George Reade and two other police officers are charged with perjury and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice but are never prosecuted. During the inquest into the bombings in 2016, Hill states that he knows the identities of three of the bombers who are still “free men” in Ireland.

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Execution of John Atherton, Anglican Bishop of Waterford & Lismore

john-atherton-execution-pamphletJohn Atherton, Anglican Bishop of Waterford and Lismore in the Church of Ireland, is executed on December 5, 1640, on a charge of immorality.

Atherton is born in 1598 in Somerset, England. He studies at Oxford University and joins the ranks of the Anglican clergy. In 1634 he becomes Bishop of Waterford and Lismore in the Church of Ireland. In 1640 he is accused of buggery with a man, John Childe, his steward and tithe proctor. They are tried under a law that Atherton himself had helped to institute. They are both condemned to death, and Atherton is executed in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin. Reportedly, he confesses to the crime immediately before his execution, although he had proclaimed his innocence before that.

More recently, some historical evidence has been developed that shows Atherton might have been a victim of a conspiracy to discredit him and his patrons. This is attributable to Atherton’s status as an astute lawyer, who seeks to recover lost land for the relatively weak Protestant Church of Ireland during the 1630s. Unfortunately for Atherton, this alienates him from large landowners, who then allegedly use his sexuality to discredit him.

English Puritan, Congregationalist and Independent activists, as well as English and Scottish Presbyterian activists, contemporaneously campaign to abolish Episcopacy (bishops) within the embattled Church of England, Church of Scotland and Church of Ireland, notionally expediting the political interest in Atherton’s downfall.

Posthumous accusations of sexual wrongdoing also include allegations of “incest” with his sister-in-law, and infanticide of the resultant child, as well as zoophilia with cattle. However, these allegations begin to be circulated several months after his death in an anonymous pamphlet, and may have been intended to further discredit the bishop’s campaign to restore the finances of the Church of Ireland.

(Pictured: Anonymous pamphlet of the hangings of John Atherton and John Childe, 1641)


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Fenian James Carey Killed by Patrick O’Donnell

james-careyJames Carey, a Fenian and informer most notable for his involvement in the Phoenix Park Murders, is shot and killed by Patrick O’Donnell aboard the Melrose on July 29, 1883.

Carey is born in James Street, Dublin, in 1845. He becomes a bricklayer and builder as well as the leading spokesman of his trade and obtains several large building contracts. During this period Carey is engaged in an Irish nationalist conspiracy, but to outward appearance he is one of the rising men of Dublin. He is involved in religious and other societies, and at one time is spoken of as a possible lord mayor. In 1882 he is elected a town councillor.

About 1861 Carey joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood, soon becoming treasurer. In 1881 he breaks with the IRB and forms a new group which assumes the title of the Irish National Invincibles and establishes their headquarters in Dublin. Carey takes an oath as one of the leaders. The object of the Invincibles is to remove all “tyrants” from the country.

The secret head of the Invincibles, known as No. 1, gives orders to kill Thomas Henry Burke, the under-secretary to the lord-lieutenant. On May 6, 1882, nine of the conspirators proceed to the Phoenix Park where Carey, while sitting on a jaunting-car, points out Burke to the others. At once they attack and kill him with knives and, at the same time, also kill Lord Frederick Cavendish, the newly appointed chief secretary, who happens to be walking with Burke.

For a long time no clue can be found to identify the perpetrators of the act. However, on January 13, 1883, Carey is arrested and, along with sixteen other people, charged with a conspiracy to murder public officials. On February 13, Carey turns queen’s evidence, betraying the complete details of the Invincibles and of the murders in the Phoenix Park. His evidence, along with that of getaway driver Michael Kavanagh, results in the execution of five of his associates by hanging.

His life being in great danger, he is secretly put onboard the Kinfauns Castle with his wife and family, which sails for the Cape on July 6. Carey travels under the name of Power. Aboard the same ship is Patrick O’Donnell, a bricklayer. Not knowing his true identity, O’Donnell becomes friendly with Carey. After stopping off in Cape Town, he is informed by chance of Carey’s real identity. He continues with Carey on board the Melrose for the voyage from Cape Town to Natal. On July 29, 1883, when the vessel is twelve miles off Cape Vaccas, O’Donnell uses a pistol he has in his luggage to shoot Carey dead.

O’Donnell is brought to England and is tried for murder. After being found guilty, he is executed on December 17 at Newgate.