seamus dubhghaill

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


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The 1979 Bessbrook Bombing

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coalisland.jpgThe Bessbrook bombing takes place on the April 17, 1979 when four Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers are killed when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) explodes an estimated 1,000 pound roadside van bomb at Bessbrook, County Armagh.

The bombing occurs during a period of heightened IRA activity. The previous two years are some of the less active and less violent years during the Troubles. The British policy of criminalization seems to be working but the IRA is gearing up for a new offensive. In 1976, 295 people are killed compared with 111 in 1977 and 80 in 1978 but in 1979 the number increases to 120 with 76 being British security force members compared to just 34 in 1978. The entire IRA “battalion structure” has been reconstructed using more smaller, tight knit cells making the IRA more secretive, harder to infiltrate and makes them much more effective at carrying out larger operations. The only brigade area which does not go under this reconstruction is the South Armagh Brigade which is viewed by the IRA Army Council as an independent Republic. In fact, by the mid-1970s South Armagh has become so dangerous for the British security forces, who are snipped at and have bombs thrown at them whenever they enter the area on foot, they have to be airlifted into the area and ground patrols are stopped altogether effectively giving up the ground to the South Armagh PIRA.

While the four Protestant members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary are on an evening patrol, they are all killed when a Provisional IRA unit detonates a remote-controlled bomb hidden in a parked van. The IRA unit detonates the well hidden bomb at the exact second the RUC mobile patrol is passing giving the officers no chance of survival. The dead RUC men are, Paul Gray (25), Robert Lockhart (44), Richard Baird (28) and Noel Webb (30). The bomb is estimated at 1,000 lbs. and is believed to be the largest bomb used by the IRA up to that date.

In January 1981, Patrick Joseph Traynor (27) from Crossmaglen is found guilty of the four murders and a range of other charges. He is jailed for life on each of the four murder charges and is sentenced to 12 years for the related crimes.

The IRA continues to intensify their campaign. On August 29, 1979 the IRA carries out two separate attacks in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that shock the world and give huge media coverage to their campaign. The first is the killing of Lord Mountbatten and his grandson when the boat they are on off the Sligo coast is blown up by a remote controlled bomb. The second is the Warrenpoint Ambush where the IRA kills 18 British soldiers in a double bomb attack, the highest loss of life for the British Army during the Troubles. The IRA carries out several of these type of large attacks against the British forces throughout the 1980s like the 1983 Ballygawley land mine attack which kills four soldiers, the 1988 Lisburn van bombing which kills six soldiers and the Ballygawley bus bombing also carried out in 1988 which kills eight soldiers and injures 28.

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The Baltic Exchange Bombing

IRA Bombing of the Baltic ExchangeThe Baltic Exchange bombing, an attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) on London‘s financial centre, takes place on April 10, 1992, the day after the General Election which re-elects John Major from the Conservative Party as Prime Minister. The one-ton bomb, concealed in a large white truck and consisting of a fertilizer device wrapped with a detonation cord made from 100 lbs. of Semtex, is the biggest detonated on mainland Britain since World War II. The bombing kills three people, injures 91 others, and causes massive damage, destroying the Baltic Exchange building and severely damaging surroundings.

Since the PIRA’s campaign in the early 1970s, many commercial targets are attacked on the mainland which cause economic damage and severe disruption. Since 1988, Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin and John Hume of the Social Democratic and Labour Party are engaged in private dialogue to create a broad Irish nationalist coalition. British Prime Minister John Major refuses to openly enter into talks with Sinn Féin until the IRA declares a ceasefire. The risk of an IRA attack on London increases due to the lack of progress with political talks, resulting in a warning being circulated to all police forces in Britain highlighting intelligence reports of a possible attack, as it is believed that the IRA has enough personnel, equipment and funds to launch a sustained campaign in England.

On April 10, 1992 at 9:20 PM, a huge bomb is detonated in front of the Baltic Exchange building at 24-28 St. Mary Axe. The façade of the offices is partially destroyed, and the rest of the building is extensively damaged. The bomb also causes heavy damage to surrounding buildings. It causes £800 million worth of damage, £200 million more than the total damage caused by the 10,000 explosions that had occurred during the Troubles in Northern Ireland up to that point.

The IRA gives a telephone warning twenty minutes before the explosion, saying there is a bomb inside a van outside the London Stock Exchange. This is a half mile away from the actual location by the Baltic Exchange.

The homemade explosive is inside a white Ford Transit van parked in St. Mary Axe. The components are developed in South Armagh, shipped from Ireland, and assembled in England. The attack is planned for months and marks a dangerous advance to the British of the IRA’s explosives manufacturing capabilities. The bomb is described as the most powerful to hit London since the Luftwaffe raids of World War II.

A few hours later another similarly large bomb goes off in Staples Corner in north London, also causing major damage.

The next day, the IRA claims responsibility in a statement from Dublin. It is believed the IRA are trying to send a message to the Conservative Party who won the election, which also sees Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams lose his unused seat in the Westminster Parliament.

Many of the damaged buildings are once again badly damaged by the Bishopsgate bombing the following year. Both incidents contribute to the formation of the “Ring of Steel” in the city to protect it from further terrorism.

The Exchange sells its badly damaged historic building to be redeveloped under the auspices of English Heritage as a Grade II* site. However, the City and English Heritage later allow it to be demolished, seeking instead a new landmark building. The site, together with that of the UK Chamber of Shipping at 30–32 St. Mary Axe, is now home to the skyscraper commissioned by Swiss Re commonly referred to as The Gherkin.

The stained glass of the Baltic Exchange war memorial, which suffered damage in the bomb blast, has been restored and is in the National Maritime Museum in London.

(Pictured: The scene of devastation following the IRA bomb which destroyed London’s Baltic Exchange. Image credit: Gulf News Archives)


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The Funeral of Rosemary Nelson, Human Rights Lawyer

rosemary-nelsonThe funeral of murdered human rights lawyer, Rosemary Nelson, takes place at St. Peter’s Church in Lurgan, County Armagh, Northern Ireland on March 18, 1999.

Rosemary Nelson, née Magee, obtains her law degree at Queens University Belfast. She works with other solicitors for a number of years before opening her own practice. She represents clients in a number of high-profile cases, including Michael Caraher, one of the South Armagh Snipers, as well as a republican paramilitary accused of killing two Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers. She also represents the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Coalition in nearby Portadown in the long-running Drumcree conflict against the Orange Order and RUC.

Nelson claims she has received death threats from members of the RUC as a result of her legal work. Some RUC officers make abusive and threatening remarks about her to her clients, which become publicly known. In 1998, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Solicitors, Param Cumaraswamy, notes these threats in his annual report, and states in a television interview that he believes her life could be in danger. He makes recommendations to the British government concerning threats from police against Solicitors, which are not acted upon. Later that year, Nelson testifies before a committee of the United States Congress investigating human rights in Northern Ireland, confirming that death threats have been made against her and her three children.

Nelson is assassinated, at the age of 40, by a car bomb outside her home in Lurgan on March 15, 1999. A loyalist paramilitary group calling itself the Red Hand Defenders claim responsibility for the killing. She is survived by her husband and their three children.

In 2004, the Cory Collusion Inquiry recommends that the UK Government hold an inquiry into the circumstances of Nelson’s death. She is posthumously awarded the Train Foundation‘s Civil Courage Prize, which recognises “extraordinary heroes of conscience.”

The resulting inquiry into her assassination opens at the Craigavon Civic Centre, Craigavon, County Armagh, in April 2005. In September 2006 the British Security Service MI5 announces it would be represented at the inquiry. This move provokes criticism from Nelson’s family, who reportedly express concerns that MI5 would remove sensitive or classified information.

The results of the inquiry are published on May 23, 2011. The inquiry finds no evidence that state agencies (the RUC, British Army and MI5) had “directly facilitated” her murder, but “could not exclude the possibility” that individual members had helped the perpetrators. It finds that state agencies had failed to protect her and that some RUC intelligence about her had been leaked. Both of these, it says, increased the danger to her life. The report also states that RUC officers had publicly abused and assaulted her in 1997, and made threatening remarks about her to her clients, which became publicly known. It concludes that this helped “legitimise her as a target in the eyes of loyalist terrorists.”


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Killing of PSNI Officer Stephen Carroll

stephen-carrollStephen Carroll, a Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer, is killed by the Continuity Irish Republican Army on March 9, 2009 in Craigavon, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. Carroll’s killing marks the first time a serving police officer has been killed since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Two days prior to the attack the Real Irish Republican Army shoots dead two British soldiers outside the Massereene Barracks in Antrim, County Antrim. This period marks a significant escalation in the campaign by dissident republicans.

The Continuity IRA smashes a window with a brick knowing the PSNI would respond. At about 9:45 PM two police vehicles arrive at the scene. The officers are fired upon as they attempt to exit their vehicles. A gunman shoots Carroll from 50 metres away with an AK-47 while in his patrol car. Carroll is shot in the head.

The Continuity IRA claims responsibility saying their North Armagh Battalion is responsible for the attack and that “As long as there is British involvement in Ireland, these attacks will continue.”

On March 10 there is a one-minute silence in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Prime Minister Gordon Brown states that “These are murderers who are trying to distort, disrupt and destroy a political process that is working for the people of Northern Ireland.” Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde calls it a “sad day” and says the gunmen are “criminal psychopaths.”

Richard Walsh, the spokesman for Republican Sinn Féin, a party linked to the Continuity IRA, says the killings are “an act of war” rather than murder. “We have always upheld the right of the Irish people to use any level of controlled and disciplined force to drive the British out of Ireland. We make no apology for that.” He also describes the PSNI as “an armed adjunct of the British Army.”

Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness says those responsible are “traitors to the island of Ireland” and that “they have betrayed the political desires, hopes and aspirations of all of the people who live on this island.”


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Birth of Historian George Benn

george-bennGeorge Benn, Irish historian of Belfast, is born in Tanderagee, County Armagh on January 1, 1801.

Benn’s grandfather, Jonn Benn, came from Cumberland about 1760 as engineer of the Newry Canal. His father, also John Benn (1767-1853), was proprietor of a brewery in Belfast. He is educated at the Belfast Academy, under Rev. Dr. Bruce and afterwards under Sheridan Knowles, then a teacher of English at Belfast. He enters the collegiate classes of the Royal Belfast Academical Institution in 1816, being one of the original alumni, and takes gold medals in logic (1817) and moral philosophy (1818).

In 1819 the faculty prize is offered for the “best account of a parish.” Benn is the successful essayist, with the parish of Belfast as his theme. He also gains in 1821 the faculty prize (The Crusades), and Dr. Tennant’s gold medal (Sketch of Irish Authors in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries). His essay of 1819 attracts the attention of James M’Knight, LL.D., then editor of the Belfast News-Letter who offers to print and publish it. It is issued anonymously in an enlarged form in 1823, with three maps and sixteen engravings by J. Thomson. For so young a writer it is a work of uncommon judgment and research, exceedingly well written, with an eye for scenery and a taste for economics as well as for antiquities. It is not superseded by Benn’s later labours.

Benn, with his brother Edward (1798- 1874), engages in distilling near Downpatrick. Subsequently the brothers spend the prime of their days on an estate they purchase at Glenravel, near Ballymena. Here, in an unimproved district, they plant the hillsides, plough the moors, build good houses, and collect a valuable library. They endeavour to create a new industry by an experiment in the manufacture of potato spirit, but excise regulations in place at the time frustrate their object. The cost of the experiment, and the losses from potato disease, induce the brothers to undertake a business in Liverpool for some years. Returning to Glenravel, a casual circumstance leads to a rich discovery of iron ore in the Glenravel hills. The first specimen is smelted in 1851 under Edward Benn’s direction. In 1866 an agreement is made with James Fisher, of Barrow-in-Furness, to work the mineral beds. Hence comes a new and valuable addition to the commercial products of Ulster, which has since attained important proportions.

Meanwhile, Edward Benn is contributing antiquarian articles to various journals and forming a fine archaeological collection, now in the Ulster Museum. It his proposed to George to resume and complete the history of Belfast. He modestly indicates, as more fit for the task, William Pinkerton, who collects some materials, but dies in 1871 without having begun the history. Pinkerton’s papers are submitted to Benn for publication, but he finds employment of them impracticable, and states in his preface to his history, “It is all my own work from beginning to end.”

Benn returns to Belfast after his brother’s death in 1874, publishing A History of the Town of Belfast in 1877. A second volume appears in 1880. This supplementary volume, though the proof-sheets are “corrected by a kind friend,” the late John Carlisle, head of the English department in the Royal Academical Institution, bears evidence of the author’s affecting statement: “Before I had proceeded very far, my sight entirely failed.” Benn dies on January 8, 1882.

Edward and George Benn are members of the nonsubscribing presbyterian body, but wide in their sympathies and broad in their charities beyond the limits of their sect. Edward is the founder, and George the benefactor, of three hospitals in Belfast and their gifts to educational institutions are munificent.


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Birth of John Lynch, Actor & Novelist

john-lynchJohn Lynch, actor and novelist, is born in Corrinshego, County Armagh, Northern Ireland on December 26, 1961. He wins the AFI (AACTA) Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for the 1995 film Angel Baby. His other film appearances include Cal (1984), The Secret Garden (1993), In the Name of the Father (1993) and Sliding Doors (1998).

Lynch is the eldest of five children of an Irish father and an Italian mother from Trivento in the Province of Campobasso. His younger sister Susan and his nephew Thomas Finnegan are also actors. He attends St. Colman’s College, Newry and begins acting in Irish language-medium plays at school during the early years of the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Lynch has appeared in numerous films related to Northern Ireland’s problems such as Cal (1984) with Helen Mirren, In the Name of the Father (1993) with Daniel Day-Lewis, The Railway Station Man (1992) with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, Nothing Personal (1995) and Some Mother’s Son (1996), also with Mirren, as well as the Irish-themed film Evelyn (2002).

Lynch stars as a supporting actor in Derek Jarman‘s Edward II (1991), as Lord Craven in Agnieska Holland‘s film of The Secret Garden (1993), as Tadhg in The Secret of Roan Inish (1994), and as Gerry in Sliding Doors (1998).

Lynch plays the part of football legend George Best in the 2000 film Best. He plays the lead in the Australian feature Angel Baby, winning the Australian Film Institute award for best leading actor and the Australian Film Critics Association award for best actor of 1995. He is nominated for a Satellite Film Award for the film Moll Flanders in 1996. He works with acclaimed Belgian director Marion Hänsel on her adaptation of Booker-nominated author Damon Galgut‘s novel, The Quarry (1998), which wins Best Film at the Montreal World Film Festival. He wins Best Actor for the lead role in Best at the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival in 2000.

Lynch is nominated for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for Cal, as well as for an Irish Film and Television Award for his role in The Baby War. He stars in Five Day Shelter as Stephen, which wins a European Film Award and is in competition at the Rome Film Festival. He plays the lead in Craig Vivieros’ first feature film, the prison drama Ghosted. He plays the role of Wollfstan in Black Death, and appears in the 2012 film version of Michael Morpurgo‘s novel, Private Peaceful.

Lynch is also a novelist. His first novel, Torn Water, is published in November 2005 by the 4th Estate, a literary imprint of HarperCollins Publishers LLC, and his second, Falling Out of Heaven, is published on May 13, 2010 by the same publisher.


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The Glasdrumman Ambush

glasdrumman-ambush-ni-mapThe Glasdrumman ambush, an attack by the South Armagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) against a British Army observation post, takes place on July 17, 1981 at a scrapyard in Glasdrumman, County Armagh, southwest of Crossmaglen.

The crisis, triggered by the 1981 Irish hunger strike of Provisional IRA and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners, leads to an increase in militant Irish republican activity in Northern Ireland. British intelligence reports unveil IRA intentions of mounting illegal checkpoints and hijacking vehicles on the IRA-controlled roads in South County Armagh, near the Irish border. To counter it, the British Army deploy the so-called COPs (close observation platoons), small infantry sections acting as undercover units, a tactic introduced by Major General Richard Trant in 1977.

On May 6, 1981, a day after the death of hunger-striker Bobby Sands, one IRA member from a three-man unit is arrested while trying to set up a roadblock east of the main Belfast-Dublin road by twelve members of the Royal Green Jackets, divided in three teams. A second volunteer crosses the border, only to be arrested by the Irish Army. The third IRA man escapes, apparently injured. A total of 689 rounds are fired by the soldiers.

After this initial success, the British Army continues these tactics. On July 16, another operation is carried out by eighteen Royal Green Jackets soldiers. That night, four concealed positions – Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta – are inserted into the Glassdrumman area, around a scrapyard along the border. The plan is that another unit, called the triggering team, would ambush any IRA unit on sight, while the other four would block the expected escape routes. On July 17, the commanders in charge of Alpha and Delta teams, suspecting that the operation has been compromised by the presence of local civilians, orders the withdrawal of their men. Shortly thereafter, Bravo team is suddenly engaged by automatic fire from an M60 machine gun and AR-15 rifles fired by six or seven IRA members. The concealed position, emplaced inside a derelict van, is riddled by more than 250 bullets. The team’s leader, Lance Corporal Gavin Dean, is killed instantly and one of his men, Rifleman John Moore, is seriously wounded. Moore is later awarded the Military Medal. The IRA members fire their weapons from across the border, 160 yards away.

British army commanders conclude that “it was not worth risking the lives of soldiers to prevent an IRA roadblock being set up.” The incident also exposes the difficulties of concealing operations from local civilians in South Armagh, whose sympathy with the IRA is manifest. Several years later, the IRA would repeat its success against undercover observation posts in the course of Operation Conservation in 1990.