seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Murder of IRA Volunteer Eamon Collins

Eamon Collins, member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is beaten and stabbed to death by an unidentified assailant(s) in the early morning hours of January 27, 1999, in Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland.

Collins is born in 1954 in Camlough, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, the son of Brian Collins, a farmer, livestock trader, and cattle smuggler, and Kathleen Collins (née Cumiskey). His extended family has no history of political involvement, though his upbringing is fervently Catholic and nationalist. He leaves secondary school at age 16 and briefly works as a clerk in the Ministry of Defence in London. He returns home for family reasons and resumes his education in 1971 through a scholarship to St. Colman’s College, Newry, County Down. In 1973 he goes to Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) to study law.

Collins develops ultra-leftist political beliefs in his late teens and supports the Northern Ireland civil rights movement but retains reservations about the use of violence. He is further radicalised by being beaten up by soldiers searching his family’s farm at Easter 1974 and by the downfall of the power sharing executive. He loses interest in his studies, leaves QUB in 1976 without completing his degree, and drifts for two years, joining an anarchist collective in Belfast. He comes back into contact with the republican movement through the blanket protest by Long Kesh inmates; he had known hunger striker Raymond McCreesh as a teenager. In 1978 he joins the customs service in Newry and begins to pass information to the IRA, which he joins in 1979. He is central to IRA recruitment and intelligence in Newry and south Down. Without firing a shot himself he facilitates at least five murders, including that of a customs colleague.

In 1982 Collins marries and the couple has four children. By 1984 he has developed doubts about his activities. He antagonises the Belfast leadership, which is moving towards political engagement and away from the all-out revolutionary violence that he favours, and while he admires the hardline South Armagh IRA for its military professionalism, he regards its members as political primitives. On February 28, 1985, he is arrested after an IRA mortar attack in which nine Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) members are killed. He breaks down after six days of interrogation and is recruited as a “supergrass,” but retracts his evidence a fortnight later and is held on remand on the basis of his confessions.

In January–February 1987 Collins is tried for murder but acquitted after the judge rules his statements inadmissible. He completes an Open University degree while awaiting trial. After his release he is ostracised and is interrogated by the IRA, which in July 1987 orders him to leave Northern Ireland. He engages in youth work in Dublin from 1987 to 1990, taking a diploma in community work at Maynooth. His wife and children remain in Newry and he visits them regularly in defiance of the expulsion order. In 1990 he returns to live in Newry and teaches at the Ulster People’s College in Belfast. From 1992–94 he is a community worker in Edinburgh. His wife and children continue to live on the Barcroft Park estate in Newry.

In 1994 Collins returns permanently to Northern Ireland after securing a job at a youth club in Armagh. In April 1995 he describes his career in a television documentary, admitting the murders for which he had been tried. In 1997 he publishes a memoir, Killing Rage, a powerful account of life as a paramilitary, although it is not entirely reliable. After the 1995 documentary he experiences verbal and physical harassment. This intensifies after May 1998 when he testifies for The Sunday Times in a libel action by Thomas Murphy, whom the paper accuses of being a leading IRA member. Four months after Murphy loses the case, the family farmhouse in Camlough, which Collins is renovating, is burned down. After the Omagh bombing he publishes several articles denouncing the Real IRA, several of whose activists he had recruited into the IRA from the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in the early 1980s. Graffiti regularly appears outside his home in Newry denouncing him as a British agent.

Early in the morning of January 27, 1999, Collins paints out the latest graffiti, and is walking his dogs near the Barcroft Park Estate in Newry along a quiet stretch of country lane at Doran’s Hill, just within sight of Sliabh gCuircin (Camlough Mountain). His body also bears marks of having been struck by a car moving at speed. The subsequent police investigation and Coroner’s Inquest comments upon the extremity of weaponed violence to Collins’ head and face used during the attack.

Rumoured reasons behind the murder are that Collins had returned to Northern Ireland in breach of the IRA’s banning order, and further he had detailed IRA activities and publicly criticized in the media a multiplicity of Irish Republican paramilitary splinter groups that had appeared after the Provisional IRA’s 1994 ceasefire, and that he had testified in court against Murphy. Gerry Adams states the murder was “regrettable,” but adds that Collins had “many enemies in many places.”

After a traditional Irish wake, with a closed coffin necessitated due to the damage to his face, and a funeral service at St. Catherine’s Dominican Church in Newry, Collins’ body is buried at the city’s Monkshill Cemetery, not far from the grave of Albert White, a Catholic former Royal Ulster Constabulary Inspector, whose assassination he helped to organise in 1982.

In January 2014 the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) releases a statement that a re-examination of the evidence from the scene of the 1999 murder had revealed new DNA material of a potential perpetrator’s presence, and makes a public appeal for information, detailing the involvement of a specific car model, a white coloured Hyundai Pony, and a compass pommel that had broken off a hunting knife during the attack and had been left behind at the scene. In February 2014 detectives from the Serious Crime Branch arrest a 59-year-old man at an address in Newry in relation to the murder, but he is subsequently released without charge. In September 2014 the police arrest three men, aged 56, 55 and 42, in County Armagh in relation to inquiries into the murder, all of whom are subsequently released without charges after questioning. In January 2019 the police release a statement regarding the murder that one of the assailants had been seriously injured by an accidentally sustained knife wound during the attack, and had left traces of his own blood at the scene, and that recent scientific advances in DNA evidence had increased the possibility of his identification. In May 2019, three men aged 60 to 62 are arrested and questioned, but then released unconditionally.


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Lord Gosford Denounces Protestant Extremists in Armagh

The Governor of County Armagh, Arthur Acheson, 1st Earl of Gosford, gives his opinion of the violence in Armagh which results from the “battle” at a meeting of magistrates on December 28, 1795.

Acheson is born around 1744-45. He is the eldest son of Archibald Acheson, 1st Viscount Gosford, and his wife, the former Mary Richardson. His paternal grandfather is Sir Arthur Acheson, 5th Baronet, and his maternal grandfather is John Richardson of Rich Hill. His father succeeds to the baronetcy in 1748 upon the death of his father, and is subsequently created Baron Gosford in 1776 and Viscount Gosford in 1785.

In 1774, Acheson marries Millicent Pole, daughter of Lieutenant-General Edward Pole, who is descended from the Poles of Radbourne Hall in Derbyshire, and Olivia (née Walsh) Pole, a daughter and heiress of John Walsh of Ballykilcavan. The have seven children, two of whom die at a young age.

Acheson is a Member of Parliament (MP) for Old Leighlin from 1783 until 1791. He serves as governor of County Armagh at the time of the Armagh disturbances of 1795 and on December 28 denounces the Protestant extremists:

“It is no secret that a persecution is now raging in this country… the only crime is… profession of the Roman Catholic faith. Lawless banditti (Orange Order) have constituted themselves judges… and the sentence they have denounced… is nothing less than a confiscation of all property, and an immediate banishment.”

Upon the death of his father in 1790, Acheson succeeds to the viscountcy. He is subsequently created Earl of Gosford in February 1806.

Acheson dies on January 14, 1807, at Bath, Somerset, England. His widow, Lady Gosford, dies on November 1, 1825.

(Pictured: “Arthur Acheson (c.1742–1807), 2nd Viscount, 1st Earl of Gosford,” oil on canvas by Gilbert Stuart)


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The Irish Rebellion of 1641

Rory O’Moore and Sir Phelim Roe O’Neill initiate a major revolt in Armagh on October 23, 1641. The Irish Rebellion of 1641 results in the deaths of at least 4,000 Protestants with Catholics massacred in reprisals over the ensuing six months.

The Rebellion comes about because of the resentment felt by the Irish Catholics, both Gael and Old English, in regards to the loss of their lands to Protestant settlers from England and Scotland.

Irish Catholics are frightened by reports that the Covenanter army in Scotland is considering an invasion of Ireland in order to eradicate the Catholic religion. At the same time, there is also a threat of invasion by Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans who are at war against King Charles I. It is hoped that the King would redress the complaints of the Catholics and halt or even reverse the policy of plantation. It is not an act of rebellion against the Royal domain.

The uprising is lead by Rory O’ Moore from Leix, with Sir Phelim Roe O’ Neill and his brother Turlough of Tyrone, the Maguires of Fermanagh, the Magennis, O’ Reilly and the MacMahons. They plan to begin the rebellion on October 23, 1641 with attacks on Dublin and various other British strongholds throughout the country. However, their plans are betrayed to the British by a native Irish convert to Protestantism, Owen O’ Connolly.

As a result of this betrayal, Dublin does not fall. However, the rebellion proceeds in the north with the towns of Dungannon, Newry, and Castleblayney, along with the fort at Charlemont falling to the rebels.

Most of the province of Ulster comes under the control of the rebel leaders. The rebel army, consisting of 30,000 men, has been instructed to take no life except in battle, to arrest the gentry and to spare the Scottish planters as they are considered kindred. For a week after the rebellion, these instructions are adhered to but many of the rebels have lost their lands to the Protestant planters and they want revenge. They attack farms and settlements, killing and turning many people away, robbing and stripping them of all their goods.

Sir Phelim O’ Neill has been himself thought to have ordered the murder of Protestants in Tyrone and Armagh. It is believed that about 12,000 people are slaughtered although contemporary reports put the death toll as much higher. It is thought that up to 30% of the Ulster planters lost their lives while 10% is the figure for the whole of Ireland.

As the rebellion progresses in Ulster there are uprisings in Leinster by November and thereafter throughout the whole of Ireland. In Munster, where many English settlers are planted, the rebels do not shed much blood but they do turn out these settlers, many of whom flee back to England.

In 1642 the Old English form an alliance with the Gaelic Lords at the Assembly of Killkenny. This alliance causes the rebellion to escalate into the Irish Confederate Wars which continue until Cromwell’s invasion and subjugation of Ireland (1649-53).

In 1642 the Scottish Covenanters invade the North and they, in turn, take to killing Catholics in revenge for the deaths of Protestants. The Covenanter Clan Campbell of Argyll takes the opportunity to attack and slaughter the Catholic Rathlin Islanders who belong to ancient enemies, Clan Mac Donald. The Covenanters also slaughter the approximately 3,000 Catholics on Islandmagee. Catholic prisoners and traders in Newry are murdered.

This ruthless slaughtering of civilians, by both sides, is only brought under control when Owen Roe O’ Neill arrives back from exile in France to take control of the Confederate army and, with Major General Robert Monroe in charge of the Covenanter Army, continues the war under the code of conduct that they had both learned on the Continent. However, the effects of the rebellion last to the present day, especially in Ulster where sectarian divide remains strong during The Troubles.

(Pictured: Depiction of the massacre of Ulster Protestants during the 1641 rebellion, The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)


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Birth of Archie Doyle, Anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army Member

Archie Doyle, one of three anti-Treaty members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who assassinated the Irish Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins, is born on September 29, 1903. He has a long subsequent career in the organisation’s ranks.

Doyle fights in the Irish War of Independence (1919-21) and takes the anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War (1922-23), and is subsequently interned among numerous others. Together with two fellow-detainees, Timothy Coughlin and Bill Gannon, he takes part in forming a secret “vengeance grouping.” The three vow that once free of imprisonment they will take revenge on their opponents, whom they consider traitors to the Irish cause.

Most such private revenge pacts are broken up by the IRA leadership when it reorganises following 1924, but Doyle and his two fellow conspirators persist and carry through their deadly aim. On July 10, 1927, the three surprised O’Higgins on his way to Mass at the Booterstown Avenue side of Cross Avenue in Blackrock, Dublin, and shoot him down.

O’Higgins is especially hated by IRA members for having ordered the executions of seventy-seven of their fellows during the Civil War, an act for which he outspokenly takes responsibility and refuses to express any remorse. Moreover, he is a dominant member of the Irish Free State government and the conspirators have good reasons to believe that his death would weaken it.

The three make their escape and are not apprehended. However, Timothy Coughlin is shot to death by police informer Sean Harling on the night of January 28, 1928, on Dublin’s Dartry Road, under circumstances which remain controversial up to the present. A second IRA man is known to have been with Coughlin that night, in surveillance of Harling’s home, and escapes unharmed. It is believed that Doyle is that second man, though this point, as many other details of this still rather mysterious affair, remains not quite certain.

Doyle is among the beneficiaries of the amnesty issued by Éamon de Valera when he comes to power in 1932, under which numerous IRA men are released from prison and the charges against others dropped. In later times Doyle openly admits his part in the killing of O’Higgins, and indeed takes pride in it, without fear of prosecution.

With the end of the IRA’s alliance with de Valera and the increasing confrontation between them, Doyle, now a veteran highly respected in the IRA circles, becomes deeply involved in the organisation’s 1940s campaigns. Harry, the memoirs of IRA man Harry White, make repeated admiring references to “Archie Doyle of Dublin, the Tan War veteran who had fought through it all.”

During the IRA’s Northern campaign, Doyle is said to have participated in the abortive raid on the British barracks at Crossmaglen, County Armagh, on September 2, 1942, in retaliation for the execution of Tom Williams earlier that morning. The IRA unit, some twenty men in a commandeered lorry and accompanying car, is discovered by a passing Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) patrol near the village of Cullaville. Doyle is mentioned in White’s memoirs as having “jumped out of the car, Thompson in hand, and started shooting at the RUC.” Since the element of surprise is lost, the attack on the barracks has to be cancelled.

A week later, on September 9, White mentions Doyle as having commanded the assassination of Sergeant Denis O’Brien, Irish Special Branch detective and himself a former IRA man, near Dublin. It is a highly controversial affair, opposed by the IRA GHQ in Belfast as damaging to the Northern campaign, and precipitates a massive manhunt by the Irish police. It is IRA Chief of Staff Charlie Kerins who is caught two years later, charged with the O’Brien assassination and eventually executed for it. White, however, claims that it is Doyle who actually commands that action, on Kerins’s orders. Doyle, who openly spoke of his part in killing O’Higgins, seems far more reticent about this part of his career.

In 1943 Doyle is assigned as the IRA’s Quartermaster General in Belfast.

On July 1, 1943, Doyle is mentioned as having participated, together with Kerins and with Jackie Griffith, in an operation of “fund-raising” for the hard-pressed IRA (i.e., robbery). The three men arrive on bikes at the gates of Player Wills factory on the South Circular Road, Dublin, and with scarves around their faces stop at gunpoint a van loaded with some £5,000 for wages, and drive away with the van and the money.

Griffith is shot down by the police in Dublin less than a week later, in what is charged to be an extrajudicial assassination, and Kerins is caught in 1944 and executed, becoming a major IRA martyr. Doyle, however, continually survives decades of a very dangerous way of life and manages to die of old age. He dies in St. James’s Hospital in Dublin in 1980.


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The Warrenpoint Ambush

The Warrenpoint ambush, also known as the Narrow Water ambush, the Warrenpoint massacre or the Narrow Water massacre, is a guerrilla attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on August 27, 1979. The IRA’s South Armagh Brigade ambushes a British Army convoy with two large roadside bombs on the A2 road at Narrow Water Castle, just outside Warrenpoint, County Down, Northern Ireland.

The road and castle are on the northern bank of the Newry River, which marks the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Republic’s side of the river, the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth, is an ideal spot from which to launch an ambush. It is thickly wooded, which gives cover to the ambushers, and the river border prevents British forces from giving chase.

On the afternoon of August 27, a British Army convoy of one Land Rover and two four-ton lorries carrying soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment is driving from Ballykinlar Barracks to Newry. The British Army is aware of the dangers of using the stretch of road along the Newry River and often declares it out of bounds. However, they sometimes use it to avoid setting a pattern. At 4:40 p.m., as the convoy is driving past Narrow Water Castle, an 800-pound fertiliser bomb, hidden among bales of straw on a parked flatbed trailer, is detonated by remote control by IRA members watching from across the border in County Louth. The explosion catches the last lorry in the convoy, hurling it onto its side and instantly killing six paratroopers, whose bodies are scattered across the road. There are only two survivors amongst the soldiers traveling in the lorry, both of whom receive serious injuries. The lorry’s driver, Anthony Wood (19), is one of those killed. All that remains of his body is his pelvis, welded to the seat by the fierce heat of the blast.

According to the soldiers, immediately after the blast they are targeted by rifle fire from the woods on the Cooley Peninsula on the other side of the border, with this view supported by two part-time firefighters assisting the wounded. Shortly afterwards, the two IRA members arrested by the Garda Síochána and suspected of being behind the ambush, are found to have traces of gunsmoke residue on their hands and on the motorbike they are riding. The IRA’s first statement on the incident, however, denies that any shots had been fired at the troops, and according to Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) researchers, the soldiers might have mistaken the sound of ammunition cooking off for enemy gunfire. Nevertheless, at the official inquiry the soldiers declare on oath that they had been fired on.

The surviving paratroopers radio for urgent assistance, and reinforcements are dispatched to the scene by road. A rapid reaction unit is sent by Gazelle helicopter, consisting of Lieutenant Colonel David Blair, commanding officer of the Queen’s Own Highlanders, his signaler Lance Corporal Victor MacLeod, and army medics. Another helicopter, a Wessex, lands to pick up the wounded. Colonel Blair assumes command once at the site.

William Hudson, a 29-year-old from London, is killed by the British Army and his cousin Barry Hudson, a 25-year-old native of Dingle, is wounded when shots are fired across the Newry River into the Republic of Ireland about 3 km from the village of Omeath, County Louth.

The pair are partners in ‘Hudson Amusements’ and had been operating their amusements in Omeath for the duration of the Omeath Gala. When the first explosion is heard across the Lough, the pair go down to the shore to see what is unfolding. The pair makes their way to Narrow Water on the southern side of the border to get a better view of what is happening on the northern side. Barry Hudson is shot in the arm and as he falls to the ground he sees his cousin, who is the son of a coachman at Buckingham Palace, fall to the ground, shot in the head. He dies almost immediately.

The IRA had been studying how the British Army behaves after a bombing and correctly predicts that they would set up an incident command point (ICP) at the stone gateway on the other side of the road. At 5:12 p.m., thirty-two minutes after the first explosion, another 800-pound bomb hidden in milk pails explodes at the gateway, destroying it and hurling lumps of granite through the air. It detonates as the Wessex helicopter is taking off carrying wounded soldiers. The helicopter is damaged by the blast but does not crash.

The second explosion kills twelve soldiers, ten from the Parachute Regiment and the two from the Queen’s Own Highlanders. Lieutenant Colonel Blair is the second Lieutenant Colonel to be killed in the Troubles up until then, following Lieutenant Colonel Corden-Lloyd of the 2nd Battalion Royal Green Jackets in 1978. Only one of Colonel Blair’s epaulettes remains to identify him as his body had been vaporised in the blast. The epaulette is taken from the scene by Brigadier David Thorne to a security briefing with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to “illustrate the human factor” of the attack. Mike Jackson, then a major in the Parachute Regiment, is at the scene soon after the second explosion and later describes seeing human remains scattered over the road, in the water and hanging from the trees. He is asked to identify the face of his friend, Major Peter Fursman, still recognisable after it had been ripped from his head by the explosion and recovered from the water by divers from the Royal Engineers.

Press photographer Peter Molloy, who arrives at the scene after the first explosion, comes close to being shot by an angry paratrooper who sees him taking photographs of the dead and dying instead of offering to help the wounded. The soldier is tackled by his comrades. Molloy says, “I was shouted at and called all sorts of things but I understood why. I had trespassed on the worst day of these fellas’ lives and taken pictures of it.”

The Warrenpoint ambush is a victory for the IRA. It is the deadliest attack on the British Army during the Troubles and the Parachute Regiment’s biggest loss since World War II, with sixteen paratroopers killed. General Sir James Glover, Commander of British forces in Northern Ireland, later says it was “arguably the most successful and certainly one of the best planned IRA attacks of the whole campaign.” The ambush happens on the same day that Lord Mountbatten, a prominent member of the British royal family, is killed by an IRA bomb aboard his boat at Mullaghmore, County Sligo, along with three others.

Republicans portray the attack as retaliation for Bloody Sunday in 1972 when the Parachute Regiment shot dead 13 unarmed civilians during a protest march in Derry. Graffiti appears in republican areas declaring “13 gone and not forgotten, we got 18 and Mountbatten.” The day after the Mountbatten and Warrenpoint attacks, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) retaliates by shooting dead a Catholic man, John Patrick Hardy (43), at his home in Belfast‘s New Lodge estate. Hardy is targeted in the mistaken belief that he is an IRA member.

Very shortly after the ambush, IRA volunteers Brendan Burns and Joe Brennan are arrested by the Gardaí. They are stopped while riding a motorbike on a road opposite Narrow Water Castle. They are later released on bail due to lack of evidence. Burns dies in 1988 when a bomb he is handling explodes prematurely. In 1998, former IRA member Eamon Collins claims that Burns had been one of those who carried out the Warrenpoint ambush. No one has ever been criminally charged.

According to Toby Harnden, the attack “drove a wedge” between the Army and the RUC. Lieutenant General Sir Timothy Creasey, General Officer Commanding Northern Ireland, suggests to Margaret Thatcher that internment should be brought back and that liaison with the Gardaí should be left in the hands of the military. Sir Kenneth Newman, the RUC Chief Constable, claims instead that the British Army practice, since 1975, of supplying their garrisons in south County Armagh by helicopter gives too much freedom of movement to the IRA. One result is the appointment of Sir Maurice Oldfield to a new position of Co-ordinator of Security Intelligence in Northern Ireland. His role is to co-ordinate intelligence between the military, MI5 and the RUC. Another is the expansion of the RUC by 1,000 members. Tim Pat Coogan asserts that the deaths of the 18 soldiers hastens the move to Ulsterisation.

Lieutenant Colonel Blair is remembered on a memorial at Radley College, Oxfordshire.


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The Great Portlaoise Escape

Nineteen republican prisoners blast their way out of Portlaoise Prison in County Laois on August 18, 1974.

The escape is a timely reminder of the determination, tenacity and ingenuity with which Irish Republican Army (IRA) Volunteers throughout the country fight against British rule in Ireland. It is also a reminder to the Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Government in Leinster House that their collaboration with the British and their attempts to defeat republicanism will not be an easy task.

The determination of republicans to escape from Portlaoise is demonstrated by the escape. In May 1974, an underground escape was planned but the 80-foot tunnel was uncovered and the prisoners’ hopes were dashed. However, almost immediately plans swung into place for a more daring escape operation.

A member of the Escape Committee spots a weakness in the jail security in the area of the prison where the laundry house is situated. The laundry leads to an outside stairway and down into the courtyard, where the Governor’s House and Warders’ Mess are located.

The prisoners discover that they can gain access to the laundry area quite easily. It is a doorway at the top of the courtyard which leads out onto the streets of Portlaoise town itself that give the prisoners hope that their plan will work. However, the Escape Committee decides that they need explosives to get through this gate and send word outside to this effect. The IRA on the outside, agreeing that the plan is “viable,” send in the materials and the plan is on.

The date for the escape is set for August 18, 1974 and planning proceeds inside the prison. The prisoners set themselves to work making prison guard uniforms. The idea is that when the escapees are running through the courtyard, the troops on the roof of the jail will not be able to distinguish between the escapees and the real guards and so will not open fire. This pre-planning proves to be a brilliant ploy as it gives those escaping vital seconds to clear the courtyard and make good their escape.

On the Friday before the plan is to proceed, a number of republicans are arrested in Portlaoise. This seems a bad omen and raises questions as to whether the authorities are suspicious that an escape is planned. However, the Escape Committee and those involved in the operation decide to press ahead with the plan anyway.

Sunday, August 18 duly arrives. According to prisoners who are in Portlaoise Prison at the time, no one can eat anything that day as the tension is unbearable. At 12:30 p.m., the designated time to put the plan into action, arrives and Liam Brown approaches the guard at the gate of the lower landing and asks to be let in. This is the signal for the first team of escapees to rush forward and get the key to the laundry. The guard is quickly overpowered and gives up the key with little resistance.

With this first stage of the plan successfully completed, the escapees open the door to the stairwell and rush through to the courtyard, followed by up to 25 other prisoners. As the prisoners race to the top of the yard to place the bomb at the outside gate, the soldiers on the roof are confused by the uniforms and cannot open fire.

The bomb then explodes, blasting the door to pieces. As the prisoners make the final dash for freedom, the soldiers fire warning shots over the heads of the fleeing republicans. Some of the prisoners drop to the ground fearing the worst but as the guards race from their mess they call on the soldiers to stop firing.

Those who are captured are brought into the Wing again and the governor demands a head count. The prisoners, however, refuse to comply, adding to the confusion and thwarting the prison authorities’ attempts to identify the escapees. It is only after the guards threaten to send in the riot squad several hours later that the prisoners allow a head count to be taken. When they realise that 19 men had escaped, the joy the prisoner experience is immense as they thought only 14 had got away.

In an attempt to capture the escapees, the Dublin Government launches a statewide search operation. Every outhouse in County Wexford is searched. The Irish Naval Service is even called in and put on the alert. The searches go on for over a week but to no avail. The nineteen men had gotten clean away.

Those who escape are Liam Brown, Paddy Devenny and Micky Nolan from Belfast; Tom McFeely and Ian Milne from County Derry; Thomas McGinty and Eddie Gallagher from County Donegal; Patrick Thornberry, Kevin McAllister and Martin McAllister from County Armagh; Francis Hughes and Kevin Mallon from County Tyrone; Oliver McKiernan from County Fermanagh; Bernard Hegarty and Sam O’Hare from County Louth; Michael Kinsella and Seán Kinsella from County Monaghan; Seán Morris from County Meath; and Tony Weldon from Dublin.

(From: “30 years on: The Great Portlaoise Escape,” An Phoblacht, http://www.anphoblacht.com, August 26, 2004)


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The Birches RUC Base Attack

The East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacks the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) base at The Birches near Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, on August 11, 1986. The unmanned base is raked with gunfire before being destroyed by a 200-pound (91 kg) bomb, which is driven through the gate of the base in the bucket of a JCB digger.

In 1985 the IRA’s East Tyrone Brigade, commanded by Patrick J. Kelly, begins a campaign of destroying remote RUC stations and preventing anyone from rebuilding them, to create no-go zones. On December 7, 1985 it launches an attack on the RUC barracks in Ballygawley, County Tyrone, destroying the base and killing two RUC officers.

On January 22, 1986 the East Tyrone Brigade fires mortars at the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) base in Dungannon, County Tyrone, injuring two UDR soldiers and damaging the base. Just over a week later, on February 1, it carries out a large van bomb attack on the RUC base at Coalisland, County Tyrone, damaging the base and several houses and shops.

The Birches base attack is a complex attack that involves several units, including teams of lookouts, an armed team and bomb-makers as well as a team to carry out a diversionary attack. A diversionary bomb attack is staged at Pomeroy to draw security forces away from the real target at the Birches. Another team hijacks a JCB digger, getaway vehicles and scout cars at Washing Bay.

The digger is used to deliver the bomb to its target. The IRA does not expect any resistance as the RUC station is unmanned at the time of the attack. The IRA first rakes the base with automatic gunfire while the digger, with the bomb in its bucket, is driven through the high wire perimeter fence which had been constructed to protect the base from grenade or mortar attack. The digger is most likely driven by young IRA volunteer Declan Arthurs from Galbally, County Tyrone, who has experience driving diggers on his family’s farm. A volunteer then lights a fuse and the bomb explodes after the IRA hads retreated to safety in a waiting van. The blast destroys most of the base and also damages nearby buildings, blowing the roof off a pub across the road. The IRA team then makes its getaway. According to journalist Mark Urban, the armed members of the unit evade British security force roadblocks by escaping in a boat across Lough Neagh.

About 35 people are reportedly involved in the Birches attack, from planning, executing the attack and creating an escape route. A partially-disabled American tourist and six local civilians are slightly injured in the blast.

A member of the British security forces tells Mark Urban of the attack: “The Birches RUC station was destroyed by the bomb, creating problems for the authorities about how to re-build it. The Tyrone IRA was able to combine practical skills such as bomb-making and the welding needed to make mortars with considerable resources. Its members went on operations carrying the latest assault rifles and often wore body-armour similar to that used by the security forces, giving them protection against pistol or sub-machine-gun fire. By 1987 they had also succeeded in obtaining night-sights, allowing them to aim weapons or observe their enemy in darkness.”

The IRA unit’s next major target is the RUC station at Loughgall, which is attacked in the same manner. This operation is a disaster for the IRA as the IRA unit is ambushed by the Special Air Service (SAS). The entire IRA unit of eight, along with a Catholic civilian, are shot dead. Many of those IRA volunteers killed at Loughgall had taken part in the Birches attack, like Pádraig McKearney, Jim Lynagh and Patrick J. Kelly.


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Death of Francis Lenny, Roman Catholic Bishop

Francis Lenny, Irish Roman Catholic bishop in the last third of the 20th century, dies in Mullavilly, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, on July 16, 1978.

Lenny is born in Cookstown, County Tyrone, on September 27, 1928. He is educated at St. Patrick’s Grammar School, Armagh, and St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth. He is ordained priest for the Archdiocese of Armagh on June 21, 1953. Pursuing his studies in ancient classes and canon law in Maynooth and the Dunboyne Institute, in July 1955 he is named secretary to Cardinal John D’Alton, Primate of Ireland, and upon his death in 1963, proceeds in the same position with his successor, Cardinal William Conway.

Lenny is appointed parish priest in Mullavilly in 1972. Less than two years later he is named coadjutor bishop of Armagh, receiving his episcopal consecration with the titular see of Rotdon from Cardinal Conway on June 16, 1974. Financial secretary to the Bishops’ Financial and General Purposes Committee, upon Conway’s death, he becomes vicar capitular of the archdiocese until Tomás Ó Fiaich is named his successor.

Lenny is a well known canonist and it is he who transfers a major relic of Saint Oliver Plunkett from Downside Abbey to Ireland in 1975, and is presently preserved in Oldcastle, County Meath, Plunkett’s birthplace.

A man of great charity and deep disposition, Lenny experiences great opposition from members of the Protestant community of Mullavilly, refusing to leave the village despite threats he receives. His bungalow is maliciously set on fire and he dies at the early age of forty nine on July 16, 1978, the fourth anniversary of his episcopal consecration, from injuries received complicated by a heart attack. Dressed in chasuble and mitre, he is laid to rest in a simple solid oak coffin following the celebration of a Funeral Mass celebrated at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh, presided by Archbishop Ó Fiaich which sees the participation of thousands.


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The Execution of Father James Coigly

Father James Coigly (Coigley, Quigley, O’Coigley), United Irishman and Catholic priest, is executed by hanging at Penenden Heath, a suburb in the town of Maidstone, Kent, England, on June 7, 1798.

Coigly is born in August 1761 in Kilmore, County Armagh, second son of James Coigly, farmer, and Louisa Coigly (née Donnelly). In the absence of seminary education in penal Ireland, he serves an apprenticeship with a local parish priest. He is ordained to the priesthood at Dungannon, County Tyrone, in 1785 and goes on to study at the Irish College in Paris, where he takes the unprecedented step of initiating legal proceedings against his superior, John Baptist Walsh, which ends in a compromise after the intervention of the Archbishop of Paris. Coigly, who has been described as “no friend of the revolution,” leaves France in October 1789, after a narrow escape from a revolutionary mob.

Coigly returns to Ireland where he holds a curacy in Dundalk from 1793–96. He finds the inhabitants of County Armagh engaged in a civil war, and religion made the pretext – the Armagh disturbances. There is no suggestion that his religious views are not orthodox. He sees himself not as a politician, but as a priest attempting to reconcile parties. He quickly immerses himself in the politics of the region, riding through Ulster in an attempt to unite Catholic and dissenter. Yet, while he represents his efforts in 1791–93 as an isolated effort to restore peace, there is little doubt that his mission merges into the “uniting business” of Theobald Wolfe Tone, Samuel Neilson, and John Keogh. Almost certainly a Defender, he represents a key link between that organisation and the United Irishmen. He cooperates in their efforts to expose the tyranny of the Orange Order and his profile is heightened, in late 1796, after the arrest of the Ulster leadership of the United Irishmen. He becomes particularly conspicuous in 1797 and, with a general election in the offing, possibly writes an influential anonymous pamphlet, A view of the present state of Ireland (London, 1797), attributed by Francis Plowden to Arthur O’Connor.

More significantly, Coigly makes several forays to England to forge alliances between the United Irishmen and British radicals. In 1796 he carries communications from the secret committee of England to the French directory, and makes at least two crossings to France in 1797, endeavouring to rekindle French interest in Ireland after the failure of the French expedition to Ireland in December 1796. His final mission in February 1798 ends in disaster when he is arrested at Margate, as he prepares to cross to France along with John Binns and Arthur O’Connor.

The arrests electrify government circles, since O’Connor is publicly associated with the Whig opposition. No effort is spared to secure his conviction, including the manipulation of the jury. Yet while O’Connor is acquitted, Coigly is found guilty of high treason and sentenced to die, on the slender evidence of seditious papers found in his coat pocket. The administration immediately attempts to reverse this embarrassment. Coigly is offered his life in return for the incrimination of O’Connor, and the vicar apostolic refuses him final absolution unless he obliges. His refusal seals his fate.

Awaiting execution, Coigly pens a propagandist narrative of his life for publication. It appears in three editions, which Benjamin Binns claims has a circulation of 40,000 copies. In it the priest condemns his judicial murder, Lord Camden, his ‘Irish Sanhedrim,’ and the Orange Order. He is executed on June 7, 1798 at Penenden Heath, Maidstone. His death is overtaken by the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Forgotten in the general narrative history of 1798, his social radicalism and diplomatic missions set him among the most significant Irish radicals of the 1790s.

On June 7, 1998, a memorial was unveiled to Coigly in the cemetery at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh. In the oration, Monsignor Réamonn Ó Muirí reads from a letter Coigly wrote from prison. While he assured Irish Catholics of his attachment to “the principles of our holy religion”, Coigly addressed himself to Irish Presbyterians.

(From: “Coigly (Coigley, Quigley, O’Coigley), James” by Dáire Keogh, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Birth of Isaac Corry, Lawyer & Member of Parliament

Isaac Corry FRS, PC (I), PC, an Irish and British Member of Parliament and lawyer, is born on May 15, 1753, in Newry, County Down.

Corry is the son of Edward Corry, sometime Member of Parliament, and Catharine Bristow. His cousin is the writer Catherine Dorothea Burdett. He is educated at the Royal School, Armagh, where his contemporaries include Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, and later at Trinity College, Dublin, from which he graduates in 1773. On October 18, 1771 he is admitted to the Middle Temple and called to the bar at King’s Inns in 1779.

Corry succeeds his father as Member of Parliament for Newry in 1776, sitting in the Irish House of Commons until the Acts of Union 1800. From 1782 to 1789 he serves as equerry to Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland, being described in 1794 by Rt. Hon. Sylvester Douglas as “a well-bred man…He has no brogue…He once acted as a sort of groom of the bedchamber to the late Duke of Cumberland.” In 1798, he is also elected for Randalstown, but chooses not to sit and, in 1802, he is returned to the British House of Commons for Newry. He serves as a Whig at Westminster until 1806. It is written in 1783 that he would expect to enter high office, given that “he lives expensively and does not pursue his profession, which is the law.” In 1788 he becomes Clerk of the Irish Board of Ordnance. The following year he is appointed a commissioner of the revenue. Finally in 1799 he is appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland and a Lord High Treasurer of Ireland in place of Sir John Parnell, who quarreled violently with William Pitt the Younger over the projected union, which he categorically refuses to support. In 1795 he becomes a Privy Councillor.

In 1802 Corry is dismissed from the Exchequer and replaced by John Foster (later Lord Oriel), he is awarded, however, £2,000 p.a. in compensation. In 1806 the changes in ownership of the Newry estates alters his position. The lands pass to a senior line of the Needham family and they support General Francis Needham, 1st Earl of Kilmorey, at the general election. Corry does not have the funds needed, in excess of £5000, to purchase a seat elsewhere. However, Lady Downshire is inclined to support the Grenville ministry and comes to a formal agreement with Corry to give him £1000 towards his expenses should he be successful in Newry, and, if not, to bring him in for another borough. He fails against the Needham interest in Newry, but a seat at Newport, Isle of Wight, is purchased for him, with £4000 from Lady Downshire, and he is appointed to the Board of Trade. Six months later Grenville’s ministry has fallen and there is another general election. Corry stands, again unsuccessfully, for Newry.

Corry is unmarried but has a long-term relationship with Jane Symms. They have three sons and three daughters. His daughter Ann marries Lt. Col. Henry Westenra, the brother of Robert Cuninghame, 1st Baron Rossmore. His residence in Newry is the Abbey Yard, now a school, and Derrymore House, Bessbrook, County Armagh, which he had inherited from his father and sold in 1810. It is now the property of the National Trust. During his life, a road is constructed from near the main entrance of Derrymore House around Newry and links up with the Dublin Road on the southern side of the town primarily for his use. This road subsequently becomes known as “The Chancellor’s Road,” as a result of his term as the Irish Chancellor of the Exchequer. A local legend has it that the road is constructed after an incident in which Corry’s stagecoach is stoned while passing through Newry by people angry at an unpopular window tax he had introduced. The road has retained this name but it is cut in half by the Newry by-pass in the mid-1990s, however, as a result of works associated with the new A1 dual carriageway, the two-halves of the road are now reconnected.

Corry dies at his house in Merrion Square, Dublin, on May 15, 1813, his 60th birthday. He is buried in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.