seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

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.


Leave a comment

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)


Leave a comment

Birth of William John Conway, Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church

William John Cardinal Conway, Irish cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church who serves as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland from 1963 until his death, is born on January 22, 1913 in Belfast.

Conway is the eldest of four sons and five daughters of Patrick Joseph Conway and Annie Conway (née Donnelly). His father, a self-employed house-painter, also has a paint shop in Kent Street off Royal Avenue. His mother, who survives her son, is born in Carlingford, County Louth. He attends Boundary Street Primary School, St. Mary’s CBS (now St. Mary’s CBGS Belfast). His academic successes are crowned by a scholarship to Queen’s University Belfast. He decides to study for the diocesan priesthood. In 1933 he is conferred with an honours BA in English literature, and goes on to read a distinguished course in theology at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Conway is ordained on June 20, 1937 and awarded a DD (1938). On November 12, 1938 he enters the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, and in 1941 he receives the DCL degree at the Pontifical Gregorian University. When Italy enters World War II in June 1940 he returns to Belfast to take up duty in the Diocese of Down and Connor. He is appointed to teach English and Latin in St. Malachy’s College in Belfast, but after one year he is named professor of moral theology and canon law in Maynooth. He contributes regular ‘Canon law replies’ to the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, which are later collected as Problems in canon law (1950), the only book published by him.

In 1957 Conway becomes vice-president of Maynooth, and in 1958, he is named Ireland’s youngest bishop, Titular Bishop of Neve, and auxiliary bishop to Cardinal John D’Alton, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. He is consecrated in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh on July 27, 1958. He serves as administrator of St. Patrick’s Church, Dundalk, for the next five years, gaining valuable pastoral experience, and also uses these years to familiarise himself with his new diocese, especially its geography. On the death of D’Alton, he is chosen to succeed him in September 1963, and is enthroned on September 25 in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh by the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Sensi. At the end of 1964, Pope Paul VI chooses him as Ireland’s seventh residential cardinal, and he receives the red hat in the public consistory of February 22, 1965.

The thirteen-odd years of Conway’s ministry as primate are dominated firstly by the Second Vatican Council and secondly by the Troubles in Northern Ireland. His primary concern is the church, to steer it through testing times. He is a very active bishop in a diocese of 160,000 Catholics, with fifty-seven parishes and some 167 priests. He carries the burden alone until 1974 when he is given an auxiliary in the person of his secretary, Fr. Francis Lenny (1928–78). Two new parishes are created, five new churches are built, and many others are renovated to meet the requirements of liturgical reform. Twenty new schools are also provided. He attends all four sessions of the Vatican council (1962–65), as auxiliary bishop and as primate. On October 9, 1963 he addresses the assembly, making a plea that the council might not be so concerned with weightier matters as to neglect to speak about priests. He also makes contributions on the topics of mixed marriages, Catholic schools, and the laity. On the topic of education, he is convinced that integrated schools will not solve Northern Ireland’s problems.

Conway represents the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference at each assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, at first with Bishop Michael Browne of the Diocese of Galway and Kilmacduagh, his former professor in Maynooth, and later with the Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Ryan. With Cardinals Jean-Marie Villot and Pericle Felici, he is chairman of the first synod in 1969, a signal honour conferred on him by Pope Paul VI. He addresses the assembly, opposing the ordination of married men as a move that would release a flood of applications from around the world for dispensations from priestly celibacy. His experience of violence in Northern Ireland is reflected in contributions he makes to later synod assemblies, especially in 1971 and 1974.

Apart from the synod, Conway travels a few times each year to Rome for meetings of the three Roman congregations on which he is called to serve (those of bishops, catholic education, and the evangelisation of peoples) and the commission for the revision of the code of canon law. He also travels further afield in a representative capacity to the International Eucharistic Congress at Bogotá, also attended by Pope Paul VI, and to Madras (1972), where he acts as papal legate for the centenary celebrations in honour of St. Thomas. In 1966 he is invited by the bishops of Poland to join in celebrations for the millennium of Catholicism in that country, but is refused an entry visa by the Polish government. In January 1973 he feels obliged to forgo participation in the Melbourne eucharistic congress because of the troubled situation at home. Within Ireland he accepts invitations to become a freeman of Cork and Galway (1965) and of Wexford (1966). In 1976 the National University of Ireland (NUI) confers on him an honorary LL.D.

Conway is acknowledged as an able and diligent chairman of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The core problem in the early years is how to lead the Irish church into the difficult new era that follows the council. He shows exceptional leadership qualities in the manner in which he promotes firm but gentle progress, avoiding sudden trauma and divisions. A major event in his term as Archbishop of Armagh, and one that gives him much satisfaction, is the canonization of Oliver Plunkett, his martyred predecessor, in the holy year 1975. He follows with great interest the final stages of the cause from 1968, and is greatly disappointed when grounded by his doctors six weeks before the event. He does however take part, concelebrating with Pope Paul VI at the ceremony on October 12, 1975. He also presides the following evening at the first mass of thanksgiving in the Lateran Basilica, receiving a tumultuous applause from the thousands of Irish present.

More than anything else, the Troubles in Northern Ireland occupy Conway during the second half of his term as archbishop and primate. He is the leading spokesman of the Catholic cause, but never fails to condemn atrocities wherever the responsibility lay. He brands as ‘monsters’ the terrorist bombers on both sides. In 1971 he denounces internment without trial, and the following year he is mainly responsible for highlighting the ill-treatment and even torture of prisoners in Northern Ireland. He repudiates the idea that the conflict is religious in nature, emphasising its social and political dimensions, and is openly critical of the British government over conditions in Long Kesh Detention Centre, and of ‘the cloak of almost total silence’ surrounding violence against the Catholic community.

In January 1977 Conway undergoes surgery in a Dublin hospital, and almost immediately comes to know that he is terminally ill. It is the best-kept secret in Ireland until close to the end. On March 29, he writes to his fellow bishops informing them that the prognosis regarding his health is ‘not good, in fact . . . very bad,’ and that he is perfectly reconciled to God’s will. He is still able to work at his desk until Good Friday, April 8, 1977.

Conway dies in Armagh on Low Sunday night, April 17, 1977. Seven countries are represented at his funeral by six cardinals and many bishops. The apostolic nuncio, the bishops of Ireland, the president and Taoiseach, six Irish government ministers, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are also among the mourners. The cardinal is laid to rest in St. Patrick’s Cathedral Cemetery, Armagh. The red hat received from Pope Paul VI is suspended from the ceiling of the Lady chapel, joining those of his four immediate predecessors.

(From: “Conway, John William,” Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, contributed by J. J. Hanley)


Leave a comment

Birth of Nicholas Joseph Callan, Priest & Scientist

Father Nicholas Joseph Callan, Irish priest and scientist, is born on December 22, 1799, in Darver, County Louth. He is Professor of Natural Philosophy in Maynooth College in Maynooth, County Kildare from 1834, and is best known for his work on the induction coil.

Callan attends school at an academy in Dundalk. His local parish priest, Father Andrew Levins, then takes him in hand as an altar boy and Mass server, and sees him start the priesthood at Navan seminary. He enters Maynooth College in 1816. In his third year at Maynooth, he studies natural and experimental philosophy under Dr. Cornelius Denvir. He introduces the experimental method into his teaching, and has an interest in electricity and magnetism.

Callan is ordained a priest in 1823 and goes to Rome to study at Sapienza University, obtaining a doctorate in divinity in 1826. While in Rome he becomes acquainted with the work of the pioneers in electricity such as Luigi Galvani (1737–1798), who is a pioneer in bioelectricity, and Alessandro Volta (1745–1827), who is known especially for the development of the electric battery. In 1826, he returns to Maynooth as the new Professor of Natural Philosophy (now called physics), where he also begins working with electricity in his basement laboratory at the college.

Influenced by William Sturgeon and Michael Faraday, Callan begins work on the idea of the induction coil in 1834. He invents the first induction coil in 1836. An induction coil produces an intermittent high voltage alternating current from a low voltage direct current supply. It has a primary coil consisting of a few turns of thick wire wound around an iron core and subjected to a low voltage (usually from a battery). Wound on top of this is a secondary coil made up of many turns of thin wire. An iron armature and make-and-break mechanism repeatedly interrupts the current to the primary coil, producing a high voltage, rapidly alternating current in the secondary circuit.

Callan invents the induction coil because he needs to generate a higher level of electricity than currently available. He takes a bar of soft iron, about 2 feet long, and wraps it around with two lengths of copper wire, each about 200 feet long. He connects the beginning of the first coil to the beginning of the second. Finally, he connects a battery, much smaller than the enormous contrivance just described, to the beginning and end of winding one. He finds that when the battery contact is broken, a shock can be felt between the first terminal of the first coil and the second terminal of the second coil.

Further experimentation shows how the coil device can bring the shock from a small battery up the strength level of a big battery. So Callan tries making a bigger coil. With a battery of only 14 seven-inch plates, the device produces power enough for an electric shock “so strong that a person who took it felt the effects of it for several days.” He thinks of his creation as a kind of electromagnet, but what he actually makes is a primitive induction transformer.

Callan’s induction coil also uses an interrupter that consists of a rocking wire that repeatedly dips into a small cup of mercury (similar to the interrupters used by Charles Grafton Page). Because of the action of the interrupter, which can make and break the current going into the coil, he calls his device the “repeater.” Actually, this device is the world’s first transformer. He induces a high voltage in the second wire, starting with a low voltage in the adjacent first wire. The faster he interrupts the current, the bigger the spark. In 1837 he produces his giant induction machine using a mechanism from a clock to interrupt the current 20 times a second. It generates 15-inch sparks, an estimated 60,000 volts and the largest artificial bolt of electricity then seen.

Callan experiments with designing batteries after he finds the models available to him at the time to be insufficient for research in electromagnetism. Some previous batteries had used rare metals such as platinum or unresponsive materials like carbon and zinc. He finds that he can use inexpensive cast iron instead of platinum or carbon. For his Maynooth battery he uses iron casting for the outer casing and places a zinc plate in a porous pot (a pot that had an inside and outside chamber for holding two different types of acid) in the centre. Using a single fluid cell he disposes of the porous pot and two different fluids. He is able to build a battery with just a single solution.

While experimenting with batteries, Callan also builds the world’s largest battery at that time. To construct this battery, he joins together 577 individual batteries (“cells“), which use over 30 gallons of acid. Since instruments for measuring current or voltages have not yet been invented, he measures the strength of a battery by measuring how much weight his electromagnet can lift when powered by the battery. Using his giant battery, his electromagnet lifts 2 tons. The Maynooth battery goes into commercial production in London. He also discovers an early form of galvanisation to protect iron from rusting when he is experimenting on battery design, and he patents the idea.

Callan dies at the age of 64 in Maynooth, County Kildare, on January 10, 1864. He is buried in the cemetery in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

The Callan Building on the north campus of NUI Maynooth, a university which is part of St. Patrick’s College until 1997, is named in his honour. In addition, Callan Hall in the south campus, is used through the 1990s for first year science lectures including experimental & mathematical physics, chemistry and biology. The Nicholas Callan Memorial Prize is an annual prize awarded to the best final year student in Experimental Physics.


Leave a comment

Blair & Ahern Meet in Aftermath of the Omagh Bombing

British Prime Minister Tony Blair meets with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in Ashford Castle, County Mayo on August 26, 1998. They join forces to fight terrorism and discuss laws which will be introduced in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing, which took place eleven day earlier on August 15 in Omagh, County Tyrone, 110 kilometres west of Belfast, and resulted in 28 deaths.

Leading the way in a return to the past is Ahern’s Dublin government, which has introduced the toughest anti-terrorist legislation in the history of the Irish Republic. He concedes that the measures are draconian, but says that his government is determined to do everything in its power, “working closely with the British government to defeat and suppress this murderous conspiracy against the people of Ireland.”

Prime Minister Blair promises that he too plans to introduce extreme measures. “We will bring in similar measures to those proposed by the Irish government, so we will then have the toughest anti-terrorist measures for the whole of Ireland, the Republic and Northern Ireland, that we have ever seen.”

With no plans to recall the British parliament, it is thought that existing legislation will be applied, since it already includes measures similar to those announced by the Irish government.

Oppressive British legislation has sustained British rule in Ireland for decades. This includes internment without trial, non-jury courts, entry and search of homes without a warrant, seven-day detention with unrecorded and unsupervised interrogation, denial of access to lawyers, exclusion orders and more. Most of these are still in use in 1998.

The Ahern package includes withdrawal of a suspect’s right to silence — refusal to answer questions can be used as evidence that a suspect is a member of an illegal organisation, the seizure of property that has been used for storing weapons or making bombs, and the creation of a new offence of directing an unlawful organisation. This is expected to carry the penalty of life imprisonment.

Omagh is 75% nationalist, with good cross-community relations, and has largely escaped the worst of the conflict. Although Republican dissidents have carried out a spate of similar bombings in the previous year, the towns targeted are mainly Unionist and further east.

In the wake of the Good Friday Agreement, Republican splinter groups remain on a military footing. These groups — the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA — have announced their determination to fight on.

The group that claims responsibility for the Omagh bombing is the Real IRA, which was formed in protest at the IRA’s 1997 cease-fire. Irish police have insisted that the Real IRA is the military wing of the recently formed 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM), although this is denied by that organisation.

Although both the INLA and the Real IRA have declared a unilateral cease-fire since the Omagh bombing, media focus has settled on Bernadette Sands McKevitt, sister of the 1980s IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, who is a leading figure in the 32 County Sovereignty Movement. Sands-McKevitt has condemned the Omagh bombing, but her home in Blackrock, County Louth, has since been targeted by local townspeople who have staged protests against her and her family. She has also been denied a visa to enter the United States on a speaking tour.

The Omagh bombing could not have come at a better time for Britain. With the war formally over and Sinn Féin penned, the bombing delivers an opportunity to smash the Republican left once and for all and wrench it from any semblance of ongoing support in Ireland.

All nationalist opponents of the Good Friday Agreement must now cope with being stained by the blood of Omagh. With the massive referendum vote in favour of peace to back them up, the British and Irish governments can be satisfied that the Good Friday Agreement now looks more in place than at any other time. As one nationalist describes the situation, “If the Good Friday Agreement was a defeat for the cause of Irish nationalism, the Omagh bombing has turned it into a rout.”

(From: “Blair, Ahern make the most of Omagh bomb” by Dave Riley, Green Left (www.greenleft.org), August 26, 1998)


Leave a comment

Death of Feargal Quinn, Businessman & Politician

Feargal Quinn, Irish businessman, politician and television personality, dies in Dublin on April 24, 2019. He is the founder of the Superquinn supermarket chain and serves as a Senator in Seanad Éireann representing the National University of Ireland constituency from 1993 to 2016.

Quinn is born in Dublin on November 27, 1936. His father, Eamonn, founds a grocery brand and later the Red Island resort in Skerries, Dublin. He is a first cousin of Labour Party politician Ruairi Quinn and of Lochlann Quinn, former chairman of Allied Irish Banks (AIB). He is educated at Newbridge College and is a commerce graduate of University College Dublin (UCD). He builds a career in business and later takes on a range of public service roles.

Quinn founds the national supermarket chain Superquinn (originally Quinn’s Supermarkets), of which he remains non-executive president for some years after his family sells out their interest in August 2005 for over €400 million. Superquinn is known for its focus on customer service and pioneers a number of innovations, including Ireland’s first supermarket loyalty card in 1993, SuperClub. It also introduces self-scanning of goods by customers in a number of its outlets. Superquinn becomes the first supermarket in the world to guarantee the absolute traceability of all its beef from pasture to plate, using DNA TraceBack, a system developed at Trinity College, Dublin by IdentiGEN.

Quinn becomes the chairman of the Interim Board for Posts and serves as chairman of its successor An Post (the Irish postal administration) until 1989. He also serves on several other public authorities and boards. From 1993 to 1998, he chairs the steering committee which oversees the development of the Leaving Certificate Applied. In 2006, he is appointed an Adjunct Professor in Marketing at National University of Ireland Galway. He is also chairman of Springboard Ireland.

Quinn is a former President of EuroCommerce, the Brussels-based organisation which represents the retail, wholesale and international trade sectors in Europe. He also serves on the board of directors of CIES, the Food Business Forum based in Paris, as well as the American-based Food Marketing Institute.

In 2009, Quinn works with independent shops and helps them to revamp, modernise and stave off stiff competition from multi-national retailers. It airs as RTÉ‘s six-part television series, Feargal Quinn’s Retail Therapy. A second series airs in 2011, and a third series airs in 2012. In 2011, he fronts RTÉ’s Local Heroes campaign in Drogheda, County Louth, which is an assembled team of experts to kick-start the local economy. It airs as RTÉ One‘s six-part television series, Local Heroes – A Town Fights Back.

Quinn is first elected as a senator in 1993 from the National University of Ireland constituency and is re-elected in 1997, 2002, 2007 and 2011. He is a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs, the Joint Committee on Finance and Public Service and is an Oireachtas member of the National Economic and Social Forum, along with the Joint Committee on Jobs and Innovation.

Quinn is one of the co-founders and is a driving force behind Democracy Matters – a civil society group that is formed to oppose the Government’s plans to abolish Seanad Éireann. In May 2013, with Senators Katherine Zappone and Mary Ann O’Brien, he introduces the Seanad Bill 2013 to reform the system of electing the elected members of Seanad Éireann (as provided for in Article 18.10 of the Constitution of Ireland) through a one-person, one vote franchise. The Seanad Bill 2013 succeeds in being passed at Second Stage in the Seanad. During the Seanad abolition referendum campaign, the Bill demonstrates to the electorate, in a very palpable way, that reform of the Seanad is achievable if they vote for its retention. In a referendum held in October 2013 on the Abolition of Seanad Éireann, the people vote to retain the Seanad by 51.7%.

In 2014, Quinn reveals that since being first elected to Seanad Éireann, he has donated his entire salary to charity and in more recent years he has refused to accept any salary. In March 2015, he opposes the Marriage Equality bill in the Seanad, and votes ‘No’ in the referendum. He serves as Chairman of the Independent Alliance. He does not contest the 2016 Seanad election.

Quinn is the recipient of five honorary doctorates from education institutions, including NUI Galway in 2006, a papal knighthood along with a fellowship and the French Ordre National du Mérite. He shares with Oprah Winfrey the 2006 “Listener of the Year” award of the International Listening Association.

Quinn dies peacefully at his home in Howth, County Dublin, on April 24, 2019 following a short illness. His funeral Mass takes place at St. Fintan’s Church in Sutton, north County Dublin. In attendance is President Michael D. Higgins, a representative for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, Senator Michael McDowell, and a host of other current and former politicians, business figures, and past colleagues of the “Superquinn family.” Fittingly, the coffin is carried from the church to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”


Leave a comment

Death of Mother Mary Martin

Mother Mary of the Incarnation Martin, foundress of the Catholic religious institute of the Medical Missionaries of Mary, dies in Drogheda, County Louth, on January 27, 1975.

Martin is born Marie Helena Martin in Glenageary, County Dublin, on April 24, 1892, the second of twelve children of Thomas Martin and Mary Moore. In 1904, while attending classes for her First Communion, she contracts rheumatic fever, which is to affect her heart permanently. Tragedy hits the family on St. Patrick’s Day 1907, as her father is killed in what is presumed to be an accidental shooting. Later her mother sends her to schools in Scotland, England and Germany, all of which she leaves as quickly as possible.

Upon the outbreak of World War I, Martin joins the Voluntary Aid Detachment, a division of the Red Cross. In October 1915, she is assigned to work in Malta. After learning that her brother had been killed in the campaign of Gallipoli, she returns to Ireland in April 1916. She is called to serve again a month later at Neufchâtel-Hardelot, France, in a field hospital near the front lines of the Battle of the Somme. This assignment lasts until December of that year, followed by a brief stint in Leeds, England. After the war, she is called upon help in nursing victims of the Spanish flu, which had begun to devastate populations around the world.

In 1917 a new curate comes to the parish which Martin attends, the Reverend Thomas Roynane, to whom she turns for guidance. Roynane inspires her with an interest in pursuing missionary work. She goes to England in January 1919 for further medical training. Her mother’s severe illness the following year interrupts her training, however, as she has to return home to care for her.

In April 1920, Roynane arranges for Martin to meet the new bishop, and she volunteers her services as a lay missionary to work in his jurisdiction in southern Nigeria. Agnes Ryan, a local schoolteacher now in her fourth year of medical training, advises her that she wishes to join her in the African mission.

In April 1921, Martin and Ryan leave Ireland for Nigeria. They set sail for Africa from Liverpool on May 25 and arrive in the port of Calabar on June 14. They arrive prepared to provide medical care, only to learn that they are expected to run a school which had been staffed by French Religious Sisters until two years prior. To give the parents and children of the school a sense of continuity, the two women are addressed as “Sisters” by the priests and treated as if they are already members of an established religious institute.

By October, Ryan contracts malaria and develops a heart condition, which require her return to Ireland. Forced to fill in as Acting Headmistress, Martin meets with the bishop in his headquarters at Onitsha and is advised that caution is needed in providing medical care to the people of her mission, so as not to provoke objections by other missionaries in the region. Upon her return to Calabar, she makes a 30-day retreat.

In April 1922 the bishop travels there and holds two weeks of consultations with Martin, Roynane and another missioner, during which the Rule and Constitutions of a new congregation are hammered out, with the understanding that Martin will be the foundress. Martin does not see the bishop again for two years. During this time she learns that the bishop is working to establish the new congregation in Ireland, a direction she feels will focus the congregation on teaching rather than the medical care. An Irish Sister of Charity, Sister Magdalen Walker, is released from her congregation to help in this new work and arrives in Calabar in October 1923.

The following January Martin is directed by the bishop to return to Ireland to make a canonical novitiate. In March she starts her time of postulancy, prior to admission to the novitiate year. After 18 months, however, upon completion of the novitiate year she leaves the community, as the training provided by the Dominican Sisters has not been oriented toward medical care.

In this formal step of forming the new congregation, Martin encounters the prohibition in the new Code of Canon Law of 1917 of the Catholic Church against members of religious orders practicing medicine. Facing this barrier, she still feels a call to consecrated life and considers following the example of the recently canonized Carmelite nun, Thérèse of Lisieux. In 1927 she applies to the community of that Order in Dublin, but her application is declined, solely on the decision of the prioress who feels that Martin is called to a different path in life. She then goes through a new period of confusion until she is requested to consider again serving the missions. She then forms a small group of women to provide the domestic service for the preparatory school run by the Benedictine monks Glenstal Abbey.

In 1933, following a long period of illness, Martin approaches the new Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Paschal Robinson. He is supportive of her goals and encourages her continually over the next years. Finally, in February 1936, the Holy See lifts prohibition against Religious Sisters serving as doctors or midwives. She then seeks a diocese which will accept a new congregation, without success. In October of that same year, Antonio Riberi is named Apostolic Delegate in Africa, based in Kenya. He gives his support to having the congregation established in Calabar.

While still negotiating to purchase a house in Ireland as a local base, complicated by the fact that they are not yet a formal congregation, the small community sails for Nigeria at the end of 1936. Upon their arrival Martin suffers a heart attack and is hospitalized at Port Harcourt. It is there that she professes religious vows on April 4, 1937. With that the Medical Missionaries of Mary become established.

Martin’s health is always a source of concern but she lives until 1975. Today the Medical Missionaries of Mary number some 400 women from 16 different nations, who serve in 14 different countries around the world.


Leave a comment

Funeral of Economist Dr. T. K. Whitaker

The funeral of Dr. T. K. Whitaker, former civil servant and economist, takes place in Dublin on January 13, 2017. Regarded as the architect of the modern Irish economy, he dies at age 100 on January 9. President Michael D. Higgins, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan, Chief Justice Susan Denham, and Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin are among those attending the requiem mass for Dr. Whitaker at Donnybrook Church.

Whitaker is born in Rostrevor, County Down, to Roman Catholic parents on December 8, 1916, and reared in Drogheda, County Louth, in modest circumstances. His mother, Jane O’Connor, comes from Ballyguirey East, Labasheeda, County Clare. His father, Edward Whitaker, hails from County Westmeath and is assistant manager of a linen mill. He receives his primary and secondary education at the local CBS in Drogheda. He studies mathematics at University College Dublin.

In 1956, Whitaker is appointed Secretary of the Department of Finance. His appointment takes place at a time when Ireland’s economy is in deep depression. Economic growth is non-existent, inflation apparently insoluble, unemployment rife, living standards low and emigration at a figure not far below the birth rate. He believes that free trade, with increased competition and the end of protectionism, will become inevitable and that jobs will have to be created by a shift from agriculture to industry and services. He forms a team of officials within the department which produces a detailed study of the economy, culminating in a plan recommending policies for improvement. The plan is accepted by the government and is transformed into a white paper which becomes known as the First Programme for Economic Expansion. Quite unusually this is published with his name attached in November 1958. The programme which becomes known as the “Grey Book” brings the stimulus of foreign investment into the Irish economy. Before devoting himself to poetry, Thomas Kinsella is Whitaker’s private secretary.

In 1977, Taoiseach Jack Lynch nominates Whitaker as a member of the 14th Seanad Éireann. He serves as a Senator from 1977–81, where he sits as an independent Senator.

In 1981, Whitaker is nominated to the 15th Seanad Éireann by Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald, where he serves until 1982. FitzGerald also appoints him to chair a Committee of Inquiry into the Irish penal system, and he chairs a Parole Board or Sentence Review Group for several years.

Whitaker also serves as Chancellor of the National University of Ireland from 1976 to 1996. He is also President of the Royal Irish Academy and as such, a member of the Board of Governors and Guardians of the National Gallery of Ireland, from 1985 to 1987. He has a very strong love for the Irish language throughout his career and the collection of Irish poetry, An Duanaire: Poems of the Dispossessed 1600–1900, edited by Seán Ó Tuama and Thomas Kinsella, is dedicated to Whitaker. From 1995–96 he chairs the Constitution Review Group, an independent expert group established by the government, which publishes its report in July 1996.

Whitaker receives many national and international honours and tributes for his achievements during his lifetime, most notably the conferral of “Irishman of the 20th Century” in 2001 and Greatest Living Irish Person in 2002. In November 2014, the Institute of Banking confers an Honorary Fellowship on Whitaker and creates an annual T.K. Whitaker Scholarship in his name. In April 2015, he is presented with a lifetime achievement award by University College Dublin’s Economics Society for his outstanding contribution to Ireland’s economic policy.

In November 2016, to mark his centenary year, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council acknowledges Whitaker’s “outstanding and progressive contribution to Irish public service and to society.” The Cathaoirleach of Dún Laoghaire Rathdown, Cormac Devlin, presents a special award to Whitaker which is accepted by Ken Whitaker on behalf of his father.


Leave a comment

Death of Margaret Emmeline Dobbs, Scholar & Playwright

Margaret Emmeline Dobbs, Irish scholar and playwright best known for her work to preserve the Irish language, dies in Cushendall, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on January 2, 1962.

Dobbs is born in County Antrim on November 19, 1871 to barrister Conway Edward Dobbs who is Justice of the Peace for County Antrim, High Sheriff for Carrickfergus in 1875 and High Sheriff for County Louth in 1882. Her mother is Sarah Mulholland, daughter of St. Clair Kelvin Mulholland of Eglantine, County Down. The family spends time living in Dublin where Dobbs is born. She attempts to learn Irish, however, when her father dies in 1898 her mother moves the family back to Glenariff.

Dobbs is interested in learning Irish and finds it easier to learn in County Donegal where it is still spoken. Her first teacher is Hugh Flaitile. She attends the Irish College at Cloughaneely in the Donegal Gaeltacht. She brings the idea of promoting the language to the Glens of Antrim and her circle of friends. She is one of the small number of Protestant women interested in the Gaelic revival.

The year 1904 sees the “Great Feis” in Antrim and Dobbs is a founder member of the Feis na nGleann committee and later a tireless literary secretary. In 1946, the Feis committee decides to honour her by presenting her with an illuminated address. It can be seen today at Portnagolan House with its stained glass windows commemorating a great Irishwoman. During her speech she says, “Ireland is a closed book to those who do not know her language. No one can know Ireland properly until one knows the language. Her treasures are hidden as a book unopened. Open the book and learn to love your language.”

Dobbs writes seven plays, published by Dundalgan Press in 1920, though only three are actually performed. The Doctor and Mrs. McAuley wins the Warden trophy for one-act plays at the Belfast festival in 1913. Her plays, however, are generally not a success and after 1920 she never writes another. She continues to work on historical and archaeological studies and her articles are published in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, in a German magazine for Celtic studies, in the French Revue Celtique and in the Irish magazine Ériu.

Roger Casement is a good friend and although Dobbs never makes her political opinions known she contributes to his defence costs when he is accused of treason. Although her political views are not clearly known, Dobbs has been a member of the Gaelic League and in the executive of Cumann na mBan.

Dobbs dies at her home, Portnagolan House, Cushendall, on January 2, 1962.


Leave a comment

The Beginning of the IRA’s Border Campaign

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) begins what it calls “The Campaign of Resistance to British Occupation” on December 12, 1956. Also known as the “Border Campaign,” it is a guerrilla warfare campaign carried out by the IRA against targets in Northern Ireland, with the aim of overthrowing British rule there and creating a united Ireland. Although the campaign is a military failure, but for some of its members, the campaign is justified as it keeps the IRA engaged for another generation.

The border campaign is the first major military undertaking carried out by the IRA since the 1940s, when the harsh security measures of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland governments had severely weakened it. In 1939 the IRA tries a bombing campaign in England to try to force British withdrawal from Northern Ireland. From 1942 to 1944 it also mounts an ineffective campaign in Northern Ireland. Internment on both sides of the border, as well as internal feuding and disputes over future policy, all but destroy the organisation. These campaigns are officially called off on March 10, 1945. By 1947, the IRA has only 200 activists, according to its own general staff.

Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army Tony Magan sets out to create “a new Army, untarnished by the dissent and scandals of the previous decade.” Magan believes that a degree of political mobilization is necessary and the relationship with Sinn Féin, which had soured during the 1930s, is improved. At the 1949 IRA Convention, the IRA orders its members to join Sinn Féin, which partially becomes the “civilian wing” of the IRA.

By the mid-1950s, the IRA has substantially re-armed. This is achieved by means of arms raids launched between 1951 and 1954, on British military bases in Northern Ireland and England. By 1955, splits are occurring in the IRA, as several small groups, impatient for action, launch their own attacks in Northern Ireland. In November 1956, the IRA finally begins planning its border campaign.

On December 12 the campaign is launched with simultaneous attacks by around 150 IRA members on targets on the Border in the early hours. A BBC relay transmitter is bombed in Derry, a courthouse is burned in Magherafelt by a unit led by an 18-year-old Seamus Costello, as is a B-Specials post near Newry and a half-built Army barracks at Enniskillen is blown up. A raid on Gough Barracks in Armagh is beaten off after a brief exchange of fire.

The IRA issues a statement announcing the start of the campaign, “Spearheaded by Ireland’s freedom fighters, our people have carried the fight to the enemy…Out of this national liberation struggle a new Ireland will emerge, upright and free. In that new Ireland, we shall build a country fit for all our people to live in. That then is our aim: an independent, united, democratic Irish Republic. For this we shall fight until the invader is driven from our soil and victory is ours.”

The year 1957 is the most active year of the IRA’s campaign, with 341 incidents recorded. The most dramatic attack of the whole campaign takes place on January 1 when fourteen IRA volunteers, including Séan Garland, Alan O Brien and Dáithí Ó Conaill plan an attack on a joint Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)/B-Specials barracks in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, though they attack the wrong building. On 11 November, the IRA suffers its worst loss of life in the period when four of its members die preparing a bomb in a farm house at Edentubber, County Louth, which explodes prematurely. The civilian owner of the house is also killed.

By 1958, the campaign’s initial impetus has largely dissipated. Certain IRA activities produce public hostility and, by 1958, there are already many within the IRA in favour of calling off the campaign. The Cork IRA, for instance, has effectively withdrawn. By mid-1958, 500 republicans are in gaol or interned, North and South.

The period after the summer of 1958 sees a steep drop in the intensity of the IRA campaign. That the IRA’s campaign had run its course by 1960 is testified by the fact that the Republic of Ireland’s government closes the Curragh Camp, which housed internees in the South, on March 15, 1959, judging them to be no further threat. The Northern Irish government follows suit on April 25, 1961.

In November 1961 a RUC officer, William Hunter, is killed in a gun battle with the IRA in south County Armagh. This is the final fatality of the conflict. Minister for Justice Charles Haughey reactivates the Special Criminal Court, which hands down long prison sentences to convicted IRA men.

Although it had petered out by the late 1950s, by late 1961 the campaign is over and is officially called off on February 26, 1962 in a press release issued that day, drafted by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh who consults with several other persons including members of the IRA Army Council. The campaign costs the lives of eight IRA men, four republican supporters and six RUC members. In addition, 32 RUC members are wounded. A total of 256 Republicans are interned in Northern Ireland during this period and another 150 or so in the Republic. Of those in Northern Ireland, 89 sign a pledge to renounce violence in return for their freedom.

(Pictured: A group of IRA men before embarking on an operation in the 1950s | Photo credited to http://laochrauladh.blogspot.ie/)