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


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The Execution of Tom Williams, IRA Volunteer

File source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vol._Tom_Williams.jpgThomas Joseph Williams, a volunteer in C Company, 2nd Battalion of the Belfast Brigade in the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is hanged in the Crumlin Road Gaol on September 2, 1942 for his involvement in the killing of Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) police officer Patrick Murphy during the Northern campaign.

Williams is born in the Beechmount area of Belfast on May 12, 1923. He is the third child in a family of six. After the death of his mother, he and his brother go to live with their grandmother at 46 Bombay Street in the Clonard area of Belfast. The Williams family has to leave the small Catholic enclave in the Shore Road area of Belfast after their house is attacked and burned.

As a child, Williams suffers from asthma and as a result is often very ill. He attends St. Gall’s Primary School but leaves at an early age to obtain work, which at the time is difficult due to discrimination. His work therefore consists of labouring and as a delivery boy.

As soon as Williams is old enough, he joins Na Fianna Éireann, the republican Scout Organisation founded by Constance Markievicz in 1909, becoming a member of the Con Colbert slua in the Clonard area. Alfie Hannaway, a friend of Williams, is his OC in Na Fianna, and assigns him to the rank of Quartermaster for the company. He takes his role in Na Fianna very seriously and all who came to know him are struck by his dedication and maturity, even at this early age.

At the age of 17, Williams is old enough to become a volunteer and joins C Company of the IRA in the Clonard area where he lives. Due to his “dedication and his remarkable ability” he is appointed to the role of Adjutant of C Company.

At Easter 1942 the government of Northern Ireland bans all parades to commemorate the anniversary of the Easter Rising. An IRA unit of six men and two women stage a diversionary action against the RUC to allow three parades to take place in West Belfast, but in this clash a RUC officer is killed and the six IRA men are captured. The RUC officer, Constable Patrick Murphy, a father of nine children, from the Falls Road area of Belfast, is one of a minority of Catholics serving in the RUC.

There is debate over the years about who actually fired the fatal shot. The six IRA members are convicted and sentenced to death for murder under the law of common purpose. Five have their sentences commuted. The sentence of Williams, who acknowledges that he is the leader of the IRA unit involved and takes full responsibility for the actions of his men, is not commuted.

Williams is hanged in Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast on the morning of September 2, 1942. The executioner is the official English hangman Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by his nephew Albert Pierrepoint. Afterwards Williams’ body is interred in unhallowed ground in an unmarked grave within the grounds of the prison. His remains are only released in January 2000 after the closure of the prison in 1996 and a lengthy campaign by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

Williams’s funeral is held on January 19, 2000 and is attended by thousands, with burial at Milltown Cemetery. Joe Cahill, Williams’s cell mate, and John Oliver, sentenced to death with Williams but later reprieved, as well as Madge McConville, who had been arrested with Williams, Greta McGlone, Billy McKee, Eddie Keenan and perhaps least known, Nell Morgan, Williams’s girlfriend at the time of his death, are all present. Six senior Sinn Féin members including Gerry Adams are also present in St. Paul’s Church on the Lower Falls Road for the Mass.

Williams is remembered in a ballad Tom Williams. Various recordings have been made, most notably by the Flying Column and Éire Óg, who preamble their version with the story of the campaign to release his body. The now disbanded, Volunteer Tom Williams Republican Flute Band from Glasgow, Scotland is named in his memory as is the Tom Williams Camogie Club in Belfast.

(Pictured: Tom Williams’ headstone at Milltown Cemetery after being reinterred)

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The Bayardo Bar Attack

bayardo-bar-attackThe Bayardo Bar attack takes place on August 13, 1975 in Belfast as a unit of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), led by Brendan McFarlane, launch a bombing and shooting attack on a pub on Aberdeen Street, in the loyalist Shankill Road area of the city.

By 1975, the conflict in Northern Ireland known as “the Troubles” is more than six years old. On February 10, 1975, the Provisional IRA and the British government enter into a truce and restart negotiations. There is a rise in sectarian killings during the truce, which ‘officially’ lasts until early 1976. The truce, however, is interrupted in the early hours of July 31, 1975 by the Miami Showband killings at Buskhill outside Newry, County Down.

Two weeks later, on August 13, 1975, the Bayardo Bar is crowded with people of all ages. Shortly before closing time a stolen green Audi automobile, containing a three-man unit of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade, pulls up outside. It is driven by the unit’s leader Brendan “Bik” McFarlane, a 24-year-old volunteer from Ardoyne. Volunteers Seamus Clarke and Peter “Skeet” Hamilton get out and approach the pub’s side entrance on Aberdeen Street. One of them immediately opens fire with an ArmaLite, instantly killing doorman William Gracey and his brother-in-law Samuel Gunning, with whom he had been chatting outside. The other volunteer then enters the pub, where patrons are drinking and singing, and drops a duffel bag containing a ten-pound bomb at the entrance. Both men make their getaway back to the waiting car. As panicked customers run to the toilets for safety, the bomb explodes and brings down a section of the old brick-and-plaster building upon them. The bodies of civilian Joanne McDowell and UVF member Hugh Harris are later found beneath the rubble of fallen masonry. Seventeen-year-old civilian Linda Boyle is pulled out alive, but dies of her injuries at the hospital on August 21. Over 50 people are injured in the attack.

A Belfast Telegraph article later claims that, as the IRA unit drives away down Agnes Street, they fire into a crowd of women and children queuing at a taxi rank although there are no fatalities. Within 20 minutes of the blast, the IRA unit is arrested after their car is stopped at a roadblock. The ArmaLite that had been used to kill Gracey and Gunning is found inside the car along with spent bullet casings and fingerprints belonging to the three IRA men.

The IRA does not initially claim responsibility, however, IRA members later state that the Bayardo was attacked because it was a pub where Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) members met and planned terrorist assaults against nationalists. The pub is in the UVF-dominated middle Shankill Road area, and the Ulster Banner is displayed from its upper windows. A former IRA prisoner claims that fellow inmate Lenny Murphy told him he had left the Bayardo ten minutes before the attack and that the Brigade Staff had just finished holding a meeting there.

Loyalists, especially the UVF, respond with another wave of sectarian attacks against Catholics. Two days after the pub attack, a loyalist car bomb explodes without warning on the Falls Road, injuring 35 people. On 22 August, the UVF launches a gun and bomb attack on McGleenan’s Bar in Armagh. The attack is strikingly similar to that at Bayardo. One gunman opens fire while another plants the bomb, the explosion causing the building to collapse. Three Catholic civilians are killed and several more are wounded. That same night, another bomb wrecks a Catholic-owned pub in nearby Blackwatertown, although there are no injuries.

In May 1976, Brendan McFarlane, Seamus Clarke, and Peter Hamilton are convicted in a non-jury Diplock court and sentenced to life imprisonment inside the HM Prison Maze for carrying out the Bayardo murders. In 1983 McFarlane leads the Maze Prison escape, a mass break-out of 38 republican prisoners, including Clarke and Hamilton.


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Death of Hunger Striker Joe McDonnell

joe-mcdonnellJoseph (Joe) McDonnell, a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies on July 8, 1981 after 61 days on hunger strike during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

McDonnell is born on Slate Street in the lower Falls Road of Belfast, Northern Ireland on September 14, 1951 as one of ten children. He attends a nearby Roman Catholic school. He marries Goretti in 1970 and moves into her sister’s house in Lenadoon. There are only two Catholic houses in this predominantly Ulster Protestant housing estate, and their house is attacked on numerous occasions.

McDonnell is arrested in Operation Demetrius and, along with Gerry Adams and others, is interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone. He is later moved to HM Prison Maze in County Down for several months. Upon release, he joins the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade. He meets Bobby Sands during the preparation for a firebomb attack on the Balmoral Furnishing Company’s premises in Dunmurry. During the ensuing shoot-out between the IRA and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army, both men, along with Séamus Finucane and Seán Lavery, are arrested. McDonnell and the others are sentenced to 14 years in prison for possession of a firearm. None of the men accept the jurisdiction of the court.

McDonnell agrees with the goals of the Irish hunger strike, namely: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to organise their own educational and recreational facilities and the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.

Although McDonnell is not involved in the first hunger strike in 1980, he joins Bobby Sands and the others in the second hunger strike the following year. During the strike he fights the general election in the Republic of Ireland, and only narrowly misses election in the Sligo–Leitrim constituency. He goes 61 days without food before dying on July 8, 1981. He has two children. His wife takes an active part in the campaign in support of the hunger strikers.

McDonnell is buried in the grave next to Bobby Sands at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast. John Joe McGirl, McDonnell’s election agent in Sligo–Leitrim, gives the oration at his funeral. Quoting Patrick Pearse, he states, “He may seem the fool who has given his all, by the wise men of the world; but it was the apparent fools who changed the course of Irish history.”

McDonnell is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia and is also commemorated in The Wolfe Tones song, “Joe McDonnell.”


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Murder of Patrick Finucane, Human Rights Lawyer

patrick-finucanePatrick Finucane, Irish human rights lawyer, is killed on February 12, 1989 by loyalist paramilitaries acting in collusion with the British government intelligence service MI5. His killing is one of the most controversial during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Finucane is born into a Roman Catholic family on the Falls Road, Belfast on March 21, 1949. At the start of the Troubles, his family is forced out of their home. He graduates from Trinity College, Dublin in 1973. He comes to prominence due to successfully challenging the British government in several important human rights cases during the 1980s.

Finucane is shot fourteen times and killed at his home in Fortwilliam Drive, north Belfast, by Ken Barrett and another masked man using a Browning Hi-Power 9mm pistol and a .38 revolver respectively. The two gunmen knock down the front door with a sledgehammer and enter the kitchen where Finucane has been having a Sunday meal with his family. They immediately open fire and shoot him twice, knocking him to the floor. Then while standing over him, the leading gunman fires twelve bullets into his face at close range. Finucane’s wife Geraldine is slightly wounded in the shooting attack which their three children witness as they hide underneath the table.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) immediately launches an investigation into the killing. The investigation, led by Detective Superintendent Alan Simpson, runs for six weeks and he later states that from the beginning, there had been a noticeable lack of intelligence coming from the other agencies regarding the killing. Finucane’s killing is widely suspected by human rights groups to have been perpetrated in collusion with officers of the RUC and, in 2003, the British Government Stevens Report states that the killing is indeed carried out with the collusion of police in Northern Ireland.

In September 2004, an Ulster Defence Association (UDA) member, and at the time of the murder a paid informant for the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Ken Barrett, pleads guilty to Finucane’s murder.

The Ulster Defence Association/Ulster Freedom Fighters (UDA/UFF) claim they killed Finucane because he was a high-ranking officer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Police at his inquest say they have no evidence to support this claim. Finucane had represented republicans in many high-profile cases, but he had also represented loyalists. Several members of his family have republican links, but the family strongly denies Finucane is a member of the IRA. Informer Sean O’Callaghan claims that he attended an IRA finance meeting alongside Finucane and Gerry Adams in Letterkenny in 1980. However both Finucane and Adams have consistently denied being IRA members.

In Finucane’s case, both the RUC and the Stevens Report find that he is not a member of the IRA. Republicans strongly criticise the claims made by O’Callaghan in his book The Informer and subsequent newspaper articles. One Republican source says O’Callaghan “…has been forced to overstate his former importance in the IRA and to make increasingly outlandish accusations against individual republicans.”

In 2011 British Prime Minister David Cameron meets with Finucane’s family and admits the collusion, although no member of the British security services has yet been prosecuted.


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The Falls Curfew

falls-curfewThe Falls Curfew, also called the Battle of the Falls, a British Army operation in the Falls Road district of Belfast, Northern Ireland takes place on July 3-5, 1970.

The Northern Ireland riots of August 1969 mark the beginning of the Troubles. In Belfast, Catholic Irish nationalists clash with Protestant Ulster loyalists and the mainly-Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), Northern Ireland’s police force. Hundreds of Catholic homes and businesses are burned and more than 1,000 families, mostly Catholics, are forced to flee. The rioting ends with Operation Banner, the deployment of British troops.

A week before the Falls Curfew, on Saturday, June 27, 1970, there is severe rioting in Belfast following marches by the Protestant/unionist Orange Order. At the Short Strand, a Catholic enclave in a Protestant part of the city, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) fights a five-hour gun battle with loyalists. Three people are killed and the loyalists withdraw. The Provisional IRA presents itself as having successfully defended a vulnerable Catholic enclave from armed loyalist mobs.

Meanwhile, the Official IRA arranges for a large number of weapons to be brought into the mainly nationalist and Catholic Lower Falls area for distribution. The area is a stronghold of the Official IRA.

The operation begins at about 4:30 PM on Friday, July 3, as a search for weapons in the staunchly Irish nationalist district. As the search ends, local youths attack the British soldiers with stones and petrol bombs and the soldiers respond with CS gas. This quickly develops into gun battles between British soldiers and the Irish Republican Army (IRA). After four hours of continuous clashes, the British commander seals off the area, which comprises 3,000 homes, and imposes a curfew which lasts 36 hours. Thousands of British troops move into the curfew zone and carry out house-to-house searches for weapons, while coming under intermittent attack from the IRA and rioters. The searches cause much destruction, and a large amount of CS gas is fired into the area. Many residents complain of suffering abuse at the hands of the soldiers. On July 5, the curfew is brought to an end when thousands of women and children from Andersonstown march into the curfew zone with food and groceries for the locals.

During the operation, four civilians are killed by the British Army, at least 78 people are wounded and 337 are arrested. Eighteen soldiers are also wounded. Large quantities of weapons and ammunition are captured. The British Army admits afterwards that some of its soldiers had been involved in looting.

The Falls Curfew is a turning point in the Troubles. It is seen as having turned many Catholics/Irish nationalists against the British Army and having boosted support for the IRA.

(Pictured: British soldiers on the Falls Road during the 1970 curfew)


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Death of Frederick Hugh Crawford, Ulster Loyalist

Colonel Frederick Hugh Crawford, staunch Ulster loyalist and officer in the British Army, dies on November 5, 1952. He is most notable for organising the Larne gun-running which secures guns and ammunition for the Ulster Volunteers in 1914, making him a hero for Northern Ireland‘s unionists.

Crawford is born in Belfast on August 21, 1861 into a Methodist family of Ulster Scots roots. He attends Methodist College Belfast and University College London.

Crawford works as an engineer for White Star Line in the 1880s, before returning from Australia in 1892. In 1894 he enlists with the Mid Ulster Artillery regiment of the British Army, before being transferred to the Donegal Artillery, with which he serves during the Boer Wars, earning himself the rank of major.

In 1898, Crawford is appointed governor of Campbell College in Belfast. In 1911 he becomes a member of the Ulster Unionist Council. On September 28, 1912 he is in charge of the 2,500 well dressed stewards and marshals that escort Edward Carson and the Ulster unionist leadership from the Ulster Hall in Belfast to the City Hall for the signing of the Ulster Covenant, which he is alleged to sign in his own blood. With the formation of the Ulster Volunteers in 1913, he is made their Director of Ordnance.

In World War I Crawford is officer commanding of the Royal Army Service Corps, and is awarded the Royal Humane Society‘s Bronze Medal for saving life. He also becomes a Justice of the Peace for Belfast.

Crawford in regards to Irish Home Rule is strongly partisan and backs armed resistance in opposing it, being contemptuous of those who use political bluffing. In 1910 the Ulster Unionist Council plans for the creation of an army to oppose Home Rule, and approaches Crawford to act as their agent in securing weapons and ammunition. He tries several times to smuggle arms into Ulster, however vigilant customs officials seize many of them at the docks. Despite this, the meticulously planned and audacious Larne gun-running of April 1914, devised and carried out by Crawford, is successful in bringing in enough arms to equip the Ulster Volunteers.

By the 1920s Crawford remains as stoic in his belief’s remarking in a letter in 1920 that “I am ashamed to call myself an Irishman. Thank God I am not one. I am an Ulsterman, a very different breed.” In 1921 he attempts to create an organisation called the Ulster Brotherhood, the aims of which are to uphold the Protestant religion, political and religious freedom as well as use by all means to “destroy and wipe out the Sinn Féin conspiracy of murder, assassination and outrage.” However, this organisation only lasts completely unofficially for a few months after failing to gain acceptance with the political authorities. Also in 1921 he is included in the Royal Honours List and granted a CBE. In 1934 he writes his memoirs, entitled Guns for Ulster.

Frederick Hugh Crawford dies November 5, 1952, and is buried in the City Cemetery, Falls Road, Belfast. Upon news of his death he is described by the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Sir Basil Brooke, as being “as a fearless fighter in the historic fight to keep Ulster British.”

(Pictured: Colonel Crawford is shown second from the left in this loyalist mural in East Belfast’s Ballymacarrett Road)


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Birth of Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams

Gerard “Gerry” Adams, Irish republican politician who is the president of the Sinn Féin political party and a Teachta Dála (TD) for Louth since the 2011 general election, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on October 6, 1948.

Adams attends St. Finian’s Primary School on the Falls Road, where he is taught by La Salle brothers. Having passed the eleven-plus exam in 1960, he attends St. Mary’s Christian Brothers Grammar School. He leaves St. Mary’s with six O-levels and becomes a barman. He is increasingly involved in the Irish republican movement, joining Sinn Féin and Fianna Éireann in 1964, after being radicalised by the Divis Street riots during that year’s general election campaign.

In the late 1960s, a civil rights campaign develops in Northern Ireland. Adams is an active supporter and joins the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in 1967. However, the civil rights movement is met with violence from loyalist counter-demonstrations and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. In August 1969, Northern Ireland cities like Belfast and Derry erupt in major rioting.

During the 1981 hunger strike, which sees the emergence of Sinn Féin as a political force, Adams plays an important policy-making role. In 1983, he is elected president of Sinn Féin and becomes the first Sinn Féin MP elected to the British House of Commons since Philip Clarke and Tom Mitchell in the mid-1950s. From 1983 to 1992 and from 1997 to 2011, he is an abstentionist Member of Parliament (MP) of the British Parliament for the Belfast West constituency.

Adams has been the president of Sinn Féin since 1983. Since that time the party has become the third-largest party in the Republic of Ireland, the second-largest political party in Northern Ireland and the largest Irish nationalist party in that region. In 1984, Adams is seriously wounded in an assassination attempt by several gunmen from the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), including John Gregg. From the late 1980s onwards, Adams is an important figure in the Northern Ireland peace process, initially following contact by the then-Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader John Hume and then subsequently with the Irish and British governments.

In 1986, Sinn Féin, under Adams, changes its traditional policy of abstentionism towards the Oireachtas, the parliament of the Republic of Ireland, and later takes seats in the power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly. In 2005, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) states that its armed campaign is over and that it is exclusively committed to democratic politics.

In 2014, Adams is held for four days by the Police Service of Northern Ireland for questioning in connection with the abduction and murder of Jean McConville in 1972. He is freed without charge and a file is sent to the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, which later states there is insufficient evidence to charge him.

In September 2017, Adams says Sinn Féin will begin a “planned process of generational change” after its November ardfheis and will allow his name to go forward for a one year term as Uachtaran Shinn Fein (President Sinn Fein).