seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Birth of Mike Quill, Irish-American Trade Unionist

Michael Joseph “Red Mike” Quill, one of the founders of the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU), a union founded by subway workers in New York City that expands to represent employees in other forms of transit, is born on September 18, 1905, in Gortloughera, near Kilgarvan, County Kerry.

Quill is the seventh among five sons and three daughters of John Daniel Quill, farmer, of Gortloughera, and Margaret Quill (née Lynch), of Ballyvourney, County Cork. He attends Kilgarvan national school until early adolescence. The family has strong republican sympathies and he serves with an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column during the Irish Civil War.

In 1926, Quill emigrates to New York City. After a series of brief jobs, in 1929 he secures employment with the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) as a subway station change-maker. Attracted to socialism and militant industrial unionism by his reading of James Connolly, in 1933 he is one of a small group of workers seeking to initiate a trade union independent of the IRT’s complacent company union. Comprised largely of ex-IRA men linked by membership of Clan na Gael and the leftist Irish Workers’ Clubs, his group soon joins forces with a New York transit-industry organising effort by the Communist Party, resulting in the launch in April 1934 of the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

With a convivial personality and a flair for oratory, Quill quickly emerges as one of the union’s most effective organisers. During 1935 he leaves his IRT job to work full-time as union organiser. In December 1935 he is elected TWU president, a position he holds until his death. By autumn 1936 the TWU has established a solid base on the IRT, and intensifies organisation on New York’s other transit lines: subways, buses, elevated trains, and trolleys. In May 1937 the TWU affiliates with the incipient Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). After winning, mostly by large majorities, a series of union representation elections in May–June 1937, the TWU negotiates closed-shop contracts with various New York transit companies, obtaining for its 30,000 members substantial wage increases and benefits and a work-week reduction to forty-eight hours. The ethnic profile of the TWU, which is colloquially nicknamed “the Irish union,” reflects that of New York’s transit workforce, about half of which is Irish-born.

First elected to the New York City Council in November 1937 as candidate of the American Labor Party, Quill serves on the body intermittently until 1949. After 1940 he leads the TWU into expansion outside New York, organising in mass transit in other cities, in airlines, and in railroads. Despite modest membership numbers (135,000 by the mid-1960s), the TWU is the United States‘ largest transit union, and Quill maintains a high public profile, owing to his union’s situation in a key economic sector, its base in the country’s largest city, and the colourful and the controversial features of his personality and politics. The 1940 municipal buy-out of New York’s private subway companies and subsequent evolution of a unified civically operated transport system precipitates a lengthy TWU struggle to establish collective bargaining rights and procedures for the transport workforce as public employees. This campaign, by setting precedents for public-sector union organisation nation-wide, marks Quill’s most enduring legacy to the American labour movement.

Quill denies repeated charges that he is a Communist, while retorting that he would “rather be called a Red by the rats than a rat by the Reds.” Communists hold influential positions at all levels in the TWU until the union’s December 1948 convention, when, after months of rancorous conflict over policy, he secures the expulsion from union office of all Communist Party members. His own politics, nevertheless, remain conspicuously leftist in the America of the 1950s and 1960s, as he condemns both the McCarthyite anti-Red witch-hunt and the Vietnam War. Elected a CIO vice-president in 1950, he eschews redefinition as “a labour statesman,” and advocates a national labour party and nationalisation of major industries. A strenuous opponent of racial discrimination by employers and within trade-union structures, he actively supports the black civil rights movement. He is the only top CIO official to oppose its 1955 merger with the conservative, craft-dominated American Federation of Labor (AFL), which he accuses of “the three Rs” of raiding, racketeering, and racism.

Quill’s final battle is his most dramatic. On January 1, 1966 he defies public-sector anti-strike legislation and a court injunction and leads TWU Local 100 into the first total subway-and-bus strike in New York City history, paralysing traffic for twelve days. Arrested on January 4, Quill, who has a history of serious heart disease, collapses during admission to prison and is transferred to hospital under police custody. On January 13 the strike is settled with a 15 percent wage increase, the highest of Quill’s TWU presidency. On January 28, several days after discharge from hospital, he dies of heart failure in his home. He is interred at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York, after a funeral Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, his casket draped by the Irish tricolor.

Speaking after his death, Martin Luther King Jr. eulogises Quill with the following: “Mike Quill was a fighter for decent things all his life—Irish independence, labor organization, and racial equality. He spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow-man. When the totality of a man’s life is consumed with enriching the lives of others, this is a man the ages will remember—this is a man who has passed on but who has not died. Negroes had desperately needed men like Mike Quill who fearlessly said what was true even when it offended. That is why Negroes shall miss Mike Quill.”

Quill marries Maria Theresa O’Neill of Cahersiveen, County Kerry, in 1937. They have one son. Maria dies in 1959. He then marries Shirley Garry (née Uzin) of Brooklyn, New York, his long-serving administrative assistant, in 1961. They have no children. The Michael J. Quill Centre at Ardtully, Kilgarvan, County Kerry, houses a commemorative museum.

(From: “Quill, Michael Joseph” by Lawrence William White, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie | Pictured: Irish-American Trade Unionist Mike Quill during a visit to the White House in 1938)


Leave a comment

Birth of Frank Ryan, Politician, Journalist & Paramilitary Activist

Frank Ryan, politician, journalist, intelligence agent and paramilitary activist, is born in the townland of Bottomstown, Elton, County Limerick, on September 11, 1902. A fascinating, somewhat mythical figure, he lives during turbulent times when Ireland finally disposes of tyrannical British rule in Ireland and becomes an icon for socialist republicans in Europe during the 1930s and 40s.

Ryan’s parents, Vere Foster Ryan and Annie Slattery, are National School teachers at Bottomstown with a taste for Irish traditional music, and they live in a house full of books. He attends St. Colman’s College, Fermoy. From then on he is devoted to the restoration of the Irish language. He studies Celtic Studies at University College Dublin (UCD), where he is a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) training corps. He serves as a flying column member during the murderous Irish War of Independence (1919-21), thereby interrupting his studies. He leaves UCD before graduating to join the IRA’s East Limerick Brigade in 1922.

Ryan fights on the Anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War (1922-23), and is wounded and interned. In November 1923 he is released and returns to UCD. He secures his degree in Celtic Studies and further secures the editorship of An Phoblacht (The Republic), the newspaper of the anti-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The split in the Irish independence party, Sinn Féin, results in regular fist fights between pro and anti-Treaty forces. Cumann na nGaedhael, the pro-Treaty political party in government, recruits the Army Comrades Association (Blueshirts) under former Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy to protect their members from anti-Treaty IRA protesters at annual Armistice Day and Wolfe Tone commemorations. Ryan is a forceful orator at these events and is frequently arrested and beaten up by the Gardai. The fractious politics results in Dáil members Sean Hales and Kevin O’Higgins being shot dead in public.

Ryan resigns from the IRA and founds the Republican Congress with Peadar O’Donnell and George Gilmore. Worker’s strikes unite Northern Protestant and Southern Catholic workers protesting against low wages and long hours.

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) inspires Ryan to lead the first contingent of Irish volunteers to support the Popular Front government of Republican Spain. A brave and inspiring leader, he serves with Italian and German Republican divisions. He is seriously wounded at the Battle of Jarama in February 1937. Following recuperation in Ireland, he is appointed adjutant to republican General José Miaja. During the Aragon Offensive he is captured with 150 of his men in April 1938 and sentenced to death. Irish President, Éamon de Valera, intervenes with General Francisco Franco and Ryan’s sentence is commuted to thirty years. His health suffers severely in Burgos Prison, Spain during his two year incarceration.

Franco refuses to release Ryan because he is considered his most dangerous prisoner. In August 1940 he is transferred to Berlin, where he is re-united with IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell. An attempt to return both men to Ireland by U-boat ends with Russell dying from a perforated ulcer. Ryan voluntarily returns to Germany where he serves as the unofficial IRA ambassador for German intelligence. Irishman Francis Stuart, son-in-law of Maud Gonne, who writes some of William Joyce’s propaganda, takes good care of Ryan until his untimely death at a hospital in Loschwitz in Dresden on June 10, 1944.

Ryan’s funeral in Dresden is attended by Elizabeth Clissmann, wife of Helmut Clissmann, and Francis Stuart. Clissmann eventually forwards details of Ryan’s fate to Leopold Kerney in Madrid. According to Stuart and Clissmann, the cause of death is pleurisy and pneumonia.

In 1963, historian Enno Stephan locates Ryan’s grave in Dresden. Three volunteers of the International Brigades, Frank Edwards, Peter O’Connor and Michael O’Riordan travel to East Germany as a guard of honour to repatriate Ryan’s remains in 1979. On June 21, 1979, his remains arrive in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church, his local church when he lived in Dublin. The church is packed with all shades of Republican and left-wing opinion, as well as those from his past such as the Stuarts, the Clissmanns, Peadar O’Donnell, George Gilmore, and ex-comrades and sympathizers from all over the world. The cortège on its way to Glasnevin Cemetery halts at the GPO in memory of the dead of the 1916 Easter Rising. His coffin is borne to the grave in Glasnevin Cemetery by Irish veterans of the Spanish Civil War, Frank Edwards, Peter O’Connor, Michael O’Riordan and Terry Flanagan. Con Lehane delivers the funeral oration while a piper plays “Limerick’s Lamentation.” He is buried next to Éamonn Mac Thomáis.

Ryan leads a vicarious life in pursuit of human rights, socialism and republicanism. His life story remains more colourful than fiction.


Leave a comment

Death of 1981 Hunger Striker Thomas McElwee

Thomas McElwee, Irish republican volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), dies on August 8, 1981 at the age of 23 after 62 days on hunger strike at Long Kesh Prison.

McElwee, the sixth of twelve children, is born on November 30, 1957, into the small, whitewashed home built by his father, along the Tamlaghtduff Road in Bellaghy, County Derry, Northern Ireland. He attended St. Mary’s primary in Bellaghy, and then Clady intermediate. After leaving school he goes to Magherafelt technical college for a while, but later changes his mind and goes to Ballymena training centre to begin an apprenticeship as a motor mechanic. Harassment from loyalist workers there forces him to leave and he then goes to work with a local mechanic.

McElwee and his cousin Francis Hughes form an independent Republican unit, which for several years carries out ambushes on British Army patrols as well as bomb attacks in neighbouring towns such as Magherafelt, Castledawson, and Maghera.

In October 1976, McElwee takes part in a planned bombing blitz on the town of Ballymena. Along with several colleagues, he is transporting one of the bombs, which explodes prematurely and blinds him in his right eye. He is transferred from the Ballymena hospital to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for emergency surgery to save his remaining eye. It is three weeks before he is able to see at all.

After six weeks McElwee is transferred again, this time to the military wing of the Musgrave Park Hospital. One week before Christmas, he is charged and sent to Crumlin Road Gaol.

At McElwee’s subsequent trial in September 1977, having spent over eight months on remand in Crumlin Road, he is charged and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for possession of explosives and the murder of Yvonne Dunlop, who is killed when one of the firebombs destroys the shop where she is employed. His murder charge is reduced to manslaughter on appeal, although the original jail term stands. He returns to the blanket protest he had joined immediately after his trial, in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh.

Imprisonment is particularly harsh for McElwee and his brother Benedict who are frequently singled out for brutality by prison warders, outraged at the stubborn refusal of the two to accept any form of criminal status. On one occasion he is put on the boards for fourteen days for refusing to call a prison warder ‘sir.’ In a letter smuggled out to his sister Mary, Benedict writes of the imprint of a warder’s boot on his back and arms after a typical assault. However, throughout the brutality and degradation they have to endure serves only to deepen yet further, and harder, their resistance to criminalisation.

McElwee joins the 1981 Irish hunger strike on June 7, 1981 and died on August 8, 1981, after 62 days on the strike. Indicative of the callousness of the British government towards prisoners and their families alike, he is denied the comfort of his brother’s presence at that tragic moment. He dies after 62 days of slow agonising hunger strike with no company other than prison warders – colleagues of those who had brutalised, degraded and tortured him for three-and-a-half years.

In 2009, Republican Sinn Féin (RSF) name their Waterford cumann after McElwee, replacing that of George Lennon, O/C of the Waterford Flying Column who led the IRA anti-Treaty Republicans into Waterford City in March 1922. The Waterford RSF had adopted the Lennon name without the permission of his son who noted that his father had, in later years, become a committed pacifist and opponent of the Vietnam War.

McElwee is the main subject of the song Farewell to Bellaghy, which also mentions his cousin Francis Hughes, other members of the independent Republican unit and deceased volunteers of the South Derry Brigade of the Provisional IRA. He is also the subject of The Crucifucks‘ song The Story of Thomas McElwee.


Leave a comment

First Assassination by “The Squad”

On July 30, 1919, the first assassination authorised by Michael Collins is carried out by The Squad, also known as the Twelve Apostles, when Detective Sergeant “the Dog” Smith is shot near Drumcondra, Dublin.

The Squad is an Irish Republican Army (IRA) unit founded by Collins to counter British intelligence efforts during the Irish War of Independence, mainly by means of assassination.

On April 10, 1919, the First Dáil announces a policy of ostracism of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men. At the time Sinn Féin official policy is against acts of violence. Boycotting, persuasion and mild intimidation succeed against many officers. However others escalate their activities against republicans and in March 1920 Collins asks Dick McKee to select a small group to form an assassination unit.

When The Squad is formed, it comes directly under the control of the Director of Intelligence or his deputy and under no other authority. The Squad is commanded by Mick McDonnell.

The original “Twelve Apostles” are Mick McDonnell, Tom Keogh, Jimmy Slattery, Paddy Daly, Joe Leonard, Ben Barrett, Vincent Byrne, Sean Doyle, Paddy Griffin, Eddie Byrne, Mick Reilly and Jimmy Conroy. After some time The Squad is strengthened with members Ben Byrne, Frank Bolster, Mick Keogh, Mick Kennedy, Bill Stapleton and Sam Robinson. Owen Cullen, a member of 2nd Battalion, is driver for a short time, and Paddy Kelly of County Clare for a short time. They are employed full-time and received a weekly wage.

Sometimes, as occasion demands, The Squad is strengthened by members of the IRA Intelligence Staff, the Active Service Unit, munition workers and members of the Dublin Brigade, Tipperary Flying Column men, Dan Breen, Séumas Robinson, Seán Treacy and Seán Hogan, and also Mick Brennan and Michael Prendergast of County Clare. The IRA Intelligence Staff consists of the Director of Intelligence Michael Collins, the Deputy Director of Intelligence Liam Tobin, the Second Deputy Director of Intelligence Tom Cullen, the Third Director of Intelligence Frank Thornton, and members Joe Dolan, Frank Saurin, Ned Kelleher, Joe Guilfoyle, Paddy Caldwell, Paddy Kennedy, Charlie Dalton, Dan McDonnell and Charlie Byrne. The munitions workers include Mat Furlong, Sean Sullivan, Gay McGrath, Martin O’ Kelly, Tom Younge and Chris Reilly.

Other members include Mick Love, Gearoid O’Sullivan, Patrick Caldwell, Charlie Dalton, Mick O’Reilly, Sean Healy, James Ronan, Paddy Lawson, John Dunne, Johnny Wilson and James Heery. Seán Lemass and Stephen Behan, the father of Irish writers Brendan and Dominic Behan, have also been listed as members of the Apostles. There is no hard evidence to support the inclusion of many of the names, but those who subsequently serve in the Irish Army have their active service recorded in their service records held in the Military Archives Department in Cathal Brugha Barracks, Rathmines. Andrew Cooney is also reported to have been associated with The Squad. Stephen Behan’s involvement is first made public in 1962, when the BBC broadcasts an episode of This Is Your Life dedicated to Behan. During the broadcast, remaining members of the squad joined Behan on the set of the show.

Following “The Dog” Smith’s assassination, The Squad continues to target plainclothes police, members of the G Division of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, and, occasionally, problematic civil servants. Organisationally it operates as a subsection of Collins’ Intelligence Headquarters. Two of the executions by The Squad are the killing on January 21, 1920 of RIC Inspector William Redmond of the DMP “G” Division and on March 2, 1920 a British double agent John Charles Byrnes.

One of the Apostles’ particular targets is the Cairo Gang, a deep-cover British intelligence group, so called since it has either been largely assembled from intelligence officers serving in Cairo or from the Dublin restaurant called The Cairo, which the gang frequents. Sir Henry Wilson brings in the Cairo Gang in the middle of 1920, explicitly to deal with Michael Collins and his organization. Given carte blanche in its operations by Wilson, the Cairo Gang adopts the strategy of assassinating members of Sinn Féin unconnected with the military struggle, assuming that this will cause the IRA to respond and bring its leaders into the open.

The most well-known operation executed by the Apostles occurs on what becomes known as Bloody Sunday, November 21, 1920, when British MI5 officers, linked to the Cairo Gang and significantly involved in spying, are shot at various locations in Dublin with fourteen killed and six wounded. In addition to the The Squad, a larger number of IRA personnel are involved in this operation. The only IRA man captured during the operation is Frank Teeling. In response to the killings, the Black and Tans retaliate by shooting up a Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary at Croke Park, the proceeds from which are for the Irish Republican Prisoners Fund. Fourteen civilians are killed including one of the players, Michael Hogan, and 68 are wounded. The Hogan stand at Croke Park is named after Hogan.

The elimination of the Cairo Gang is seen in Dublin as an intelligence victory, but British Prime Minister David Lloyd George comments dismissively that his men “… got what they deserved, beaten by counter-jumpers…”. Winston Churchill adds that they were “.. careless fellows … who ought to have taken precautions.”

Some members of The Squad are hanged in 1921 for the killings on Bloody Sunday, including Thomas Whelan and Patrick Moran. Moran had killed a vet, Patrick MacCormack, who seems to have been an innocent victim.

In May 1921, after the IRA’s Dublin Brigade takes heavy casualties during the burning of the Custom House, The Squad and the Brigade’s Active Service Unit are amalgamated into the Dublin Guard, under Paddy Daly. Under the influence of Daly and Michael Collins, most of the Guard take the Free State side and join the National Army in the Irish Civil War of 1922–23. During this conflict some of them are attached to the Criminal Investigation Department and are accused of multiple assassinations of Anti-Treaty fighters. They are also involved in several atrocities against Republican prisoners, particularly after the death of Collins, due to many of them having personal ties with him.

Bill Stapleton goes on to become a director in Bord na Móna, Charles Dalton and Frank Saurin become directors in the Irish Sweepstakes. In October 1923, Commandant James Conroy is implicated in the murder of two Jewish men, Bernard Goldberg and Emmanuel ‘Ernest’ Kahn. He avoids arrest by fleeing to Mexico, returning later to join the Blueshirts. A later application for an army pension is rejected. The killings are the subject of a 2010 investigative documentary by RTÉ, CSÍ: Murder in Little Jerusalem.


Leave a comment

Birth of John Ford, Award Winning Irish American Film Director

John Ford, film director, is born as John Martin Feeney on February 1, 1894 at Cape Elizabeth, Maine. He is the fourth son among five sons and six daughters of Seán Feeney, Roman Catholic farmer and saloon-keeper, and Barbara ‘Abby’ Feeney (née Curran). His father had emigrated to the United States from Spiddal, County Galway, and his mother from Kilronan, Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands.

From an early age Ford has an interest in painting and sailing, and in July 1914 moves to California, where his older brother Francis is an actor with a small film company. Adopting the name ‘Jack Ford,’ he learns his trade as a filmmaker and acts in a number of silent pictures. Reveling in his Irish heritage, he makes his director’s debut with The Tornado (1917) and follows it with more than forty movies over the next six years. On July 3, 1920, he marries Mary McBryde Smith, a former officer in the army medical corps. They meet at a party thrown by the director Rex Ingram and have one son and one daughter.

In 1921 Ford visits Ireland for the first time and later claims to have travelled on the same boat that brought Michael Collins back from the treaty negotiations. He meets his relatives at Spiddal, falls in love with the countryside, and becomes a fervent Irish nationalist. It is later claimed that he brought over funds for his cousin Martin Feeney, a member of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) flying column.

Returning to Hollywood, Ford becomes friends with the retired marshal Wyatt Earp and makes a number of commercially successful films, now as ‘John Ford’. In 1926 he directs The Shamrock Handicap, a horse-racing yarn partly set in Ireland. In 1928 he shoots Mother Machree, a movie about Irish emigration, starring Victor McLaglen, a regular collaborator. McLaglen also stars in Hangman’s House, made the same year, Ford’s first major movie about Ireland.

In 1934 Ford purchases a luxury yacht which he names the Araner after the Aran Islands. He also begins shooting The Informer, a film set in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence, and based on a short novel by Liam O’Flaherty. The picture is a major box office success and wins four Academy Awards, including Best Director. O’Flaherty is so impressed with the film that he dedicates his next book, Famine, to Ford.

In 1934 Ford visits Ireland for the second time, and approaches Seán O’Casey about directing a version of The Plough and the Stars. Released in 1936, the film stars Barry Fitzgerald as Fluther, but it is reedited by the studio, much to Ford’s fury, and is a commercial and critical flop.

Stagecoach, shot in 1938, is one of Ford’s masterpieces. It was a western starring his protégé, John Wayne, and marks the beginning of his golden decade. In 1940 and 1941 he wins Best Director Oscars successively for The Grapes of Wrath and How Green Was My Valley. With American entry into World War II, he serves in the U.S. Navy, and makes important documentaries such as The Battle of Midway (1942).

In 1952 Ford returns to Ireland to film The Quiet Man, starring Wayne, McLaglen, and Maureen O’Hara. Shot at Ashford Castle, County Mayo, the picture becomes one of the most popular Irish films of all time. He is immensely proud of the work and is in tears leaving Ireland. The following year he makes Mogambo, with Clark Gable, Grace Kelly and a young English actor, Donald Sinden, who later recalls that Ford berated him personally for all the problems of Ireland from the time of William of Orange. Ford’s strong sense of Irishness is central to his character and is crucial for any understanding of his work. Back in Ireland in 1956, he shoots The Rising of the Moon, a portmanteau film for which he takes no salary, starring Tyrone Power, Cyril Cusack, and Noel Purcell. A minor film, it makes no impact at the box office.

Two of Ford’s finest movies are made in his later years. The Searchers (1956) is a powerful study of vengeance, while The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is an elegiac revisionist western which concludes with the famous line, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

Struck with cancer in his final years, Ford dies on August 31, 1973 at his home in Palm Desert, California, and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City. His will disinherits his son, Michael Patrick Roper, and leaves everything to his wife, daughter, and grandchildren.

When asked to name the finest American directors, Orson Welles replies simply, “John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford.” An alcoholic, Ford is a difficult and often tyrannical director, but he makes films of extraordinary power and vision. He ranks as one of the greatest film-makers of the twentieth century. As Frank Capra concludes, “John is half-tyrant, half-revolutionary; half-saint, half-Satan; half-possible, half-impossible; half-genius, half-Irish.”

(From: “Ford, John,” contributed by Patrick M. Geoghegan, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


2 Comments

The Pickardstown Ambush

The Pickardstown Ambush, an action by a combined Waterford force against a British Army patrol at Pickardstown, takes place near the town of Tramore, County Waterford on the night of January 7, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. The ambush follows a feint attack on the Tramore Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) barracks.

The ambush is conceived by Irish Republican Army (IRA) East Waterford Officer Commanding (OC) Paddy Paul, who gathers volunteers from the local Dunhill and Waterford City units of his command, as well as West Waterford OC Pax Whelan and West Waterford flying column OC George Lennon. This makes for a total of fifty men although several are armed only with shotguns.

An attack is made on the RIC barracks in the town, and the British military garrison in Waterford quickly dispatches forty troops in four Crossley tenders. However the ambush has been badly planned with the result that the British troops are able to make a determined counterattack. Two IRA volunteers, Thomas O’Brien and Michael McGrath, are reportedly taken away and shot by members of the Devon Regiment. Two other volunteers are wounded. One British soldier and one Black and Tan are wounded.

A memorial is later erected on the ambush site. In later years, local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) fields are named after the two dead IRA men.

(Pictured: Members of the Irish Republican Army East Waterford Brigade)


Leave a comment

The Derryard Checkpoint Attack

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacks a British Army permanent vehicle checkpoint complex manned by the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) near the Northern IrelandRepublic of Ireland border at Derryard, north of Rosslea, County Fermanagh, on December 13, 1989.

According to journalist Ed Moloney, the IRA Army Council, suspecting a great deal of infiltration by double agents at the grassroots level of the IRA, decide to form an experimental flying column (rather than the usual active service unit) to mount a large-scale operation against a permanent vehicle checkpoint along the border. It hopes that this will prevent any information leak that might result in another fiasco like the Loughgall Ambush of 1987.

Moloney maintains that the planning is in the charge of Thomas Murphy, alleged leader of the South Armagh Brigade, and that the raid is to be led by East Tyrone Brigade member Michael “Pete” Ryan. Journalist Ian Bruce instead claims that the IRA unit is led by an Irish citizen who had served in the Parachute Regiment, citing intelligence sources. The column is made up of about 20 experienced IRA volunteers from throughout Northern Ireland, eleven of whom are to carry out the attack itself. Bruce reports that IRA members from County Monaghan, supported by local Fermanagh militants, carry out the raid.

The target is a permanent vehicle checkpoint at Derryard. Described as a “mini base,” it includes an accommodation block and defensive sangars. It is manned by eight soldiers of the 1st Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers and a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer. The eleven IRA members are driven to the checkpoint in the back of a makeshift Bedford armoured dumper truck. They are armed with 7.62mm AK-47s, 5.56mm ArmaLite AR-18s, two 12.7mm DShK heavy machine-guns, RPG-7s, different kinds of grenades, and a LPO-50 flamethrower. The heavy machine guns and the flamethrower are mounted on a tripod on the lorry bed. To assure widespread destruction, the column plan to detonate a van bomb after the initial assault.

The attack takes place shortly after 4:00 PM. IRA members seal off roads leading to the checkpoint in an attempt to prevent civilians from getting caught up in the attack. The truck is driven from the border and halted at the checkpoint. As Private James Houston begins to check the back of the truck, the IRA open fire with assault rifles and throw grenades into the compound. Two RPG-7s are fired at the observation sangar while the flamethrower stream is directed at the command sangar. Heavy shooting continues as the truck reverses and smashes through the gates of the compound. At least three IRA volunteers dismount inside the checkpoint and spray the portacabins with gunfire and the flamethrower’s fire stream, while throwing grenades and nail bombs. The defenders are forced to seek shelter in sangars, from where they fire into their own base. A farmer some distance away sees an orange ball of flames and hears gunfire ‘raking the fields.’ As the truck drives out of the now wrecked compound, a red transit van loaded with a 400-lb. (182 kg) bomb is driven inside and set to detonate once the IRA unit has made its escape. However, only the booster charge explodes.

The attack is finally repulsed by a four-men Borderers section from the checkpoint that is patrolling nearby, with the support of a Westland Wessex helicopter. The patrol fires more than 100 rounds at the IRA unit. The Wessex receives gunfire and is forced to take evasive action. The IRA column, at risk of being surrounded, flee toward the border in the armoured truck. It is found abandoned at the border with a 460-lb. (210 kg) bomb on board.

Two soldiers are killed in the attack: Private James Houston (22) from England and Lance-Corporal Michael Patterson (21) from Scotland. Corporal Whitelaw is badly wounded by shrapnel and later airlifted for treatment. Another soldier suffers minor injuries.

There is outrage in Westminster and among unionists, as a supposedly well-defended border post has been overrun by the IRA and two soldiers killed. On the other hand, according to Moloney, there is also some disappointment among republicans. Despite the positive propaganda effect, the quick and strong reaction from the outpost’s defenders convince some high-ranking IRA members that the Army Council has been infiltrated by a mole.

KOSB officers and security sources believe that the IRA unit involved was not locally recruited, putting the blame instead on IRA members from Clogher, County Tyrone and South Monaghan in the Republic. The same sources say that the attack was executed “in true backside-or-bust Para style.”

After the action of Derryard, the British Army in Northern ireland are issued the French designed Luchaire 40mm rifle grenade, fitted on the muzzle of the SA80 rifle. This gives the troops a lightweight armour piercing capability to deal with the threat imposed by improvised armoured vehicles. Permanent checkpoints along the border are also fitted with general-purpose machine guns. From 1990 until the end of the IRA campaign in 1997, there are a number of further bloodless, small-scale attacks against permanent vehicle checkpoints along this part of the border using automatic weapons, particularly in County Fermanagh and against a military outpost at Aughnacloy, County Tyrone.

Two soldiers, Corporal Robert Duncan and Lance Corporal Ian Harvey, are bestowed the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), while Lance-Corporal Patterson receives a posthumous mention in dispatches for his actions during the attack. The checkpoint is dismantled in March 1991, as part of a major border security re-arrangement codenamed Operation Mutilate.

(Pictured: Republican memorial at Carragunt bridge, on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, often crossed by Provisional IRA forces during the Troubles to attack British targets inside County Fermanagh)


Leave a comment

The Ballygawley Barracks Attack

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) launches an assault on the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) barracks in Ballygawley, County Tyrone, on December 7, 1985. Two RUC officers are shot dead and the barracks are raked with gunfire before being completely destroyed by a bomb, which wounds an additional three officers.

In 1985, Patrick Kelly becomes leader of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade. He, along with East Tyrone Brigade members Jim Lynagh and Pádraig McKearney, advocate using flying columns to destroy isolated British Army and RUC bases and stop them from being repaired. The goal is to create and hold “liberated zones” under IRA control that will be gradually enlarged. Although IRA Chief of Staff Kevin McKenna turns down the flying column idea, IRA Northern Command approves the plan to destroy bases and prevent their repair. In 1985 alone there are 44 such attacks. Among the most devastating is the mortar attack on Newry RUC barracks in March.

The Ballygawley attack involves two IRA active service units from the East Tyrone Brigade: an armed assault unit and a bomb unit. There are also several teams of IRA observers in the area. The assault team is armed with AK-47 and AR-15 rifles, while the bombing unit is responsible for planting and detonating a 100-pound (45 kg) bomb. Both units are commanded by Patrick Kelly.

The assault is launched on Saturday, December 7, at 6:55 PM, when the handful of RUC officers manning the base are getting ready to hand over to the next shift. In the first burst of automatic fire, the two guards at the entrance are killed, Constable George Gilliland and Reserve Constable William Clements. Constable Clements’s Ruger Security-Six revolver is taken by the attackers. The base is then raked with gunfire. Another three RUC officers who are inside run out to the back of the base, where they hope the walls might offer some cover. IRA members go into the building and take documents and weapons. The bomb is placed inside and, upon detonation, destroys the entire base, injuring three officers.

The republican IRIS Magazine (#11, October 1987) describes the attack as follows:

“One volunteer took up a position close to the front gate. Two RUC men opened the gate and the volunteer calmly stepped forward, shooting them both dead at point blank range. Volunteers firing AK-47 and Armalite rifles moved into the barracks, raking it with gunfire. Having secured the building they planted a 100-lb. bomb inside. The bomb exploded, totally destroying the building after the volunteers had withdrawn to safety.”

The first British Army unit to arrive at the base in the wake of the attack is X Company, 1st Battalion, Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

The attack is one of the Provisional IRA’s biggest during this period. Twelve days later the same IRA brigade mortar the RUC station at Castlederg badly damaging the base and injuring four people. The Ballygawley base is rebuilt by the Royal Engineers in 1986.

The East Tyrone IRA launches two similar attacks in the following years: the successful attack on the Birches base in 1986, and the ill-fated attack on the Loughgall base in 1987, in which eight IRA members are killed. Ballygawley itself had seen conflict before with the Ballygawley land mine attack in 1983, and would see more violence in 1988 with the Ballygawley bus bombing, that cost the lives of eight British soldiers. The gun taken from Constable Clements is found by security forces after the SAS ambush at Loughgall.

The RUC base at Ballygawley is once again targeted by the East Tyrone Brigade on December 7, 1992, in what becomes the debut of the IRA’s brand new Mark-15 improvised mortar, better known as “Barrack Buster.” Another attack with a horizontal mortar occurs on April 30, 1993, when a RUC mobile patrol leaving Ballygawley compound is targeted. According to an IRA statement, the projectile misses one of the vehicles, hits a wall and explodes.

(Pictured: A Provisional Irish Republican Army badge, with the phoenix symbolising the origins of the Provisional IRA)


Leave a comment

Birth of Joseph Campbell, Poet & Lyricist

Joseph Campbell, Irish poet and lyricist, is born in Belfast on July 15, 1879. He writes under the Gaelic form of his name Seosamh Mac Cathmhaoil (also Seosamh MacCathmhaoil), as Campbell is a common anglicisation of the old Irish name MacCathmhaoil. He is now remembered best for words he supplied to traditional airs, such as “My Lagan Love” and “Gartan Mother’s Lullaby.” His verse is also set to music by Arnold Bax and Ivor Gurney.

Campbell is born into a Catholic and Irish nationalist family from County Down. He is educated at St. Malachy’s College, Belfast. After working for his father he teaches for a while. He travels to Dublin in 1902, meeting leading nationalist figures. His literary activities begin with songs, as a collector in Antrim, County Antrim and working with the composer Herbert Hughes. He is then a founder of the Ulster Literary Theatre in 1904. He contributes a play, The Little Cowherd of Slainge, and several articles to its journal Uladh edited by Bulmer Hobson. The Little Cowherd of Slainge is performed by the Ulster Literary Theatre at the Clarence Place Hall in Belfast on May 4, 1905, along with Lewis Purcell’s The Enthusiast.

Campbell moves to Dublin in 1905 and, failing to find work, moves to London the following year where he is involved in Irish literary activities while working as a teacher. He marries Nancy Maude in 1910, and they move shortly thereafter to Dublin, and then later to County Wicklow. His play Judgement is performed at the Abbey Theatre in April 1912.

Campbell takes part as a supporter in the Easter Rising of 1916, doing rescue work. The following year he publishes a translation from Irish of the short stories of Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the Rising.

Campbell becomes a Sinn Féin Councillor in Wicklow in 1921. Later in the Irish Civil War he is on the Republican side, and is interned in 1922-23. His marriage breaks up, and he emigrates to the United States in 1925 where he settles in New York City. He lectures at Fordham University, and works in academic Irish studies, founding the University’s School of Irish Studies in 1928, which lasts four years. He is the editor of The Irish Review (1934), a short lived “magazine of Irish expression.” The business manager is George Lennon, former Officer Commanding of the County Waterford Flying Column during the Irish War of Independence. The managing editor is Lennon’s brother-in-law, George H. Sherwood.

Campbell returns to Ireland in 1939, settling at Glencree, County Wicklow. He dies at Lacken Daragh, Enniskerry, County Wicklow on June 6, 1944.


Leave a comment

Birth of Gilbert Potter, District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary

Gilbert Norman Potter, a District Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary, is born in Dromahair, County Leitrim on July 10, 1887. He is executed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 27, 1921 in reprisal for the British execution of Irish republican Thomas Traynor.

Potter receives his commission as District Inspector on April 27, 1901 having completed his cadetship at the Depot, Phoenix Park, Dublin. His first assignment is to Castlepollard, County Westmeath. During the 1909 ITGWU strike in Cork, he is temporarily posted there from Dublin and is also involved in policing the August 14 marches in Portadown. Having had charge of No. 4 Company at the Depot, he is assigned to Cahir in 1912.

On April 23, 1921 District Inspector Potter is captured by the 3rd Tipperary Brigade, IRA, following the Hyland’s Cross Ambush. This occurs near Curraghcloney, close to the village of Ballylooby. The ambush party is initially made up of a combination of the 1st and 2nd Flying Columns 3rd Tipperary Brigade. This is the largest force assembled to date by the Tipperary IRA in anticipation of a major battle. However, the convoy of military lorries that is expected never materialises. Dan Breen and Con Moloney return to Battalion Headquarters, while Seán Hogan‘s Column withdraws northward in the direction of the Galtee Mountains.

As Dinny Lacey‘s No.1 Column prepares to leave towards the south, a small party of British soldiers accompanying two horse-drawn carts unexpectedly approaches from Clogheen and are immediately fired upon. Amid some confusion Lacey’s scattered men withdraw southwards towards the Knockmealdown Mountains. One British soldier, Frank Edward Conday, is fatally wounded and two others from the relieving party are wounded.

By chance, Potter, who is returning by car from police duties at Ballyporeen, drives into a section of the withdrawing No.1 Column. Although in civilian attire, he is recognised by one of the IRA Volunteers and taken prisoner. As part of a new strategy, he is held as a hostage for the safe release of Thomas Traynor, an IRA volunteer and father of ten young children, then under sentence of death at Mountjoy Gaol. The IRA offers to release Potter in exchange for Traynor’s release. Traynor is executed. Traynor has since been honoured by the Irish state as one of “The Forgotten Ten.”

The Column, under sporadic fire from soldiers, alerted at the nearby Clogheen barracks, follow the contours of the mountains to the village of Newcastle. Losing their pursuers, they stay for a period of time at the townland of Glasha. Here Potter is detained in an out-building of a farm which is regularly used by the IRA as a safe house. From there the party is guided into the Nire Valley by a contingent of local Waterford Volunteers and on to the Comeragh Mountains.

Accounts from Rathgormack, County Waterford suggest he is kept for at least one night at a nearby Ringfort before being taken down the hill to a field then owned by Power’s of Munsboro, where he meets his ultimate fate. At 7:00 PM, on April 27, following news of Traynor’s execution by hanging, he is shot to death, and hastily buried in a shallow grave on the banks of the River Clodiagh. A diary he kept during his period of captivity and some personal effects and farewell letters, are returned anonymously to his wife. It is the first confirmation she has that he has been killed. The artifacts are later lost when his son’s ship is torpedoed in 1942, during World War II.

(Pictured: Photo of District Inspector Gilbert Potter R.I.C. that appeared in the Press during his time in captivity)