seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Irish Nationalist Bobby Sands

Robert Gerard Sands, commonly known as Bobby Sands, Irish nationalist and member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is born on March 9, 1954 at Abbots Cross, NewtownabbeyCounty Antrim, outside Belfast.

Sands is the oldest of four children born to John and Rosaleen Sands, and the couple’s first son. Sands grows up in Belfast under the cloud of nationalist and loyalist divisions. At an early age, Sands’s life is affected by the sharp divisions that shape Northern Ireland. At the age of ten, he is forced to move with his family out of their neighborhood due to repeated intimidation by loyalists.

“I was only a working-class boy from a Nationalist ghetto,” Sands later writes about his childhood. “But it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom.” Loyalist intimidation proves to be a theme throughout Sands’ life. At the age of 18, he is forced out of his job as an apprentice car builder. Not long afterwards, he and his family have to move again, as a result of political trouble.

The steady number of conflicts pushes Sands to join the Republican Movement in 1972. His ties to the movement soon capture the attention of the authorities, and later that year, he is arrested and charged with possessing firearms in his house. He spends the next three years of his life in prison. Upon his release, Sands immediately returns to the Republican Movement. He signs on as a community activist in Belfast’s rough Twinbrook area, quickly becoming a popular go-to person for a range of issues affecting the neighborhood.

In late 1976, authorities arrest Sands again, this time in connection with the bombing of Balmoral Furniture Company and an ensuing gun battle. After weathering a brutal interrogation and then a court proceeding that offers up questionable evidence connecting Sands and three others to the attack, a judge sentences Sands to 14 years in prison at the Long Kesh Detention Centre, a facility used to house Republican prisoners from 1971 until 2000, located just outside of Belfast.

As a prisoner, Sands’s stature only grows. He pushes hard for prison reforms, confronting authorities, and for his outspoken ways he is frequently given solitary confinement sentences. Sands contention is that he and others like him, who are serving prison sentences, are actually prisoners of war, not criminals as the British government insists.

Beginning on March 1, 1981, Sands leads nine other Republican prisoners in the H-Block section of the Maze prison on a hunger strike that lasts until death. Their demands range from allowing prisoners to wear their own clothes to permitting visits and mail, all of which are central in improving the inmates’ way of life.

Unable to move authorities to give in to his requests, and unwilling himself to end his hunger strike, Sands’s health begins to deteriorate. During the first seventeen days of the strike alone, he loses 16 pounds. A hero among his fellow nationalists, Sands is elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone while in prison. Sands becomes the youngest MP at the time. However he dies less than one month later without ever having taken his seat in the House of Commons.

Only days after slipping into a coma, on the morning of May 5, 1981, Sands dies from malnutrition due to starvation. He is 27 years old and has refused to eat for 66 days. He becomes so fragile over his final weeks that he spends his final days on a water bed to protect his deteriorating and fragile body. At time of his death, Sands is married to Geraldine Noade, with whom he has one son, Gerard.

The announcement of Sands’s death prompts several days of rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. Over 100,000 people line the route of Sands’s funeral. He is buried in the ‘New Republican Plot’ alongside 76 others. Their graves are maintained by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

While loyalists dismiss Sands’s death, others are quick to recognize its significance. Over the next seven months, nine other IRA supporters die on hunger strike. Eventually, the British government gives proper political recognition to the prisoners, many of them earning their release under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Bobby Sands’ final days are depicted in the 2008 Steve McQueen film Hunger, with actor Michael Fassbender portraying Sands.


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Birth of Liam Quinn, Former PIRA Volunteer

liam-quinn-sf-examinerWilliam Joseph Quinn, known as Liam Quinn, is born in San Francisco, California on January 9, 1949. He is a former volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army who killed off-duty London Metropolitan Police Constable Stephen Tibble at Charleville Road, Barons Court, London on February 26, 1975.

Tibble sees Quinn fleeing from the police after he has been noticed acting suspiciously near a house in which Quinn and fellow members of the Balcombe Street Gang are later found to have been preparing bombs. Tibble chases Quinn on his motorbike and, while attempting to stop him, is fatally shot twice in the chest.

Quinn escapes to Dublin in the aftermath of the shooting and serves a short prison sentence after his arrest for assaulting a police officer there. After his release in 1978 he returns to his hometown of San Francisco but is arrested in 1981 and later extradited to England in February 1988 where he is convicted of murder and jailed for life with a recommended minimum term of 35 years.

Quinn serves eleven years before he is released in April 1999, aged 51, along with the rest of the Balcombe Street Gang, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. While with the IRA, Quinn adopts an Irish accent and is tagged with the nickname “Yankee Joe” because of his American origins.


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The Balcombe Street Siege Ends

balcombe-street-siegeThe six-day Balcombe Street siege in London ends peacefully on December 12, 1975 after four Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen free their two hostages and give themselves up to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS).

In 1974 and 1975, London is subjected to a 14-month campaign of gun and bomb attacks by the Provisional IRA. Some 40 bombs explode in London, killing 35 people and injuring many more. The four members of what becomes known as the “Balcombe Street gang,” Joe O’Connell, Edward Butler, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, are part of a six-man IRA Active Service Unit (ASU) that also includes Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn.

The Balcombe Street siege starts after a chase through London, as the MPS pursues Doherty, O’Connell, Butler and Duggan through the streets after they had fired gunshots through the window of Scott’s restaurant in Mount Street, Mayfair. The four IRA men ultimately run into a block of council flats in Balcombe Street, adjacent to Marylebone station, triggering the six-day standoff.

The four men go to 22b Balcombe Street in Marylebone, taking its two residents, middle-aged married couple John and Sheila Matthews, hostage in their front room. The men declare that they are members of the IRA and demand a plane to fly both them and their hostages to Ireland. Scotland Yard refuses, creating a six-day standoff between the men and the police. Peter Imbert, later Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, is the chief police negotiator.

The men surrender after several days of intense negotiations between Metropolitan Police Bomb squad officers, Detective Superintendent Peter Imbert and Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Nevill, and the unit’s leader Joe O’Connell, who goes by the name of “Tom.” The other members of the gang are named “Mick” and “Paddy,” thereby avoiding revealing to the negotiators precisely how many of them are in the living room of the flat. The resolution of the siege is a result of the combined psychological pressure exerted on the gang by Imbert and the deprivation tactics used on the four men. The officers also use carefully crafted misinformation, through the BBC Radio news to further destabilise the gang into surrender. A news broadcast states that the British Special Air Service are going to be sent in to storm the building and release the hostages. This seems to deter the gang and they eventually give themselves up to the police.

The four are found guilty at their Old Bailey trial in 1977 of seven murders, conspiring to cause explosions, and falsely imprisoning John and Sheila Matthews during the siege. O’Connell, Butler and Duggan each receive 12 life sentences, and Doherty receives 11. Each of the men is later given a whole life tariff, the only IRA prisoners to receive this tariff. During the trial they instruct their lawyers to “draw attention to the fact that four totally innocent people were serving massive sentences” for three bombings in Woolwich and Guildford. Despite telling the police that they are responsible, they are never charged with these offences and the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven remain in prison for 15 more years, until it is ruled that their convictions are unsafe.

After serving 23 years in English prisons, the four men are transferred to the high security wing of Portlaoise Prison, County Laois, in early 1998. They are presented by Gerry Adams to the 1998 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis as “our Nelson Mandelas,” and are released together with Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement.


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President McAleese & Queen Elizabeth II Meet in Belfast

mcaleese-and-queen-elizabethPresident of Ireland Mary McAleese and Queen Elizabeth II shake hands on Northern Ireland soil for the first time on December 9, 2005 — a symbolic milestone following years of peacemaking in this long-disputed British territory.

The British monarch and the Republic of Ireland‘s head of state chat and pose together at Hillsborough Castle, outside Belfast, for an occasion that would have provoked hostility within Northern Ireland’s Protestant majority just a few years earlier. But their trouble-free meeting becomes inevitable once Ireland dropped its territorial claim to Northern Ireland as part of the landmark Good Friday Agreement peace accord of 1998. The visit also fuels speculation the queen could soon make her first official visit to the neighboring Republic of Ireland, where the Irish Republican Army assassinated Lord Louis Mountbatten, the uncle of her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

No British monarch has visited the territory of the modern-day Republic of Ireland since George V visited Dublin in 1911, a decade before the island’s partition into a mostly Protestant north that remains within the United Kingdom, and a predominantly Catholic rest of Ireland that gradually gains full independence from Britain.

Camera crews are allowed to film the moment, but not record the sound, when McAleese shakes the queen’s hand at the start of a 20-minute meeting, their fourth since 1998. Previous meetings occurred at Buckingham Palace and on a World War I battlefield site. McAleese later calls it “a very special day for Anglo-Irish relationships” that brings forward the day when the queen will visit the Irish Republic.

McAleese, a Belfast-born Catholic, had made scores of visits to Northern Ireland since being elected to the Irish Republic’s largely symbolic presidency in 1997. As part of her presidential theme of “building bridges,” she regularly invites Protestant groups to her official Dublin mansion and has built impressive diplomatic contacts with northern Protestants.

Before McAleese’s arrival, visits north by an Irish president were rare events that drew public protests from Protestants, who demanded that Ireland remove its territorial claim from its 1937 constitution. The republic’s voters overwhelmingly supported this in a May 1998 referendum, an action completed in December 1999.

The queen has avoided traveling to the Irish Republic, in part, because of security fears following the IRA assassination of Mountbatten in August 1979. He, his daughter-in-law and two teenage boys are killed when the IRA blows up his private boat near his castle in County Sligo. However, Prince Philip and their son, Prince Charles, make several visits to the Irish Republic in the decade following the IRA’s 1994 cease-fire.


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President McAleese Visits Brakey Orange Hall

mcaleese-at-brakey-orange-hallPresident Mary McAleese makes the first official visit by an Irish head of state to an Orange Order hall when she visits Brakey Orange Hall, just outside Bailieborough, County Cavan on November 28, 2008.

Brakey Orange Hall had been destroyed in an arson attack on July 13, 2000, but had since been rebuilt and reopened in 2004. Further extensions and improvements have been made since, with the latest recently completed in time for the occasion.

Approximately 50 local people, many of the men in their orange lapels and other regalia, pack the little hall to honour their guest. Placing the visit in a wider context, McAleese says the “journey of peace-building and peace-making” since the signing of the Belfast Agreement ten years earlier must continue, and calls for a new culture of tolerance and acceptance in both parts of Ireland.

McAleese is welcomed by Cavan County Grand Master Henry Latimer, who praises the financial support for Orange halls in Border counties provided by the Government. He outlines to the President and her husband, Dr. Martin McAleese, the close bond between local communities and Orange halls and the facilities provided for meetings, classes and social events. “Given the widespread nature of such activity, it demonstrates why when halls are damaged, attacked, destroyed or [placed] beyond use for periods of time, the community activity of its related hinterland suffers and is curtailed,” he adds.

McAleese hails the occasion as an example of fresh understanding in relationships between different traditions. “We have taken the first important steps towards ending the bitter culture of ‘either-or,’ of them versus us,” she says. She calls on Irish people everywhere “to build a new culture . . . each accepting that there are different perspectives and practices.”

McAleese praises Latimer as a good Cavan man, a good Irishman and a good Orangeman. The burning of Orange halls, she says, are “intemperate acts of vandalism” which are “a throw-back to another time.”

Appealing for an end to attacks on Orange halls and GAA clubs by arsonists McAleese adds, “I invite them all to stop and think how wonderfully transformed all our lives would be if we were all made as welcome in each other’s homes as I have been made welcome here.”

McAleese receives a bouquet of flowers and a piece of Cavan crystal to mark her visit. She later attends other engagements throughout Cavan.

(From: “President makes first official visit by Irish head of state to an Orange hall” by Dan Keenan, The Irish Times, November 28, 2008)


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Mo Mowlam Presented International Woman of the Year Award

mo-mowlanMarjorie “Mo” Mowlam, English Labour Party politician, is presented with the International Woman of the Year Award at a ceremony in Dublin on October 23, 2001. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson wins the Overall Award at the Irish Tatler Women of the Year Awards.

Mowlam is born on September 18, 1949 in Watford, Hertfordshire, England but grows up in Coventry. She starts her education at Chiswick Girls’ grammar school in West London, then moves to Coundon Court school in Coventry which, at the time, is one of the first comprehensive schools in the country. She then studies at Trevelyan College, Durham University, reading sociology and anthropology. She joins the Labour Party in her first year.

Mowlam becomes the Secretary of the Durham Union Society in 1969 and later goes on to become the Vice-President of the Durham Student’s Union. She works for then-MP Tony Benn in London and American writer Alvin Toffler in New York, moving to the United States with her then-boyfriend and studying for a PhD in political science at the University of Iowa.

Mowlam is a lecturer in the Political Science Department at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee in 1977 and at Florida State University in Tallahassee from 1977 to 1979. During her time in Tallahassee, someone breaks into her apartment. She suspects that it is Ted Bundy, the serial killer and rapist who is thought to have murdered at least 35 young women and attacked several others. She returns to England in 1979 to take up an appointment at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Having failed to win selection for the 1983 general election, Mowlam is selected as Labour candidate for the safe seat of Redcar after James Tinn stands down. She takes the seat in the 1987 general election, becoming the Labour spokesperson on Northern Ireland later that year. Together with Shadow Chancellor John Smith, she is one of the architects of Labour’s “Prawn Cocktail Offensive” dedicated to reassuring the UK’s financial sector about Labour’s financial rectitude.

Mowlam joins the Shadow Cabinet when John Smith becomes leader of the Labour Party in 1992, holding the title of Shadow Secretary of State for National Heritage. During this time, she antagonises both monarchists and republicans by calling for Buckingham Palace to be demolished and replaced by a “modern” palace built at public expense. Later, her willingness to speak her mind, often without regard to the consequences, is seen as her greatest strength by her supporters.

Following Smith’s death in 1994, Mowlam, alongside Peter Kilfoyle, becomes a principal organiser of Tony Blair‘s campaign for the Labour leadership. After his victory, Blair makes her Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. She initially resists being appointed to the position, preferring an economic portfolio, but, after accepting it, she throws her weight into the job.

Mowlam oversees the negotiations which lead to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. She is successful in helping to restore an Irish Republican Army (IRA) ceasefire and including Sinn Féin in multi-party talks about the future of Northern Ireland. In an attempt to persuade the Ulster loyalists to participate in the peace process, she pays an unprecedented and potentially dangerous visit to loyalist prisoners in HM Prison Maze, meeting convicted murderers face-to-face and unaccompanied.

Mowlam witnesses the Good Friday Agreement signing in 1998, which leads to the temporary establishment of a devolved power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly. However, an increasingly difficult relationship with Unionist parties means her role in the talks is ultimately taken over by Tony Blair and his staff.

Mowlam’s deteriorating relationship with Unionists is the key reason she is replaced by Peter Mandelson as Northern Ireland Secretary in October 1999. Her move to the relatively lowly position of Minister for the Cabinet Office possibly involves other factors, notably her health and her popularity. On September 4, 2000, she announces her intention to retire from Parliament and relinquishes her seat at the 2001 general election.

Five months before the 1997 general election, Mowlam is diagnosed with a brain tumor, a fact that she tries to keep private. She appears to suffer from balance problems as a result of her radiotherapy. According to her husband, she falls on July 30, 2005, receiving head injuries and never regaining consciousness. Her living will, in which she asks not to be resuscitated, is honoured. On August 12, 2005, Mowlan is moved to Pilgrims Hospice in Canterbury, Kent, where she dies seven days later, on August 19, 2005, aged 55.

Mowlam is an atheist and is cremated in Sittingbourne on September 1, 2005 at a non-religious service conducted by Reverend Richard Coles, formerly of the 1980s band The Communards. Half of her ashes were scattered at Hillsborough Castle, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland’s official residence, and the other half in her former parliamentary constituency of Redcar.


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Hume & Trimble Receive 1998 Nobel Peace Prize

hume-trimble-noble-prize-1998The 1998 Nobel Peace Prize is awarded on October 16, 1998 to John Hume and David Trimble, leaders of the largest Roman Catholic and Protestant political parties in Northern Ireland, for their efforts to bring peace to the long-polarized British province. The two men share the prize money of $960,000.

Hume, 61, the Catholic head of the Social Democratic and Labor Party, is cited by the Nobel Committee in Oslo for having been the “clearest and most consistent of Northern Ireland’s political leaders in his work for a peaceful solution.”

Trimble, 54, the Protestant leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, is honored for having demonstrated “great political courage when, at a critical stage in the process, he advocated solutions which led to the peace agreement.”

The leader of a third prominent party, Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is not named as a prize winner. While it does not honor Adams, the committee says it wishes to “emphasize the importance of the positive contributions to the peace process made by other Northern Irish leaders.” Nor are several other figures mentioned as possibilities, including former Senator George Mitchell, who led the talks, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, United States President Bill Clinton, and Mo Mowlam, the British Government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The accord, signed on April 10 and known as the Good Friday Agreement, gives the 1.7 million residents of Northern Ireland a respite from the sectarian violence that has claimed more than 3,200 lives in the previous 30 years. It also opens the possibility of lasting stability for the first time since the establishment of Northern Ireland with partition from Ireland in 1921.

Forging concessions from fiercely antagonistic populations, the accord seeks to balance the Protestant majority’s wish to remain part of Britain with Catholic desires to strengthen ties to the Republic of Ireland to the south. The committee, seeing in Northern Ireland’s two warring groups a dispute with notable similarities to violent tribal confrontations elsewhere, expresses the hope that the accord will serve “to inspire peaceful solutions to other religious, ethnic and national conflicts around the world.”

Adams, in New York on a fund-raising trip for Sinn Féin, welcomes the Oslo announcement and particularly praises Hume, who is widely seen as having helped persuade the IRA to adopt a cease-fire and having eased Sinn Féin’s entry into the talks. “Indeed, there would be no peace process but for his courage and vision,” Adams says, adding, “No one deserves this accolade more.” He also wishes Trimble well and says the prize imposes on everyone the responsibility to “push ahead through the speedy implementation of the agreement.”

In the unforgiving politics of Northern Ireland, the Unionist dissidents and members of other Protestant parties who do not join in the peace talks attack both Trimble and Hume. Ian Paisley Jr., son of the head of the Democratic Unionist Party, calls the Nobel Committee’s decision a “farce” and says of the winners, “These people have not delivered peace, and they are not peacemakers.”

Trimble says he is “slightly uncomfortable” with the award because so many other people have been involved beside him in reaching the settlement and much remains to be done to put it in place. “We know that while we have the makings of peace, it is not wholly secure yet,” he tells the BBC from Denver, where he is on an 11-city North American tour to spur foreign investment in Ulster. “I hope it does not turn out to be premature.”

Hume receives word of the prize at his home in Londonderry and terms it “an expression of the total endorsement of the work of very many people.” He adds, “This isn’t just an award to David Trimble and myself. It is an award to all the people in Northern Ireland.”

In Washington, D.C., President Clinton says “how very pleased” he is, “personally and as President, that the Nobel Prize Committee has rewarded the courage and the people of Northern Ireland by giving the Nobel Peace Prize to John Hume and to David Trimble.” He adds “a special word of thanks” to George Mitchell, who issues a statement praising Hume and Trimble as “fully deserving of this honor.”

The peace talks began in the summer of 1996. They eventually draw the participation of 8 of the 10 Northern Irish parties, with many of the men around the table convicted murderers and bombers who had emerged from prison with a commitment to peaceful resolution to what for nearly a century have been referred to wearily as “the Troubles.” The paramilitary groups had also made the tactical decision that violence would not secure their goals, a shared conviction that gives these talks a chance for success that past fitful attempts at settlement lacked.

The peace talks move in a desultory manner until Blair takes office in May 1997 and highlights the cause of peace in Northern Ireland as an early commitment. At his and Ahern’s urging, the IRA declares a cease-fire in July, and by September Sinn Féin is permitted to join the talks.

Blair also gives Trimble and Adams unprecedented access to 10 Downing Street, and the Ulster Protestants report that they obtained from Clinton the most sympathetic hearing they ever had from an American President, allaying their longtime suspicions of Washington’s bias in favor of the Catholic minority.

(From: “2 Ulster Peacemakers Win the Nobel Prize,” The New York Times, Warren Hoge, October 17, 1998)