seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

The Omagh Car Bombing

The Omagh bombing, a car bombing in Omagh, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, takes place on August 15, 1998. It is carried out by a group calling themselves the Real Irish Republican Army, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) splinter group who opposes the IRA’s ceasefire and the Good Friday Agreement.

On the day of the bombing, the bombers drive a car, loaded with 230 kilograms (510 lb) of fertiliser-based explosives, across the Irish border. At approximately 2:19 PM they park the vehicle outside S.D. Kells’ clothes shop in Omagh’s Lower Market Street, on the southern side of the town centre, near the crossroads with Dublin Road. They are unable to find a parking space near the intended target, the Omagh courthouse. The two male occupants arm the bomb and, upon exiting the car, walk east down Market Street towards Campsie Road.

Three telephone calls are made warning of a bomb in Omagh, using the same codeword that had been used in the Real IRA’s bomb attack in Banbridge two weeks earlier. At 2:32 PM, a warning is telephoned to Ulster Television saying, “There’s a bomb, courthouse, Omagh, Main Street, 500 lb., explosion 30 minutes.” One minute later, the office receives a second warning saying, “Martha Pope (which is the RIRA’s code word), bomb, Omagh town, 15 minutes.” The caller claims the warning on behalf of “Óglaigh na hÉireann.” One minute later, the Coleraine office of the Samaritans receives a call stating that a bomb will go off on “Main Street” about 200 yards (180 m) from the courthouse. The recipients pass the information on to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), but are claimed to be inaccurate and police inadvertently move people towards the bomb.

The car bomb detonates at 3:10 PM in the crowded shopping area. The bombing kills 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins, and injures some 220 others. Twenty-one people who are in the vicinity of the vehicle die at the scene. Eight more people die on the way to or in the hospital. The death toll is higher than that of any single incident during what are considered “the Troubles.”

The bombing causes outrage both locally and internationally, spurs on the Northern Ireland peace process, and deals a severe blow to the Dissident republican campaign. The Real IRA apologises and declares a ceasefire shortly afterwards. The victims include people from many backgrounds: Protestants, Catholics, a Mormon teenager, five other teenagers, six children, a mother pregnant with twins, two Spanish tourists, and others on a day trip from the Republic of Ireland. Both unionists and Irish nationalists are killed and injured.

It is alleged that the British, Irish and U.S. intelligence agencies have information which could have prevented the bombing, most of which comes from double agents inside the Real IRA. This information is not given to the local police, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). In 2008 it is revealed that British intelligence agency, Government Communications Headquarters, was monitoring conversations between the bombers as the bomb was being driven into Omagh.

A 2001 report by the Police Ombudsman says that the RUC Special Branch failed to act on prior warnings and slammed the RUC’s investigation of the bombing. The RUC has obtained circumstantial and coincidental evidence against some suspects, but it has not come up with anything to convict anyone of the bombing. Colm Murphy is tried, convicted, and then released after it is revealed that Garda Síochána forged interview notes used in the case. Murphy’s nephew, Sean Hoey, is also tried and found not guilty.

In June 2009, the victims’ families win a GB£1.6 million civil action against four defendants. In April 2014, Seamus Daly is charged with the murders of those killed, however, the case against him is withdrawn in February 2016.


Leave a comment

The Hyde Park and Regent’s Park Bombings

The Hyde Park and Regent’s Park bombings occur on July 20, 1982 in London. Members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonate two bombs during British military ceremonies in Hyde Park and Regent’s Park, both in Central London.

At 10:40 AM, a nail bomb explodes in the boot of a blue Morris Marina parked on South Carriage Drive in Hyde Park. The bomb comprises 25 lbs. of gelignite and 30 lbs. of nails. It explodes as soldiers of the Household Cavalry, Queen Elizabeth II‘s official bodyguard regiment, are passing. They are taking part in their daily Changing of the Guard procession from their barracks in Knightsbridge to Horse Guards Parade. Three soldiers of the Blues & Royals are killed outright, and another, their standard-bearer, dies from his wounds three days later. The other soldiers in the procession are badly wounded, and a number of civilians were injured. Seven of the regiment’s horses are also killed or had to be euthanised because of their injuries. Explosives experts believe that the Hyde Park bomb is triggered by remote by an IRA member inside the park.

The second attack happens at about 12:55 PM, when a bomb explodes underneath a bandstand in Regent’s Park. Thirty Military bandsmen of the Royal Green Jackets are on the stand performing music from Oliver! to a crowd of 120 people. It is the first in a series of advertised lunchtime concerts there. Six of the bandsmen are killed outright and the rest are wounded. A seventh dies of his wounds on August 1. At least eight civilians are also injured. The bomb had been hidden under the stand some time before and triggered by a timer. Unlike the Hyde Park bomb, it contains no nails and seems to be designed to cause minimal harm to bystanders.

A total of 22 people are detained in hospital as a result of the blasts. The IRA claims responsibility for the attacks by deliberately mirroring Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher‘s words a few months before when Britain entered the Falklands War. They proclaimed that “The Irish people have sovereign and national rights which no task or occupational force can put down.” Reacting to the bombing, Thatcher states, “These callous and cowardly crimes have been committed by evil, brutal men who know nothing of democracy. We shall not rest until they are brought to justice.” The bombings have a negative impact on public support in the United States for the Irish republican cause.

In October 1987, 27-year-old Gilbert “Danny” McNamee, from County Armagh, is sentenced at the Old Bailey to 25 years in prison for his role in the Hyde Park bombing and others, despite his plea that he is not guilty. He is released from HM Prison Maze in late 1998 under the Good Friday Agreement.

On May 19, 2013, 61-year-old John Anthony Downey, from County Donegal, is charged with murder in relation to the Hyde Park bomb and intending to cause an explosion likely to endanger life. He appears at the Old Bailey on January 24, 2014 for the beginning of his trial and enters a not guilty plea. On February 25, 2014, it is revealed that Downey’s trial has collapsed after the presiding judge has ruled upon a letter sent by the Police Service of Northern Ireland to Downey in 2007, assuring him that he would not face criminal charges over the attack. Although the assurance is made in error and the police realise the mistake, it is never withdrawn, and the judge rules that therefore the defendant has been misled and prosecuting him would be an abuse of executive power. Downey is one of 187 IRA suspects who receive secret on-the-run letters guaranteeing them unofficial immunity from prosecution.

A memorial marks the spot of the Hyde Park bombing and the troop honours it daily with an eyes-left and salute with drawn swords. A plaque commemorating the victims of the second attack also stands in Regent’s Park.


Leave a comment

Sinn Féin Votes to Accept the Good Friday Agreement

Members of Sinn Féin, the political wing of the republican Irish Republican Army (IRA), vote to accept the Good Friday Agreement on May 10, 1998 effectively acknowledging the north-south border. This marks a major shift in modern republicanism as, up until now, Sinn Féin has regarded participation in a Northern Ireland body as a tacit acceptance of partition.

The agreement comes at the party’s annual conference, which includes about thirty IRA prisoners granted special leave in order to vote.

The British and Irish governments welcome the decision to formally approve the peace agreement signed at Stormont in April to create the Northern Ireland Assembly and new cross-border institutions. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says he now looks forward to an overwhelming “yes” vote in referendums on the deal later in the month. The British government praises Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams saying the decision marks a final realisation that violence does not pay.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Mo Mowlam expresses her delight at the outcome, “I recognise how significant this decision is for republicans and pay tribute to the leadership of Gerry Adams in bringing his party to support the agreement, north and south of the border.” In what she describes as an “exceptional decision,” the IRA’s commanding officer, Patrick Wilson, who is confined in HM Prison Maze, is among the 30 republican inmates freed for the conference in an effort to bring about a “Yes” vote.

Sinn Féin also votes to amend its constitution to allow members to sit in a new Northern Ireland Assembly after Adams tells his members they have a real chance to influence the strategy of the party and the way towards a united Ireland.

Martin McGuinness, one of Sinn Féin’s UK Members of Parliament (MP), tells the BBC he is optimistic about achieving a “Yes” vote in the referendum due to be held on May 22. “I think there are concerns naturally among a small section of the Sinn Féin membership, but I have to say I think the mood all over the island is that moving into the assembly to further our republican objectives towards our ultimate goal of a united Ireland is at this moment in time the sensible thing to do,” he says.

(Pictured: Sinn Féin MP Martin McGuinness and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams)


Leave a comment

Bobby Sands Dies on Hunger Strike

Robert Gerard Sands, commonly known as Bobby Sands, Irish nationalist and member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, dies on hunger strike while imprisoned at Long Kesh Prison on May 5, 1981.

Born in Belfast on March 9, 1954, 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 a large 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 Long Kesh Prison, 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.


Leave a comment

Ahern & Blair Conduct Talks at Hillsborough Castle

ahern-blair-hillsboroughTaoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair conduct talks at Hillsborough Castle on March 3, 2003, in the latest bid to salvage the floundering Good Friday Agreement. The negotiations last eight hours.

This meeting is very important, as it is Tony Blair’s last chance at intensive negotiation before his attention is totally caught up in the Iraq War. Progress cannot afford to slip further as the Stormont Assembly election has to be formally declared by March 21 if it is to take place as scheduled on May 1.

David Trimble, representing the unionists, has said the Irish Republican Army (IRA) must “go out of business” before his party will re-enter a coalition government with Sinn Fein. In late 2002, he uses the word “disbandment” but he is now careful to avoid being overly prescriptive.

He wants visible, verifiable decommissioning to restore unionist confidence, severely damaged by the IRA spy ring allegations which led to the collapse of devolution in October 2002. Trimble is also urging sanctions to punish republican politicians if the Provisionals renege.

The key demands of the republicans are demilitarisation, guarantees that unionists cannot pull down the Stormont Assembly again, devolution of policing and criminal justice, further police reforms, and a dispensation for 30-40 fugitive IRA members to go back to Northern Ireland without prosecution.

Republicans insist discussions must not revolve around getting rid of the IRA. They prefer to interpret the prime minister’s talk of “acts of completion” as an admission of failure to implement his obligations under the Good Friday Agreement, shortcomings they outlined in a 57-page dossier handed in to Downing Street.

Tony Blair claims he does not want to get involved in a bartering game – but in fact the government is prepared make major moves in return for IRA concessions. The prime minister is offering a radical three-year plan to withdraw 5,000 of the 13,000 soldiers in Northern Ireland and tear down a large number of border watchtowers and military bases.

Sinn Fein wants written guarantees on troop withdrawal and police reform, criminal justice and on-the-run terrorists. But important details need ironing out.

Policing and the return of fugitive paramilitaries are extremely sensitive issues for both republicans and unionists. A balance must be struck so that on-the-runs, mostly republican, are freed on licence after some sort of judicial process but not given amnesty, unacceptable to unionists.

Government sources claim Sinn Fein is poised to join the policing board, endorsing the police service for the first time, but this too will require delicate handling to ensure unionists don’t walk away.

One British government source states, “Everybody knows what has to be done, the question is if the will is there to achieve it. One of the problems is no one is absolutely clear what the IRA is prepared to do.”


Leave a comment

The Government of Ireland Act 1920 Becomes Law

government-of-ireland-act-1920The Government of Ireland Act 1920, an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom also known as the Fourth Home Rule Bill, becomes law on December 23, 1920.

The Act is intended to establish separate Home Rule institutions within two new territories of Ireland – the six northeastern counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, and Tyrone are to form “Northern Ireland,” while the remaining 26 counties of the country are to form “Southern Ireland.” Each territory is to be self-governing, except in areas specifically reserved to the Parliament of the United Kingdom such as defence, foreign affairs, international trade, and currency. Provision is made for their future reunification under common Home Rule institutions.

Home Rule never takes effect in Southern Ireland due to the Irish War of Independence, which results instead in the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the establishment in 1922 of the Irish Free State. However, the institutions set up under this Act for Northern Ireland continue to function until they are suspended by the British parliament in 1972 as a consequence of the Troubles.

The final provisions of the 1920 Act remaining in force are repealed under the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, after the Good Friday Agreement. In the republic, the Statute Law Revision Act 2007 repeals the Act almost 85 years after Constitution of the Irish Free State replaced it as the basic constitutional law.


Leave a comment

The Sunningdale Agreement

council-of-irelandThe Sunningdale Agreement, an attempt to establish a power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive and a cross-border Council of Ireland, is signed at Sunningdale Park in Sunningdale, Berkshire, England on December 9, 1973. Unionist opposition, violence, and a loyalist general strike causes the collapse of the Agreement in May 1974.

On March 20, 1973, the British government publishes a white paper which proposes a 78-member Northern Ireland Assembly, to be elected by proportional representation. The British government would retain control over law, order and finance, while a Council of Ireland composed of members of the executive of the Republic of Ireland, the Dáil Éireann, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly would act in a consultative role.

The Northern Ireland Assembly Bill resulting from the White paper becomes law on May 3, 1973, and elections for the new assembly are held on June 28. Republicans boycott the elections and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) continued its campaign of opposition throughout the outcome.

After the Assembly elections, negotiations between the pro-White Paper parties on the formation of a “power-sharing Executive” begin. The main concerns are internment, policing, and the question of a Council of Ireland. On November 21, an agreement is reached on a voluntary coalition of pro-agreement parties. This new power-sharing Executive take up office and have its very first meeting on January 1, 1974. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) is deeply divided – its Standing Committee votes to participate in the executive by a margin of only 132 to 105.

Provisions for a Council of Ireland exist in the Government of Ireland Act 1920, but these have never been enacted. Unionists resent the idea of any “interference” by the Republic of Ireland in their newly established region. In 1973, after agreement has been reached on the formation of an executive, agreement is sought to re-establish a Council of Ireland to stimulate co-operation with the Republic of Ireland. Talks are held between December 6-9 in the Berkshire town of Sunningdale between the British Prime Minister Edward Heath, the Irish Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and the three pro-agreement parties. On December 9, a communiqué announcing the agreement is issued, which later becomes known as the “Sunningdale Agreement.”

On December 10, the day after the agreement is announced, loyalist paramilitaries form the Ulster Army Council, a coalition of loyalist paramilitary groups, including the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Volunteer Force, which oppose the agreement.

In January 1974, the Ulster Unionist Party narrowly votes against continued participation in the Assembly and Brian Faulkner resigns as leader. He is succeeded by the anti-Sunningdale Harry West. In March 1974, pro-agreement unionists withdraw their support for the agreement, calling for the Republic of Ireland to remove the Articles 2 and 3 of its constitution first. These Articles are not revised until the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

Following the defeat of a motion condemning power-sharing in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Ulster Workers’ Council, a loyalist organisation, calls a general strike for May 15. After two weeks of barricades, shortages, rioting, and intimidation, Faulkner resigns as chief executive and the Sunningdale Agreement collapses on May 28, 1974.

(Pictured: Unionist Party leader and designated leader of Ulster’s new executive, Brian Faulkner, sits with SDLP leader Gerry Fitt and John Hume, during talks at Sunningdale, Berkshire, to establish a Council of Ireland.)