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 Mairéad Farrell, Provisional IRA Member

mairead-farrellMairéad Farrell, member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Belfast on March 3, 1957. She is shot dead by the British Army in Gibraltar on March 6, 1988.

Farrell is born into a middle-class family with no link to militant Irish republicanism other than a grandfather who had been interned during the Irish War for Independence. She is educated at Rathmore Grammar School, Belfast. At the age of 14 she is recruited into the Provisional IRA by Bobby Storey. After leaving school at the age of 18, she is hired as a clerical worker for an insurance broker’s office.

On March 1, 1976, the British government revokes Special Category Status for prisoners convicted from this date under anti-terrorism legislation. In response, the IRA instigates a wave of bombings and shootings across Northern Ireland and younger members such as Farrell are asked to participate. On April 5, 1976, along with Kieran Doherty and Sean McDermott, she attempts to plant a bomb at the Conway Hotel in Dunmurry, as that hotel had often been used by British soldiers on temporary duty in Northern Ireland. She is arrested by Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers within an hour of planting the bomb. McDermott, her boyfriend, is shot dead by a RUC reservist at a nearby housing estate.

At her trial, Farrell refuses to recognise the court as it is an institution of the British state. She is sentenced to fourteen years in prison for explosives offences, firearms offences, and belonging to an illegal organisation.

When Farrell arrives at Armagh Prison, she refuses to wear a prison uniform in protest at the designation of republican prisoners as criminals and becomes the official Officer Commanding of the female IRA prisoners. After 13 months, she, along with Mary Doyle and Mairead Nugent, begin a hunger strike to coincide with the one already taking place in Long Kesh Prison. It ends on December 19, a day after the men’s strike. In March 1981 the prisoners’ rights campaign is focused on the hunger strike being undertaken by Bobby Sands, leader of IRA prisoners in the H-Blocks. She was one of the H-Block/Armagh prisoners to stand for election in the Republic of Ireland in the 1981 Irish general election, standing in Cork North-Central and polling 2,751 votes (6.05%).[17]

Upon her release from prison in October 1986, Farrell enrolls at Queen’s University, Belfast for a course in Political Science and Economics. However, she drops out to re-engage in IRA activity. The IRA sends her with Seán Savage and Daniel McCann to the British overseas territory of Gibraltar to plant a car bomb in a heavily populated town area. The target is the band and guard of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment during a weekly ceremonial changing of the guard in front of Governors’ residence, on March 8, 1988. According to interrogated IRA members, Gibraltar is selected as a target because it is a British possession that is in dispute, and that it is an area with lighter security measures than had become endemic at British military installations elsewhere due to the IRA’s campaign.

The British Government’s domestic intelligence service MI5 becomes aware of their plan and a detachment from the British Army is specifically deployed to Gibraltar to intercept the IRA team and prevent the attack. Farrell, Savage and McCann are confronted by plainclothes soldiers from the Special Air Service regiment while they are engaged in a reconnaissance in Gibraltar pending the delivery of the car bomb. Farrell is shot three times in the back and once in the face. Her two accomplices are also killed in an operation code-named Operation Flavius by the British Government. Some witnesses to the shooting state that Farrell and McCann were shot while attempting to surrender, and while lying wounded on the ground. The three IRA members are all found afterwards to be unarmed.

Keys to a hire car found in Farrell’s handbag lead the Spanish Police to the discovery across the border in Spain of five packages totaling 84 kg of Semtex explosive in a car which the IRA team intended to subsequently drive into Gibraltar for the attack. These packages have four separate detonators attached. Around this is packed 200 rounds of ammunition as shrapnel. There are two timers but they were not primed or connected.

At the funeral of the ‘Gibraltar Three’ on March 16, three mourners are killed in a gun and grenade attack by loyalist paramilitary Michael Stone in the Milltown Cemetery attack.


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Birth of Cyril Falls, Military Historian & Journalist

cyril-bentham-fallsCyril Bentham Falls, British military historian, journalist and academic, noted for his works on World War I, is born in Dublin on March 2, 1888.

Falls is the eldest son of Sir Charles Falls, an Ulster landowner in County Tyrone. He receives his formal education at the Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, and the University of London. At the age of 27 he publishes his first book, Rudyard Kipling: A Critical Study (1915).

During World War I Falls receives a commission into the British Army as a subaltern in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He serves as a Staff Officer in the Head Quarters of the 36th (Ulster) Division and the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division during the conflict. He receives the French Croix de guerre and is discharged from the British Armed Forces with the rank of Captain.

Immediately after leaving the British Army Falls writes a history of one of the Divisions that he had served with during the war, entitled The History of the 36th (Ulster) Division, which is published in 1922.

From 1923 to 1939 Falls is employed by the Historical Section of the United Kingdom Government‘s Committee of Imperial Defence, researching and writing the text of several volumes of the British Government’s official History of the Great War. He serves as the military correspondent for The Times during World War II from 1939 to 1945.

Falls holds the post of Chichele Professor of Military History at All Souls College, Oxford from 1946 to 1953. From the late 1940s through to the end of his life in the early 1970s he is a productive writer of military histories, publishing in-depth detailed studies as well as general works for the commercial market, his final two titles being published posthumously.

The historian Sir Michael Howard later describes Falls’ work The History of the 36th (Ulster) Division (1922) as “containing some of the finest descriptions of conditions on the Western Front to be found anywhere in the literature of the war.”

Cyril Falls dies at the age of 84 in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, on April 23, 1971.


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The Clive Barracks Bombing

clive-barracks-bombingThe Clive Barracks bombing, a bomb attack carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army on a British Army barracks at Ternhill, Shropshire, takes place on February 20, 1989. The attack injures two soldiers from the Parachute Regiment and destroys a large part of the barracks.

The IRA intensifies their campaign outside of Northern Ireland in 1988. In May 1988 the IRA enjoys one of their most successful ambushes on British Military figures in mainland Europe with attacks in the Netherlands where they kill three and injured three Royal Air Force soldiers. Four months later in August 1988, the Provisional IRA carries out the Inglis Barracks bombing, which kills one British soldier and injures ten others. It is the first IRA attack in England since the infamous Brighton hotel bombing in October 1984.

On Monday, February 20, 1989, the Provisional IRA explodes two bombs at Clive Barracks at Ternhill. Only two of the planned three bombs are primed and ready to explode when the two IRA members, both of whom are wearing combat jackets, are spotted and approached by a sentry, Lance-Corporal Alan Norris, who raises the alarm. They throw the third bomb, which was inside a backpack, at him and run to a car they had stolen earlier and drive away. Soldiers fire three rounds at the IRA members as they are fleeing but no shots hit their target.

The bombs explode about ten minutes after the IRA men escape. Even though nobody is killed in the attack, the explosions causes large damage to the barracks. The alarm sounded by Norris gives about fifty British soldiers a chance to escape almost certain death. Only two soldiers are injured, one being hit by flying glass the other with only minor injuries.

The IRA claims responsibility for the bombings and British police believe IRA fugitive Patrick Sheehy is the main operator in the attack. The IRA issues a statement saying, “While Britain maintains its colonial grip on the north of Ireland, the IRA will continue to strike at those who oversee and implement British Government policy in our country.”

Five months later, in July 1989, the IRA kills a British soldier in Hanover, West Germany when they place a booby trap IED under his car. On September 7 the IRA mistakenly shoots dead Heidi Hazell, the German wife of a British soldier, in a hail of bullets in Dortmund. In the climax of the England and European campaign by the IRA is the Deal barracks bombing in which the IRA kills eleven Royal Marines and seriously injures 22 others. It is the highest death toll from an operation in England in seven years since the Hyde Park and Regent’s Park bombings on September 22, 1982, which kill 11 soldiers and injured more than fifty.


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Birth of Seán Mac Stíofáin, Irish Republican Army Commander

sean-mac-stiofainSeán Mac Stíofáin, Irish Republican Army (IRA) commander and a founding member of the Provisional IRA and its first chief of staff, is born in Leytonstone, London on February 17, 1928.

Mac Stíofáin is born John Stephenson, the son of Protestant parents. He claims Irish ancestry on his mother’s side although the validity of this is uncertain. He leaves school at sixteen, working as a labourer and converting to Catholicism. He also serves in the Royal Air Force during World War II, working as a storeman. After the war, he becomes involved and obsessed with Irish republicanism. He joins the Irish Republican Army in 1949 and helps organise an IRA unit in London.

In 1953, Stephenson leads a raid that steals rifles and mortars from a cadet school armoury in Essex. He is stopped randomly by police, arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison. He serves more than three years behind bars, using this time to learn Irish Gaelic. Released in 1956, he marries an Irish woman, moves to Dublin and changes his name to Seán Mac Stíofáin, the Gaelic form of his birth name.

Mac Stíofáin gradually ascends through the ranks of the IRA, becoming its director of intelligence. The outbreak of the Troubles in 1969 opens up divisions in the IRA over strategy and tactics. While Cathal Goulding and other leaders want to use violence carefully, Mac Stíofáin and his supporters urge open warfare with the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).

In August 1969, Mac Stíofáin leads a raid on the RUC station at Crossmaglen, in defiance of IRA orders. In December, he and four others form a Provisional Army Council. This splinter group becomes the nucleus of the Provisional IRA.

Mac Stíofáin becomes the Provisional IRA’s first chief of staff. He also oversees its rearming and the escalation of its military campaign in Northern Ireland. In July 1972, he represents the Provisional IRA in secret talks with the British government in London. When these talks collapse he orders an increase in Provisional IRA operations, beginning with the mass bombing of Belfast on July 21, 1972.

Mac Stíofáin remains in charge until November 1972, when a controversial television interview leads to his arrest, imprisonment and removal from the Provisional IRA leadership. He is released the following year but is no longer prominent in the Provisional IRA. He spends the rest of the 1970s working for a Sinn Féin newspaper.

Mac Stíofáin died on May 18, 2001 in Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan, County Meath, after a long illness. He is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Navan. His funeral is attended by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness.


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Publication of the First Issue of “The United Irishman”

john-mitchelJohn Mitchel, Irish nationalist activist, author, and political journalist, publishes the first issue of The United Irishman on February 12, 1848.

Mitchel is one of the great propagandists of his day, although the causes he espouses often place him on the wrong side, he is loved and loathed in equal measure. He is one of the few Irishmen to have incurred the wrath of the British government and of the Federal administration of the United States.

Mitchel is born near Dungiven, County Derry in what is now Northern Ireland on November 3, 1815. The son of a Presbyterian clergyman, he creates his own pulpit in a series of journalistic enterprises in Dublin, Tennessee, Virginia and New York.

Mostly raised in Newry, County Down, Mitchel’s first political association is with the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s and the famous The Nation newspaper, founded by Charles Gavan Duffy, Thomas Davis and John Blake Dillon in 1842. But long before the abortive Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848 he has moved on, finding the editorial policies of The Nation rather too bland for his tastes.

Inflamed by the suffering he witnesses on a trip to Galway, it is Mitchel, more than any other writer or politician, who shapes the nationalist perception of an Gorta Mór (Great Famine):

“I could see, in front of the cottages, little children leaning against a fence when the sun shone out for they could not stand, their limbs fleshless, their bodies half-naked, their faces bloated yet wrinkled, and of a pale, greenish hue… I saw Trevelyan’s claw in the vitals of those children: his red tape would draw them to death: in his government laboratory he had prepared for them the typhus poison.”

Responding to such writing, Ireland simmers, angry and ready for rebellion. Fearful of Mitchel’s power, London’s Punch magazine emphasises his international standing by portraying him as an Irish monkey challenging the Great British Lion. The Times thunders against him. When Mitchel produces his own republican newspaper, The United Irishman, which, in its inaugural edition, claims that “the world was weary of Old Ireland and also of Young Ireland” thus attacking both Daniel O’Connell and his younger antagonists with the same broadsword. He aims to be an equal opportunities offender and succeeds admirably.

The United Irishman sells out and is shut down by the British authorities after a mere sixteen issues. In order to silence Mitchel, to rob him of his heroic status and his possible martyrdom, the British government passes the Treason Felony Act 1848, which seeks to treat treason as a common crime. He is later tried before an elegantly and efficiently packed jury, found guilty of treason-felony, and deported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). The result is one of the greatest works of Irish political history, The Jail Journal, in which Mitchel writes about his own experience of deportation and advocates a far more militaristic approach to Ireland’s “English problem” than would have been popular heretofore.

Mitchel is acclaimed by Patrick Pearse, who declares The Jail Journal to be “the last of the four gospels of the new testament of Irish nationality, the last and the fieriest and the most sublime.” Éamon de Valera reveres Mitchel, and when in 1943 he imagines Ireland as “the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit,” he too is delving into The Jail Journal for his inspiration.

(From: #OTD in 1848 – John Mitchel Publishes First United Irishman, Stair na hÉireann | History of Ireland)


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Hanging of Peter Barnes & James Richards

peter-barnes-and-james-mccormackIrish Republican Army (IRA) volunteers Peter Barnes and James Richards are hanged in Winston Green Prison in Birmingham, England on February 7, 1940 for their involvement in a bombing in Coventry the previous year which killed five people.

Barnes and Richards (also known as James McCormack) are members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and participate in the August 25, 1939 Coventry bombing which kills five people. Although they both admit to constructing the bomb, which is intended to be used to destroy a power station, they claim not to be involved in planting the bomb.

Seán MacBride, a former Chief of Staff of the IRA and Irish barrister, attempts to secure their release claiming they are being illegally held without a writ of habeas corpus. However, both are charged with murder on December 12 along with Brigid O’Hara and Joseph and Mary Hewitt. All five plead not guilty before the court at Birmingham Assizes.

Brigid O’Hara issues statements between August 28 and September 4 to Scotland Yard and Birmingham City Police denying any knowledge of the bombings and later provides evidence for the prosecution. Found guilty of murder on December 15, Barnes and Richards are hanged at Winston Green Prison in Birmingham on February 7, 1940. Their remains are returned to Dublin in 1969.

The reinterment in Mullingar, County Westmeath is attended by an estimated 15,000 people. Mass is said in Irish in the Cathedral before the funeral to Ballyglass Cemetery. Among those attending are three brothers of Peter Barnes and a sister and brother of McCormack.

The trial and execution results in a public outcry in Ireland against Neville Chamberlain and the British Government as Peadar O’Donnell and other prominent Irish writers sign a petition campaigning for leniency towards the condemned men.