seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Patsy O’Hara, Republican Hunger Striker

patsy-o-haraPatsy O’Hara, Irish republican hunger striker and member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), is born on July 11, 1957 in Bishop Street, Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

O’Hara joins Na Fianna Éireann in 1970 and, in 1971, his brother Sean is interned in Long Kesh Prison. In late 1971, at the age of 14, he is shot and wounded by a soldier while manning a barricade. Due to his injuries, he is unable to attend the civil rights march on Bloody Sunday but watches it go by him in the Brandywell Stadium, and the events of the day have a lasting effect on him.

In October 1974, O’Hara is interned in Long Kesh Prison, and upon his release in April 1975 he joins the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) and INLA. He is arrested in Derry in June 1975 and held on remand for six months. In September 1976, he is arrested again and once more held on remand for four months.

On May 10, 1978, O’Hara is arrested on O’Connell Street in Dublin under section 30 of the Offences Against the State Act, and is released eighteen hours later. He returns to Derry in January 1979 and is active in the INLA. On May 14, 1979, he is arrested and is convicted of possessing a hand grenade. He is sentenced to eight years in prison in January 1980.

O’Hara becomes Officer Commanding of the INLA prisoners at the beginning of the first hunger strike in 1980, and he joins the 1981 strike on March 22.

On Thursday, May 21, 1981 at 11:29 PM, Patsy O’Hara dies after 61 days on hunger strike, at the age of 23. In accordance with his wishes, his parents do not get him the medical intervention needed to save his life. His corpse is found to be mysteriously disfigured prior to its departure from prison and before the funeral, including signs of his face being beaten, a broken nose, and cigarette burns on his body.

O’Hara’s mother, Peggy O’Hara, is a candidate in the 2007 Northern Ireland Assembly election in the Foyle constituency. She is not elected, but she is one of the more successful dissident republican candidates opposed to the new policy of the Sinn Féin leadership of working with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), and wins 1,789 votes. On the eve of the election, over 330 former republican prisoners write a letter to the Derry Journal endorsing her campaign.

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The Headford Ambush

headford-ambushThe Headford Ambush is carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on March 21, 1921, during the Irish War of Independence. The battle lasts almost an hour and fourteen people are killed – nine British soldiers, two IRA volunteers and three civilians.

The guerrilla war in County Kerry escalates rapidly in the spring of 1921. The county is occupied by the British Army, Auxiliary Division and Black and Tans paramilitary police, as well as the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). For the previous several months they have been burning suspected Republicans’ property and shooting suspected IRA sympathisers. By early 1921, they have begun rounding up male inhabitants of nearby towns and villages and searching for IRA suspects.

On January 23, in response to the IRA’s assassination of RIC District Inspector Sullivan, 1,000 soldiers and armed police surround Ballymacelligott, arrest 240 men and march them to Tralee for questioning. British forces, especially the Auxiliaries, also carry out a number of reprisal shootings of local civilians. The IRA sets up full-time guerrilla units, known as flying columns, to avoid arrest and to assemble units capable of taking on British patrols. IRA GHQ in Dublin also sends an organizer, Andy Cooney, to Kerry to oversee the setting up of flying columns. On March 2, under Cooney’s direction, the 2nd Kerry Brigade sets up its own flying column under Dan Allman and Tom McEllistrim. On March 5, McEllistrim leads 20 volunteers from the column to a successful ambush at Clonbanin, in which they co-operate with Cork IRA units, killing four British soldiers including Brigadier General Hanway Robert Cumming. Buoyed by their success in Cork, the 2nd Kerry Brigade tries on a number of occasions to ambush British forces in Kerry itself.

On March 21, an IRA party of the 2nd Kerry Brigade is billeted about four miles from the Headford railway junction when they hear that British troops are returning by train from Kenmare to Tralee. As the train does not go directly to Tralee, the British have to change trains at Headford, making them vulnerable to ambush. Allman, commanding 30 volunteers, reaches the junction only 12 minutes before the train, which is carrying 30 soldiers of the 1st Royal Fusiliers. The railway staff just has time to flee before the train pulls into the platform, where its passengers have to change trains for Tralee. Alongside the soldiers, the train is packed with cattle and pig farmers on their way back from the market in Kenmare. Most of the civilians have already got off when the British soldiers begin to disembark. Allman himself tries to disarm a Fusilier but shoots him when he resists. This is the signal for the IRA to open fire on the British troops.

One of the first British casualties is Lieutenant CE Adams DCM, who is shot dead when he appears at the carriage door, as are several other soldiers who are standing in front of the engine. The surviving British troops open fire from the train while those who have got off scramble underneath it for cover. In the ensuing close-quarter firefight, conducted at a range of just 20 yards, three civilians and two IRA volunteers, including Allman, are killed. Two-thirds of the British force is estimated to have been killed or wounded. Most of those killed are hit in the initial firing. Afterwards, the IRA gunmen have no direct field of fire into the troops who are hidden under the train.

MacEllistrim calls on the survivors to surrender and when they refuse, the IRA begins to move in to finish off those who keep shooting by throwing hand grenades under the train. Just as they are doing so, another train pulls into the junction carrying another party of British troops. The IRA column has used most of its ammunition and is forced to retreat, escaping toward the hills in the south.

(Pictured: British soldiers searching a train in County Kerry, 1921)