seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Jim Lynagh, Member of the East Tyrone Brigade, Provisional IRA

Jim Lynagh, member of the East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), one of twelve children, is born on the Tully Estate, a housing estate in the townland of Killygowan on the southern edge of Monaghan, County Monaghan, on April 13, 1956.

Lynagh joins the Provisional Irish Republican Army in the early 1970s. In December 1973 he is badly injured in a premature bomb explosion, arrested, and spends five years in the Maze Prison. While imprisoned, he studies and becomes a great admirer of Mao Zedong. After his release from prison in 1979 he is elected as a Sinn Féin councillor for Monaghan, and holds this position until he is killed.

After his release from prison Lynagh becomes active in the IRA again, active with the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade. He quickly becomes a unit commander and gradually builds up his ruthless reputation. After a series of Ulster loyalist attacks against Irish nationalist politicians in late 1980 and early 1981, he is suspected of involvement in an attack on the Stronge estate near Middletown, County Armagh, where the IRA murdered the retired Ulster Unionist Party Stormont speaker, Sir Norman Stronge, and his son James, a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer, before burning down their home, Tynan Abbey, and shooting their way out through a police cordon.

Lynagh is known as “The Executioner” by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He is arrested and interrogated many times by the Garda Síochána in County Monaghan but is never charged. During this period he devises a Maoist military strategy, aimed at escalating the war against the British state in Northern Ireland. The plan envisages the destruction of police stations and British Army military bases in parts of Northern Ireland to create “liberated” areas that will be thereby rendered under the domination of the IRA. In 1984 he starts co-operating with Pádraig McKearney who shares his views. The strategy begins materialising with the destruction of an RUC police station in Ballygawley in December 1985 which kills two police officers, and in The Birches in August 1986.

Lynagh is killed by the British Army’s Special Air Service on May 8, 1987 during an attack on the isolated rural part-time police station at the small County Armagh village of Loughgall, the third such attack that he had taken part in. During the incident the IRA detonates a 200-lb. bomb, and attacks the station with automatic weapons, and in the process are ambushed by the British Army which is lying in wait for them, having been forewarned of the IRA operation. All eight of the IRA attacking force are killed in the exchange of fire, the British forces involved incurring no fatalities. The incident subsequently becomes known as the Loughgall ambush.

At the time of his death, Lynagh is living in a flat on Dublin Street in Monaghan. He is buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery (Latlurcan Cemetery) in Monaghan. During his funeral, as his coffin is carried through the village of Emyvale, Irish Garda Síochána officers are attacked by the crowd of mourners after they pursue three gunmen who had fired a volley over his coffin.


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Birth of Bobby Storey, Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Robert “Bobby” Storey, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on April 11, 1956. Prior to an 18-year conviction for possessing a rifle, he also spends time on remand for a variety of charges and in total serves 20 years in prison. He also plays a key role in the Maze Prison escape, the biggest prison break in British penal history.

The family is originally from the Marrowbone area, on the Oldpark Road in North Belfast. The family has to move when Storey is very young due to Ulster loyalist attacks on the district, moving to Manor Street, an interface area also in North Belfast. His uncle is boxing trainer Gerry Storey and his father, also called Bobby, is involved in the defence of the area in the 1970s when Catholics are threatened by loyalists.

Storey is one of four children. He has two brothers, Seamus and Brian, and a sister Geraldine. Seamus and his father are arrested after a raid on their home which uncovers a rifle and a pistol. While his father is later released, Seamus is charged. He escapes from Crumlin Road Prison with eight other prisoners in 1971, and they are dubbed the Crumlin Kangaroos.

On his mother Peggy’s side of the family there is also a history of republicanism, but Storey says the dominant influences on him are the events happening around him. These include the McGurk’s Bar bombing in the New Lodge, some of those killed being people who knew his family, and also Bloody Sunday. This then leads to his attempts to join the IRA. He leaves school at fifteen and goes to work with his father selling fruit. At sixteen, he becomes a member of the IRA.

On April 11, 1973, his seventeenth birthday, Storey is interned and held at Long Kesh internment camp. He had been arrested 20 times prior to this but was too young for internment. In October 1974 he takes part in the protest at Long Kesh against living conditions where internees set fire to the “cages” in which they are being held. He is released from internment in May 1975. He is arrested on suspicion of a bombing at the Skyways Hotel in January 1976 and a kidnapping and murder in the Andersonstown district of Belfast in March 1976, but is acquitted by the judge at his trial. He is arrested leaving the courthouse and charged with a shooting-related incident. He is released after the case cannot be proven, only to be charged with shooting two soldiers in Turf Lodge. Those charges are dropped in December 1977. The same month he is arrested for the murder of a soldier in Turf Lodge, but the charges are again dropped. In 1978 he is charged in relation to the wounding of a soldier in Lenadoon, but is acquitted at trial due to errors in police procedure.

On December 14, 1979, he is arrested in Holland Park, London, with three other IRA volunteers including Gerard Tuite, and charged with conspiring to hijack a helicopter to help Brian Keenan escape from Brixton Prison. Tuite escapes from the same prison prior to the trial, and the other two IRA volunteers are convicted, but Storey is acquitted at the Old Bailey in April 1981. That August, after a soldier is shot, he is arrested in possession of a rifle and is convicted for the first time, being sentenced to eighteen years’ imprisonment.

Storey is one of the leaders of the Maze Prison escape in 1983, when 38 republican prisoners break out of the H-Blocks, the largest prison escape in British penal history and the largest peacetime prison escape in Europe. He is recaptured within an hour, and sentenced to an additional seven years imprisonment. Released in 1994, he is again arrested in 1996 and charged with having personal information about a British Army soldier, and Brian Hutton, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. At his trial at Crumlin Road Courthouse in July 1998, he is acquitted after his defence proves the personal information had previously been published in books and newspapers.

Having spent over twenty years in prison, much of it on remand, Storey’s final release is in 1998, and he again becomes involved in developing republican politics and strategy, eventually becoming the northern chairman of Sinn Féin.

On January 11, 2005, Ulster Unionist Member of Parliament for South Antrim David Burnside tells the British House of Commons under parliamentary privilege that Storey is head of intelligence for the IRA.

On September 9, 2015, Storey is arrested and held for two days in connection with the killing of former IRA volunteer Kevin McGuigan the previous month. He is subsequently released without any charges, and his solicitor John Finucane states Storey will be suing for unlawful arrest.

Storey dies in England on June 21, 2020 following an unsuccessful lung transplant surgery. Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald describes him as “a great republican” in her tribute. His funeral procession in Belfast on June 30 is attended by over 1,500 people including McDonald, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, and former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, but is criticised for breaking social distancing rules implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which, at the time operating in Northern Ireland, limited funeral numbers to no more than 30 mourners.

In the 2017 film Maze, dramatising the 1983 prison break, directed by Stephen Burke, Storey is portrayed by Irish actor Cillian O’Sullivan.


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The Milltown Cemetery Attack

The Milltown Cemetery attack takes place on March 16, 1988 at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast, Northern Ireland. During the large funeral of three Provisional Irish Republican Army members killed in Gibraltar, an Ulster Defence Association (UDA) member, Michael Stone, attacks the mourners with hand grenades and pistols.

On March 6, 1988, Provisional IRA members Daniel McCann, Seán Savage and Mairéad Farrell are shot dead by the Special Air Service (SAS) in Gibraltar, in Operation Flavius. The three had allegedly been preparing a bomb attack on British military personnel there, but the deaths outrage republicans as the three were unarmed and shot without warning. Their bodies arrive in Belfast on March 14 and are taken to their family homes. Tensions are high as the security forces flood the neighbourhoods where they had lived, to try to prevent public displays honouring the dead. For years, republicans have complained about heavy-handed policing of IRA funerals, which have led to violence. In a change from normal procedure, the security forces agree to stay away from the funeral in exchange for guarantees that there will be no three-volley salute by IRA gunmen. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) will instead keep watch from the sidelines. This decision is not made public.

Michael Stone is a loyalist, a member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) who had been involved in several killings and other attacks, and who describes himself as a “freelance loyalist paramilitary.” He learns that there will be little security force presence at the funerals, and plans “to take out the Sinn Féin and IRA leadership at the graveside.” He says his attack is retaliation for the Remembrance Day bombing four months earlier, when eleven Protestants had been killed by an IRA bomb at a Remembrance Sunday ceremony. He claims that he and other UDA members considered planting bombs in the graveyard, but abandon the plan because the bombs might miss the republican leaders.

The funeral service and Requiem Mass go ahead as planned, and the cortege makes its way to Milltown Cemetery, off the Falls Road. Present are thousands of mourners and top members of the IRA and Sinn Féin, including Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Two RUC helicopters hover overhead. Stone claims that he entered the graveyard through the front gate with the mourners and mingled with the large crowd, although one witness claims to have seen him enter from the M1 motorway with three other people.

As the third coffin is about to be lowered into the ground, Stone throws two grenades, which have a seven-second delay, toward the republican plot and begins shooting. The first grenade explodes near the crowd and about 20 yards from the grave. There is panic and confusion, and people dive for cover behind gravestones. Stone begins jogging toward the motorway, several hundred yards away, chased by dozens of men and youths. He periodically stops to shoot and throw grenades at his pursuers.

Three people are killed while pursuing Stone – Catholic civilians Thomas McErlean (20) and John Murray (26), and IRA member Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh (30), also known as Kevin Brady. During the attack, about 60 people are wounded by bullets, grenade shrapnel and fragments of marble and stone from gravestones. Among those wounded is a pregnant mother of four, a 72-year-old grandmother and a ten-year-old boy. Some fellow loyalists say that Stone made the mistake of throwing his grenades too soon. The death toll would likely have been much higher had the grenades exploded in mid-air, “raining lethal shrapnel over a wide area.”

A white van that had been parked on the hard shoulder of the motorway suddenly drives off as Stone flees from the angry crowd. There is speculation that the van is part of the attack, but the RUC says it was part of a police patrol, and that the officers sped off because they feared for their lives. Stone says he had arranged for a getaway car, driven by a UDA member, to pick him up on the hard shoulder of the motorway, but the driver allegedly “panicked and left.” By the time he reaches the motorway, he has seemingly run out of ammunition. He runs out onto the road and tries to stop cars, but is caught by the crowd, beaten, and bundled into a hijacked vehicle. Armed RUC officers in Land Rovers quickly arrive, “almost certainly saving his life.” They arrest him and take him to Musgrave Park Hospital for treatment of his injuries. The whole event is recorded by television news cameras.

That evening, angry youths in republican districts burn hijacked vehicles and attack the RUC. Immediately after the attack, the two main loyalist paramilitary groups—the UDA and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)—deny responsibility. Sinn Féin and others “claimed that there must have been collusion with the security forces, because only a small number of people knew in advance of the reduced police presence at the funerals.”

Three days later, during the funeral of one of Stone’s victims, Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh, two British Army corporals, Derek Wood and David Howes, in civilian clothes and in a civilian car drive into the path of the funeral cortège, apparently by mistake. Many of those present believe the soldiers are loyalists intent on repeating Stone’s attack. An angry crowd surrounds and attacks their car. Corporal Wood draws his service pistol and fires a shot into the air. The two men are then dragged from the car before being taken away, beaten and shot dead by the IRA. The incident is often referred to as the corporals killings and, like the attack at Milltown, much of it is filmed by television news cameras.

In March 1989, Stone is convicted for the three murders at Milltown, for three paramilitary murders before, and for other offences, receiving sentences totaling 682 years. Many hardline loyalists see him as a hero and he becomes a loyalist icon. After his conviction, an issue of the UDA magazine Ulster is devoted to Stone, stating that he “stood bravely in the middle of rebel scum and let them have it.” Apart from time on remand spent in Crumlin Road Gaol, he spends all of his sentence in HM Prison Maze. He is released after serving 13 years as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.

In November 2006, Stone is charged with attempted murder of Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, having been arrested attempting to enter the Parliament Buildings at Stormont while armed. He is subsequently convicted and sentenced to a further 16 years imprisonment. He is released on parole in 2021.


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The Moira Car Bomb Attack

Eleven people are injured when a car bomb rocks the centre of Moira, County Down, on the evening of February 20, 1998. The injured include seven Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers, one a policewoman, and four civilians. The RUC Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan, who visits the scene the following morning, says that a warning was issued by a man with a “southern” accent in calls to the Maze and Maghaberry prisons. He adds that a vehicle, possibly the getaway car, was discovered on the southern route of the M1 motorway, suggesting that the attack may have come from south of the Border.

While unionist politicians blame the Irish Republican Army (IRA), this also suggests that the attack could have been the work of the Continuity IRA.

The car bomb, estimated at 500 lbs., is planted outside the local RUC station and explodes at approximately 11:40 PM, about ten minutes after the warnings are issued. Houses and pubs in the vicinity of the RUC station are evacuated. Local people described the explosion as “huge” and “massive.”

The attack comes just hours after Sinn Féin is expelled from the talks about the future of the province by the British Government because of recent IRA killings. By the following morning, no organisation has admitted responsibility for the bombing.

There are reports of the explosion being heard 20 miles away from Moira, which is a picturesque village about 20 miles west of Belfast.

The injured are rushed to Craigavon Area Hospital. None of the injuries are believed to be critical. Flanagan says the damage caused to the local RUC station is significant. A number of nearby houses are also extensively damaged. “One house was virtually demolished in the explosion,” says a police source.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) justice spokesman, Ian Paisley, Jr., who lives nearby, believes that the bomb is initially intended for a specific target in the nearby town of Lisburn, but because of heavy policing the bombers set off the device instead in Moira. “I lay the blame completely at the door of the Provisional IRA,” he says.

In December 2013, a 43-year-old man is arrested in Moy, County Tyrone, and questioned about the attack, but is later released unconditionally. A 47-year-old man is arrested in Dungannon, County Tyrone, on May 7, 2014. He is taken to Antrim police station for questioning but is also released unconditionally.

(From: “11 injured in bomb blast in Co Down,” by Gerry Moriarty, The Irish Times, http://www.irishtimes.com, February 21, 1998)


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Birth of Joe Doherty, Former Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Joe Doherty, former volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born on January 20, 1955 in New Lodge, Belfast.

The son of a docker, Doherty is born into an Irish republican family, his grandfather being a member of the Irish Citizen Army which fought against British rule in the 1916 Easter Rising. Doherty leaves school at the age of 14 and begins work on the docks and as an apprentice plumber, before being arrested in 1972 on his seventeenth birthday under the Special Powers Act. He is interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone and at Long Kesh Detention Centre, and while interned hears of the events of Bloody Sunday in Derry, where 14 civil rights protesters were shot dead by the British Army. This leads to him joining the IRA after he is released in June 1972. In the mid-1970s he is convicted of possession of explosives and sentenced to six years imprisonment in Long Kesh. He is released in December 1979.

After his release, Doherty becomes part of a four-man active service unit nicknamed the “M60 gang” due to their use of an M60 heavy machine gun, along with Angelo Fusco and Paul Magee. On April 9, 1980 the unit lures the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) into an ambush on Stewartstown Road, killing one constable and wounding two others. On May 2 the unit is planning another attack and has taken over a house on Antrim Road, when an eight-man patrol from the Special Air Service (SAS) arrive in plain clothes, after being alerted by the RUC. A car carrying three SAS members goes to the rear of the house, and another car carrying five SAS members arrives at the front of the house. As the SAS members at the front of the house exit the car, the IRA unit opens fire with the M60 machine gun from an upstairs window, hitting Captain Herbert Westmacott in the head and shoulder. Westmacott, who is killed instantly, is the highest-ranking member of the SAS killed in Northern Ireland. The remaining SAS members at the front, armed with Colt Commando automatic rifles, submachine guns and Browning pistols, return fire but are forced to withdraw. Magee is apprehended by the SAS members at the rear of the house while attempting to prepare the IRA unit’s escape in a transit van, while the other three IRA members remain inside the house. More members of the security forces are deployed to the scene and, after a brief siege, the remaining members of the IRA unit surrender.

The trial of Doherty and the other members of the M60 gang begins in early May 1981, on charges including three counts of murder. On June 10, Doherty and seven other prisoners, including Angelo Fusco and the other members of the IRA unit, take a prison officer hostage at gunpoint in Crumlin Road Gaol. After locking the officer in a cell, the eight take other officers and visiting solicitors hostage, also locking them in cells after taking their clothing. Two of the eight wear officers’ uniforms while a third wears clothing taken from a solicitor, and the group moves towards the first of three gates separating them from the outside world. They take the officer on duty at the gate hostage at gunpoint, and force him to open the inner gate. An officer at the second gate recognises one of the prisoners and runs into an office and presses an alarm button, and the prisoners run through the second gate towards the outer gate. An officer at the outer gate tries to prevent the escape but is attacked by the prisoners, who escape onto Crumlin Road. As the prisoners are moving towards the car park where two cars are waiting, an unmarked RUC car pulls up across the street outside Crumlin Road Courthouse. The RUC officers open fire and the prisoners return fire before escaping in the waiting cars. Two days after the escape, Doherty is convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum recommended term of thirty years.

Doherty escapes across the border into the Republic of Ireland, and then travels to the United States on a false passport. He lives with an American girlfriend in Brooklyn and New Jersey, working on construction sites and as a bartender at Clancy’s Bar in Manhattan, where he is arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on June 28, 1983. He is imprisoned in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, and a legal battle ensues with the British government seeking to extradite him back to Northern Ireland. Doherty claims he is immune from extradition as the killing of Westmacott was a political act, and in 1985 federal judge John E. Sprizzo rules Doherty cannot be extradited as the killing was a “political offense.” His legal battle continues as the United States Department of Justice then attempts to deport him for entering the country illegally.

Doherty remains in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center and attempts to claim political asylum, and June 15, 1988 the United States Attorney General Edwin Meese overturns an earlier ruling by the Federal Board of Immigration Appeals that Doherty can be deported to the Republic of Ireland, and orders his deportation to Northern Ireland. In February 1989 new Attorney General Dick Thornburgh chooses not to support the decision made by his predecessor, and asks lawyers for Doherty and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to submit arguments for a review of the decision and Doherty’s claim for asylum. By this time Doherty’s case is a cause célèbre with his sympathisers including over 130 Congressmen and a son of then President of the United States George H. W. Bush, and in 1990 a street corner near the Metropolitan Correctional Center is named after him.

In August 1991, Doherty is transferred to a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and on January 16, 1992 the Supreme Court of the United States overturns a 1990 Federal Appeals Court ruling by a 5-to-3 decision, paving the way for his deportation. On February 19, 1992 he is deported to Northern Ireland, despite pleas to delay the deportation from members of Congress, Mayor of New York City David Dinkins, and the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, John Joseph O’Connor. He is returned to Crumlin Road Gaol before being transferred to HM Prison Maze, and is released from prison on November 6, 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. After his release he becomes a community worker specialising in helping disadvantaged young people. In 2006, he appears in the BBC television show Facing the Truth opposite the relatives of a soldier killed in the Warrenpoint ambush.


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The Maze Prison Escape

The Maze Prison escape, known to Irish republicans as the Great Escape, takes place on September 25, 1983 in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. HM Prison Maze, also known as Long Kesh, is a maximum security prison considered to be one of the most escape-proof prisons in Europe, and holds prisoners suspected of taking part in armed paramilitary campaigns during the Troubles. In the biggest prison escape in UK history, 38 Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners escaped from H-Block 7 (H7) of the prison. One prison officer dies of a heart attack during the escape and twenty others are injured, including two who are shot with guns that had been smuggled into the prison. The escape is a propaganda coup for the IRA, and a British government minister faces calls to resign. The official inquiry into the escape places most of the blame onto prison staff, who in turn blame the escape on political interference in the running of the prison.

IRA volunteers regard themselves as prisoners of war with a duty to escape. During the Troubles, Irish republican prisoners escape from custody en masse on several occasions between 1971 and 1981.

Prisoners had been planning the 1983 escape for several months. Bobby Storey and Gerry Kelly start working as orderlies in H7, which allows them to identify weaknesses in the security systems. Six handguns are also smuggled into the prison. Shortly after 2:30 PM on September 25, prisoners seize control of H7 by simultaneously taking the prison officers hostage at gunpoint in order to prevent them from triggering an alarm. One officer is stabbed with a craft knife, and another is knocked down by a blow to the back of the head. One officer who attempts to prevent the escape is shot in the head by Gerry Kelly, but survives. By 2:50 PM the prisoners are in control of H7 without an alarm being raised. A dozen prisoners also take uniforms from the officers, and the officers are forced to hand over their car keys and details of where their cars are, for possible later use during the escape. A rearguard is left behind to watch over hostages and keep the alarm from being raised until they believe the escapees are clear of the prison, at which time they return to their cells. At 3:25 PM, a lorry delivering food supplies arrives at the entrance to H7, whereupon Brendan McFarlane and other prisoners take the occupants hostage at gunpoint and move them inside H7. The lorry driver is told the lorry is being used in the escape, and he is instructed what route to take and how to react if challenged.

At 3:50 PM the prisoners leave H7, and the driver and a prison orderly are taken back to the lorry. Thirty-seven prisoners climb into the back of the lorry, while Gerry Kelly lay on the floor of the cab with a gun pointed at the driver, who is also told the cab has been booby trapped with a hand grenade. At nearly 4:00 PM the lorry drives toward the main gate of the prison, where the prisoners intend to take over the gatehouse. Ten prisoners dressed in guards’ uniforms and armed with guns and chisels dismount from the lorry and enter the gatehouse, where they take the officers hostage.

At 4:05 PM the officers begin to resist, and an officer presses an alarm button. When other staff respond via an intercom, a senior officer says while being held at gunpoint that the alarm had been triggered accidentally. By this time the prisoners are struggling to maintain control in the gatehouse due to the number of hostages. Officers arriving for work are entering the gatehouse from outside the prison, and each is ordered at gunpoint to join the other hostages. Officer James Ferris runs from the gatehouse toward the pedestrian gate attempting to raise the alarm, pursued by Dermot Finucane. Ferris had already been stabbed three times in the chest, and before he can raise the alarm he collapses.

Finucane continues to the pedestrian gate where he stabs the officer controlling the gate, and two officers who had just entered the prison. This incident is seen by a soldier on duty in a watchtower, who reports to the British Army operations room that he has seen prison officers fighting. The operations room telephones the prison’s Emergency Control Room (ECR), which replies that everything is all right and that an alarm had been accidentally triggered earlier.

At 4:12 PM the alarm is raised when an officer in the gatehouse pushes the prisoner holding him hostage out of the room and telephones the ECR. However, this is not done soon enough to prevent the escape. After several attempts the prisoners open the main gate, and are waiting for the prisoners still in the gatehouse to rejoin them in the lorry. At this time two prison officers block the exit with their cars, forcing the prisoners to abandon the lorry and make their way to the outer fence which is 25 yards away.

Four prisoners attack one of the officers and hijack his car, which they drive toward the external gate. They crash into another car near the gate and abandon the car. Two escape through the gate, one is captured exiting the car, and another is captured after being chased by a soldier. At the main gate, a prison officer is shot in the leg while chasing the only two prisoners who have not yet reached the outer fence. The prisoner who fires the shot is captured after being shot and wounded by a soldier in a watch tower, and the other prisoner is captured after falling. The other prisoners escape over the fence, and by 4:18 PM the main gate is closed and the prison secured, after 35 prisoners had breached the prison perimeter. The escape is the biggest in British history, and the biggest in Europe since World War II.

Outside the prison the IRA has planned a logistical support operation involving 100 armed members, but due to a miscalculation of five minutes, the prisoners find no transport waiting for them and are forced to flee across fields or hijack vehicles. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary immediately activate a contingency plan and by 4:25 PM a cordon of vehicle checkpoints are in place around the prison, and others are later in place in strategic positions across Northern Ireland, resulting in the recapture of one prisoner at 11:00 PM. Twenty prison officers are injured during the escape, thirteen are kicked and beaten, four stabbed, and two shot. One prison officer, James Ferris, who had been stabbed, dies after suffering a heart attack during the escape.

The escape is a propaganda coup and morale boost for the IRA, with Irish republicans dubbing it the “Great Escape.” Leading unionist politician Ian Paisley calls on Nicholas Scott, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to resign. The British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher makes a statement in Ottawa during a visit to Canada, saying “It is the gravest [breakout] in our present history, and there must be a very deep inquiry.” The day after the escape, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Prior announces an inquiry to be headed by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, James Hennessy. The Hennessy Report is published on January 26, 1984 placing most of the blame for the escape on prison staff, and making a series of recommendations to improve security at the prison. The report also places blame with the designers of the prison, the Northern Ireland Office and successive prison governors who had failed to improve security. Prior announces that the prison’s governor has resigned, and that there will be no ministerial resignations as a result of the report’s findings. Four days after the Hennessy Report is published, the Minister for Prisons Nicholas Scott dismisses allegations from the Prison Governors Association and the Prison Officers Association that the escape is due to political interference in the running of the prison.

Fifteen escapees are captured on the day, including four who are discovered hiding underwater in a river near the prison using reeds to breathe. Four more escapees are captured over the next two days, including Hugh Corey and Patrick McIntyre who are captured following a two-hour siege at an isolated farmhouse. Out of the remaining 19 escapees, 18 end up in the republican stronghold of South Armagh where two members of the IRA’s South Armagh Brigade are in charge of transporting them to safehouses, and given the option of either returning to active service in the IRA’s armed campaign or a job and new identity in the United States.

On October 25, 1984, nineteen prisoners appear in court on charges relating to the death of prison officer James Ferris, sixteen charged with his murder. A pathologist determines that the stab wounds Ferris suffered would not have killed a healthy man. The judge acquits all sixteen as he cannot correlate the stabbing to the heart attack.


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Death of Kieran Doherty, Irish Republican Hunger Striker

Kieran Doherty, Irish republican hunger striker and politician who serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Cavan–Monaghan constituency from June 1981 to August 1981, dies on August 2, 1981 in HM Prison Maze (known to republicans as Long Kesh) on the 73rd day of his hunger strike. He is a volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Doherty is the third son in a family of six. He is born on October 16, 1955 in the Andersonstown area of Belfast and is educated at St. Theresa’s Primary School and Glen Road Christian Brothers School (CBS). The Doherty brothers are known cyclists and sportsmen in the Andersontown area. He wins an Antrim Gaelic football medal at minor level in 1971.

Doherty joins Fianna Éireann in 1971 and is interned by the British Government between February 1973 and November 1975. His brothers Michael and Terence are interned between 1972 and 1974.

Doherty works as an apprentice heating engineer. His girlfriend is Geraldine Scheiss and, although they never become formally engaged, they become very close toward the end of his life. Before his arrest, she had not known that he is in the IRA.

In August 1976, while he is out to set a bomb, the van in which he is riding is chased by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). During the chase Doherty manages to leave the van and hijack a car. He later ditches the car and is found one mile away from the car. He is convicted and sentenced to 18 years for possession of firearms and explosives, with another four years for the hijack.

Doherty starts his hunger strike on May 22, 1981. While on hunger strike he is elected as an Anti H-Block TD for the Cavan–Monaghan constituency at the 1981 Irish general election, which is held on June 11. He receives 9,121 (15.1%) first preference votes and is elected on the fourth count. The two seats gained by Anti H-Block candidates denies Taoiseach Charles Haughey the chance to form a government, and the 22nd Dáil Éireann sees a Fine GaelLabour Party coalition government come to office, with Garret FitzGerald as Taoiseach.

Doherty dies at the age of 25 on August 2, 1981. He lasts 73 days on hunger strike, the longest of the 1981 hunger strikers, and only one day short of Terence MacSwiney. He is the shortest-serving Dáil deputy ever, serving as a TD for only two months.

Doherty is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia. In October 2016, a painting of him is unveiled in Leinster House by Sinn Féin.


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Irish Republican Patsy O’Hara Dies on Hunger Strike

Patsy O’Hara, Irish republican hunger striker and member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), dies on hunger strike in the H Blocks of Long Kesh Prison at 11:29 PM on May 21, 1981. Earlier in the day, at 2:11 AM, he is preceded in death by his friend and fellow hunger-striker, Raymond McCreesh.

O’Hara 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 at the age of 23 after 61 days on hunger strike. 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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Bernadette Devlin McAliskey Assassination Attempt

Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, Northern Ireland civil rights campaigner and former Westminster Member of Parliament (MP), is shot by members of the Ulster Freedom Fighters, a cover name of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), who burst into her home at Coalisland, County Tyrone on January 16, 1981. She survives the assassination attempt.

The three men shoot McAliskey nine times in the chest, arm and thigh as she goes to wake up one of her three children. Her husband, Michael, is also shot twice at point blank range. British soldiers are watching the McAliskey home at the time, but fail to prevent the assassination attempt. It is claimed that Devlin’s assassination was ordered by British authorities and that collusion was a factor. An army patrol of the 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment enter the house and wait for half an hour. McAliskey claims they are waiting for the couple to die.

Another group of soldiers then arrive and transport them by helicopter to a nearby Dungannon hospital for emergency treatment and then to the Musgrave Park Hospital, Military Wing, in Belfast, under intensive care. Their condition is initially said to be serious, but not life-threatening.

The attackers, Ray Smallwoods, Tom Graham, both from Lisburn, and Andrew Watson from Seymour Hill, Dunmurry, are captured by members of the Parachute Regiment, who are on patrol nearby when they hear the shots and are taken in for questioning by the police and subsequently jailed. All three are members of the South Belfast UDA. Smallwoods is the driver of the getaway car. Police say it is a professional attack. The gunmen cut the telephone wires to the house before breaking down the front door with a sledgehammer.

McAliskey had played a leading role in the campaign for Republican prisoners in the HM Prison Maze, who are demanding “prisoner of war” or political status. They want to be held separately from loyalist supporters in the Maze. Four other members of the campaign for the H-block inmates have been murdered.

Seven Maze prisoners went on hunger strike before Christmas in support of their demands for political status. The strike is called off on December 12 after Taoiseach Charles Haughey convinces the inmates their families want them to start eating again.


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Birth of Joe McDonnell, Irish Hunger Striker

joseph-mcdonnellJoseph (Joe) McDonnell, a volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born on Slate Street in the lower Falls Road of Belfast, Northern Ireland on September 14, 1951. He dies after 61 days on hunger strike during the 1981 Irish hunger strike.

McDonnell is one of ten children. He attends a nearby Roman Catholic school. He marries Goretti in 1970 and moves into her sister’s house in Lenadoon. There are only two Catholic houses in this predominantly Ulster Protestant housing estate, and their house is attacked on numerous occasions.

McDonnell is arrested in Operation Demetrius and, along with Gerry Adams and others, is interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone. He is later moved to HM Prison Maze in County Down for several months. Upon release, he joins the Provisional IRA Belfast Brigade. He meets Bobby Sands during the preparation for a firebomb attack on the Balmoral Furnishing Company’s premises in Dunmurry. During the ensuing shoot-out between the IRA and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) and British Army, both men, along with Séamus Finucane and Seán Lavery, are arrested. McDonnell and the others are sentenced to 14 years in prison for possession of a firearm. None of the men accept the jurisdiction of the court.

McDonnell agrees with the goals of the 1981 Irish hunger strike, namely: the right not to wear a prison uniform; the right not to do prison work; the right of free association with other prisoners; the right to organise their own educational and recreational facilities and the right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week.

Although McDonnell is not involved in the first hunger strike in 1980, he joins Bobby Sands and the others in the second hunger strike the following year. During the strike he fights the general election in the Republic of Ireland, and only narrowly misses election in the Sligo–Leitrim constituency. He goes 61 days without food before dying on July 8, 1981. He has two children. His wife takes an active part in the campaign in support of the hunger strikers.

McDonnell is buried in the grave next to Bobby Sands at Milltown Cemetery in west Belfast. John Joe McGirl, McDonnell’s election agent in Sligo–Leitrim, gives the oration at his funeral. Quoting Patrick Pearse, he states, “He may seem the fool who has given his all, by the wise men of the world; but it was the apparent fools who changed the course of Irish history.”

McDonnell is commemorated on the Irish Martyrs Memorial at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney, Australia and is also commemorated in The Wolfe Tones song, “Joe McDonnell.”