seamus dubhghaill

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


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People’s Democracy March Ambush at Burntollet Bridge

On January 4, 1969, during the first stages of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the civil rights group People’s Democracy is attacked at Burntollet Bridge on the final day of a four-day march from Belfast to Derry by 200 loyalists and off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers armed with iron bars, bricks, and bottles.

The People’s Democracy organizes the four-day march from Belfast to Derry, starting on January 1, 1969. The march is to be the acid test of the government’s intentions. Either the government will face up to the extreme right of its own Unionist Party and protect the march from the ‘harassing and hindering,’ or it will be exposed as impotent in the face of sectarian thuggery, and Westminster will be forced to intervene, re-opening the whole Irish question for the first time in 50 years. The march is modelled on the Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama in 1965, which had exposed the racist thuggery of America’s Deep South and forced the United States government into major reforms.

The departure on New Year’s Day 1969 of approximately 40 People’s Democracy supporters on the march to Derry is marked by a protest in Belfast by loyalists under the direction of Major Ronald Bunting, a close associate of Rev. Ian Paisley. It is the loyalist’s intention to harass the march along its entire journey.

On the first day of the march, the group makes its way unhindered towards Antrim. Just outside Antrim the marchers run into a police barricade, behind which several hundred loyalists are gathered, led by Major Bunting. The RUC refuses to remove the blockade and after a lengthy delay, and minor scuffles, the marchers are driven in police tenders to Whitehall Community Centre where they spend an unsettled night interrupted by a bomb threat.

The next day, the marchers set off for Randalstown but again find their way blocked by Major Bunting and a crowd of loyalists. Once again the RUC refuses to remove the loyalist protesters and the marchers are eventually transported to Toome by car. The marchers are welcomed at Toome and after taking lunch in the village they set out for Maghera. After 30 minutes the march is again halted and then rerouted away from the loyalist village of Knockloughlin. After two miles, loyalist protestors led by Major Bunting again halt the march. Another stand off ensues and, as locals gather to support the marchers, the RUC’s County Inspector Kerr asks the loyalists to stand aside, which they do. The marchers then make their way towards Maghera, where loyalists have gathered to await their arrival. On hearing of this ‘reception’ committee, which is armed with clubs and sticks, the marchers decide to bypass the village and spend the night at Bracaghreilly. That night Maghera witnesses considerable violence from frustrated loyalists.

On January 3, the third day of the march, the marchers set out for Dungiven and encounter little opposition. After lunch in Dungiven they travel on to Feeny. A mile outside Dungiven the marchers are halted by the RUC with reports of a loyalist protest further along the road. A civil rights supporter then arrives along the road that is allegedly blocked and reports no obstructions ahead. The marchers decide to breach police lines and encounter no protest ahead. After reaching Feeny the marchers move on to Claudy, where they receive a friendly reception and settle down for the night. That night a loyalist attack on the hall in which the marchers are staying is repulsed by locals.

The same night in Derry, a rally by Ian Paisley in the Guildhall leads to serious disorder. While those inside the hall are listening to Major Bunting call for loyalists to gather the next day at Burntollet, a crowd of nationalists gather outside the building in protest. During clashes as the rally disperses, Major Bunting’s car is destroyed. Later that night stockpiles of bottles and stones are left by loyalists in the fields at Burntollet.

On the morning of January 4, the marchers, who now number approximately 500, set out on the last league of their journey to Derry. Just before reaching Burntollet District Inspector Harrison stops the march in order to investigate reports of loyalists ahead. Harrison, together with County Inspector Kerr, speak of 50 loyalists ahead and claim to be confident that there is no danger. With the RUC leading the way the marchers advance. In the field overlooking the road the marchers observe approximately 300 loyalists, identified by white armbands and armed with cudgels. They come under a bombardment of missiles. Marchers seek to escape the bombardment by speeding up the road but there is to be no escape as they immediately encounter a second contingent of loyalists blocking their escape.

As many marchers flee into the fields they are pursued by attackers and the RUC makes no attempt to intervene. Others are thrown into the nearby River Faughan. As what is left of the marchers continue on to Derry, they are also attacked twice in Derry’s Waterside before receiving a rousing welcome in Guildhall Square.

That night clashes occur between the RUC and local people and the first “Free Derry” is born. At 2:00 AM members of the RUC attack the Bogside, running amok in the Lecky Road and St. Columbs Wells districts. Windows are broken, residents are assaulted and sectarian abuse is directed at the people of the Bogside. The reaction to this ‘invasion’ ranges from the painting of the Free Derry legend to the formation of vigilante squads in the area, based at the Foyle Harps Hall in the Brandywell and Rossville Hall in the Bogside. The barricades remain up for a number of days and relations between the community in the Bogside and the RUC, which has never been particularly good, grows steadily worse.

These events, together with the steady increase of conflict between local youths and the RUC as the year progress, is to lay the foundations for the resistance that is to take place during the Battle of the Bogside.

(From: “People’s Democracy march, January 4, 1969” by Jude Collins, http://www.judecollins.com, January 4, 2016)


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Sinn Féin Holds First Formal Talks with the British Government in Over 70 Years

On December 9, 1994, Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), holds its first formal talks with the British Government in over 70 years. The negotiations take place in Belfast, almost one year after Britain and Ireland began an uncertain program to try to resolve the conflict in Northern Ireland. The first session is held at Stormont, a gigantic, columned edifice on top of a hill on the outskirts of Belfast that houses the old Northern Ireland parliament.

Although the announcement of the negotiations is not a surprise, it still sets off an exciting ripple that history is in the making. British officials have conducted secret talks with Sinn Féin leaders in the past, but never before have they sat down openly at the same table with them.

In both a letter to the Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, and in a three-paragraph statement, Downing Street pointedly refers to the meeting as “exploratory dialogue.” This is in keeping with London‘s position that it is simply joining in “talks about talks,” not a full negotiating session, which must involve all parties to the conflict.

For 25 years the IRA has been fighting in the name of the Roman Catholic minority of 650,000 in Northern Ireland. It wants to link Ulster, the six counties of Northern Ireland that remain British after partition, to the Irish Republic, a move opposed by most of the province’s 950,000 Protestants.

The announcement of talks evoke a predictable pattern of responses across Northern Ireland’s political spectrum. Adams, who works to persuade the IRA to go along with a unilateral cease-fire that was declared on September 1, welcomes it. “The opportunity to realize a lasting peace, which will benefit all of the people of Ireland, has never been greater,” he says in a statement. Adams had been accusing London of foot-dragging on the peace effort. Now, he says, it is time to move on to “the next phase of dialogue — multilateral talks led by both Governments.”

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the main Protestant political group in Northern Ireland, is skeptically accepting, as it has been all along. John Taylor, a Unionist Member of Parliament, says the talks will at least establish whether “Sinn Féin really is to become a normal political party.”

The Rev. Ian Paisley, a Member of Parliament whose Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has become a rejectionist front, continues to oppose talks or any move smacking of compromise. He tells the House of Commons that “a vast majority of people” resent the decision to talk to “the men of blood.”

Sinn Féin is represented at the talks by Martin McGuinness, a veteran IRA political leader who took part in secret contacts that broke up the previous year. In 1972, together with Adams, he was flown to London for a meeting with William Whitelaw, who was then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Those talks eventually failed.

Adams is in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, December 7. He attends a meeting at the White House, his first one there, with Anthony Lake, President Bill Clinton‘s National Security Advisor. Seven weeks earlier, Britain protests vigorously at the thought of Adams visiting the White House. But events moved so swiftly that he gains a kind of legitimacy that is hard for Whitehall to deny. His visa to the United States, good for three months, allows several visits.

The Government team of civil servants, in contrast to higher-level ministers, are led by Quentin Thomas, deputy secretary of the British administration called the Northern Ireland Office.

Going into the negotiations, the key question is what will be discussed. On the British side, the top of the agenda is how to get the IRA to turn over its considerable stash of 100 tons of arms and explosives. There is nothing, of course, that Sinn Féin is less likely to agree to at the outset. So should the British make this a condition for multilateral talks to begin, the two sides will meet an obstacle right away.

McGuinness says that the issue of IRA weapons has to be considered “in the context of us removing the causes of conflict, the reason why people use armed force in our society.”

From its side, Adams says Sinn Féin wants to discuss being treated with “a parity of esteem” with the other parties, and “the release of all political prisoners.”

The British Government says that it will soon hold talks with the so-called loyalist paramilitaries on the Protestant side. And it indicates it will have no objection if elected Sinn Féin councillors attend a major international investment conference in Belfast on December 13 and 14.

(From: “Britain and I.R.A. Group to Begin Talks in Northern Ireland” by John Darnton, The New York Times, December 2, 1994 | Pictured: Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness lead a Republican parade in Belfast, commemorating 25 years of British troops on the streets of Northern Ireland in 1994)


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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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Paisley & Adams Commit to Forming Powersharing Executive

On March 26, 2007, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams commit themselves to forming a powersharing executive by May 8, 2007 after engaging directly for the first time at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British prime minister Tony Blair hail this first meeting and agreement as a historic, reconciliatory, and transforming moment in British-Irish history.

The government had set this date as a final deadline for a restoration of power-sharing before direct rule from London is restored permanently and now has to rush emergency legislation through the House of Commons to prevent this.

“After a long and difficult time in our province, I believe that enormous opportunities lie ahead for our province,” Paisley tells reporters, as he sits at a conference table next to Adams. The agreement “marks the beginning of a new era of politics on this island,” Adams agrees, but adds that he finds it “disappointing” that Northern Ireland‘s political institution cannot be restored immediately.

British prime minister Tony Blair hails the agreement, saying “This is a very important day for the people of Northern Ireland but also for the people and the history of these islands.” After talking by phone with his Irish counterpart, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, he tells reporters, “In a sense, everything we have done over the last ten years has been a preparation for this moment, because the people of Northern Ireland have spoken through the election. They have said we want peace and power-sharing and the political leadership has then come in behind that and said we will deliver what people want.”

In Ireland, Ahern calls the day’s developments “unprecedented and very positive,” and says both governments will cooperate with the new May 8 date for devolution.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, says a one clause emergency bill will be put through parliament with the agreement of opposition parties, and will need royal assent before midnight the following evening to prevent the dissolution of the Stormont assembly. He describes the day’s events as “really, really momentous.”

“Today the clouds have lifted and the people can see the future,” Hain tells BBC Radio 4‘s The World at One. “These pictures of Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams will resonate around the world. They are a graphic manifestation of the power of politics over bigotry and conflict, bitterness and horror.”

The crucial meeting sees delegations from the DUP and Sinn Féin spend an hour together inside a room at Stormont to hammer out the final agreement for a return to power-sharing. Afterwards, both leaders talk about the work still needing to be done, including regular meetings between Paisley and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness as the de facto first and deputy first ministers.

Clearly conscious of the historical significance of their talks, Paisley and Adams speak of the suffering caused by the decades of inter-community violence and their responsibility to ensure permanent peace and reconciliation. Northern Ireland’s politicians must “never forget those who have suffered during the dark period from which we are, please God, emerging,” Paisley says. “I want to make it clear that I am committed to delivering not only for those who voted for the DUP but for all the people of Northern Ireland. We must not allow our justified loathing for the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future for our children,” he adds.

Adams says there is now new hope for the future, following the previous “sad history of orange and green.” He adds, “There are still many challenges, many difficulties, to be faced. But let us be clear: the basis of the agreement between Sinn Féin and the DUP follows Ian Paisley’s unequivocal and welcome commitment to support and participate fully in the political institutions on May 8. We’ve all come a very long way in the process of peace making and national reconciliation. We are very conscious of the many people who have suffered. We owe it to them to build the best future possible.”

The proposal for the historic meeting comes after a frantic weekend of consultation in Belfast and Berlin, where Blair and Ahern are attending a ceremony to mark 50 years of the European Union. Both prime ministers had repeatedly insisted the assembly would be dissolved if no agreement on an executive had been reached by today’s legal deadline. Britain is forced into a last-minute change of strategy after Paisley’s DUP agrees in principle on March 24 to share power with Sinn Féin, but demands an extension of the deadline for the formation of the executive until May.

The DUP, which is badly split, says they need the additional time to see if Sinn Féin will comply with its commitment to cooperate with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Until now Paisley’s DUP has always refused to meet Sinn Féin. Each represents what used to be seen as the two extremes of Northern Ireland sectarian politics.

(From: “Paisley and Adams agree deal” by Peter Walker and Owen Bowcott, The Guardian (www.theguardian.com), March 26, 2007 | Pictured: Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams hold their first face-to-face talks. Photograph: Paul Faith/ PA)


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Death of Martin McGuinness, Irish Republican Sinn Féin Politician

Martin McGuinness, former member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) Army Council and Sinn Féin‘s chief negotiator in the peace process, dies on the morning of March 21, 2017 at Derry‘s Altnagelvin Area Hospital with his family by his bedside. He had been diagnosed with a rare heart disease in December 2016. In 2011, McGuinness contests the presidential election which is won by Michael D. Higgins.

McGuinness is born James Martin Pacelli McGuinness on May 23, 1950 in Derry. He attends St. Eugene’s Primary School and later the Christian Brothers technical college, leaving school at the age of 15.

McGuinness joins the IRA about 1970, and by 1971 he is one of its leading organizers in Derry. In 1973 a Special Criminal Court in the Republic of Ireland sentences him to six months in prison after he is caught in a car containing large quantities of explosives and ammunition. Although the IRA keeps secret the membership of its seven-person Army Council, few doubt that McGuinness is one of its most important members from the 1970s through the 1990s. Even while reportedly planning attacks on civilians in Northern Ireland and on the British mainland, McGuinness is involved in spasmodic secret talks with British government ministers and officials to end the conflict. In 1972 McGuinness, with fellow IRA leader Gerry Adams, privately negotiates with British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland William Whitelaw, but these and other talks over the next two decades are unsuccessful.

McGuinness contests seats in the British House of Commons on several occasions, losing in 1983, 1987, and 1992. However, in 1997 he is elected to the House of Commons to represent the constituency of Mid Ulster and, in line with party policy, he does not take his seat. He subsequently wins reelection to the seat in 2001, 2005, and 2010.

McGuinness is the IRA’s chief negotiator in the deliberations, also secret at first, that culminate in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. This pact finally ends the conflict and eventually brings Sinn Féin into a coalition government to rule Northern Ireland. He is elected to the new Northern Ireland Assembly and in 1999 is appointed Minister of Education. In this post he eliminates the controversial eleven-plus examination, which determines which type of secondary school a child should attend. The test had been abolished in most of the rest of the United Kingdom more than 25 years earlier.

Disagreements over such issues as policing and the decommissioning of arms causes Northern Ireland’s Executive and Assembly to be suspended for some years, but a fresh agreement in 2006 paves the way for them to be revived. In elections in March 2007, both Sinn Féin and the antirepublican Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) gain seats, becoming the two largest parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly. McGuinness becomes Deputy First Minister, working with First Minister Ian Paisley, leader of the DUP. The two men, previously bitter enemies, perform so well together that they are dubbed the “Chuckle brothers.”

When Paisley retires in 2008, he is succeeded by the DUP’s Peter Robinson, who is considered to be even more militantly antirepublican. Once again, however, a shared need to rebuild the economy and attract international investment leads to cooperation between former opponents. In 2009 their government is in jeopardy as Sinn Féin and the DUP argue over the devolution of the police and justice system in Northern Ireland. McGuinness and Robinson are involved in the ensuing negotiations, and in February 2010 an agreement is reached for the transfer of powers from Britain to Northern Ireland in April.

In the Assembly elections in May 2011, McGuinness and Robinson are a formidable pair, and voters respond to their call for stability in a time of economic uncertainty. Sinn Féin gains an additional seat and increases its overall share of the vote, and McGuinness is assured an additional term as Deputy First Minister. In the autumn he steps down to run as Sinn Féin’s candidate for the presidency of Ireland. After finishing third in the election held on October 28, he returns to the position of Deputy First Minister a few days later. On June 27, 2012, in an event widely seen as having great symbolic importance for the ongoing reconciliation efforts in Northern Ireland, McGuinness and Elizabeth II shake hands twice, once in private and again in public, during a visit by the British monarch to Belfast.

In January 2017 McGuinness resigns as Deputy First Minister in response to First Minister Arlene Foster’s refusal to temporarily step down from her position during the investigation of a scandal relating to the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), a mishandled program under which large amounts of state funds allegedly had been squandered. Foster had served as head of the department that oversaw the RHI before becoming First Minister. Under the power-sharing agreement the posts of First Minister and Deputy First Minister constitute a single joint office so that the resignation of one minister results in termination of the other’s tenure. When Sinn Féin chooses not to nominate a replacement for McGuinness within the required seven-day period, authority reverts to the British government’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in advance of a snap election on March 2.

Even before McGuinness’s resignation there had been speculation late in 2016 that he might step down for health reasons, and soon after resigning he confirms that he is suffering from amyloidosis, a rare disease brought about by deposits of abnormal protein in organs and tissue. With McGuinness removing himself from “frontline politics,” Michelle O’Neill leads Sinn Féin into the election. The disease claims McGuinness’s life only months later on March 21, 2017.


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Assassination of Norman and James Stronge

Sir Charles Norman Lockhart Stronge and his son James, both former Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Members of Parliament, are assassinated by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) at their home, Tynan Abbey, on January 21, 1981. The home is then burned to the ground.

Before his involvement in politics Stronge fights in World War I as a junior officer in the British Army. He fights in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and is awarded the Military Cross. His positions after the war include Speaker of the House of Commons of Northern Ireland for twenty-three years.

Stronge (86) and his son, James (48), are watching television in the library of Tynan Abbey when members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, armed with machine guns, use grenades to break down the locked heavy doors to the home.

The Stronge family home is then burned to the ground as a result of two bomb explosions. On seeing the explosions at the house, as well as a flare Stronge lit in an attempt to alert the authorities, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and British Army troops arrive at the scene and establish a roadblock at the gate lodge. They encounter at least eight fleeing gunmen. A twenty-minute gunfight ensues in which at least two hundred shots are fired. There are no casualties among the security forces but the gunmen escape. The bodies of the father and son are later discovered in the library of their burning home, each with gunshot wounds in the head. It is not known who died first, Norman or James. Under the legal fiction known as the doctrine of survival, James is still listed as succeeding to the baronetcy.

The village of Tynan is crowded for the joint funeral of Stronge and his son. Mourners come from throughout the province and from England, including lords, politicians, policemen, judges and church leaders. The coffin is carried by the 5th Battalion the Royal Irish Rangers, the successors to his old regiment. The sword and cap of the Lord Lieutenant of Tyrone, Major John Hamilton-Stubber, are placed on his coffin in lieu of his own, which had been destroyed with his other possessions in the fire. During the service, a telegram sent from Queen Elizabeth II to one of Sir Norman’s daughters, is read. After the service, the chief mourners move out into the churchyard where the “Last Post” is sounded and a Royal British Legion farewell is given. The two coffins are laid in the family plot, where Lady Stronge, Sir Norman’s wife and mother of James, was buried a year previously.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Humphrey Atkins, is informed by friends of the Stronge family that he would not be welcome at the funeral because of government policy on Irish border security. Atkins leaves the Northern Ireland Office later that year, to be replaced by Jim Prior. Stronge is commemorated with a tablet in the Northern Ireland Assembly Chamber in Parliament Buildings on the Stormont Estate.

The IRA releases a statement in Belfast, quoted in The Times, claiming that “This deliberate attack on the symbols of hated unionism was a direct reprisal for a whole series of loyalist assassinations and murder attacks on nationalist peoples and nationalist activities.” This follows the loyalist attempted murder of Bernadette McAliskey and her husband Michael McAliskey on January 16, and the loyalist assassinations of four republican activists (Miriam Daly, John Turnley, Noel Lyttle and Ronnie Bunting) which had taken place since May 1980.

The killings are referred to as murder by multiple media sources including The Daily Telegraph, The Scotsman, The New York Times and Time magazine, by the Reverend Ian Paisley in the House of Commons and by Alec Cooke, Baron Cooke of Islandreagh in the House of Lords.

Stronge is described at the time of his death by Social Democratic and Labour Party politician Austin Currie as having been “even at 86 years of age … still incomparably more of a man than the cowardly dregs of humanity who ended his life in this barbaric way.”

The ruins of Tynan Abbey are demolished in 1998, having stood for 249 years.


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Death of Risteárd Ó Glaisne, Irish Language Writer & Teacher

Risteárd Ó Glaisne, teacher and writer with a lifelong commitment to the Irish language, dies in Dublin on November 6, 2003. He is the author of biographies of two former Presidents, Douglas Hyde (pictured) and Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh.

Risteárd Earnán Ó Glaisne is born on September 2, 1927 near Bandon, County Cork, the third of four children of George William Giles and his wife, Sara Jane (née Vickery). Educated at Bandon Grammar School and Trinity College Dublin, he graduates with a BA in 1949 and obtains a master’s degree in 1959. At TCD he is greatly influenced by Daithí Ó hUaithne.

Ó Glaisne first becomes interested in the Irish language at school in Bandon. His headmaster gives him a copy of Liam Ó Rinn‘s Peann agus Pár, along with a book of poems by Ivan Turgenev translated into Irish by Ó Rinn. “I suddenly found myself breaking into a world vastly larger than my own world in Irish,” he recalls. “The quality of mind I encountered made me realise I could never again connect Irish only with poteen and potatoes.”

Ó Glaisne further explores the language by making contact with the few native Irish speakers left in the Bandon area. He gradually comes to the conclusion that he is a member of a nation that has an extremely old and in many ways distinguished culture, of which Irish has been historically an integral part. Deciding that Irish best reflects the society in which he grew up and reflects him as an individual, he adopts it as his first language.

On graduating from TCD Ó Glaisne teaches Irish at Avoca School, Blackrock. He later teaches in St. Andrew’s College, Dublin, and at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Grammar School, where he ends his teaching career in 1989. He took a career break in the mid-1960s to study the French educational system and to travel on the Continent.

To perfect his Irish Ó Glaisne holidays on the Great Blasket Island, where he immerses himself in the rich oral culture. He makes many friends among the islanders, and the friendships continue after they are resettled on the mainland in Dún Chaoin. He regularly visits Corca Dhuibhne to meet friends like Muiris Mhaidhc Léan Ó Guithín, one of the last surviving islanders, and to enjoy the annual Ceiliúradh an Bhlascaoid.

Ó Glaisne holds that Protestants have enjoyed a long association with Irish, pointing to 18th-century followers of John Wesley such as Charles Graham, Gideon Ousley and Tomás Breathnach, who evangelised in Irish. He firmly believes that Protestants can be “every whit as Irish” as Roman Catholics. He urges his co-religionists to identify fully with Ireland.

Ó Glaisne is the founder and editor of Focus (1958-66), a monthly magazine that aims to help Protestants “come to an understanding of their cultural heritage.” He is a regular contributor to programmes on RTÉ and RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, and writes for Comhar, Inniú, An tUltach and The Irish Times.

Ó Glaisne is the author of over 20 books and pamphlets in Irish. These include biographies of Conor Cruise O’Brien, Ian Paisley, Tomás Ó Fiaich and Dúbhglas de hÍde. Other works include a history of Methodism in Ireland, a book of essays on early revivalist writers and a manual for beginners in journalism. He also writes Saoirse na mBan (1973), Gaeilge i gColáiste na Trionóide 1592-1992 (1992) and Coláiste Moibhí (2002), a history of the preparatory college for Protestant teachers.

Generous with his time and knowledge, Ó Glaisne makes a point of encouraging young writers.

(From: “Worked to make Protestants aware of Irish culture heritage,” The Irish Times, Saturday, November 15, 2003)


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Assassination of Irish Republican Ronnie Bunting

Ronnie Bunting, a Protestant Irish republican and socialist activist, is assassinated on October 15, 1980 when several gunmen enter his home in the Downfine Gardens area of Andersonstown.

Bunting is born into an Ulster Protestant family in East Belfast. His father, Ronald Bunting, had been a major in the British Army and Ronnie grew up in various military barracks around the world. His father became a supporter and associate of Ian Paisley and ran for election under the Protestant Unionist Party banner.

Having completed his education and graduating from Queen’s University Belfast, Bunting briefly becomes a history teacher in Belfast, but later becomes involved in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and then with Irish republican organisations.

Unlike most Protestants in Northern Ireland, Bunting becomes a militant republican. His father, by contrast, was a committed Ulster loyalist. Despite their political differences, they remain close.

Bunting joins the Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA) around 1970 as he is attracted to their left-wing and secular interpretation of Irish republicanism and believes in the necessity of armed revolution. The other wing of the IRA, the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is seen to be more Catholic and nationalist in its outlook. At this time, the communal conflict known as the Troubles is beginning and the Official IRA is involved in shootings and bombings. He is interned in November 1971 and held in Long Kesh until the following April.

In 1974, Bunting follows Seamus Costello and other militants who disagree with the Official IRA’s ceasefire of 1972, into a new grouping, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). Immediately, a violent feud breaks out between the Official IRA and the INLA.

In 1975, Bunting survives an assassination attempt when he is shot in a Belfast street. In 1977, Costello is killed by an Official IRA gunman in Dublin. Bunting and his family hide in Wales until 1978, when he returns to Belfast. For the remaining two years of his life, he is the military leader of the INLA. The grouping regularly attacks the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in Belfast. He calls in claims of responsibility to the media by the code name “Captain Green.”

At about 4:30 AM on October 15, 1980, several gunmen wearing balaclavas storm Bunting’s home in the Downfine Gardens area of Andersonstown. They shoot Bunting, his wife Suzanne and another Protestant INLA man and ex-member of the Red Republican Party, Noel Lyttle, who has been staying there after his recent release from detention.

Both Bunting and Lyttle are killed. Suzanne Bunting, who is shot in the face, survives her serious injuries. The attack is claimed by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), but the INLA claims the Special Air Service are involved.

Upon his death, Bunting’s body is kept in a funeral parlour on the Newtownards Road opposite the headquarters of the UDA. On the day of the funeral, as the coffin is being removed, UDA members jeer from their building. The Irish Republican Socialist Party wants a republican paramilitary-style funeral for Bunting but his father refuses and has his son buried in the family plot of a Church of Ireland cemetery near Donaghadee.


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The Tricolour Riots

On the evening of the September 28, 1964, a detachment of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), acting on the direct instruction of Brian McConnell, the Minister of Home Affairs, attacks the Divis Street headquarters of the Republican Party (Sinn Féin had been outlawed earlier in the year) in West Belfast. Their perilous mission is to remove an Irish Tricolour.

This takes place during a general election for Westminster. Republicans have nominated Liam McMillan to contest in West Belfast. McConnell, under pressure from Ian Paisley and other unionists, holds a conference of his senior RUC officers on the morning of September 28 and orders that the tricolour flown at Liam McMillan’s headquarters be removed. Under the Flags and Emblems Display Act of 1954, it is an offence to display the tricolour anywhere in the six counties of Northern Ireland.

That evening, when it becomes known that the RUC are coming to seize the flag, more than 2,000 republican supporters block the roadway. Scores of RUC are rushed to the scene in armoured cars. The RUC, though heavily armed with sten guns, rifles, revolvers and riot batons, are made to look ridiculous by groups of children, who run about with miniature tricolour stickers which they stick on walls and police cars.

The RUC, using pickaxes, smashes down the doors of the Republican headquarters and takes the flag. They carry it away through a hail of stones and to the prolonged jeers of the people.

The following day the RUC clears Divis Street to make way for an armoured car. Their new perilous mission is to seize a new replacement tricolour. The armoured car stops outside the Republican headquarters, eight policemen emerge and begin another attack with crowbars and pickaxes. They fail to break down the door but one of them smashes the window, reaches in and pulls out the second tricolour.

By September 30, news of the events in Divis Street have spread throughout the media. Belfast begins attracting television reporters and newspaper men from all around the world. That night, thousands of republicans, armed with petrol bombs, sticks, stones and rotten vegetables, gather outside their headquarters to defend their identity and their flag. A battle begins at 11:00 PM when the RUC tries to disperse them. The television cameras are there to record all that happens. For the first time ever, people in many parts of the world are able to watch a sectarian police force in action.

When the republicans indicate that they will stand their ground, fifty RUC men, who had been held in reserve in the small streets between Falls Road and Shankill Road, are deployed but the republicans, in accordance with a pre-arranged strategy, drive them back. By midnight, the police have succeeded in sealing off Divis Street and dispersing the crowd but thirty people, including at least eighteen members of the RUC, have been injured.

One week later, on October 5, republicans carry the tricolour at the head of a parade of 5,000 people who march from Beechmount on Falls Road, through Divis Street, to an election rally near Smithfield. RUC men line the entire route but make no attempt to seize the flag.

(From: “The Tricolour Riots,” An Phoblacht (www.anphoblacht.com), September 23, 2004 edition)


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Rioting Erupts In Belfast & Derry

belfast-rioting-1970Intense riots between Protestants and Roman Catholics erupt in Derry and Belfast on June 27, 1970. During the evening, loyalist paramilitaries make incursions into republican areas of Belfast. This leads to a prolonged gun battle between republicans and loyalists. The rioting in both Belfast and Derry takes place despite the presence of more than 8,000 British soldiers, backed up by armored vehicles and helicopters.

The rioting follows the June 26 jailing of Bernadette Devlin, the 23‐year‐old Roman Catholic leader, who had recently been reelected to Parliament in London. She had been convicted of riotous behavior during violence in Derry in August 1969 and sentenced to six months in prison.

The rioting in Belfast begins after Catholic youths hurl stones and disrupt a parade by the militantly Protestant Orange Order. About 100 persons are injured badly enough to be treated in hospitals. A bakery and a butcher shop in a shopping center are set afire and a police station is wrecked with iron bars and clubs. The scene of the rioting is at the intersection of Mayo Street and Springfield Road in a mixed Protestant‐Catholic area.

Armed British soldiers, in visors and helmets and carrying riot shields, separate ugly, shouting mobs of Catholics and Protestants. The troops use tear gas in an effort to break up the crowd and at one point send 1,000 people, including women and children, fleeing with tears streaming down their faces.

There is civilian sniping and firing by British troops in two riot areas — the Springfield Road area and the Crumlin Road area – where rival crowds from segregated slum streets clash later in the afternoon.

At night British soldiers seal off the riot areas to all but military vehicles. Armored cars with machine guns ready stand in the streets, which are littered with glass and stones. Hundreds of soldiers in full battle dress stand against the seedy red‐brick shops and houses.

However, the crowds continue to gather. Buses are set afire, and late at night the army uses tear gas again to drive the mobs away. As rioting erupts in other parts of Belfast, 4,000 British soldiers are said to have been sent into the riot areas. The police are harassed by a half dozen fires around the city. Some of the fires are started with battery devices according to the police.

In Derry, Catholic youths attack soldiers and policemen with stones, bottles and gasoline bombs. The youths begin re‐erecting the barricades that had shielded the Catholic Bogside slum area during rioting the previous year. Ninety-two soldiers are injured and a paint shop near Bogside is set ablaze after looting by children who appear to be no more that 11 or 12 years old.

The wave of agitation begins in October, 1968, when a largely Catholic civil rights movement takes to the streets to demand an end to anti‐Catholic discrimination in voting rights, jobs and housing. The Unionist Government in Belfast, which considers itself aligned with the Conservative Party in London, responds reluctantly to the street violence. However, under intense prodding by the Labor Government, it enacts many of the demanded reforms.

However, a Protestant backlash ensues, encouraged by the fiery evangelical preacher, the Rev. Ian Paisley. Paisley fans the latent fear that Northern Ireland‘s Catholics seek to unite Ireland into a Catholic state under Dublin. In the view of many observers, the Protestants have never shared power nor prestige with the Catholic minority, while the Catholics have taken an ambiguous view on whether they wanted to be British or Irish.

(From: “New Rioting Flares In Northern Ireland; 4 Dead and 100 Hurt” by John M. Lee, The New York Times, June 28, 1970)