seamus dubhghaill

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


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RAF Chinook Helicopter Crash on Mull of Kintyre

1994-chinook-crash-memorialA Chinook helicopter of the Royal Air Force (RAF) crashes on the Mull of Kintyre, Scotland, in foggy conditions on June 2, 1994. The crash results in the deaths of all twenty-five passengers and four crew on board. Among the passengers are almost all the United Kingdom‘s senior Northern Ireland intelligence experts who are travelling from Belfast to a security conference in Inverness. The accident is the RAF’s worst peacetime disaster.

Earlier in the day, the helicopter and crew carry out a trooping flight, as it is considered to be unsafe for British troops to move around in certain parts of Northern Ireland using surface transport at the time due to the threat posed by Provisional Irish Republican Army attacks. This mission is safely accomplished and they return to Joint Helicopter Command Flying Station Aldergrove at 3:20 PM. The helicopter takes off for Inverness at 5:42 PM. Weather en route is forecast to be clear except in the Mull of Kintyre area. The crew makes contact with military air traffic control (ATC) in Scotland at 5:55 PM.

Around 6:00 PM, the helicopter flies into a hillside in dense fog. The pilots are Flight Lieutenants Jonathan Tapper, 28, and Richard Cook, 30, both United Kingdom Special Forces pilots. There are two other crew. The helicopter is carrying 25 British intelligence experts from MI5, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the British Army, from RAF Aldergrove (outside Belfast, Northern Ireland) to attend a conference at Fort George, near Inverness, Scotland. At the time of the accident Air Chief Marshal Sir William Wratten calls it “the largest peacetime tragedy the RAF had suffered.”

In the immediate aftermath of the accident, one commentator states that the loss of so many top level Northern Ireland intelligence officers in one stroke is a huge blow to the John Major government, “temporarily confounding” its campaign against the IRA. That the crash kills so many British intelligence experts, without any witnesses in the foggy conditions, leads to considerable speculation and conspiracy theories being devised on the issue on the potential of a cover-up having been performed. Among these are accusations that wake turbulence from a top-secret hypersonic U.S. aircraft had been responsible for the crash, while another postulates that it is a deliberate assassination of the intelligence operatives on board in connection with the then on-going Northern Ireland peace process.

In 1995, an RAF board of inquiry rules that it is impossible to establish the exact cause of the accident. This ruling is subsequently overturned by two senior reviewing officers, who state the pilots were guilty of gross negligence for flying too fast and too low in thick fog. This finding proves to be controversial, especially in light of irregularities and technical issues surrounding the then-new Chinook HC.2 variant which were uncovered. A Parliamentary inquiry conducted in 2001 finds the previous verdict of gross negligence on the part of the crew to be “unjustified.” In 2011, an independent review of the crash clears the crew of negligence.

(Pictured: Memorial on Mull of Kintyre, Scotland to the crash victims of the 1994 RAF Chinook crash)


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The Battle of Culloden

culloden-moor-memorialThe Battle of Culloden, the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745,  known in Scotland as simply “The ’45,” is fought on April 16, 1746. The Jacobite army of Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, is decisively defeated by a British government force under William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, on Drummossie Moor near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. It is the last pitched battle fought on British soil.

Charles is the eldest son of James Francis Edward Stuart, the exiled Stuart claimant to the British throne. Believing there is support for a Stuart restoration in both Scotland and England, he lands in Scotland in July 1745. The Jacobite Army is often assumed to have been largely composed of Gaelic-speaking Catholic Highlanders. In reality nearly a quarter of the rank and file are recruited in Aberdeenshire, Forfarshire and Banffshire, with another 20% from Perthshire. Although the army is predominantly Scots it contains a few English recruits plus significant numbers of Irish, Scottish and French professionals in French service with the Irish Brigade and Garde Écossaise.

After amassing his army of Scots Jacobite supporters, Charles takes Edinburgh by September and defeats a British government force at Prestonpans. The government recalls 12,000 troops from the Continent to deal with the rising. A Jacobite invasion of England reaches as far as Derby before turning back, having attracted relatively few English recruits.

The Jacobites, with limited French military support, attempt to consolidate their control of Scotland, where by early 1746 they are opposed by a substantial government army. A scrambled Jacobite victory at Falkirk fails to change the strategic situation. With supplies and pay running short and with the government troops resupplied and reorganised under the Duke of Cumberland, son of British monarch George II, the Jacobite leadership has few options left other than to stand and fight. The two armies eventually meet at Culloden, on terrain that gives Cumberland’s larger, well-rested force the advantage.

The battle lasts only an hour, with the Jacobites suffering a bloody defeat with between 1,500 and 2,000 killed or wounded. Approximately 300 government soldiers are killed or wounded. While perhaps as many as 6,000 Jacobites remain in arms in Scotland, the leadership takes the decision to disperse, effectively ending the rising. The men of the combined Irish regiments, under the command of Brigadier Walter Stapleton, are the last off the field, covering the retreat of Prince Charles and the remnants of his army. The Irish had given their blood to the cause of a Stuart King for the last time. Most of the surviving Irish surrender at Inverness. The Prince himself eventually manages to make his escape to France.

Culloden and its aftermath continue to arouse strong feelings. The University of Glasgow awards the Duke of Cumberland an honorary doctorate, but many modern commentators allege that the aftermath of the battle and subsequent crackdown on Jacobite sympathisers were brutal, earning Cumberland the sobriquet “Butcher.” Efforts are subsequently made to further integrate the comparatively undeveloped Scottish Highlands into the Kingdom of Great Britain. Civil penalties are introduced to undermine the Scottish clan system, which had provided the Jacobites with the means to rapidly mobilise an army.

Today, a visitor centre is located near the site of the battle. This centre is first opened in December 2007, with the intention of preserving the battlefield in a condition similar to how it was on April 16, 1746. One difference is that it currently is covered in shrubs and heather. During the 18th century, however, the area was used as common grazing ground, mainly for tenants of the Culloden estate. Those visiting can walk the site by way of footpaths on the ground and can also enjoy a view from above on a raised platform. Possibly the most recognisable feature of the battlefield today is the 20-foot tall memorial cairn, erected by Duncan Forbes in 1881. In the same year Forbes also erects headstones to mark the mass graves of the clans.


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Execution of Thomas Russell, United Irishmen Co-founder

thomas-russellThomas Paliser Russell, co-founder and leader of the Society of United Irishmen, is executed for his part in Robert Emmet‘s rebellion on October 21, 1803.

Born in Dromahane, County Cork to an Anglican family, Russell joins the British army in 1783 and serves in India. He returns to Ireland in 1786 and commences studies in science, philosophy and politics. In July 1790 he meets Theobald Wolfe Tone in the visitors’ gallery in the Irish House of Commons and they become firm friends.

In 1790 Russell resumes his military career as a junior officer in the 64th Regiment of Foot and is posted to Belfast. The French Revolution in 1789 is warmly greeted in Belfast as are its ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. With his keen mind and radical ideas, Russell soon becomes a confidante of Henry Joy McCracken, James Hope, Samuel Neilson and others who are to play a prominent role in the United Irish movement. With them he develops ideas of parliamentary reform, to include the bulk of the people, and Catholic emancipation.

Russell leaves the army in July 1791 and attends a convention of the Whig Club in Belfast to mark Bastille Day. The convention is addressed by William Drennan, who proposes a brotherhood promoting separation from England and co-operation with the increasingly radical Cisalpine Club in the pursuit of political and social reforms. However, Russell notes the lack of trust between Dissenters and Catholics which is due to fears that Catholic radicalism can be bought off by religious concessions. Informing Wolfe Tone of his observations, within weeks leads to Wolfe Tone’s publication of Argument on Behalf of the Catholics of Ireland to address these suspicions. The pamphlet is extremely well received and provides the impetus for the founding of the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast on October 18, 1791.

Pressure from Dublin Castle later forces the United Irish movement to become a clandestine organisation as the would-be revolutionaries seek to continue their slow progress towards challenging the occupying British.

In 1795 Russell, Andrew Henderson, Henry Joy McCracken and Samuel Neilson lead a band of United Irishmen to the top of Cavehill overlooking the town of Belfast where they swear an oath “never to desist in our effort until we have subverted the authority of England over our country and asserted her independence” prior to Wolfe Tone’s exile to the United States. The event is noted in Dublin Castle although there is no immediate move to disband or arrest the members of the United Irishmen.

In 1796, Russell publishes an ambitious and far-sighted document, Letter to the People of Ireland, which lays out his vision of social and economic reform for the Irish nation. In addition to his stance on religious freedom, he makes clear his anti-slavery views in the Northern Star on March 17, 1792.

Russell takes an active part in organising the Society of United Irishmen becoming the United Irish commander in County Down. However the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1793 leads to an ongoing campaign against the United Irishmen and in 1796 he is arrested and imprisoned as a “state prisoner” in Dublin. In March 1799 he and the other state prisoners are transferred to Fort George in Scotland, an extensive fortress some miles north of Inverness built in the wake of the failed Jacobite rebellion of 1745-46. He is released on condition of exile to Hamburg in June 1802 following a brief cessation in the war with France.

Not content to sit things out in Hamburg, Russell soon makes his way to Paris where he meets Robert Emmet who is planning another insurrection pending the French renewal of the war against England. He agrees to return to Ireland in March 1803 to organise the North in conjunction with James Hope. However he meets with little success as much of the north is subdued following the suppression of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and displays little appetite for a renewed outbreak. Finally, finding some support in the vicinity of Loughinisland, he prepares to take to the field on July 23, 1803, the date set by Emmett.

However the plan is badly thought out and quickly collapses, forcing Russell to flee to Dublin before a shot is fired in anger. He manages to hide for a number of weeks but Dublin is a hard place in which to hide in the days following the failure of Emmett’s rebellion as the shocked authorities have launched a massive campaign of raids and arrests in an effort to finally eradicate the United Irishmen.

Thomas Russell is promptly arrested and sent to Downpatrick Gaol where he is executed by hanging then beheaded on October 21, 1803.