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


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The Downing Street Mortar Attack

The Downing Street mortar attack was carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on February 7, 1991. The IRA launches three homemade mortar shells at 10 Downing Street, London, the headquarters of the British government in an attempt to assassinate prime minister John Major and his war Cabinet, who were meeting to discuss the Gulf War.

During the Troubles, as part of its armed campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, the Provisional Irish Republican Army repeatedly uses homemade mortars against targets in Northern Ireland. The IRA carries out many attacks in England, but none involve mortars. In December 1988, items used in mortar construction and technical details regarding the weapon’s trajectory are found during a raid in Battersea, South West London, by members of the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Branch. In the late 1980s, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is top of the IRA’s list for assassination, following the failed attempt on her life in the Brighton hotel bombing.

Security around Downing Street is stepped up following increased IRA activity in England in 1988. Plans to leave a car bomb on a street near Downing Street and detonate it by remote control as Thatcher’s official car is driving by had been ruled out by the IRA Army Council owing to the likelihood of civilian casualties.

The Army Council instead sanctions a mortar attack on Downing Street and, in mid-1990, two IRA members travel to London to plan the attack. One is knowledgeable about the trajectory of mortars and the other, from the IRA’s Belfast Brigade, is familiar with their manufacture. An active service unit (ASU) purchases a Ford Transit van and rents a garage and an IRA co-ordinator procures the explosives and materials needed to make the mortars. The IRA unit begins making the mortars and cutting a hole in the roof of the van for the mortars to be fired through. Once preparations are complete, the two IRA members return to Ireland, as the IRA leadership considers them valuable personnel and does not wish to risk them being arrested in any follow-up operation by the security services. In November 1990, Thatcher unexpectedly resigns from office, but the Army Council decides the planned attack should still go ahead, targeting her successor John Major. The IRA plans to attack when Major and his ministers are likely to be meeting at Downing Street and wait until the date of a planned cabinet meeting is publicly known.

On the morning of February 7, 1991, the War Cabinet and senior government and military officials are meeting at Downing Street to discuss the ongoing Gulf War. As well as the Prime Minister, John Major, those present include politicians Douglas Hurd, Tom King, Norman Lamont, Peter Lilley, Patrick Mayhew, David Mellor and John Wakeham, civil servants Robin Butler, Percy Cradock, Gus O’Donnell and Charles Powell, and Chief of the Defence Staff David Craig. As the meeting begins, an IRA member is driving the van to the launch site at the junction of Horse Guards Avenue and Whitehall, about 200 yards from Downing Street.

On arrival, the driver parks the van and leaves the scene on a waiting motorcycle. Several minutes later, at 10:08 AM, as a policeman is walking towards the van to investigate it, three mortar shells are launched from a Mark 10 homemade mortar, followed by the explosion of a pre-set incendiary device. This device is designed to destroy any forensic evidence and set the van on fire. Each shell is four and a half feet long, weighs 140 pounds, and carries a 40-pound payload of the plastic explosive Semtex. Two shells land on Mountbatten Green, a grassed area near the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. One explodes and the other fails to detonate. The third shell explodes in the back garden of 10 Downing Street, 30 yards from the office where the cabinet is meeting. Had the shell struck 10 Downing Street itself, it is likely the entire cabinet would have been killed. On hearing the explosion, the cabinet ducks under the table for cover. Bomb-proof netting on the windows of the cabinet office muffle the force of the explosion, which scorches the back wall of the building, smashes windows and makes a crater several feet deep in the garden.

Once the sound of the explosion and aftershock has died down, the room is evacuated and the meeting reconvenes less than ten minutes later in the Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms (COBR). No members of the cabinet are hurt, but four people receive minor injuries, including two police officers injured by flying debris. Immediately after the attack, hundreds of police officers seal off the government district, from the Houses of Parliament to Trafalgar Square. Until 6:00 PM, civilians are kept out of the area as forensic experts combed the streets and government employees are locked in behind security gates.

The IRA claims responsibility for the attack with a statement issued in Dublin, saying, “Let the British government understand that, while nationalist people in the six counties [Northern Ireland] are forced to live under British rule, then the British Cabinet will be forced to meet in bunkers.” John Major tells the House of Commons that “Our determination to beat terrorism cannot be beaten by terrorism. The IRA’s record is one of failure in every respect, and that failure was demonstrated yet again today. It’s about time they learned that democracies cannot be intimidated by terrorism, and we treat them with contempt.” Leader of the Opposition Neil Kinnock also condemns the attack, stating, “The attack in Whitehall today was both vicious and futile.” The head of the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Branch, Commander George Churchill-Coleman, describes the attack as “daring, well planned, but badly executed.”

A further statement from the IRA appears in An Phoblacht, with a spokesperson stating “Like any colonialists, the members of the British establishment do not want the result of their occupation landing at their front or back doorstep … Are the members of the British cabinet prepared to give their lives to hold on to a colony? They should understand the cost will be great while Britain remains in Ireland.” The attack is celebrated in Irish rebel culture when the band The Irish Brigade releases a song titled “Downing Street,” to the tune of “On the Street Where You Live,” which includes the lyrics “while you hold Ireland, it’s not safe down the street where you live.”


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Death of Stephen Hayes, Member & Leader of the IRA

Stephen Hayes, a member and leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) from April 1939 to June 1941, dies in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, on December 28, 1974.

Hayes is born in Enniscorthy on December 26, 1902. During the Irish War of Independence (1919-21), he is commandant of the Wexford Brigade of Fianna Éireann. He takes the Anti-Treaty side during the Irish Civil War (1922-23), during which he is interned.

Hayes is active in Gaelic Athletic Association circles in Wexford. In 1925, he helps Wexford win the Leinster Senior Football Championship. He also serves as secretary to the county board for ten years, from the 1920s to 1930s.

Hayes joins the IRA and is on the IRA Army Council in January 1939 when it declares war on the British government. When IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell departs on IRA business to the United States, and subsequently to Nazi Germany, Hayes becomes IRA Chief of Staff. His time in office is marred by controversy and it is widely believed that he serves as an informer to the Garda Síochána.

Hayes sends a plan for the invasion of Northern Ireland by German troops to Germany in April 1940. This plan later becomes known as Plan Kathleen. He is also known to have met with German agent Hermann Görtz on May 21, 1940 in Dublin shortly after the latter’s parachuting into Ireland on May 5, 1940 as part of Operation Mainau. He is known to have asked Görtz for money and arms to wage a campaign in Northern Ireland, although shortly after this meeting the original Plan Kathleen is discovered. The discovery of the plan leads to the acceleration of joint British and Irish military planning for a German invasion known as Plan W.

Another meeting on August 15, 1940 on Rathgar Road, Dublin organised by Hayes and attended by senior IRA men Paddy McGrath, Tom Harte and Tom Hunt, is also raided by the Garda Síochána.

McGrath and Harte are both arrested and tried by Military Tribunal, established under the Emergency Powers Act 1939. They challenge the legislation in the High Court, seeking a writ of habeas corpus, and ultimately appeal to the Supreme Court of Ireland. They are represented in the courts by Seán MacBride. The appeal is unsuccessful and they are executed by firing squad at Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison on September 6, 1940.

On June 30, 1941, Northern-based IRA men kidnap Hayes, accusing him of being a spy. By his own account, he is tortured and “court-martialed” for “treason” by his comrades, and would have been executed, but he buys himself time composing an enormously long confession. He manages to escape on September 8, 1941, and hands himself in to the Garda for protection.

The Officer Commanding (O/C) of the IRA Northern Command, Seán McCaughey, is convicted on September 18, 1941 of the kidnapping. After a long hunger and thirst strike in Portlaoise Prison, he dies on May 11, 1946.

Hayes is later sentenced to five years’ imprisonment by the Special Criminal Court on account of his IRA activities.

Within IRA circles, Hayes is still considered a traitor and an informer. One of the main allegations against him is that he informed the Garda Síochána about IRA arms dumps in Wexford. However, this is later blamed on a Wexford man named Michael Deveraux, an officer of the Wexford Battalion of the IRA who is subsequently abducted and executed by an IRA squad in County Tipperary on Hayes’ orders. George Plant, a Protestant IRA veteran, is later executed in Portlaoise Prison for Devereux’s murder.

After his release, Hayes resumes his clerical position at Wexford County Council. He dies in Enniscorthy on December 28, 1974.


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The Derryard Checkpoint Attack

The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) attacks a British Army permanent vehicle checkpoint complex manned by the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) near the Northern IrelandRepublic of Ireland border at Derryard, north of Rosslea, County Fermanagh, on December 13, 1989.

According to journalist Ed Moloney, the IRA Army Council, suspecting a great deal of infiltration by double agents at the grassroots level of the IRA, decide to form an experimental flying column (rather than the usual active service unit) to mount a large-scale operation against a permanent vehicle checkpoint along the border. It hopes that this will prevent any information leak that might result in another fiasco like the Loughgall Ambush of 1987.

Moloney maintains that the planning is in the charge of Thomas Murphy, alleged leader of the South Armagh Brigade, and that the raid is to be led by East Tyrone Brigade member Michael “Pete” Ryan. Journalist Ian Bruce instead claims that the IRA unit is led by an Irish citizen who had served in the Parachute Regiment, citing intelligence sources. The column is made up of about 20 experienced IRA volunteers from throughout Northern Ireland, eleven of whom are to carry out the attack itself. Bruce reports that IRA members from County Monaghan, supported by local Fermanagh militants, carry out the raid.

The target is a permanent vehicle checkpoint at Derryard. Described as a “mini base,” it includes an accommodation block and defensive sangars. It is manned by eight soldiers of the 1st Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers and a Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer. The eleven IRA members are driven to the checkpoint in the back of a makeshift Bedford armoured dumper truck. They are armed with 7.62mm AK-47s, 5.56mm ArmaLite AR-18s, two 12.7mm DShK heavy machine-guns, RPG-7s, different kinds of grenades, and a LPO-50 flamethrower. The heavy machine guns and the flamethrower are mounted on a tripod on the lorry bed. To assure widespread destruction, the column plan to detonate a van bomb after the initial assault.

The attack takes place shortly after 4:00 PM. IRA members seal off roads leading to the checkpoint in an attempt to prevent civilians from getting caught up in the attack. The truck is driven from the border and halted at the checkpoint. As Private James Houston begins to check the back of the truck, the IRA open fire with assault rifles and throw grenades into the compound. Two RPG-7s are fired at the observation sangar while the flamethrower stream is directed at the command sangar. Heavy shooting continues as the truck reverses and smashes through the gates of the compound. At least three IRA volunteers dismount inside the checkpoint and spray the portacabins with gunfire and the flamethrower’s fire stream, while throwing grenades and nail bombs. The defenders are forced to seek shelter in sangars, from where they fire into their own base. A farmer some distance away sees an orange ball of flames and hears gunfire ‘raking the fields.’ As the truck drives out of the now wrecked compound, a red transit van loaded with a 400-lb. (182 kg) bomb is driven inside and set to detonate once the IRA unit has made its escape. However, only the booster charge explodes.

The attack is finally repulsed by a four-men Borderers section from the checkpoint that is patrolling nearby, with the support of a Westland Wessex helicopter. The patrol fires more than 100 rounds at the IRA unit. The Wessex receives gunfire and is forced to take evasive action. The IRA column, at risk of being surrounded, flee toward the border in the armoured truck. It is found abandoned at the border with a 460-lb. (210 kg) bomb on board.

Two soldiers are killed in the attack: Private James Houston (22) from England and Lance-Corporal Michael Patterson (21) from Scotland. Corporal Whitelaw is badly wounded by shrapnel and later airlifted for treatment. Another soldier suffers minor injuries.

There is outrage in Westminster and among unionists, as a supposedly well-defended border post has been overrun by the IRA and two soldiers killed. On the other hand, according to Moloney, there is also some disappointment among republicans. Despite the positive propaganda effect, the quick and strong reaction from the outpost’s defenders convince some high-ranking IRA members that the Army Council has been infiltrated by a mole.

KOSB officers and security sources believe that the IRA unit involved was not locally recruited, putting the blame instead on IRA members from Clogher, County Tyrone and South Monaghan in the Republic. The same sources say that the attack was executed “in true backside-or-bust Para style.”

After the action of Derryard, the British Army in Northern ireland are issued the French designed Luchaire 40mm rifle grenade, fitted on the muzzle of the SA80 rifle. This gives the troops a lightweight armour piercing capability to deal with the threat imposed by improvised armoured vehicles. Permanent checkpoints along the border are also fitted with general-purpose machine guns. From 1990 until the end of the IRA campaign in 1997, there are a number of further bloodless, small-scale attacks against permanent vehicle checkpoints along this part of the border using automatic weapons, particularly in County Fermanagh and against a military outpost at Aughnacloy, County Tyrone.

Two soldiers, Corporal Robert Duncan and Lance Corporal Ian Harvey, are bestowed the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), while Lance-Corporal Patterson receives a posthumous mention in dispatches for his actions during the attack. The checkpoint is dismantled in March 1991, as part of a major border security re-arrangement codenamed Operation Mutilate.

(Pictured: Republican memorial at Carragunt bridge, on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, often crossed by Provisional IRA forces during the Troubles to attack British targets inside County Fermanagh)


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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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The Beginning of the IRA’s Border Campaign

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) begins what it calls “The Campaign of Resistance to British Occupation” on December 12, 1956. Also known as the “Border Campaign,” it is a guerrilla warfare campaign carried out by the IRA against targets in Northern Ireland, with the aim of overthrowing British rule there and creating a united Ireland. Although the campaign is a military failure, but for some of its members, the campaign is justified as it keeps the IRA engaged for another generation.

The border campaign is the first major military undertaking carried out by the IRA since the 1940s, when the harsh security measures of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland governments had severely weakened it. In 1939 the IRA tries a bombing campaign in England to try to force British withdrawal from Northern Ireland. From 1942 to 1944 it also mounts an ineffective campaign in Northern Ireland. Internment on both sides of the border, as well as internal feuding and disputes over future policy, all but destroy the organisation. These campaigns are officially called off on March 10, 1945. By 1947, the IRA has only 200 activists, according to its own general staff.

Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army Tony Magan sets out to create “a new Army, untarnished by the dissent and scandals of the previous decade.” Magan believes that a degree of political mobilization is necessary and the relationship with Sinn Féin, which had soured during the 1930s, is improved. At the 1949 IRA Convention, the IRA orders its members to join Sinn Féin, which partially becomes the “civilian wing” of the IRA.

By the mid-1950s, the IRA has substantially re-armed. This is achieved by means of arms raids launched between 1951 and 1954, on British military bases in Northern Ireland and England. By 1955, splits are occurring in the IRA, as several small groups, impatient for action, launch their own attacks in Northern Ireland. In November 1956, the IRA finally begins planning its border campaign.

On December 12 the campaign is launched with simultaneous attacks by around 150 IRA members on targets on the Border in the early hours. A BBC relay transmitter is bombed in Derry, a courthouse is burned in Magherafelt by a unit led by an 18-year-old Seamus Costello, as is a B-Specials post near Newry and a half-built Army barracks at Enniskillen is blown up. A raid on Gough Barracks in Armagh is beaten off after a brief exchange of fire.

The IRA issues a statement announcing the start of the campaign, “Spearheaded by Ireland’s freedom fighters, our people have carried the fight to the enemy…Out of this national liberation struggle a new Ireland will emerge, upright and free. In that new Ireland, we shall build a country fit for all our people to live in. That then is our aim: an independent, united, democratic Irish Republic. For this we shall fight until the invader is driven from our soil and victory is ours.”

The year 1957 is the most active year of the IRA’s campaign, with 341 incidents recorded. The most dramatic attack of the whole campaign takes place on January 1 when fourteen IRA volunteers, including Séan Garland, Alan O Brien and Dáithí Ó Conaill plan an attack on a joint Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)/B-Specials barracks in Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, though they attack the wrong building. On 11 November, the IRA suffers its worst loss of life in the period when four of its members die preparing a bomb in a farm house at Edentubber, County Louth, which explodes prematurely. The civilian owner of the house is also killed.

By 1958, the campaign’s initial impetus has largely dissipated. Certain IRA activities produce public hostility and, by 1958, there are already many within the IRA in favour of calling off the campaign. The Cork IRA, for instance, has effectively withdrawn. By mid-1958, 500 republicans are in gaol or interned, North and South.

The period after the summer of 1958 sees a steep drop in the intensity of the IRA campaign. That the IRA’s campaign had run its course by 1960 is testified by the fact that the Republic of Ireland’s government closes the Curragh Camp, which housed internees in the South, on March 15, 1959, judging them to be no further threat. The Northern Irish government follows suit on April 25, 1961.

In November 1961 a RUC officer, William Hunter, is killed in a gun battle with the IRA in south County Armagh. This is the final fatality of the conflict. Minister for Justice Charles Haughey reactivates the Special Criminal Court, which hands down long prison sentences to convicted IRA men.

Although it had petered out by the late 1950s, by late 1961 the campaign is over and is officially called off on February 26, 1962 in a press release issued that day, drafted by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh who consults with several other persons including members of the IRA Army Council. The campaign costs the lives of eight IRA men, four republican supporters and six RUC members. In addition, 32 RUC members are wounded. A total of 256 Republicans are interned in Northern Ireland during this period and another 150 or so in the Republic. Of those in Northern Ireland, 89 sign a pledge to renounce violence in return for their freedom.

(Pictured: A group of IRA men before embarking on an operation in the 1950s | Photo credited to http://laochrauladh.blogspot.ie/)


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Birth of Irish Republican Joe Cahill

joe-cahill

Joe Cahill, a prominent figure in the Irish Republican movement in Northern Ireland and former Chief of Staff of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Belfast on May 19, 1920.

Cahill is educated at St. Mary’s Christian Brothers’ Grammar School. At age 14 he leaves school to assist in his father’s print shop. Soon after, he joins the Catholic Young Men’s Society, which campaigns on social issues with a focus on eradicating moneylenders from working-class areas of Belfast, as they often charge usurious interest rates. At the age of seventeen, he joins Na Fianna Éireann, a republican-orientated Scouting movement. Na Fianna Eireann is regarded as the “Junior Irish Republican Army.”

Cahill joins the local Clonard-based ‘C’ Company of the Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army in 1938. Four years later, during an anniversary march by the IRA for the Easter Rising, he gets into a shootout with five other IRA men against four Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers. Several men are wounded and Constable Patrick Murphy is killed. Cahill and four of the other men spend time in prison in Belfast. The IRA declares a formal ceasefire in 1945. Afterwards, republican prisoners begin to be released. Cahill is released in October 1949.

The IRA launches a new campaign in 1956. The IRA border campaign attacks ten targets in six counties, damaging bridges, courthouses and border roads. By 1957, three RUC officers and seven republicans have been killed during the campaign. Cahill is arrested and interned in January 1957 with several other republicans. He is released from internment in April 1961. Following his release from prison, he is disappointed at the direction of the IRA and resigns from the organisation around 1962.

In 1969, Cahill is a key figure in the founding of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. During his time in the Provisional IRA, he helps import weapons and raise financial support. He serves as the chief of staff in 1972, but is arrested the following year when a ship importing weapons was intercepted.

After his release, Cahill continues to serve on the IRA Army Council and leads all financial dealings for Sinn Féin. In the 1990s, the IRA and Sinn Féin begin to work on seeking peace. Cahill serves on the council that calls a cessation on July 21, 1996. He attends several of the talks that finally lead to the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998. Shortly after the agreement is made, he resigns as treasurer of Sinn Féin. To honour his service, he is made honorary Sinn Féin Vice-President for life. He serves the Republican movement in Ireland all his life, as one of the longest-serving political activists in Ireland of any political party.

Cahill dies at age 84 in Belfast on July 23, 2004. He had been diagnosed with asbestosis, which he probably developed while working at the Harland & Wolff shipyards in his twenties. He and several other former shipyard workers later sue the company for their exposure to the dangerous substances but only win minimal compensation.


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The Irish Republican Army S-Plan

s-plan-coventry-attackThe S-Plan or Sabotage Campaign or England Campaign, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) campaign of bombing and sabotage against the civil, economic, and military infrastructure of the United Kingdom, begins on January 16, 1939 and lasts until March 1940. The campaign is conceived by Seamus O’Donovan in 1938 at the request of then IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell. It is believed that Russell and Joseph McGarrity devised the strategy in 1936.

The S-Plan contains many precise instructions for acts of destruction which have as their object the paralysis of all official activity in England and the greatest possible destruction of British defence installations. It divides the IRA campaign into two main lines: propaganda and offensive (military) action.

Operations are strictly concentrated on the island of Britain, in and around centres of population where IRA volunteers can operate freely without drawing attention. No attacks on targets in Northern Ireland or other areas under British control are planned as part of the S-Plan.

Sources of funding for the campaign are not known, but once the campaign is operational, the weekly expenses for operations in the field amount to approximately £700. Operational units are expected to raise any money needed themselves, and the men who act within IRA teams are unpaid and expected to support themselves while on missions.

On January 12, 1939, the IRA Army Council sends an ultimatum, signed by Patrick Fleming, to British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax. The communiqué duly informs the British government of “The Government of the Irish Republic’s” intention to go to “war.”

On Sunday, January 15, with no reply from the British Government, a proclamation is posted in public places throughout Ireland announcing the IRA’s declaration of war on Britain. This proclamation is written by Joseph McGarrity, leader of Clan na Gael in the United States, and is signed by six members of the Army Council – Stephen Hayes, Patrick Fleming, Peadar O’Flaherty, George Oliver Plunkett, Larry Grogan and Seán Russell.

The five deaths during the Coventry bombing on August 25, 1939 effectively ends the campaign. By late 1940 the introduction of the Treason Act 1939 and the Offences Against the State Act 1939 in Ireland, and the Prevention of Violence (Temporary Provisions) Act in Britain lead to many IRA members interned in Ireland, arrested in Britain, or deported from Britain. The granting of extra powers to the Irish Justice Minister under the Emergency Powers Act in January 1940 leads to 600 IRA volunteers being imprisoned and 500 interned during the course of World War II alone.

The final figures resulting from the S-Plan are cited as 300 explosions, ten deaths and 96 injuries.

(Pictured: The aftermath of an IRA bike bomb in Coventry on August 25, 1939)


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The 1979 Bessbrook Bombing

File source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coalisland.jpgThe Bessbrook bombing takes place on the April 17, 1979 when four Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers are killed when the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) explodes an estimated 1,000 pound roadside van bomb at Bessbrook, County Armagh.

The bombing occurs during a period of heightened IRA activity. The previous two years are some of the less active and less violent years during the Troubles. The British policy of criminalization seems to be working but the IRA is gearing up for a new offensive. In 1976, 295 people are killed compared with 111 in 1977 and 80 in 1978 but in 1979 the number increases to 120 with 76 being British security force members compared to just 34 in 1978. The entire IRA “battalion structure” has been reconstructed using more smaller, tight knit cells making the IRA more secretive, harder to infiltrate and makes them much more effective at carrying out larger operations. The only brigade area which does not go under this reconstruction is the South Armagh Brigade which is viewed by the IRA Army Council as an independent Republic. In fact, by the mid-1970s South Armagh has become so dangerous for the British security forces, who are snipped at and have bombs thrown at them whenever they enter the area on foot, they have to be airlifted into the area and ground patrols are stopped altogether effectively giving up the ground to the South Armagh PIRA.

While the four Protestant members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary are on an evening patrol, they are all killed when a Provisional IRA unit detonates a remote-controlled bomb hidden in a parked van. The IRA unit detonates the well hidden bomb at the exact second the RUC mobile patrol is passing giving the officers no chance of survival. The dead RUC men are, Paul Gray (25), Robert Lockhart (44), Richard Baird (28) and Noel Webb (30). The bomb is estimated at 1,000 lbs. and is believed to be the largest bomb used by the IRA up to that date.

In January 1981, Patrick Joseph Traynor (27) from Crossmaglen is found guilty of the four murders and a range of other charges. He is jailed for life on each of the four murder charges and is sentenced to 12 years for the related crimes.

The IRA continues to intensify their campaign. On August 29, 1979 the IRA carries out two separate attacks in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that shock the world and give huge media coverage to their campaign. The first is the killing of Lord Mountbatten and his grandson when the boat they are on off the Sligo coast is blown up by a remote controlled bomb. The second is the Warrenpoint Ambush where the IRA kills 18 British soldiers in a double bomb attack, the highest loss of life for the British Army during the Troubles. The IRA carries out several of these type of large attacks against the British forces throughout the 1980s like the 1983 Ballygawley land mine attack which kills four soldiers, the 1988 Lisburn van bombing which kills six soldiers and the Ballygawley bus bombing also carried out in 1988 which kills eight soldiers and injures 28.


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Harrods Bombing

harrods-bombingA Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) car bomb kills six and injures ninety outside London‘s Harrods department store, a large, upmarket department store in the affluent Knightsbridge district near Buckingham Palace on December 17, 1983. The IRA Army Council claims that it has not authorised the attack and expresses regret for the civilian casualties. After the bombing, the IRA changes its tactic to focus on military targets on the mainland.

Harrods had been the target of an earlier IRA bomb on December 21, 1974 which was placed in the northeast corner of the first floor. There was a very short warning and the store was in the process of being cleared when it exploded. It was also the target of a much smaller IRA bomb almost ten years later, in January 1993, which injured four people.

From 1973 the Provisional IRA has carried out waves of bombing attacks on commercial targets in London and elsewhere in England as part of its “economic war.” The goal is to damage the economy and cause disruption, which would put pressure on the British government to withdraw from Northern Ireland. On December 10, 1983, the IRA carries out its first attack in London in some time when a bomb explodes at the Royal Artillery Barracks, injuring three British soldiers.

One week later, on the afternoon of December 17, IRA members park a car bomb near the side entrance of Harrods, on Hans Crescent. The bomb contains 25 to 30 lbs. of explosives and is set to be detonated by a timer. It is left in a 1972 blue Austin 1300 GT four-door sedan. At 12:44 PM a man using an IRA codeword phones the central London branch of the Samaritans charity. The caller says there is a car bomb outside Harrods and another bomb inside Harrods, and gives the car’s registration plate. According to police, he does not give any other description of the car.

The bomb explodes at about 1:21 PM, as four police officers in a car, an officer on foot and a police dog-handler near the suspect vehicle. Three officers and three bystanders are killed and 90 others are injured, including 14 police officers. The blast damages 24 cars and all five floors on the side of Harrods, sending a shower of glass down onto the street. The police car absorbs much of the blast and this likely prevents further casualties.

Five people die at the scene of the bombing and a sixth later dies in the hospital. The bystanders who die are Philip Geddes (24), a journalist who had heard about the alert and went to the scene, Jasmine Cochrane-Patrick (25) and Kenneth Salvesen (28), a United States citizen. The Metropolitan Police Service officers killed are Sergeant Noel Lane (28) and Constable Jane Arbuthnot (22). A third officer, Inspector Stephen Dodd (34), dies in the hospital from his injuries on December 24. Constable Jon Gordon survives, but loses both legs and part of a hand in the blast.

At the time of the explosion, a second warning call is made by the IRA. The caller says that a bomb has been left in the C&A department store at the east end of Oxford Street. Police clear the area and cordon it off but this claim is found to be false. In the aftermath of the attack, hundreds of extra police and mobile bomb squads are drafted into London. Aleck Craddock, chairman of Harrods, reports that £1 million in turnover has been lost as a result of the bombing. Despite the damage, Harrods re-opens three days later, proclaiming it will not be “defeated by acts of terrorism.” Denis Thatcher, the husband of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, visits the store and tells reporters “no damned Irishman is going to stop me going there.”


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Assassination of Ross McWhirter

ross-mcwhirterAlan Ross McWhirter, co-founder of The Guinness Book of Records and a contributor to Record Breakers, is murdered by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on November 27, 1975.

McWhirter is the youngest son of William McWhirter, editor of the Sunday Pictorial, and Margaret “Bunty” Williamson. He is born at Winchmore Hill, Middlesex, England on August 12, 1925. Like his two brothers, he is educated at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Oxford. Between 1943 and 1946 he serves as a sub-lieutenant with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on board a minesweeper in the Mediterranean Sea.

Ross and his twin brother Norris become sports journalists in 1950. In 1951, they found an agency to provide facts and figures to Fleet Street, setting out, in Norris McWhirter’s words “to supply facts and figures to newspapers, yearbooks, encyclopaedias and advertisers.” In the same year they publish Get to Your Marks.

While building up their accounts, they both work as sports journalists. One of the athletes they know and cover is runner Christopher Chataway, an employee at Guinness who recommends them to Hugh Beaver. After an interview in 1954 in which the Guinness directors enjoy testing the twins’ knowledge of records and unusual facts, the brothers agree to start work on the book that becomes The Guinness Book of Records. In August 1955, the first 198-page green volume is at the bookstalls, and in four more months it is the UK’s number one non-fiction best-seller. Both brothers are regulars on the BBC show Record Breakers. They are noted for their encyclopedic memories, enabling them to provide detailed answers to questions from the audience about entries in The Guinness Book of Records. Norris continues on the programme after Ross’s death.

In the early 1960s, McWhirter is a Conservative Party activist and seeks, unsuccessfully, the seat of Edmonton in the 1964 general election. Following his killing, his brother and others found the National Association for Freedom (later The Freedom Association).

McWhirter advocates various restrictions on the freedom of the Irish community in Britain, such as making it compulsory for all of them to register with the local police and to provide signed photographs of themselves when renting flats or booking into hotels and hostels. In addition, he offers a £50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction for several recent high-profile bombings in England that were publicly claimed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). In doing so, he recognises that he might then be a target himself. This is considered a “bounty” by the IRA Army Council, a view that leads directly to the events that follow, although the idea is not originally his, but that of John Gouriet.

At 6:45 PM on November 27, 1975, McWhirter is shot and killed by two IRA volunteers, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, both of whom are members of what becomes known as the Balcombe Street Gang, the group for whose capture McWhirter had offered the reward. He is shot with a .357 Magnum revolver at close range in the head and chest outside his home in Village Road, Bush Hill Park. He is taken to Chase Farm Hospital but dies soon after being admitted. His killers are captured and charged with his and nine other murders. They are sentenced to life imprisonment but freed in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.