seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.


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The La Mon Entertainment Complex Bombing

la-mon-bombingA Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) incendiary device explodes at the La Mon entertainment complex in Comber, County Down, on February 17, 1978, killing twelve people and injuring thirty others. The blast has been described as “one of the worst atrocities” of the Troubles.

Since the beginning of its campaign, the IRA has carried out numerous attacks on economic targets, killing many members of the public in the process. The IRA’s goal is to harm the economy and cause disruption, which will put pressure on the British government to withdraw from Northern Ireland.

On February 17, 1978, an IRA unit plants an incendiary device attached to petrol-filled canisters on meat hooks outside the window of the Peacock Room in the restaurant of the La Mon House Hotel. The IRA often give bomb warnings in advance of destroying property but never when targeting the police or military. After planting the bomb, the IRA members attempt to send a warning from the nearest public telephone, but find that it has been vandalised. On the way to another telephone they are delayed again when forced to stop at an Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) checkpoint. By the time they are able to send the warning, only nine minutes remain before the bomb detonates at 21:00. The blast creates a fireball, killing twelve people and injuring thirty more, many of whom are severely burned. Many of the injured are treated in the Ulster Hospital in nearby Dundonald. A 2012 news article claims that the IRA were targeting Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers they believed were meeting in the restaurant that night. The article claims that the IRA had gotten the wrong date and that the meeting of RUC officers had taken place exactly one week earlier.

The day after the explosion, the IRA admits responsibility and apologises for the inadequate warning. The hotel had allegedly been targeted by the IRA as part of its firebomb campaign against commercial targets. However, the resulting carnage brings quick condemnation from other Irish nationalists, with one popular newspaper comparing the attack to the 1971 McGurk’s Bar bombing. Sinn Féin president Ruairí Ó Brádaigh also strongly criticises the operation. In consequence of the botched attack, the IRA Army Council gives strict instructions to all units not to bomb buses, trains, or hotels.

A team of 100 RUC detectives is deployed in the investigation. As part of the investigation, 25 people are arrested in Belfast, including Gerry Adams. Adams is released from custody in July 1978. Two prosecutions follow. One Belfast man is charged with twelve murders but is acquitted. He is convicted of IRA membership but successfully appeals. In September 1981, another Belfast man, Robert Murphy, is given twelve life sentences for the manslaughter of those who died. Murphy is freed on licence in 1995. As part of their bid to catch the bombers, the RUC passes out leaflets which display a graphic photograph of a victim’s charred remains.

In 2012, a news article claims that two members of the IRA bombing team, including the getaway driver, are British double agents working for MI5. According to the article, one of the agents is Denis Donaldson. That year, Northern Ireland’s Historical Enquiries Team (HET) completes a report on the bombing. It reveals that important police documents, including interviews with IRA members, have been lost. A number of the victims’ families slam the report and call for a public inquiry. They claim the documents had been removed to protect certain IRA members. Unionist politician Jim Allister, who has been supporting the families, says, “There is a prevalent belief that someone involved was an agent and that is an issue around which we need clarity.”


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The M62 Coach Bombing

m62-coach-bombingThe M62 coach bombing occurs on February 4, 1974 on the M62 motorway in Northern England, when a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb explodes in a coach carrying off-duty British Armed Forces personnel and their family members. Twelve people, nine soldiers and three civilians, are killed by the bomb, which consists of 25 pounds of high explosive hidden in a luggage locker on the coach.

The coach has been specially commissioned to carry British Army and Royal Air Force personnel on leave with their families from and to the bases at Catterick and Darlington during a period of railway strike action. The vehicle departs from Manchester and is making good progress along the motorway. Shortly after midnight, when the bus is between junction 26 and 27, near Oakwell Hall, there is a large explosion on board. Most of those aboard are sleeping at the time. The blast, which can be heard several miles away, reduces the coach to a “tangle of twisted metal” and throws body parts up to 250 yards.

The explosion kills eleven people outright and wounds over fifty others, one of whom dies four days later. Amongst the dead are nine soldiers – two from the Royal Artillery, three from the Royal Corps of Signals, and four from the 2nd battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. One of the latter is Corporal Clifford Haughton, whose entire family, consisting of his wife Linda and his sons Lee (5) and Robert (2), also die. Numerous others suffer severe injuries, including a six-year-old boy, who is badly burned.

The driver of the coach, Roland Handley, is injured by flying glass, but is hailed as a hero for bringing the coach safely to a halt. Handley dies at the age of 76 after a short illness in January 2011.

Suspicions immediately fall upon the IRA, which is in the midst of an armed campaign in Britain involving numerous operations, later including the Guildford pub bombing and the Birmingham pub bombings.

Reactions in Britain are furious, with senior politicians from all parties calling for immediate action against the perpetrators and the IRA in general. The British media are equally condemnatory. According to The Guardian, it is “the worst IRA outrage on the British mainland” at that time, whilst the BBC describes it as “one of the IRA’s worst mainland terror attacks.” The Irish newspaper The Sunday Business Post later describes it as the “worst” of the “awful atrocities perpetrated by the IRA” during this period.

IRA Army Council member Dáithí Ó Conaill is challenged over the bombing and the death of civilians during an interview, and replies that the coach had been bombed because IRA intelligence indicated that it was carrying military personnel only.

Following the explosion, the British public and politicians from all three major parties call for “swift justice.” The ensuing police investigation led by Detective Chief Superintendent George Oldfield is rushed, careless, and ultimately forged, resulting in the arrest of the mentally ill Judith Ward who claims to have conducted a string of bombings in Britain in 1973 and 1974 and to have married and had a baby with two separate IRA members. Despite her retraction of these claims, the lack of any corroborating evidence against her, and serious gaps in her testimony – which is frequently rambling, incoherent, and “improbable” – she is wrongfully convicted in November 1974.

The case against Ward is almost completely based on inaccurate scientific evidence using the Griess test and deliberate manipulation of her confession by some members of the investigating team. The case is similar to those of the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, and the Maguire Seven, which occur at the same time and involve similar forged confessions and inaccurate scientific analysis. Ward is finally released in 1992, when three Appeal Court judges hold unanimously that her conviction was “a grave miscarriage of justice,” and that it had been “secured by ambush.”


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Founding of Republican Sinn Féin

republican-sinn-feinRepublican Sinn Féin (Irish: Sinn Féin Poblachtach), an unregistered Irish Republican political organisation, is founded at the West County Hotel in Dublin on November 2, 1986.

Republican Sinn Féin (RSF) claim to be heirs of the Sinn Féin party founded in 1905 and take its present form in 1986 following a split with Provisional Sinn Féin. RSF members take seats when elected in local Irish councils but do not recognise the partition of Ireland and subsequently the legitimacy of the Northern Ireland or Republic of Ireland governments, so does not register itself under them.

The decision to form, or to reorganise or reconstitute as its supporters see it, the organisation was taken in response to Gerry Adams-led Sinn Féin’s decision at its 1986 ard fheis to end its policy of abstentionism and to allow elected Sinn Féin Teachtaí Dála take their seats in Leinster House‘s Dáil Éireann. The supporters of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill who go on to form RSF oppose this move as it signals a departure from the traditional republican analysis which views the parliament of the Republic of Ireland as an illegal assembly, set up by an act of the British parliament. They argue that republicans owe their allegiance to the All-Ireland (32 County) Irish Republic, maintaining that this state exists de jure and that its authority rests with the IRA Army Council. Hence, if elected, its members refuse to take their seats in the Oireachtas.

The organisation views itself as representing “true” or “traditional” Irish republicanism, while in the mainstream media the organisation is portrayed as a political expression of “dissident republicanism.” Republican Sinn Féin rejects the Good Friday Agreement and indeed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. As part of this they refuse to discount Irish republicans using militant means to “defend the Irish Republic” and considers the Continuity Irish Republican Army (IRA) to be the legitimate army of the Irish Republic. The CIRA is designated as a terrorist organisation by the governments of the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.