seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Margaret Hassan, Irish-born Aid Worker in Iraq

Margaret Hassan, Irish-born aid worker also known as “Madam Margaret,” is born Margaret Fitzsimons in Dalkey, County Dublin on April 18, 1945. She works in Iraq for many years until she is abducted and murdered by unidentified kidnappers in Iraq in 2004. Her remains have never been recovered.

Soon after the end of World War II Hassan’s family moves to London, where she spends most of her early life and where her younger siblings are born. At the age of 27, she marries Tahseen Ali Hassan, a 29-year-old Iraqi studying engineering in the United Kingdom. She moves to Iraq with him in 1972, where she begins work with the British Council of Baghdad, teaching English. Eventually she learns Arabic and becomes an Iraqi citizen.

During the early 1980s, Hassan becomes the assistant director of studies at the British Council, later becoming director. Meanwhile, her husband works as an economist. She remains in Baghdad during the 1991 Gulf War, although the British Council suspends operations in Iraq, and she is left jobless at the end of it.

Hassan joins humanitarian relief organisation CARE International in 1991. Sanitation, health, and nutrition become major concerns in the sanctioned Iraq. She is crucially involved in bringing leukemia medicine to child cancer victims in Iraq in 1998. She becomes a vocal critic of the United Nations restrictions. She is opposed to the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003, arguing that the Iraqis are already “living through a terrible emergency. They do not have the resources to withstand an additional crisis brought about by military action.”

By 2004, Hassan is head of Iraqi operations for CARE. Well known in many of Baghdad’s slums and other cities, she is especially interested in Iraq’s young people, whom she calls “the lost generation.” Her presence draws large crowds of locals.

Hassan is kidnapped in Baghdad on October 19, 2004, and is killed some weeks later on November 8. In a video released of her in captivity she pleads for help and begs British Prime Minister Tony Blair to remove British troops from Iraq. She adds that she does not “want to die like Mr. Bigley,” a reference to Kenneth Bigley, who had been executed in Iraq only weeks earlier.

Patients of an Iraqi hospital take to the streets in protest against the hostage takers’ actions. On October 25, between 100 and 200 Iraqis protest outside CARE’s offices in Baghdad, demanding her release. Prominent elements of the Iraqi insurgency and Iraqi political figures condemn the kidnapping and call for her release. On November 2, Al Jazeera reports that the kidnappers threatened to hand her over to the group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and who is responsible for the execution of Bigley. On November 6, a statement purportedly from al-Zarqawi appears on an Islamist website calling for the release of Hassan unless the kidnappers have information she is aligned with the invading coalition. The statement cannot be authenticated and Hassan’s whereabouts in the video are unknown.

On 15 November, U.S. Marines in Fallujah uncover the body of an unidentified blonde- or grey-haired woman with her legs and arms cut off and throat slit. The body cannot be immediately identified, but is thought unlikely to be Hassan, who has brown hair. There is one other western woman known missing in Iraq at the time the body is discovered, Teresa Borcz Khalifa, a Polish-born long-time Iraqi resident. Khalifa is released by her hostage takers on November 20.

On November 16, CNN reports that CARE has issued a statement indicating that the organisation is aware of a videotape showing Hassan’s execution. Al-Jazeera reports that it has received a tape showing Hassan’s murder but is unable to confirm its authenticity. The video shows Hassan being shot with a handgun by a masked man. It is not known who is responsible for Hassan’s abduction and murder. The group holding her never identifies itself in the hostage videos.

She remains a Roman Catholic throughout her life and never converts to Islam as is widely reported after her death. A Requiem Mass is held for her, after her death is confirmed, at Westminster Cathedral by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.

CARE International suspends operations in Iraq because of Hassan’s kidnapping. At least eight other women kidnapped by insurgents during the conflict are released unharmed by their captors. It is unclear why Hassan, who was opposed to the war, lived in Iraq for many years, held Iraqi citizenship, was married to an Arab Muslim and spoke fluent Arabic was killed.

On May 1, 2005, three men are questioned by Iraqi police in connection with the murder. On June 5, 2006, news reports emerge that an Iraqi man by the name of Mustafa Salman al-Jubouri has been sentenced to life imprisonment for “aiding and abetting the kidnappers” but two other men are acquitted. Al-Jubouri appeals this sentence and is given a shorter imprisonment.

An Iraqi man named Ali Lutfi Jassar al-Rawi, also known as Abu Rasha, an architect from Baghdad, is arrested by Iraqi and U.S. forces in 2008 after contacting the British Embassy in Baghdad and attempting to extort 1 million dollars in return for disclosing the location of Hassan’s body. Though Jassar signs statements confessing to the charges, he pleads not guilty, stating he was forced to sign them after receiving beatings and electrical shocks during questioning.

On June 2, 2009, the Press Association reports that Jassar is given a life sentence by Baghdad’s Central Criminal Court for being involved in Hassan’s abduction and murder, and for attempting to blackmail the British Embassy. Hassan’s family welcomes the court’s decision but pleads with Jassar to tell them where her body is so they can return her to Britain for burial. On July 14, 2010, a day before Jassar is due to appear in court for retrial, it is reported that he could not be located in the prison facility where he was being held. He had been missing for a month.


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Ireland Awarded the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games

On March 31, 1999, Ireland is selected as the location for the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games. It is the first time the event has been staged outside the United States. The organising committee, which is formed in 1999 following the success of the bid, is chaired by entrepreneur Denis O’Brien. The chief executive is Mary Davis.

The Games are hosted in Dublin, with participants staying in 177 towns, cities and villages and the Aran Islands in the lead up to the Games before moving to Dublin for the events. Events are held from June 21-29, 2003 at many venues including Morton Stadium, the Royal Dublin Society, the National Basketball Arena, all in Dublin. Croke Park serves as the central stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies, even though no competitions take place there. Belfast is the venue for roller skating events at the King’s Hall, as well as the Special Olympics Scientific Symposium held on June 19-20.

Approximately 7,000 athletes from 150 countries compete in the Games in 18 official disciplines and three exhibition sports. The participants from Kosovo are the region’s first team at an international sporting event. A 12-member team from Iraq receives special permission to attend the games, despite ongoing war in their home nation. This is the largest sporting event held in 2003.

The opening ceremony is held in Croke Park and features an array of stars and is hosted by Patrick Kielty. The ceremony is officially opened by President of Ireland Mary McAleese and attended by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Performances include U2, The Corrs and the largest Riverdance troupe ever assembled on one stage. There are 75,000 athletes and spectators in attendance at the opening ceremonies. Irish and international celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jon Bon Jovi walk with the athletes, with Muhammad Ali as a special guest and Manchester United and Republic of Ireland football player Roy Keane taking the athletes oath with one of the Special Olympians. Nelson Mandela officially opens the Games.

The Games Flame is lit at the culmination of the Law Enforcement Torch Run, in which more than 2,000 members of the Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland participate. This is a series of relays carrying the Special Olympics Torch, the “Flame of Hope,” from Europe to the Games’ official opening.

The 2003 Games are the first to have their opening and closing schemes broadcast on live television, and Raidió Teilifís Éireann provides extensive coverage of the events through their ‘Voice of the Games’ radio station which replaces RTÉ Radio 1 on medium wave for the duration of the event. There is also a nightly television highlight programme. A daily newspaper, the Games Gazette, was published for each day of the Games.

Among the activities carried out during the Games are thorough medical checks on the athletes, some of whom have previously undiagnosed conditions uncovered, as some of the athletes come from countries with limited medical facilities or have difficulty communicating their symptoms.

Among the contributors to the Games is the Irish Prison Service. Prisoners from Mountjoy Prison, Midlands Prison, Wheatfield Prison and Arbour Hill Prison construct podiums and make flags, towels, signs, benches and other equipment.


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Bertie Ahern Requires Second UN Resolution Prior to Iraq War

On February 19, 2003, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says a second United Nations (UN) resolution is a political imperative before any military action against Iraq can take place. But Ahern refuses to state whether the Government of Ireland will halt the use of Shannon Airport by the United States military if the George W. Bush administration undertakes unilateral action against Saddam Hussein without UN backing.

The United States and the UK are forced to push back their plans for a second UN resolution on military action as more countries come out against the use of force in Iraq. Mary Robinson, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, says she is fearful of the consequences of a war without UN backing.

In an interview with RTÉ News Ahern says the most important issue for this country is the primacy of the United Nations. He disagrees with the United States on whether or not they legally needed another UN Resolution before launching an attack on Iraq. He says other countries, including Ireland, have another point of view.

The Fianna Fáil parliamentary party unanimously passes a motion calling for a second resolution from the United Nations Security Council prior to the consideration of military action against Iraq. The motion also expresses “full confidence” in the efforts of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen, to reach a peaceful outcome to the crisis.

The leading United States Congressman, Jim Walsh, welcomes the support that the Taoiseach has given to the United States in relation to Iraq. After a meeting with Sinn Féin in Belfast earlier in the day, he says that he recognises that it is a difficult time for the Irish people.

In the meantime, the UK has told its nationals in Iraq to leave the country immediately. In a statement the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) says it has issued the alert because of increasing tension in the region and the risk of terrorist action. The office says anyone considering going to Iraq should remember that UK nationals were held hostage by the Baghdad government in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War.

The British embassy in Kuwait City advises its citizens to leave Kuwait unless their presence in the emirate is essential. It also orders dependants of embassy staff to leave. “We advise you not to make any non-essential travel including holiday travel to Kuwait and, if already in Kuwait, to leave unless you consider your presence there is essential,” the embassy says in an advisory note.

An estimated 4,000 British nationals are resident in Kuwait. Britain has no diplomatic relations with President Saddam Hussein’s regime, and therefore cannot give consular assistance to British nationals inside Iraq. The current travel advisory for Israel warns against “any non-essential travel including holiday travel.”

(From: “More countries call for second UN Resolution” by RTÉ News, originally published Wednesday, February 19, 2003)


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Donal Billings Convicted of Possession of Explosives

Donal Billings of St. Bridget’s Court in Drumlish, County Longford, a 66-year-old man who put a bomb on a bus during Britain’s Queen Elizabeth‘s visit to Ireland in May 2011, is convicted on December 15, 2016 at the Special Criminal Court of possessing explosives and is sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison.

Justice Tony Hunt describes it as an outrageous, dangerous and highly irresponsible act, which recklessly exposed the 31 people on the bus, as well as the emergency services, to the very significant risk of injury or death. He says it was no thanks to Billings that this did not occur.

Billings is also found guilty of four counts of making bomb threats, including one claiming there were two mortars in Dublin Castle during the State banquet for the queen.

The court hears that on May 16, 2011, following a phone call to Longford Garda station, gardaí stopped a bus travelling from Ballina to Dublin at Maynooth. They find a well-made bomb in a bag in the luggage hold with gunpowder, petrol, a timing power unit, battery and a fuse, which if it had exploded could have caused seriously injured or killed the passengers and driver. Threats were also made that there were bombs on another bus and at the Sinn Féin headquarters in Dublin but none were found.

Billings is identified as the caller though phone records, notes, a SIM card and a mobile phone. Two days later he makes another call saying that two mortars have been left in Dublin Castle set for 8:00 PM, during the State banquet for the queen. “I am a member of the Republican Brotherhood Squad A”, he says. “This is for the Queen of Blood, War in Iraq.” Because of the first bomb, the threat is taken very seriously, but no more explosive devices are found.

Two days later a third call threatens there are two more bombs in the toilets in Cork Airport, but again nothing is found.

Billings is identified as a suspect that day and put under surveillance before being arrested at a supermarket car park in Longford. He tells gardaí he had found the SIM card in the car park.

Following the trial, during which interpreters are used to translate proceedings into Irish, Billings is convicted of making bomb threats and possessing explosives. He has previous convictions for possessing explosives in Northern Ireland in 1973 and is sentenced to eight years in prison. He also spent four years in Libya.

(From: “Man sentenced over bomb on bus during Queen Elizabeth’s visit,” RTÉ.ie, the website of Raidió Teilifís Éireann, Thursday, December 15, 2016)


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The 32CSM Condemns the Good Friday Agreement

32-county-sovereignty-movementKey members of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM), led by the sister of H-Block hunger striker Bobby Sands, meet on April 19, 1998 to draft an outright condemnation of the Good Friday peace deal.

The 32CSM is an Irish republican group that is founded by Bernadette Sands McKevitt. It does not contest elections but acts as a pressure group, with branches or cumainn organised throughout the traditional counties of Ireland. The organisation has been described as the “political wing” of the Real Irish Republican Army, but this is denied by both organisations. The group originates in a split from Sinn Féin over the Mitchell Principles.

The 32CSM is founded as the 32 County Sovereignty Committee on December 7, 1997 at a meeting of like-minded Irish republicans in Finglas in Dublin. Those present are opposed to the direction taken by Sinn Féin and other mainstream republican groups in the Northern Ireland peace process, which leads to the Belfast Agreement (also known as the Good Friday Agreement) the following year. The same division in the republican movement leads to the paramilitary group now known as the Real IRA breaking away from the Provisional Irish Republican Army at around the same time.

Most of the 32CSM’s founders have been members of Sinn Féin. Some had been expelled from the party for challenging the leadership’s direction, while others felt they had not been properly able to air their concerns within Sinn Féin at the direction its leadership had taken. Bernadette Sands McKevitt, wife of Michael McKevitt and a sister of hunger striker Bobby Sands, is a prominent member of the group until a split in the organisation.

The name refers to the 32 counties of Ireland which were created during the Lordship of Ireland and Kingdom of Ireland. With the partition of Ireland in 1920–1922, twenty-six of these counties form the Irish Free State which becomes the Republic of Ireland. The remaining six counties of Northern Ireland remain part of the United Kingdom. Founder Bernadette Sands McKevitt says in a 1998 interview with the Daily Mirror that people did not fight for “peace” – “they fought for independence” – and that the organisation reaffirms to the republican position in the 1919 Irish Declaration of Independence.

Before the referendums on the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the organisation lodges a legal submission with the United Nations challenging British sovereignty in Ireland. The referendums are opposed by the organisation, but are supported by 71% of voters in Northern Ireland and by 94% in the Republic of Ireland.

The 32CSM has protested against what it calls “internment by remand” in both jurisdictions in Ireland. Other protests include ones against former Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Ian Paisley in Cobh, County Cork, against former British Prime Minister John Major being given the Keys to Cork city, against a visit to the Republic of Ireland by Police Service of Northern Ireland head Sir Hugh Orde, and against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Anglo-American occupation of Iraq.

In 2015, the 32CSM organises a demonstration in Dundee, Scotland, in solidarity with the men convicted of shooting Constable Stephen Carroll, the first police officer to be killed in Northern Ireland since the formation of the PSNI. The organisation says the “Craigavon Two” are innocent and are victims of a miscarriage of justice.

The 32CSM once criticised the Real IRA’s military actions, with respect to the Omagh bombing. However, the group is currently considered a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) in the United States, because the group is considered to be inseparable from the Real IRA, which is designated as an FTO. At a briefing in 2001, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of State states that “evidence provided by both the British and Irish governments and open source materials demonstrate clearly that the individuals who created the Real IRA also established these two entities to serve as the public face of the Real IRA. These alias organizations engage in propaganda and fundraising on behalf of and in collaboration with the Real IRA.” The U.S. Department of State’s designation makes it illegal for Americans to provide material support to the Real IRA, requires U.S. financial institutions to block the group’s assets and denies alleged Real IRA members visas into the United States.


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Birth of Field Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson

henry-hughes-wilsonField Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson, 1st Baronet, GCB, DSO, one of the most senior British Army staff officers of World War I and briefly an Irish unionist politician, is born at Currygrane in Ballinalee, County Longford on May 5, 1864.

Wilson attends Marlborough public school between September 1877 and Easter 1880, before leaving for a crammer to prepare for the Army.

Wilson serves as Commandant of the Staff College, Camberley, and then as Director of Military Operations at the War Office, in which post he plays a vital role in drawing up plans to deploy an Expeditionary Force to France in the event of war. During these years he acquires a reputation as a political intriguer for his role in agitating for the introduction of conscription and in the Curragh incident of 1914, when he encourages senior officers to resign rather than move against the Ulster Volunteers.

As Sub Chief of Staff to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), Wilson is John French‘s most important adviser during the 1914 campaign, but his poor relations with Douglas Haig and William Robertson see him sidelined from top decision-making in the middle years of the war. He plays an important role in Anglo-French military relations in 1915 and, after his only experience of field command as a corps commander in 1916, again as an ally of the controversial French General Robert Nivelle in early 1917. Later in 1917 he is informal military advisor to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and then British Permanent Military Representative at the Supreme War Council at Versailles.

In 1918 Wilson serves as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, the professional head of the British Army. He continues to hold this position after the war, a time when the Army is being sharply reduced in size whilst attempting to contain industrial unrest in the UK and nationalist unrest in Mesopotamia, Iraq and Egypt. He also plays an important role in the Irish War of Independence.

After retiring from the army Wilson serves briefly as a Member of Parliament, and also as security advisor to the Government of Northern Ireland. He is assassinated on his own doorstep by two Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen on June 22, 1922 while returning home from unveiling the Great Eastern Railway War Memorial at Liverpool Street station.


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Formation of The Irish Guards

The Irish Guards regiment is formed on April 1, 1900 by order of Queen Victoria to commemorate the Irishmen who fought in the Second Boer War for the British Empire. The Irish Guards, part of the Guards Division, is a Foot Guards regiment based in Cavalry Barracks, Hounslow.

The regiment takes its motto, “Quis Separabit” or “Who shall separate us?” from the Order of St. Patrick, an order of chivalry founded by George III.

As a Foot Guards Regiment the Irish Guards Regiment is involved in state ceremonial and public duties at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, St. James’s Palace, and the Tower of London. HRH Prince William is Colonel of the Regiment and wore the uniform of the Irish Guards for his marriage to Kate Middleton.

St. Patrick’s Day is the traditional celebration of the Irish Guards and fresh shamrock is presented to members of the regiment.

The 1st Battalion Irish Guards is broken down into five separate Companies – three rifle companies, Numbers One, Two, and Four Companies, the Support Company (3 Company) and Headquarter Company. The rifle companies use the Warrior tracked armoured vehicle. In common with her sister Guards regiments, the regimental organization also includes the Band of the Irish Guards and the Corps of Drums, a fife and drum band.

The Battalion has deployed on recent conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan. The Battalion has also recently carried out a tour of Cyprus under the United Nations. As well as deploying on operations the Battalion has also deployed on various oversea exercises to Bosnia, Latvia, Oman, Kenya, and numerous other countries.

(Photo used with approval of copyright holder James Brunker, https://james-brunker.pixels.com/featured/irish-guards-on-the-march-james-brunker.html)