seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Hanging of Irish Republican Charlie Kerins

Charlie Kerins, a physical force Irish Republican and Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is hanged on December 1, 1944 at Mountjoy Prison in Dublin by the English hangman Albert Pierrepoint.

Kerins is born in Caherina, Tralee, County Kerry and attends Balloonagh Mercy Convent School and then the CBS, Edward Street. At the age of 13, he wins a Kerry County Council scholarship and completes his secondary education at the Green Christian Brothers and the Jeffers Institute. In 1930, he passes the Intermediate Certificate with honours and the matriculation examination to the National University of Ireland (NUI). He later does a commercial course and takes up employment in a radio business in Tralee.

In 1940, Kerins is sworn into the IRA and is appointed to the GHQ staff in May 1942. At the time, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera is determined to preserve Irish neutrality during World War II. Therefore, the IRA’s bombing campaign in England, its attacks against targets in Northern Ireland, and its ties to the intelligence services of Nazi Germany are regarded as severe threats to Ireland’s national security. IRA men who are captured by the Gardaí are interned for the duration of the war by the Irish Army in the Curragh Camp in County Kildare.

On the morning of September 9, 1942, Garda Detective Sergeant Denis O’Brien is leaving his home in Ballyboden, Dublin. He is between his front gate and his car when he is cut down with Thompson submachine guns. O’Brien, an Anti-Treaty veteran of the Irish Civil War, had enlisted in the Garda Síochána in 1933. He is one of the most effective Detectives of the Special Branch division, which has its headquarters at Dublin Castle. The shooting greatly increases public feeling against the IRA, particularly as the murder is carried out in full view of his wife.

Following the arrest of Hugh McAteer in October 1942, Kerins is named Chief of Staff of the IRA. Despite a massive manhunt by Gardaí, he remains at large for two years. He stays at a County Waterford home for two weeks while he is on the run, having given his name as Pat Carney. He is captured several months after he leaves the home.

Kerins had previously left papers and guns hidden at Kathleen Farrell’s house in the Dublin suburb of Rathmines. He telephones the house, as he intends to retrieve them. However, Farrell’s telephone had been tapped by the Gardaí. On June 15, 1944, he is arrested in an early morning raid. He is sleeping when the Gardaí enter his bedroom and does not have an opportunity to reach the Thompson submachine gun which is hidden under his bed.

At a trial before the Special Criminal Court in Collins Barracks, Dublin, Kerins is formally charged on October 2, 1944 for the “shooting at Rathfarnham of Detective Dinny O’Brien.” At the end of his trial, the president of the Military Court delays sentence until later in the day to allow Kerins, if he wishes, to make an application whereby he might avoid a capital sentence. When the court resumes, he says, “You could have adjourned it for six years as far as I am concerned, as my attitude towards this Court will always be the same.” He thus deprives himself of the right to give evidence, to face cross-examination, or to call witnesses.

Despite legal moves initiated by Seán MacBride, public protests, and parliamentary intervention by TDs from Clann na Talmhan, Labour, and Independent Oliver J. Flanagan in Leinster House, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera refuses to issue a reprieve. On December 1, 1944 in Mountjoy Prison, Kerins is hanged by British chief executioner Albert Pierrepoint, who is employed by the Irish Government for such occasions.

Kerins is the last IRA member to be executed in the Republic of Ireland. He is buried in the prison yard. In September 1948, his remains are exhumed and released to his family. He is buried in the Republican plot at Rath Cemetery, Tralee, County Kerry.


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Remembrance Sunday Ceremonies 2016

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald attend Remembrance Sunday ceremonies in Northern Ireland on November 13, 2016, while a cross commemorating Irish soldiers in World War I is dedicated at Dublin‘s Glasnevin Cemetery.

Kenny, who has taken part in the ceremony every year since 2012, lays a wreath of green laurels alongside the many red poppies at the war memorial in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh. Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster, a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, also attends the event.

Although there are no discussions between the pair, Kenny confirms he will meet with Foster in Dublin on Tuesday, November 15. The pair are also due to meet in Armagh on Friday, November 18 for a North/South ministerial meeting, where Brexit-related issues are expected to dominate the agenda.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald travels to Belfast, where she lays a laurel wreath at the Cenotaph at city hall. Fitzgerald is joined at the ceremony by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire.

Speaking afterwards, Fitzgerald, whose grandfather served as a soldier in the British army and whose father was a colonel in the Irish Army, says it has been an important engagement. “So many people across the island lost their lives; 50,000 families affected by loss of a loved one during the First World War. We have had a government minister here since 2012 and I think it is really important to come together, to remember together and to look at our shared histories.”

In England, British Prime Minister Theresa May is among those who gather at the Cenotaph in London for a commemoration ceremony.

Meanwhile, Heather Humphreys, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, dedicates the France-Ireland Memorial at Glasnevin Cemetery. Humphreys is joined by the French Minister of State for Veterans and Remembrance at the Ministry of Defence Jean-Marc Todeschini for the ceremony. The memorial is a gift to Ireland from France in recognition of Irish sacrifices made “in the defence and freedom of France, particularly in the First World War.”

(From: “Taoiseach, Tánaiste attend Remembrance Sunday ceremonies,” Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), http://www.rte.ie, November 13, 2016 | Pictured: Taoiseach Enda Kenny lays a wreath of green laurels in Enniskillen)


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The Niemba Ambush

The Niemba ambush takes place on November 8, 1960, when an Irish Army platoon in Congo-Léopoldville is ambushed, the first time the Irish Army is embroiled in battle since the founding of the Irish state in 1922. The Republic of Ireland had deployed troops as United Nations Operation in the Congo (ONUC) peacekeepers.

After the Belgian Congo becomes independent (as Republic of the Congo) in 1960, a civil war breaks out in Katanga, the southern, mineral-rich province of the Congo. A local political leader, Moïse Tshombe, declares Katanga an independent state. United Nations peacekeeping troops are invited to help restore order and to end the Katanga secession.

The Luba people or “Baluba” ethnic group do not support the Katangese secession. As a result they come under attack from pro-Katangese and allied forces. On October 4, several villages are attacked by Katangese gendarmes and European mercenaries and many Baluba are massacred. This leaves them suspicious of and hostile to any white European troops. Irish troops are sent to the area to secure it and encourage local people to return.

On November 8, 1960 an eleven-man section from the Irish Army’s 33rd Battalion arrives at the bridge over the Luweyeye River. They are forced to leave their vehicles when they encounter a blockade on the road. While clearing it, they encounter about 100 Luba militiamen armed with bows, poison-tipped arrows, spears and clubs, as well as some guns. While the Irish troops had arrived to protect the Baluba, the militia undoubtedly mistakes them for Katangese mercenaries. Lieutenant Kevin Gleeson, advancing unarmed with his platoon sergeant, Hugh Gaynor, attempt to greet them peacefully, but is hit with a barrage of poison-tipped arrows.

Gleeson and Gaynor are overtaken, beaten and hacked to death. The surprised Irish soldiers, who had not been deployed in a defensive formation after dismounting from their vehicles, retreat behind trees on either side of the road and open fire on the tribesmen with their Gustav submachine guns, Lee–Enfield rifles and Bren light machine guns. The Baluba however advance on them, and the Irish are cut off from their vehicles. Despite taking heavy losses, the Baluba overrun the Irish soldiers and fierce hand-to-hand fighting breaks out, during which most of the Irish troops are killed.

The surviving Irish troops regroup by a ridge but are surrounded by the Baluba. They fight to hold them off but their position is rapidly overrun and all but three of them are killed. The three survivors manage to escape. One of them, Anthony Browne, reaches a nearby village and gives all the money he has to the village women, hoping they will get him help, but is instead mobbed and beaten to death by the village men. His body is recovered two years later. The two surviving soldiers manage to hide and are found by other UN troops the following day.

A total of nine Irish soldiers die: Lt. Kevin Gleeson of Carlow, Sgt. Hugh Gaynor of Blanchardstown, Cpl. Peter Kelly of Templeogue, Cpl. Liam Dougan of Cabra, Pt. Matthew Farrell of Jamestown, Dublin, Tpr. Thomas Fennell of Donnycarney, Tpr. Anthony Browne of Rialto, Pte. Michael McGuinn of Carlow, and Pte. Gerard Killeen of Rathmines. Some 25 Baluba are also killed.

The bodies of the Irish dead are flown to Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, where they lay in state. Lt. Kevin Gleeson’s coffin is placed on a gun carriage, while those of the rest are placed on army trucks. Following a funeral procession through Dublin, they are buried at Glasnevin Cemetery.

A stone commemorating Lt. Gleeson can be found in his hometown of Carlow while a plaque commemorating Sgt. Hugh Gaynor can be found in his hometown of Blanchardstown.

The notoriety of the attack, and the allegations of mutilation and cannibalism that circulate in the Irish popular press in its aftermath, lead to the word “baluba” (sometimes spelled “balooba”) becoming a synonym for any “untrustworthy and barbaric” individual in certain parts of Ireland.

(Pictured: Baluba militiamen in 1962)


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Birth of James Kelly, Irish Army Intelligence Officer

Capt. James Kelly, former Irish Army intelligence officer who is found not guilty of attempting to illegally import arms for the Provisional Irish Republican Army in the Arms Trial of 1970, is born on October 16, 1929 in Bailieborough, County Cavan.

Kelly is the eldest of ten children born into a staunchly Irish republican family. His father, also named James Kelly, had stood for Sinn Féin in local elections in 1918, topping the poll. An ancestor from the late 18th century, Robert Kelly, was a member of the Society of United Irishmen, and was supposedly a Officer Commanding of the United Irishmen in the East Cavan/South Monaghan area. Kelly joins the Irish Army in 1949. By 1960 he has been promoted to captain and appointed to the intelligence section at army headquarters.

Kelly is a central figure in the Arms Trial, having travelled to Hamburg to arrange the purchase of arms. It emerges later that Neil Blaney had ordered him to do so outside normal legal channels, but before the weapons arrive the Garda Special Detective Unit has heard of the plan and informs Taoiseach Jack Lynch, aborting the importation and resulting in criminal charges for the plotters. Although in his summation the judge says it is no defence for Kelly to say that he believed that the government had authorised the importation of arms, Kelly is acquitted.

Although he is acquitted, Kelly suffers financially because he had felt compelled to resign from the Army even before the prosecution is brought. He prints and publishes a personal memoir in paperback format called Orders for the Captain? in 1971.

Kelly never denies that he had been involved in extra-legal arms purchase talks, but contends that he had been ordered to do so by some ministers. A typical version of the events is found in a 1993 hostile biography of Charles Haughey, claiming: “As early as October 1969, to the certain knowledge of Charles Haughey, James Gibbons, the Department of Justice, the Special Branch and Army Intelligence, there were meetings with leading members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), when they were promised money and arms. The critical encounter took place in Bailieborough [sic], County Cavan, on Saturday, 4 October 1969. It had been arranged by Captain James Kelly, an army intelligence officer, and Cathal Goulding. Kelly, at that stage, was already the subject of several security reports to the Secretary of the Department of Justice, Peter Berry, from the Special Branch, implicating Kelly with subversives and with promises of money and of arms.” Kelly never objects to such versions of the events of 1969.

Following the Arms Trial, Kelly joint-founds Aontacht Éireann, a political party directly born out of the scandal. He is elected vice-chairman of the party and stands in Dáil elections for them unsuccessfully on two occasions in 1973 and 1977 in the Cavan-Monaghan constituency. Aontacht Éireann meets with little success at the polls and by 1980 he has joined Fianna Fáil, becoming a member of its national executive. Following the first applications of the 1987 Extradition (European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism) Act, he resigns from the party in 1989 in opposition to the extradition of Provisional IRA prisoners to the United Kingdom. He also serves twice as President of the “1916-1921” Club.

Kelly is heavily involved in the Northern Ireland peace process. In 1989 he publishes his own draft on how a peace process could proceed. His document called The Courage of the Brave is launched in Conway Mill, Belfast on August 24, 1989. Present on the platform party at the launch of the document are Fianna Fáil Councillor Macarten McCormack, Ernest Cowan, Chairman of Kentstown Fianna Fáil who had served with Captain Kelly on the Fianna Fáil National Executive, Robert C. Linnon, National President, Irish American Unity Conference, Kate Lavery, representing John J. Finucane, National President, American Irish Political Education Committee and Father Des Wilson of Belfast.

Kelly dies on July 16, 2003 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. The epitaph on his grave is “Put not your trust in princes,” which is a quote from Niccolò Machiavelli.


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The 31st International Eucharistic Congress Begins in Dublin

eucharistic-congress-closing-ceremony-1932The 31st International Eucharistic Congress begins in Dublin on June 22, 1932 and runs through June 26. The congress is one of the largest eucharistic congresses of the 20th century and the largest public event to happen in the new Irish Free State. It reinforces the Free State’s image of being a devout Catholic nation. The high point is when over a million people gather for Mass in Phoenix Park.

Ireland is then home to 3,171,697 Catholics. It is selected to host the congress as 1932 is the 1500th anniversary of Saint Patrick‘s arrival. The chosen theme is “The Propagation of the Sainted Eucharist by Irish Missionaries.”

The city of Dublin is decorated with banners, bunting, garlands, and replica round towers. Seven ocean liners moor in the port basins and along Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. Five others anchor around Scotsmans Bay. The liners act as floating hotels and can accommodate from 130 to 1,500 people on each. The Blue Hussars, a ceremonial cavalry unit of the Irish Army formed to escort the President of Ireland on state occasions, first appears in public as an honor guard for the visiting Papal Legate representing Pope Pius XI.

John Charles McQuaid, President of Blackrock College, hosts a large garden party on the grounds of the college to welcome the papal legate, where the hundreds of bishops assembled for the Congress have the opportunity to mingle with a huge gathering of distinguished guests and others who have paid a modest subscription fee.

The final public mass of the congress is held at 1:00 PM on Sunday, June 26 in Phoenix Park at an altar designed by the eminent Irish architect John J. Robinson of Robinson & Keefe Architects, and is celebrated by Michael Joseph Curley, Archbishop of Baltimore. A radio station, known as Radio Athlone, is set up in Athlone to coincide with the Congress. In 1938 it becomes Radio Éireann. The ceremonies include a live radio broadcast by Pope Pius XI from the Vatican. John McCormack, the world famous Irish tenor, sings César Franck‘s Panis Angelicus at the mass.

Approximately 25% of the population of Ireland attend the mass and afterwards four processions leave the Park to O’Connell Street where approximately 500,000 people gather on O’Connell Bridge for the concluding Benediction given by the Papal Legate, Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri.

The English Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton is also present, and observes, “I confess I was myself enough of an outsider to feel flash through my mind, as the illimitable multitude began to melt away towards the gates and roads and bridges, the instantaneous thought ‘This is Democracy; and everyone is saying there is no such thing.'”

On the other hand, such an overwhelming display of Catholicity only confirms to Protestants in the North the necessity of the border.

(Pictured: the closing ceremony of the Eucharistic Congress that was held in Dublin in June 1932)


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Execution of Major Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith

geoffrey-lee-compton-smithMajor Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith (DSO) of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers is captured and executed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) on April 30, 1921 during the Irish War of Independence.

Compton-Smith was born in 1889 in South Kensington, London. After finishing school, he decides not to follow the family tradition of studying law. He actually wants to become an artist, but his father insists that he join the army. He studies at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and during World War I his regiment is sent to France. In 1917 he is wounded at the Battle of Arras, but he continues to fight on. He is awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). In 1919 he is sent to serve in Ireland during the Irish War of Independence.

In 1919 Compton-Smith is commander of the British Army base at Ballyvonane, near Buttevant, but he is also an intelligence officer. As an officer he also sometimes presides over courts martial. In January 1921, for instance, three IRA volunteers are tried by him for involvement in the ambush at Shinanagh, near Charleville, and he sentences them each to six months.

February 1921 is a bad time for the IRA in County Cork. They suffer major losses at the ambushes at Clonmult and Mourne Abbey, and several volunteers are taken prisoner, four of whom are sentenced to death. The IRA believes that these death sentences might be commuted if a British officer is held as a hostage. This leads to the capture of Compton-Smith. On April 16, 1921 he travels to Blarney, supposedly on a sketching trip but actually to meet a nurse in Victoria Barracks with whom he is having an affair. The IRA has spies in Victoria Barracks who likely tip off the IRA that Compton-Smith is coming to Blarney. A squad led by Frank Busteed easily capture him after he gets off the train.

Busteed then meets with Jackie O’Leary, the IRA battalion commander. It is decided that Donoughmore is the perfect place to keep a hostage, because parts of the parish are remote and the IRA is strong there.

On April 18, under the cover of darkness, Compton-Smith is transferred by car to Knockane House, an abandoned big house in Donoughmore. The following night he is moved again, this time by pony and trap, to Barrahaurin, a remote townland in the Boggeragh Mountains. He is kept there for the last eleven days of his life, on the small farm of Jack and Mary Moynihan. He is held prisoner in a shed, always under guard. Every evening he is brought into the house, where he eats and stays at the fireside. He and his guards have conversations about history and politics.

The four IRA prisoners are executed on April 28, 1921. On April 30, O’Leary informs Compton-Smith that he is going to be executed. He then writes a final letter to his wife. He tells her that he will die with her name on his lips and her face before his eyes and that he will “die like an Englishman and a soldier.” He also writes a letter to his regiment and one to Lt. General Strickland.

After finishing his letters, Compton-Smith is led up into Barrahaurin bog behind the Moynihan house, to a place where his grave had already been dug, and is given a final cigarette. In his witness statement Maurice Brew writes, “When removed to the place of execution he placed his cigarette case in his breast pocket of his tunic … He then lighted a cigarette and said that when he dropped the cigarette it could be taken as a signal by the execution squad to open fire.”

It is not until late May, following the discovery of the cache of letters in a Dublin raid, that the Compton-Smith family is informed of his death. His father, William, then starts a campaign to find his son’s body. He wrote letters to MPs and to the British Army, seeking information and help. He also writes to Erskine Childers but gets no reply. He offers a reward of £500 for information, but only The Irish Times agrees to print his advertisement.

In November 1921 a cousin of Compton-Smith’s wife, Gladys, meets Michael Collins in London and asks him for help in finding the body. Correspondence between Collins and the Compton-Smith family suggests that Collins is trying to help in 1922, but he fails to get any results before he is assassinated at Béal na Bláth later that same year.

On March 3, 1926 Compton-Smith’s grave is discovered by the Gardaí. The newspapers report that the remains, because of the conditions of the bog, “were not so badly decomposed as to render identification impossible.” The body is brought to Collins Barracks in Cork. On March 5 the Gardaí send a telegram to the Compton-Smiths, informing them that the body has been located.

The reburial of Compton-Smith is carried out with great dignity on March 19, 1926. The Irish Army escorts the coffin from Collins Barracks to Penrose Quay, where British forces from Spike Island take the coffin on board a boat. While the boat travels down the River Lee, the Irish Army’s guard of honour presents arms and sounds the “Last Post.” The British then bring the coffin to Carlisle Fort, near Whitegate, where it was buried in the in the British Military Cemetery with full military honours.


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Formation of the Provisional Government of Ireland

provisional-government-of irelandA meeting of the members elected to the House of Commons of Southern Ireland is held at the Mansion House in Dublin on January 14, 1922. At the meeting the Anglo-Irish Treaty is ratified by the Irish side in accordance with the Treaty and a Provisional Government is elected for the purposes of Article 17 of the Treaty.

Under the Irish Republic‘s Dáil Constitution adopted in 1919, Dáil Éireann continues to exist after it has ratified the Anglo-Irish Treaty. In protest at the ratification, Éamon de Valera resigns the presidency of the Dáil then seeks re-election from among its members in order to clarify his mandate, but Arthur Griffith defeats him in the vote and assumes the presidency.

Most of the Dáil Ministers become concurrently Ministers of this Provisional Government. Michael Collins becomes Chairman of the Provisional Government (i.e. prime minister). He also remains Minister for Finance of Griffith’s republican administration.

The Provisional Government takes office two days later on January 16, 1922 when British administration hands over Dublin Castle to Collins in person. At this time, Westminster has not formally appointed the new Irish ministers or conferred their government with any powers.

The handover of Dublin Castle to the Provisional Government is one of the earliest and most remarkable events in the short life of the Provisional Government. For centuries Dublin Castle is the symbol, as well as the citadel, of British rule in Ireland. The transfer of its Castle administration to the representatives of the Irish people is greatly welcomed in Dublin. It is regarded as a significant outward and visible sign that British rule is ending.

Following the general election on June 16, 1922, held just before the outbreak of the Irish Civil War, the Second Provisional Government takes power until the creation of the Irish Free State on December 6, 1922.

By mid-1922, Collins in effect lays down his responsibilities as Chairman of the Provisional Government to become Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Army, a formal structured uniformed army that forms around the pro-Treaty Irish Republican Army (IRA). As part of those duties, he travels to his native County Cork. En route home on August 22, 1922, at Béal na Bláth, he is killed in an ambush. Arthur Griffith dies of a cerebral haemorrhage ten days prior to Collins’ assassination. After Collins’ and Griffith’s deaths in August 1922, W. T. Cosgrave becomes both Chairman of the Provisional Government and President of Dáil Éireann, and the distinction between the two posts becomes irrelevant.

On December 6, 1922, the Irish Free State comes into being, and the Provisional Government becomes the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, presided over by a prime minister called the President of the Executive Council. On December 7 the House of Commons of Northern Ireland unanimously exercises its right under the Treaty to opt out of the Free State.

(Pictured: The Provisional Government of Ireland with President Arthur Griffith (front row center) and his cabinet and party includng Michael Collins (to Griffith’s right) likely taken at the Mansion House in February 1922)


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Birth of Maureen Potter, Actor & Comedienne

maureen-potter

Maria Philomena Potter, singer, actor, comedian and performer known as Maureen Potter, is born on January 3, 1925 in Fairview, Dublin.

Potter is educated at St. Mary’s school in Fairview. She has a long career in Irish theatre, mainly as Ireland’s première comedienne, but also as a straight actress. She first appears professionally with Jimmy O’Dea in pantomime and appears frequently on television and in cabaret. She is a regular performer at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin and for many years stars in Christmas pantomime. She becomes the first star to have a bronze cast of her handprints outside the theatre. She marries Jack O’Leary in 1959, an Irish army officer whom she had first met in 1943, and he writes most of her comedic material.

Among Potter’s many dramatic roles in the theatre is that of Maisie Madigan in Juno and the Paycock. While still a teenager, she tours abroad before World War II as a singer and dancer with Jack Hylton and his orchestra. On a tour of Germany, they once perform in front of Adolf Hitler and other Nazis. She plays the role of Dante Riordan in Joseph Strick‘s film, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1977). In September 1938, she appears on the BBC Television Service with Jack Hylton and his band. Film of her performance is held by the Alexandra Palace Television Society. In 2001, the Archivist of the Alexandra Palace Television Society gives Potter a copy of her 1938 television appearance.

Potter is conferred with the Freedom of the City of Dublin in 1984, and is later awarded an honorary degree from Trinity College, Dublin. She dies in her sleep at her home in Clontarf on April 7, 2004, at the age of 79. She is survived by her husband Jack O’Leary, and her sons John and Hugh.


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The Glasdrumman Ambush

glasdrumman-ambush-ni-mapThe Glasdrumman ambush, an attack by the South Armagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) against a British Army observation post, takes place on July 17, 1981 at a scrapyard in Glasdrumman, County Armagh, southwest of Crossmaglen.

The crisis, triggered by the 1981 Irish hunger strike of Provisional IRA and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) prisoners, leads to an increase in militant Irish republican activity in Northern Ireland. British intelligence reports unveil IRA intentions of mounting illegal checkpoints and hijacking vehicles on the IRA-controlled roads in South County Armagh, near the Irish border. To counter it, the British Army deploy the so-called COPs (close observation platoons), small infantry sections acting as undercover units, a tactic introduced by Major General Richard Trant in 1977.

On May 6, 1981, a day after the death of hunger-striker Bobby Sands, one IRA member from a three-man unit is arrested while trying to set up a roadblock east of the main Belfast-Dublin road by twelve members of the Royal Green Jackets, divided in three teams. A second volunteer crosses the border, only to be arrested by the Irish Army. The third IRA man escapes, apparently injured. A total of 689 rounds are fired by the soldiers.

After this initial success, the British Army continues these tactics. On July 16, another operation is carried out by eighteen Royal Green Jackets soldiers. That night, four concealed positions – Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta – are inserted into the Glassdrumman area, around a scrapyard along the border. The plan is that another unit, called the triggering team, would ambush any IRA unit on sight, while the other four would block the expected escape routes. On July 17, the commanders in charge of Alpha and Delta teams, suspecting that the operation has been compromised by the presence of local civilians, orders the withdrawal of their men. Shortly thereafter, Bravo team is suddenly engaged by automatic fire from an M60 machine gun and AR-15 rifles fired by six or seven IRA members. The concealed position, emplaced inside a derelict van, is riddled by more than 250 bullets. The team’s leader, Lance Corporal Gavin Dean, is killed instantly and one of his men, Rifleman John Moore, is seriously wounded. Moore is later awarded the Military Medal. The IRA members fire their weapons from across the border, 160 yards away.

British army commanders conclude that “it was not worth risking the lives of soldiers to prevent an IRA roadblock being set up.” The incident also exposes the difficulties of concealing operations from local civilians in South Armagh, whose sympathy with the IRA is manifest. Several years later, the IRA would repeat its success against undercover observation posts in the course of Operation Conservation in 1990.


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Death of James Kelly, Irish Army Intelligence Officer

james-kellyJames Kelly, former Irish Army intelligence officer who is found not guilty, along with two former Irish government ministers, of attempting to illegally import arms for the Provisional Irish Republican Army in the Arms Crisis of 1970, dies on July 16, 2003.

Kelly is the eldest of ten children, born on October 16, 1929 into a staunchly Irish republican family from Bailieborough, County Cavan.

Kelly is a central figure in the Arms Crisis, having traveled to Hamburg to arrange the purchase of arms. It emerges later that Neil Blaney had ordered him to do so outside normal legal channels, but before the weapons arrive the Gards Special Detective Unit hears of the plan and informs the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, aborting the importation and resulting in criminal charges for the plotters. Although in his summation the judge says it is no defence for Kelly to say that he believes that the government authorised the importation of arms, Kelly is acquitted.

Despite his acquittal, Kelly suffers financially because he had felt compelled to resign from the Army even before the prosecution was brought. He prints and publishes a personal memoir in paperback format called Orders for the Captain? in 1971.

Kelly never denies his involvement in extra-legal arms purchase talks, but contends that he had been ordered to do so by some ministers. A typical version of the events is found in a 1993 hostile biography of Charles Haughey, claiming: “As early as October 1969, to the certain knowledge of Charles Haughey, James Gibbons, the Department of Justice, the Special Branch and Army Intelligence, there were meetings with leading members of the IRA, when they were promised money and arms. The critical encounter took place in Bailieborough, County Cavan, on Saturday, 4 October 1969. It had been arranged by Captain James Kelly, an army intelligence officer, and Cathal Goulding. Kelly, at that stage, was already the subject of several security reports to the Secretary of the Department of Justice, Peter Berry, from the Special Branch, implicating Kelly with subversives and with promises of money and of arms.” Kelly never objected to such versions of the events of 1969.

Kelly is elected vice-chairman of Aontacht Éireann. Aontacht Éireann meets with little success at the polls and by 1980 he has joined Fianna Fáil, becoming a member of its national executive. Following the first applications of the 1987 Extradition (European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism) Act, he resigns from the party in 1989 in opposition to the extradition of Provisional IRA prisoners to the United Kingdom. He also serves twice as President of the 1916-1921 Club. He launches a successful defamation case against Garret FitzGerald over an article in The Irish Times.

James Kelly dies on July 16, 2003 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. The epitaph on his grave is “Put not your trust in princes,” a quote from Psalm 146.