seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Tullyvallen Massacre

tullyvallen-orange-hallThe Tullyvallen massacre takes place on September 1, 1975, when Irish republican gunmen attack an Orange Order meeting hall at Tullyvallen, near Newtownhamilton in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. The Orange Order is an Ulster Protestant and unionist brotherhood. Five Orangemen are killed and seven wounded in the shooting. The “South Armagh Republican Action Force” claims responsibility, saying it is retaliation for a string of attacks on Catholic civilians by Loyalists. It is believed members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) carried out the attack, despite the organisation being on ceasefire.

On February 10, 1975, the Provisional IRA and British government enter into a truce and restart negotiations. The IRA agrees to halt attacks on the British security forces, and the security forces mostly end their raids and searches. There is a rise in sectarian killings during the truce. Loyalists, fearing they are about to be forsaken by the British government and forced into a united Ireland, increase their attacks on Irish Catholics/nationalists. They hope to force the IRA to retaliate and thus end the truce. Some IRA units concentrate on tackling the loyalists. The fall-off of regular operations causes unruliness within the IRA and some members, with or without permission from higher up, engage in tit-for-tat killings.

On August 22, loyalists kill three Catholic civilians in a gun and bomb attack on a pub in Armagh. Two days later, loyalists shoot dead two Catholic civilians after stopping their car at a fake British Army checkpoint in the Tullyvallen area. Both of these attacks are linked to the Glenanne gang. On August 30, loyalists kill two more Catholic civilians in a gun and bomb attack on a pub in Belfast.

On the night of September 1, a group of Orangemen are holding a meeting in their isolated Orange hall in the rural area of Tullyvallen. At about 10:00 PM, two masked gunmen burst into the hall armed with assault rifles and spray it with bullets while others stand outside and fire through the windows. The Orangemen scramble for cover. One of them is an off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officer. He returns fire with a pistol and believes he hit one of the attackers. Five of the Orangemen, all Protestant civilians, are killed while seven others are wounded. Before leaving, the attackers also plant a two-pound bomb outside the hall, but it fails to detonate.

The victims are John Johnston (80), James McKee (73) and his son William McKee (40), Nevin McConnell (48), and William Herron (68) who dies two days later. They all belong to Tullyvallen Guiding Star Temperance Orange Lodge. Three of the dead are former members of the Ulster Special Constabulary.

A caller to the BBC claims responsibility for the attack on behalf of the “South Armagh Republican Action Force” or “South Armagh Reaction Force,” saying it is retaliation for “the assassinations of fellow Catholics.” The Irish Times reports on September 10: “The Provisional IRA has told the British government that dissident members of its organisation were responsible” and “stressed that the shooting did not have the consent of the organisation’s leadership.”

In response to the attack, the Orange Order calls for the creation of a legal militia, or “Home Guard,” to deal with republican paramilitaries.

Some of the rifles used in the attack are later used in the Kingsmill massacre in January 1976, when ten Protestant workmen are killed. Like the Tullyvallen massacre, it is claimed by the “South Armagh Reaction Force” as retaliation for the killing of Catholics elsewhere.

In November 1977, 22-year-old Cullyhanna man John Anthony McCooey is convicted of driving the gunmen to and from the scene and of IRA membership. He is also convicted of involvement in the killings of Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier Joseph McCullough, chaplain of Tullyvallen Orange lodge, in February 1976, and UDR soldier Robert McConnell in April 1976.


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Birth of Frank McCourt, Teacher & Writer

frank-mccourtFrancis “Frank” McCourt, Irish American teacher and writer, is born in New York City‘s Brooklyn borough on August 19, 1930.

McCourt is born to Malachy McCourt, Sr., who falsely claims to have been in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence, and Irish Catholic mother Angela Sheehan from Limerick. In the midst of the Great Depression, the family moves back to Ireland. Unable to find steady work in Belfast or Dublin and beset by his father’s alcoholism, the family returns to their mother’s native Limerick, where they sink even deeper into poverty.

In October 1949, at the age of 19, McCourt leaves Ireland, taking a boat from Cork to New York City. In 1951, he is drafted during the Korean War and sent to Bavaria for two years initially training dogs, then as a clerk. Upon his discharge from the US Army, he returned to New York City, where he held a series of jobs on docks, in warehouses, and in banks. Using his G.I. Bill education benefits, he talks his way into New York University by claiming he is intelligent and reads a great deal. He is admitted on one year’s probation provided he maintains a B average. He graduates in 1957 from NYU with a bachelor’s degree in English.

A New York city schoolteacher for more than thirty years, McCourt achieves literary fame later in life with his best-selling childhood memoir of the misery and squalor of his childhood, Angela’s Ashes. With a first printing of just 25,000 copies, the book becomes an instant favourite with critics and readers and is perhaps the ultimate case of the non-celebrity memoir, the extraordinary life of an ordinary man.

McCourt wins the annual Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography in 1997 and one of the annual National Book Critics Circle Awards for the book, which is eventually published in 25 languages and 30 countries. It is a bestseller and makes him a millionaire. Three years later, a movie version of Angela’s Ashes opens to mixed reviews with Northern Irish actor Michael Legge playing McCourt as a teenager.

McCourt is also the author of ‘Tis (1999), which continues the narrative of his life, picking up from the end of Angela’s Ashes and focusing on his life after returning to New York. He subsequently writes Teacher Man (2005) which details his teaching experiences and the challenges of being a teacher.

McCourt writes the book for a 1997 musical entitled The Irish…and How They Got That Way, which features an eclectic mix of Irish music – everything from the traditional Danny Boy to U2‘s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

It is announced in May 2009 that McCourt has been treated for melanoma and that he is in remission, undergoing home chemotherapy. On July 19, 2009, he dies from the cancer, with meningeal complications, at a hospice in Manhattan, New York City.


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Birth of David Moriarty, Bishop & Pulpit Orator

david-moriartyDavid Moriarty, Irish Roman Catholic bishop and pulpit orator, is born in Ardfert, County Kerry on August 18, 1814.

Moriarty is the son of David Moriarty and Bridget Stokes. He receives his early education in a classical school of his native Diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe, and later is sent to Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France. From there he passes to Maynooth College and, after a distinguished course in theology, is elected to the Dunboyne establishment, where he spends two years.

While yet a young priest Moriarty is chosen by the episcopal management of the Irish College in Paris, as vice-president of that institution, a position he occupies for about four years. So satisfactory is his work that, on the death of Father John Hand, he is appointed President of All Hallows College in Dublin, and for years guides, fashions, and makes effective the discipline and teaching of that well known institution. It is during this time he gives evidence of the noble oratory, so chaste, elevated, various and convincing, that has come to be associated with his name.

In 1854 Moriarty is appointed coadjutor, with the right of succession, to the bishopric of Ardfert and Aghadoe, as titular bishop of the Diocese of Antigonea. Two years later he succeeds to his native see. His work as bishop is testified to by several churches and schools, a diocesan college St. Brendan’s College, Killarney in 1860 and many conventual establishments. He finds time to conduct retreats for priests and his addresses which have come down to us under the title “Allocutions to the Clergy” are characterized by profound thought, expressed in an elevated and oratorical style.

In his political views Moriarty runs counter to much of the popular feeling of the time, and is a notable opponent of the Fenian organization, which he denounces strongly, particularly following the uprising in 1867 in his diocese where in an infamous sermon he attacks the Fenian leadership brandishing them criminals, swindlers and God’s heaviest curse. He also declares that “when we look down into the fathomless depth of this infamy of the heads of the Fenian conspiracy, we must acknowledge that eternity is not long enough, nor hell hot enough to punish such miscreants.” Despite this, however, he claims to admire Daniel O’Connell.

While most republicans attempt to work around the hostility of the high clergy of the Roman Church and the fire and brimstone rhetoric of the likes of Moriarty, out of sensitivity to the religious tendencies of the Irish majority, one Fenian by the name of John O’Neill, dares to fire back. O’Neill retorts, “It is better to be in hell with Fionn than in heaven with pale and flimsy angels.”

Moriarty’s principal works are “Allocutions to the Clergy” and two volumes of sermons.

David Moriarty dies on October 1, 1877.


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The Battle of Utoy Creek

*The 10th Tennessee Infantry (Irish) fights at the Battle of Utoy Creek on August 6, 1864 during the American Civil War. Known as the “Bloody Tinth,” it is one of only two Irish Catholic regiments in the Confederate States Army, although their elected officers are mostly Ulster Scots Protestants. They are deployed as sharpshooters through the tough campaigns at Chickamauga, Chattanooga and Atlanta.

The Battle of Utoy Creek is fought August 4–7, 1864, during the Atlanta Campaign of the American Civil War. Major General William Tecumseh Sherman‘s Union armies have partially encircled the city of Atlanta, Georgia, which is being held by Confederate forces under the command of General John Bell Hood. Sherman has at this point adopted a strategy of attacking the railroad lines into Atlanta, hoping to cut off his enemies’ supplies. This is the third direct attack on Confederate positions during the campaign and the effect of success would have ended the siege and won Atlanta on August 6, 1864.

After failing to envelop Hood’s left flank at the Battle of Ezra Church, Sherman still wants to extend his right flank to hit the railroad between East Point and Atlanta. He transfers Maj. Gen. John McAllister Schofield‘s XXIII Corps of the U.S. Army of the Ohio from his left to his right flank and sends him to the north bank of Utoy Creek.

Although Schofield’s troops are at Utoy Creek on August 2, they, along with the XIV Corps, Army of the Cumberland, do not cross until August 4. An initial attack by the Regular Brigade against James Patton Anderson‘s Division CSA of Stephen Dill Lee‘s Corps is unsuccessful. In addition the Confederates dismount a brigade of cavalry, Armstrong’s, in the front of the federals in a deception plan, a feinted attack that is successful in delaying the combined force of the XXIII and XIV Corps USA.

Schofield makes an additional movement to exploit this situation on the morning of August 5. Although initially successful, Schofield has to regroup his forces, which takes the rest of the day. The delay allows the Confederates to strengthen their defenses with an abatis, which slows the Union attack when it restarts on the morning of August 6. The Federals are repulsed with heavy losses by William Brimage Bate‘s division and fail in an attempt to break the main defenses to gain the railroad.

On August 7, the Union troops move toward the Confederate main line skirmishing and extending to their right and entrench. Several attacks are made at Sandtown Road (Campbellton at Adams Park) on August 10 and East Point on August 18. Here US Forces remain, as far south as the Atlanta Christian College, until late August 1864 when the failure of Schofield’s offensive operations convince Sherman to move on the Confederate lines of communication and supply.


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British Troops Shoot Derry Rioters

File written by Adobe Photoshop? 4.0During street disturbances on July 8, 1971, British soldiers shoot dead two Catholic civilians in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Some of the worst violence in the town for three years flares up when a crowd of 200 gather in Lecky Street at the news of the shootings. As a result, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) withdraws from Stormont in protest.

British troops are the target of sporadic rioting in the Republican Bogside area of Derry in the four days leading up to the rioting.

At about 1:00 AM on the morning of July 8, 1971, in the Bogside area of Derry, Seamus Cusack, 28, a local man who is a welder and former boxer, is shot in the upper part of the leg by a soldier of the Crown Forces. He dies about forty minutes later in Letterkenny Hospital in the Republic of Ireland.

Cusack’s death gives rise to further disturbances in the city. Troops open fire, initially with rubber bullets and CS gas, but they fail to disperse the crowd. The rioters retaliate by throwing three nail bombs. The army returns fire. During this exchange, George Desmond Beattie, 19, is shot in the stomach by a soldier and dies instantly at about 3:15 PM. Five soldiers are reportedly injured during the skirmishes.

There is a lull in the violence after Beattie is shot and a group of factory girls march in silence through the area carrying black bags.

Army marksmen claim one of the men they shot was armed with a rifle and another was about to throw a petrol or nail bomb. It is unclear which incident Cusack is involved in, but an inquest hears that he could have been saved if he had gone to a local hospital instead of one 20 miles south of the border in County Donegal. Apparently his rescuers fear they would be arrested by police if he had been taken to the local hospital.

In the evening the Ministry of Defence announces that an additional 500 men from the First King’s Own Scottish Borderers are to be sent to Northern Ireland the following day. This brings to 1,400 the total number of men drafted to Northern Ireland over the previous ten days in preparation for the upcoming traditional The Twelfth celebrations on July 12.


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Death of Cathal Brugha, Revolutionary & Politician

cathal-brugha-1Cathal Brugha, Irish revolutionary and republican politician, dies in Dublin on July 7, 1922 from injuries received two day earlier when shot by Irish Free State forces on O’Connell Street.

Brugha is born Charles William St. John Burgess of mixed Roman Catholic and Protestant parentage in Dublin on July 18, 1874. He attends Colmkille Schools until 1888 when he is admitted to Belvedere College. He intends to study medicine but this does not come to fruition after his father’s business fails in 1890. He is seen as an austere figure, not very different from Éamon de Valera, and is known not to smoke cigarettes, swear or drink alcohol.

In 1899, Brugha joins the Gaelic League, and he subsequently changes his name from Charles Burgess to Cathal Brugha. He meets his future wife, Caitlín Kingston, at an Irish class in Birr, County Offaly, and they marry in 1912. The marriage produces six children. He becomes actively involved in the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and in 1913 he becomes a lieutenant in the Irish Volunteers. He leads a group of twenty Volunteers to receive the arms smuggled into Ireland in the Howth gun-running of 1914.

Brugha is second-in-command at the South Dublin Union under Commandant Éamonn Ceannt in the Easter Rising of 1916. On the Thursday of Easter Week, being badly wounded, he is unable to leave when the retreat is ordered. Brugha, weak from loss of blood, continues to fire upon the enemy and is found by Eamonn Ceannt singing “God Save Ireland” with his pistol still in his hands. He recovers over the next year, but is left with a permanent limp.

Brugha proposes a Republican constitution at the 1917 Sinn Féin convention, which is unanimously accepted. In October 1917, he becomes Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army and holds that post until March 1919.

Brugha is elected as a Sinn Féin MP for the County Waterford constituency at the 1918 Irish general election. In January 1919, Sinn Féin MPs refuse to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom and instead assemble at the Mansion House in Dublin as a revolutionary parliament called Dáil Éireann. Owing to the absence of Éamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith, he presides over the first meeting of Dáil Éireann on January 21, 1919.

Brugha is elected Ceann Comhairle of Dáil Éireann at its first meeting on January 21, 1919, and he reads out the Declaration of Independence in Irish, which ratifies “the establishment of the Irish Republic.” On the following day he is appointed president of the ministry pro tempore. He retains this position until April 1, 1919, when Éamon de Valera takes his place.

Brugha has differences with Michael Collins, who, although nominally only the Irish Republican Army‘s (IRA) Director of Intelligence, has far more influence in the organisation as a result of his position as a high-ranking member of the IRB, an organisation that Brugha sees as undermining the power of the Dáil and especially the Ministry for Defence. He opposes the oath of allegiance required for membership of the IRB. In 1919, his proposition that all Volunteers should swear allegiance to the Irish Republic and the Dáil is adopted.

At a top-level IRA meeting in August 1920, Brugha argues against ambushes of Crown forces unless there is first a call to surrender, but it is dismissed as unrealistic by the brigade commanders present. He also has the idea of moving the front line of the war to England, but is opposed by Collins.

On January 7, 1922, Brugha votes against the Anglo-Irish Treaty. During the Treaty debates, he points out that Collins has only a middling rank in the Department for Defence, which supervises the IRA, even though Griffith hails him as “the man who had won the war.” It is argued that, by turning the issue into a vote on Collins’ popularity, Brugha swings the majority against his own side. Frank O’Connor, in his biography of Collins, states that two delegates who had intended to vote against the Treaty changed sides in sympathy with Collins. Brugha leaves the Dáil and is replaced as Minister for Defence by Richard Mulcahy.

In the months between the Treaty debates and the outbreak of Irish Civil War, Brugha attempts to dissuade his fellow anti-treaty army leaders, including Rory O’Connor, Liam Mellows and Joe McKelvey, from taking up arms against the Free State. When the IRA occupies the Four Courts, he and Oscar Traynor call on them to abandon their position. When they refuse, Traynor orders the occupation of the area around O’Connell Street in the hope of easing the pressure on the Four Courts and of forcing the Free State to negotiate.

On June 28, 1922, Brugha is appointed commandant of the forces in O’Connell Street. The outbreak of the Irish Civil War ensues in the first week of July when Free State forces commence shelling of the anti-treaty positions.

Most of the anti-Treaty fighters under Traynor escape from O’Connell Street when the buildings they are holding catch fire, leaving Brugha in command of a small rearguard. On July 5, he orders his men to surrender, but refuses to do so himself. He then approaches the Free State troops, brandishing a revolver. He sustains a bullet wound to the leg which “severed a major artery causing him to bleed to death.” He dies on July 7, 1922, eleven days before his 48th birthday. He had been re-elected as an anti-Treaty TD at the 1922 Irish general election but dies before the Dáil assembles. He is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.


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The Drumcree Conflict of 1998

orangemen-drumcree-marchThe Drumcree conflict or Drumcree standoff is a dispute over yearly Orange Order parades in the town of Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. The town is mainly Protestant and hosts numerous Protestant/loyalist marches each summer, but has a significant Catholic minority. The Orange Order, a Protestant unionist organization, insists that it should be allowed to march its traditional route to and from Drumcree Church on the Sunday before The Twelfth. However, most of the route is through the mainly Catholic/Irish nationalist section of town. The residents, who see the march as sectarian, triumphalist and supremacist, seek to ban it from their area. The Orangemen see this as an attack on their traditions as they have marched the route since 1807, when the area was mostly farmland.

In 1995 and 1996, residents succeed in stopping the march. This leads to a standoff at Drumcree between the security forces and thousands of Orangemen/loyalists. Following a wave of loyalist violence, police allow the march through. In 1997, security forces lock down the Catholic area and let the march through, citing loyalist threats to kill Catholics if they are stopped. This sparks widespread protests and violence by Irish nationalists. From 1998 onward, the march is banned from Garvaghy Road and the army seals off the Catholic area with large steel, concrete and barbed wire barricades. Each year there is a major standoff at Drumcree and widespread loyalist violence. Since 2001 things have been relatively calm, but moves to get the two sides into face-to-face talks have failed.

Early in 1998 the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 is passed, establishing the Parades Commission. The Commission is responsible for deciding what route contentious marches should take. On June 29, 1998, the Parades Commission decides to ban the march from Garvaghy Road.

On Friday, July 3, about 1,000 soldiers and 1,000 police are deployed in Portadown. The soldiers build large barricades made of steel, concrete and barbed wire across all roads leading into the nationalist area. In the fields between Drumcree Church and the nationalist area they dig a trench, fourteen feet wide, which is then lined with rows of barbed wire. Soldiers also occupy the Catholic Drumcree College, St. John the Baptist Primary School and some properties near the barricades.

On Sunday, July 5, the Orangemen march to Drumcree Church and state that they will remain there until they are allowed to proceed. About 10,000 Orangemen and loyalists arrive at Drumcree from across Northern Ireland. A loyalist group calling itself “Portadown Action Command” issues a statement which reads, “As from midnight on Friday 10 July 1998, any driver of any vehicle supplying any goods of any kind to the Gavaghy Road will be summarily executed.”

Over the next ten days, there are loyalist protests and violence across Northern Ireland in response to the ban. Loyalists block roads and attack the security forces as well as Catholic homes, businesses, schools and churches. On July 7, the mainly-Catholic village of Dunloy is “besieged” by over 1,000 Orangemen. The County Antrim Grand Lodge says that its members have “taken up positions” and “held” the village. On July 8, eight blast bombs are thrown at Catholic homes in the Collingwood area of Lurgan. There are also sustained attacks on the security forces at Drumcree and attempts to break through the blockade. On July 9, the security forces at Drumcree are attacked with gunfire and blast bombs. They respond with plastic bullets. The police recorded 2,561 “public order incidents” throughout Northern Ireland.

On Sunday, July 12, brothers Jason (aged 8), Mark (aged 9) and Richard Quinn (aged 10) are burned to death when their home is petrol bombed by loyalists. The boys’ mother is a Catholic and their home is in a mainly-Protestant section of Ballymoney. Following the murders, William Bingham, County Grand Chaplain of Armagh and member of the Orange Order negotiating team, says that “walking down the Garvaghy Road would be a hollow victory, because it would be in the shadow of three coffins of little boys who wouldn’t even know what the Orange Order is about.” He says that the Order has lost control of the situation and that “no road is worth a life.” However he later apologizes for implying that the Order is responsible for the deaths. The murders provoke widespread anger and calls for the Order to end its protest at Drumcree. Although the number of protesters at Drumcree drops considerably, the Portadown lodges vote unanimously to continue their standoff.

On Wednesday, July 15, the police begin a search operation in the fields at Drumcree. A number of loyalist weapons are found, including a homemade machine gun, spent and live ammunition, explosive devices, and two crossbows with more than a dozen homemade explosive arrows.


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The Loughinisland Massacre

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v80), quality = 90The Loughinisland massacre takes place on June 18, 1994 in the small village of Loughinisland, County Down, Northern Ireland. Members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group, burst into a pub with assault rifles and fire on the customers, killing six civilians and wounding five. The pub is targeted because it is frequented mainly by Catholics. The UVF claims the attack is retaliation for the killing of three UVF members by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) two days earlier.

About 24 people are gathered in The Heights Bar, also known as O’Toole’s Pub, watching the Republic of Ireland vs. Italy in the 1994 FIFA World Cup. It is thus sometimes referred to as the “World Cup massacre.”

At 10:10 PM, two UVF members wearing boilersuits and balaclavas walk into the bar. One shouts “Fenian bastards!” and opens fire on the crowd with a vz. 58 assault rifle, spraying the small room with more than sixty bullets. Six men are killed outright and five other people are wounded. Witnesses say the gunmen then run to a getaway car, “laughing.” One witness describes “bodies … lying piled on top of each other on the floor.” The dead were Adrian Rogan (34), Malcolm Jenkinson (52), Barney Green (87), Daniel McCreanor (59), Patrick O’Hare (35) and Eamon Byrne (39), all Catholic civilians. O’Hare is the brother-in-law of Eamon Byrne and Green is one of the oldest people to be killed during the Troubles.

The UVF claims responsibility within hours of the attack. It claims that an Irish republican meeting was being held in the pub and that the shooting was retaliation for the INLA attack. Police say there is no evidence the pub had links to republican paramilitary activity and say the attack is purely sectarian. Journalist Peter Taylor writes in his book Loyalists that the attack may not have been sanctioned by the UVF leadership. Police intelligence indicates that the order to retaliate came from the UVF leadership and that its ‘Military Commander’ had supplied the rifle used. Police believe the attack was carried out by a local UVF unit under the command of a senior member who reported to the leadership in Belfast.

The attack receives international media coverage and is widely condemned. Among those who send messages of sympathy are Pope John Paul II, Queen Elizabeth II and United States President Bill Clinton. Local Protestant families visit their wounded neighbours in the hospital, expressing their shock and disgust.

There have been allegations that police (Royal Ulster Constabulary) double agents or informants in the UVF were linked to the massacre and that police protected those informers by destroying evidence and failing to carry out a proper investigation. At the request of the victims’ families, the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland investigate the police. In 2011 the Ombudsman concludes that there were major failings in the police investigation, but no evidence that police colluded with the UVF. The Ombudsman does not investigate the role of informers and the report is branded a whitewash. The Ombudsman’s own investigators demand to be disassociated from it. The report is quashed, the Ombudsman replaced and a new inquiry ordered.

In 2016, a new Ombudsman report concludes that there had been collusion between the police and the UVF, and that the investigation was undermined by the wish to protect informers, but found no evidence police had foreknowledge of the attack. A documentary film about the massacre, No Stone Unturned, is released in 2017. It names the main suspects, one of whom is a member of the British Army, and claims that one of the killers was an informer.


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George Mitchell begins Northern Ireland Talks with Sinn Féin

george-mitchell-in-belfastOn June 10, 1996, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell begins Northern Ireland talks with Sinn Féin, who are blocked by the lack of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) ceasefire from what are supposed to be all-party talks on Northern Ireland’s future.

Pressure is coming from all sides on the Irish Republican Army to give peace a chance in Northern Ireland. Governments in London, Dublin, and Washington, D.C., as well as the vast majority of Northern Ireland’s citizens, are calling on the paramilitary group to call a new ceasefire. Even Gerry Adams, president of Sinn Féin, the IRA’s political wing, appeals to the IRA to reconsider its refusal to renew the ceasefire it broke in February with a bomb blast in London.

An opinion poll in the Dublin-based Sunday Tribune shows 97 percent of people, including 84 percent of Sinn Féin voters, want the IRA to renew its ceasefire.

The talks aim to reconcile two main political traditions in Northern Ireland, Protestant-backed unionism, which wants the province to stay part of the United Kingdom, and Catholic-backed Irish nationalism, which seeks to unite Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.

Earlier in the year Senator Mitchell reported to the British government on the prospects for peace in Northern Ireland and drew up six principles which, if fulfilled by all the parties, would produce a lasting political settlement.

As internal and international pressure on the IRA mounts, politicians from the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), a moderate party representing the province’s Protestants, shows signs of drifting apart on whether Sinn Féin should be allowed to participate. Even if the IRA announces “a ceasefire of convenience,” Sinn Féin should be barred from attending, says Peter Robinson, deputy leader of the radical Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Furthermore, the choice of Mitchell to head the talks makes some Protestants uneasy. Earlier, DUP leader Ian Paisley says Mitchell could not be trusted as chairman. “He is carrying too much American Irish baggage.”

Yet David Trimble, leader of the larger UUP, says a new IRA ceasefire might “get Sinn Féin to the door.” To be fully admitted to the all-party talks, however, its leadership will have to “commit itself to peace and democracy.” Trimble adds that he has doubts about Mitchell’s objectivity and had sought “certain assurances” before finally agreeing to lead a UUP delegation to the opening round. Mitchell, at an impromptu news conference in Belfast, says he plans to show “fairness and impartiality.”

The attitudes of the two unionist parties appear to reflect concern that the IRA would declare a ceasefire before the talks open, or during the early stages, technically clearing the way for Sinn Féin participation. David Wilshire, a senior Conservative member of Britain’s Parliament, who supports the unionist cause, says that a ceasefire by the IRA now would be a “cynical ploy.” He adds that “the government should not fall for it.”

Sinn Féin leaders, meanwhile, meet on Saturday, June 8, and announced that regardless of the IRA’s intentions, Adams and other Sinn Féin leaders will turn up at the opening session and demand to be admitted. They cite the party’s strong showing at special elections in May to the peace forum at which they obtain 15 percent of the vote and win a strong mandate from Catholic voters in West Belfast.

It is “the British government’s responsibility” to urge the IRA to renew its truce, says Martin McGuinness, Adams’s deputy. Yet Adams himself makes a direct approach to the IRA. This is confirmed by Albert Reynolds, the former Irish Taoiseach. He says that Adams has advised him that he is about to make a new ceasefire appeal to the IRA leadership. “I am now satisfied Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin will seek an early reinstatement of the ceasefire which, of course, has not broken down in Northern Ireland. I see a set of similar elements to those in 1994, which brought about the ceasefire, now coming together. Everyone must now compromise,” Reynolds says.

On June 8, the IRA tells the British Broadcasting Corporation that its military council has called a meeting to examine the agenda for the Northern Ireland talks.

(From:”Hopes for N. Ireland Talks Rely on Squeezing the IRA” by Alexander MacLeod, The Christian Science Monitor, June 10, 1996)


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The Battle of Enniscorthy

battle-of-enniscorthyThe Battle of Enniscorthy is a land battle fought on May 28, 1798 during the Irish Rebellion of 1798, when an overwhelming force of rebels assails the town of Enniscorthy, County Wexford, which is defended only by a 300-strong garrison supported by loyalist civilians. On the previous day at nearby Oulart, several thousand rebels led by Fr. John Murphy had massacred a detachment of the North Cork militia, amounting to 110 officers and men, in the Battle of Oulart Hill.

The attack on Enniscorthy begins at about 1:00 PM, when the rebels drive a herd of cattle through the town’s Duffry gate, creating disorder, and set the town’s buildings on fire. The troops defending the gate withdraw to a stone bridge over the River Slaney. After a determined defence of about three hours, the loyalist forces have expended their ammunition. They are also flanked by rebels wading across the river’s low water. However, after having driven all the rebels out of town they are ordered to abandon the town and withdraw to Wexford, which they do alongside a terrified multitude of men, women and children fleeing the burning town. In the action, the garrison and yeomanry had killed up to 500 insurgents at a cost of 90 of their own dead.

According to the historian Maxwell, the town’s Protestants see a merciless night attack as almost certain. Throughout the fight, Catholic residents support the rebels by shooting loyalists from their windows. Of the many fugitives, the weakest are carried on cavalry horses or otherwise abandoned to their fate, including infants and the elderly.

The rebels are brutal and vengeful in occupying their captured town. They set up a formidable encampment of 10,000 men on the nearby heights of Vinegar Hill and are able to roster forces to garrison Enniscorthy, whose streets are littered with dead and dying while flames continued to rage. Four hundred seventy-eight dwelling houses are destroyed in addition to commercial premises.