seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

The Assassination of Christopher Ewart-Biggs

christopher-ewart-biggs-assassinationChristopher Thomas Ewart Ewart-Biggs, British Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, author and senior Foreign Office liaison officer with MI6, is killed in Sandyford, Dublin on July 21, 1976 by a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) land mine.

Ewart-Biggs is born in the Thanet district of Kent, South East England to Captain Henry Ewart-Biggs of the Royal Engineers and his wife Mollie Brice. He is educated at Wellington College and University College, Oxford and serves in the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment of the British Army during World War II. At the Second Battle of El Alamein in 1942 he loses his right eye and as a result he wears a smoked-glass monocle over an artificial eye.

Ewart-Biggs joins the Foreign Service in 1949, serving in Lebanon, Qatar and Algiers, as well as Manila, Brussels and Paris.

Ewart-Biggs is 55 when he is killed by a land mine planted by the IRA on July 21, 1976. He had been taking precautions to avoid such an incident since coming to Dublin only two weeks earlier. Among the measures he employs is to vary his route many times a week however, at a vulnerable spot on the road connecting his residence to the main road, there is only a choice between left or right. He chooses right and approximately 150 yards from the residence he hits a land mine that is later judged to contain hundreds of pounds of explosives. Ewart-Biggs and fellow passenger and civil servant Judith Cooke (aged 26) are killed. Driver Brian O’Driscoll and third passenger Brian Cubbon (aged 57) are injured. Cubbon is the highest-ranking civil servant in Northern Ireland at the time.

The Irish government launches a manhunt involving 4,000 Gardaí and 2,000 soldiers. Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave declares that “this atrocity fills all decent Irish people with a sense of shame.” In London, Prime Minister James Callaghan condemns the assassins as a “common enemy whom we must destroy or be destroyed by.” Thirteen suspected members of the IRA are arrested during raids as the British and Irish governments attempt to apprehend the criminals, but no one is ever convicted of the killings. In 2006, released Foreign and Commonwealth Office files reveal that the Gardaí had matched a partial fingerprint at the scene to Martin Taylor, an IRA member suspected of gun running from the United States.

Ewart-Biggs’s widow, Jane Ewart-Biggs, becomes a Life Peer in the House of Lords, campaigns to improve Anglo-Irish relations and establishes the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize for literature.

(Pictured: The twisted remains of the car lie upended beside a huge crater after the explosion that killed Christopher Ewart-Biggs and civil servant Judith Cooke)


Leave a comment

Assassination of MP for Abingdon, Airey Neave

airey-neaveAirey Middleton Sheffield Neave, British army officer, barrister, and politician, is killed in a car-bomb attack at the House of Commons on March 30, 1979. During World War II, Neave is the first British officer to successfully escape from the German prisoner-of-war camp Oflag IV-C at Colditz Castle. He later becomes Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) for Abingdon.

Neave is killed when a magnetic car-bomb fitted with a ball bearing tilt switch explodes under his Vauxhall Cavalier just before 3:00 PM as he drives out of the Palace of Westminster car park. He loses his right leg below the knee and his left is hanging on by a flap of skin. Neave dies without regaining consciousness at the hospital an hour after being freed from the wreckage. The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), an illegal Irish republican paramilitary group, claims responsibility for the killing.

Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher leads tributes, saying, “He was one of freedom’s warriors. No one knew of the great man he was, except those nearest to him. He was staunch, brave, true, strong; but he was very gentle and kind and loyal. It’s a rare combination of qualities. There’s no one else who can quite fill them. I, and so many other people, owe so much to him and now we must carry on for the things he fought for and not let the people who got him triumph.”

Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan says, “No effort will be spared to bring the murderers to justice and to rid the United Kingdom of the scourge of terrorism.”

The INLA issues a statement regarding the killing in the August 1979 edition of The Starry Plough, “In March, retired terrorist and supporter of capital punishment, Airey Neave, got a taste of his own medicine when an INLA unit pulled off the operation of the decade and blew him to bits inside the ‘impregnable’ Palace of Westminster. The nauseous Margaret Thatcher snivelled on television that he was an ‘incalculable loss’ — and so he was — to the British ruling class.”

Neave’s death comes just two days after the vote of no confidence which brings down Callaghan’s government and a few weeks before the 1979 general election, which brings about a Conservative victory and sees Thatcher come to power as Prime Minister. Neave’s wife Diana is subsequently elevated to the House of Lords as Baroness Airey of Abingdon.

Neave’s biographer Paul Routledge meets a member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party, the political wing of INLA, who was involved in the killing of Neave and who tells Routledge that Neave “would have been very successful at that job [Northern Ireland Secretary]. He would have brought the armed struggle to its knees.”