seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Robert Curtis, First Fatality of The Troubles

robert-curtisRobert George Curtis, officially the first military fatality during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, is killed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on February 6, 1971, becoming the first British soldier to die in the line of duty in Ireland since 1921. The gunman responsible is believed to be Provisional IRA member Billy Reid, who is killed later that year in a gunfight. A total of 705 British soldiers are killed during the Troubles.

156 (Inkerman) Battery, 94 Locating Regiment, Royal Artillery is deployed to Northern Ireland on January 5, 1971 under the command of the 32nd Regiment Royal Artillery. During the first week of February 1971, there is major violence in many Irish republican areas of Belfast when the British Army launches a series of searches for IRA arms. Rioting in the republican area of the New Lodge escalates and reinforcements are summoned. 156 Battery is ordered into the area. Because mobs of rioters are threatening the bordering unionist Tiger’s Bay area, the Battery is deployed along the interface to block them.

A large crowd gathers at the junction of New Lodge Road and Lepper Street. A troop of soldiers from 156 Battery, including Gunner Rob Curtis, are deployed to disperse the crowd. As the troops move to the junction they are attacked with a barrage of stones and bottles by the mob and deploy in “riot-formation” with shields as protection. Subsequently, a nail bomb is thrown at the troops. In the aftermath of the blast the crowd splits allowing a gunman to fire a long burst of automatic fire from a Sterling submachine gun, probably from the base of Templar House. The crowd then reforms, allowing the gunman to escape. Gunner Curtis is hit by a ricochet which passes through the shoulder opening of his flak jacket, penetrating his heart. He dies almost instantly. Four other troop members are wounded, one seriously.

Curtis is, at the time of his death, 20 years old and married for just over a year. His wife is expecting their first child and had just informed him in a letter that he was to become a father. He is laid to rest in West Road Cemetery, Newcastle upon Tyne, England. He is the first officially recognised fatality that the army suffers as a direct result of IRA actions. Unofficially 21 other military personnel died or were killed before his death. On the morning after his death Sir James Chichester-Clark, then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, announces that “Northern Ireland is at war with the Irish Republican Army Provisionals.”

Some sources claim the shots were fired from a Thompson submachine gun, but some eyewitnesses are sure that it was a Sterling submachine gun that was fired. Curtis’s wife is later compensated to the sum of £6500 together with £1500 for her daughter. His daughter is married wearing her father’s wedding ring and later names her son Robert in honour of his grandfather.


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Terence O’Neill Resigns as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland

File source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Captain_Terence_O%27Neill.jpgTerence Marne O’Neill, the fourth Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, resigns on April 28, 1969. He is succeeded by James Chichester-Clark.

O’Neill is born on September 10, 1914 in London. Having served in the Irish Guards, he comes to live in Northern Ireland in 1945. He is returned unopposed for the Stormont seat of Bannside in November 1946 for the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and ten years later reaches cabinet rank. When Lord Brookeborough retires as prime minister in March 1963, O’Neill succeeds as the apostle of technocratic modernization who could see off the Northern Ireland Labour Party. In community relations O’Neill is unprecedentedly liberal, visiting Catholic schools and, more dramatically, meeting with the Taoiseach of the Irish Republic, Seán Lemass, at Stormont on January 14, 1964. O’Neill hopes to encourage Catholic acceptance of the state, but he more quickly aggravates suspicious unionist and loyalist opinion.

The eruption of the civil rights movement of 1968 multiplies pressures for substantive reform from the British government. O’Neill impresses on his cabinet colleagues the necessity of concessions. On November 22 he unveils a program of reforms, notably the closing down of the gerrymandered Londonderry Corporation. However, the local government’s rate-based franchise is for the time untouched. In a television broadcast on December 9, 1968, O’Neill warns that Northern Ireland stands at the crossroads. He calls for an end to street demonstrations but also promises meaningful reforms. There is a massive response from the public, but attitudes polarize again when a radical civil rights march from Belfast to Derry is attacked by loyalists at Burntollet Bridge on January 4, 1969.

O’Neill’s failure to preserve governmental authority by repression or concession leads to discontent in his party. In an attempt to regain the initiative and remake the Ulster Unionist Party, he calls for an election on February 24, 1969. He refuses to campaign for official unionist candidates opposed to his leadership and lends his support to Independent candidates who vow to support him personally. Breaking with unionist convention, O’Neill openly canvasses for Catholic votes. Such strategic innovations fail to produce a clear victory, however, and a phalanx of anti-O’Neill unionists are returned. There is little evidence that O’Neill’s re-branded unionism has succeeded in attracting Catholic votes.

From O’Neill’s point of view, the election results are inconclusive. He is humiliated by his near-defeat in his own constituency of Bannside by Ian Paisley and resigns as leader of the UUP and as Prime Minister on April 28, 1969 after a series of bomb explosions on Belfast’s water supply by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) bring his personal political crisis to a head. Before leaving, he secures “one person, one vote” in place of the ratepayers’ franchise in local elections as well as the succession of the relatively loyal James Chichester-Clarke.

O’Neill retires from Stormont politics in January 1970 when he resigns his seat, having become the Father of the House in the previous year. On January 23, 1970, he is created a life peer as Baron O’Neill of the Maine, of Ahoghill in the County of Antrim. The Maine is a river which flows near Ahoghill.

O’Neill spends his last years at Lisle Court, Lymington, Hampshire, although he continues to speak on the problems of Northern Ireland in the House of Lords where he sits as a crossbencher. His Reform Policies are largely forgotten by British Unionists and Irish Nationalists in Ulster, however he is remembered by historians for his efforts to reform the discrimination and sectarianism within the Province during the 1960s. In retirement he is also a trustee of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trusts.

Terence O’Neill dies at his home of cancer on June 12, 1990.


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Bernadette Devlin Elected MP for Mid Ulster Constituency

Bernadette Devlin, Irish socialist and republican political activist, is elected Member of Parliament (MP) for the Mid Ulster constituency on April 17, 1969, standing as the Independent Unity candidate.

Devlin is born in Cookstown, County Tyrone to a Roman Catholic family and attends St. Patrick’s Girls Academy in Dungannon. She is studying Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast in 1968 when she takes a prominent role in a student-led civil rights organisation, People’s Democracy. Devlin is subsequently excluded from the university.

She stands unsuccessfully against James Chichester-Clark in the Northern Ireland general election of 1969. When George Forrest, the MP for Mid Ulster, dies, she fights the subsequent by-election on the “Unity” ticket, defeating Forrest’s widow Anna, the Ulster Unionist Party candidate, and is elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. At age 21, she is the youngest MP at the time, and remains the youngest woman ever elected to Westminster until the May 2015 general election when 20-year-old Mhairi Black succeeds to the title.

After engaging, on the side of the residents, in the Battle of the Bogside, she is convicted of incitement to riot in December 1969, for which she serves a short jail term.

Having witnessed the events of Bloody Sunday, Devlin is infuriated that she is consistently denied the floor in the House of Commons by the Speaker Selwyn Lloyd, despite the fact that parliamentary convention decrees that any MP witnessing an incident under discussion would be granted an opportunity to speak about it. Devlin slaps Reginald Maudling, the Home Secretary in the Conservative government, across the face when he states in the House of Commons that the paratroopers had fired in self-defence on Bloody Sunday.

Devlin helps to form the Irish Republican Socialist Party, a revolutionary socialist breakaway from Official Sinn Féin, with Seamus Costello in 1974. She serves on the party’s national executive in 1975, but resigns when a proposal that the Irish National Liberation Army become subordinate to the party executive is defeated. In 1977, she joins the Independent Socialist Party, but it disbands the following year.

Devlin stands as an independent candidate in support of the prisoners at Long Kesh prison in the 1979 European Parliament elections in Northern Ireland and wins 5.9% of the vote. She is a leading spokesperson for the Smash H-Block Campaign, which supports the hunger strikes of 1980 and 1981.

On January 16, 1981, Devlin and her husband, Michael McAliskey, are shot by members of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), who break into their home near Coalisland, County Tyrone. Devlin is shot fourteen times in front of her children. British soldiers are watching the McAliskey home at the time, but fail to prevent the assassination attempt. The couple are taken by helicopter to a hospital in nearby Dungannon for emergency treatment and then transported to the Musgrave Park Hospital, Military Wing, in Belfast, under intensive care. The attackers, all three members of the South Belfast UDA, are captured by the army patrol and subsequently jailed.

In 1982, she twice fails in an attempt to be elected to the Dublin North–Central constituency of Dáil Éireann. In 2003, she is barred from entering the United States and is deported on the grounds that the United States Department of State has declared that she “poses a serious threat to the security of the United States,” apparently referring to her conviction for incitement to riot in 1969.

On May 12, 2007, she is the guest speaker at éirígí‘s first Annual James Connolly commemoration in Arbour Hill, Dublin. She currently co-ordinates a not-for-profit community development organisation based in Dungannon, the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme, and works with migrant workers to improve their treatment in Northern Ireland.