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


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Birth of Irish Republican Joe Cahill

joe-cahillJoe Cahill, a prominent figure in the Irish Republican movement in Northern Ireland and former Chief of Staff of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Belfast on May 19, 1920.

Cahill is educated at St. Mary’s Christian Brothers’ Grammar School. At age 14 he leaves school to assist in his father’s print shop. Soon after, he joins the Catholic Young Men’s Society, which campaigns on social issues with a focus on eradicating moneylenders from working-class areas of Belfast, as they often charge usurious interest rates. At the age of seventeen, he joins Na Fianna Éireann, a republican-orientated Scouting movement. Na Fianna Eireann is regarded as the “Junior Irish Republican Army.”

Cahill joins the local Clonard-based ‘C’ Company of the Belfast Brigade of the Irish Republican Army in 1938. Four years later, during an anniversary march by the IRA for the Easter Rising, he gets into a shootout with five other IRA men against four Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers. Several men are wounded and Constable Patrick Murphy is killed. Cahill and four of the other men spend time in prison in Belfast. The IRA declares a formal ceasefire in 1945. Afterwards, republican prisoners begin to be released. Cahill is released in October 1949.

The IRA launches a new campaign in 1956. The IRA border campaign attacks ten targets in six counties, damaging bridges, courthouses and border roads. By 1957, three RUC officers and seven republicans have been killed during the campaign. Cahill is arrested and interned in January 1957 with several other republicans. He is released from internment in April 1961. Following his release from prison, he is disappointed at the direction of the IRA and resigns from the organisation around 1962.

In 1969, Cahill is a key figure in the founding of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. During his time in the Provisional IRA, he helps import weapons and raise financial support. He serves as the chief of staff in 1972, but is arrested the following year when a ship importing weapons was intercepted.

After his release, Cahill continues to serve on the IRA Army Council and leads all financial dealings for Sinn Féin. In the 1990s, the IRA and Sinn Féin begin to work on seeking peace. Cahill serves on the council that calls a cessation on July 21, 1996. He attends several of the talks that finally lead to the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, 1998. Shortly after the agreement is made, he resigns as treasurer of Sinn Féin. To honour his service, he is made honorary Sinn Féin Vice-President for life. He serves the Republican movement in Ireland all his life, as one of the longest-serving political activists in Ireland of any political party.

Cahill dies at age 84 in Belfast on July 23, 2004. He had been diagnosed with asbestosis, which he probably developed while working at the Harland & Wolff shipyards in his twenties. He and several other former shipyard workers later sue the company for their exposure to the dangerous substances but only win minimal compensation.


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Death of IRA Volunteer Séamus McElwaine

seamus-turlough-mcelwaineSéamus Turlough McElwaine, a volunteer in the South Fermanagh Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA), is killed on April 26, 1986 by the Special Air Service (SAS) while on active duty with Seán Lynch, who is seriously injured in the shooting.

McElwaine is born on April 1, 1960, the oldest of eight children, in the townland of Knockacullion, beside the hamlet and townland of Knockatallon, near the village of Scotstown in the north of County Monaghan. At the age of 14, he takes his first steps towards becoming involved in physical force republicanism when he joins Na Fianna Éireann. Two years later he turns down an opportunity to study in the United States and joins the Irish Republican Army (IRA), stating “no one will ever be able to accuse me of running away.”

McElwaine becomes Officer Commanding of the IRA in County Fermanagh by the age of 19. On February 5, 1980, he kills off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) corporal Aubrey Abercrombie as he drives a tractor in the townland of Drumacabranagher, near Florencecourt. Later that year, on September 23, he kills off-duty Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) Reserve Constable Ernest Johnston outside his home in Rosslea. He is suspected of involvement in at least ten other killings.

On March 14, 1981, a detachment of the British Army surrounds a farmhouse near Rosslea, containing McElwaine and three other IRA members. Despite being armed with four rifles, including an Armalite, the IRA members surrender and are arrested. While on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol, McElwaine stands in the February 1982 Irish general election as an independent candidate for Cavan–Monaghan and receives 3,974 votes (6.84% of the vote). In May 1982 he is convicted of murdering the RUC and UDR members, with the judge describing him as a “dangerous killer” and recommending he spend at least 30 years in prison.

On September 25, 1983, McElwaine is involved in the Maze Prison escape, the largest break-out of prisoners in Europe since World War II and in British prison history. Thirty-eight republican prisoners, armed with six handguns, hijack a prison meals lorry and smash their way out of the prison. After the escape McElwaine joins an IRA Active Service Unit operating in the area of the border between Counties Monaghan and Fermanagh. The unit targets police and military patrols with gun and bomb attacks, while sleeping rough in barns and outhouses to avoid capture.

McElwaine holds a meeting with Pádraig McKearney and Jim Lynagh, members of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade, in which they discuss forming a flying column aimed at destroying police stations to create IRA-controlled zones within Northern Ireland. However, this plan never materialises. McKearney and Lynagh are later themselves killed in the Loughgall ambush.

On April 26, 1986, McElwaine and another IRA member, Seán Lynch, are preparing to ambush a British Army patrol near Rosslea, County Fermanagh when they are ambushed themselves by a detachment from the Special Air Service Regiment. Both are wounded but Lynch manages to crawl away. A January 1993 inquest jury returns a verdict that McElwaine had been unlawfully killed. The jury rules the soldiers had opened fire without giving him a chance to surrender, and that he was shot dead five minutes after being wounded. The Director of Public Prosecutions requests a full report on the inquest from the RUC, but no one has been prosecuted for McElwaine’s death.

McElwaine is buried in Scotstown, with his funeral attended by an estimated 3,000 people, including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. McGuinness gives an oration describing McElwaine as “a brave intelligent soldier, a young man who gave up his youth to fight for the freedom of his country” and “an Irish freedom fighter murdered by British terrorists.”

In 1987 McElwaine’s father, Jimmy, a longtime member of Monaghan County Council, became the chairman of the Séamus McElwain Cumann of Republican Sinn Féin.

On April 1, 1990 a monument to McElwaine is erected in Corlat, County Monaghan. The oration is given by a Catholic priest, Father Piaras Ó Dúill, who compares McElwaine to Nelson Mandela, saying they both had the same attitude to oppression and both refused to denounce principle. The inscription on the monument is a quote from Patrick Pearse: “As long as Ireland is unfree the only honourable attitude for Irishmen and Irishwomen is an attitude of revolt.” A monument to McElwaine and six other republicans is erected in Rosslea in 1998, and unveiled by veteran republican Joe Cahill.


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Máiría Cahill Elected to Seanad Éireann

mairia-cahillMáiría Cahill is elected to Seanad Éireann on November 13, 2015 after winning a by-election held to fill the seat left vacant after the resignation of the Labour Party‘s Jimmy Harte. She wins 122 of the 188 valid votes cast in an election in which only Teachta Dálas (TDs) and Senators can cast a vote.

Cahill is born in 1981 into a prominent republican extended family in West Belfast. Her great-uncle Joe Cahill is one of the founders and chief of staff of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the 1970s. She is a cousin of both Siobhán O’Hanlon, a prominent republican activist in the IRA and later in Sinn Féin until her death in 2006, and her sister Eilis O’Hanlon, a political commentator for the Irish Independent and critic of both the IRA and Sinn Féin. She also claims her grandfather recruited Gerry Adams into the IRA.

Cahill is elected National Secretary of Ógra Shinn Féin and works for Sinn Féin between 1998 and 2001. She quits Sinn Féin in 2001 when she moves to the United States. She later returns and works on two election campaigns for the party before growing disillusioned at her treatment and leaving for good.

In February 2015, Cahill receives a James Larkin Thirst for Justice award from the Irish Labour Party. In November 2015, she receives a Special Recognition Award in the Irish Tatler‘s Woman of the Year Awards.

In October 2015, Labour Party leader Joan Burton announces Cahill has joined the party and she, along with her deputy Alan Kelly, will put her forward as the party’s nominee in a by-election to Seanad Éireann’s Industrial and Commercial Panel. The by-election has been occasioned by the resignation of Senator Jimmy Harte due to illness. Cahill secures the party’s nomination unopposed and wins the election in November 13 on the first count, with 122 first preferences out of 188 valid votes from Oireachtas members.

Cahill is criticised by Senator David Norris for failing to satisfactorily answer questions on her links to dissident republican groups and for failing to take part in media debates with other candidates. Norris later states that she is “an interesting and vital voice in Seanad Éireann.”

In a March 2016 interview with Catherine Shanahan of the Irish Examiner, Kathleen Lynch, a former Labour party TD and Minister of state, states she has no idea as to why Cahill was chosen as the party’s by-election candidate. Cahill does not contest the 2016 Seanad elections.

Cahill is co-opted into a Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) council seat in Lisburn and Castlereagh council in July 2018. She has to withdraw from the local election campaign in April 2019, due to a law requiring candidates to publish their home addresses. Cahill is unable to do so due to threats made against her. The British Government subsequently apologises.


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The Execution of Tom Williams, IRA Volunteer

File source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vol._Tom_Williams.jpgThomas Joseph Williams, a volunteer in C Company, 2nd Battalion of the Belfast Brigade in the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is hanged in the Crumlin Road Gaol on September 2, 1942 for his involvement in the killing of Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) police officer Patrick Murphy during the Northern campaign.

Williams is born in the Beechmount area of Belfast on May 12, 1923. He is the third child in a family of six. After the death of his mother, he and his brother go to live with their grandmother at 46 Bombay Street in the Clonard area of Belfast. The Williams family has to leave the small Catholic enclave in the Shore Road area of Belfast after their house is attacked and burned.

As a child, Williams suffers from asthma and as a result is often very ill. He attends St. Gall’s Primary School but leaves at an early age to obtain work, which at the time is difficult due to discrimination. His work therefore consists of labouring and as a delivery boy.

As soon as Williams is old enough, he joins Na Fianna Éireann, the republican Scout Organisation founded by Constance Markievicz in 1909, becoming a member of the Con Colbert slua in the Clonard area. Alfie Hannaway, a friend of Williams, is his OC in Na Fianna, and assigns him to the rank of Quartermaster for the company. He takes his role in Na Fianna very seriously and all who came to know him are struck by his dedication and maturity, even at this early age.

At the age of 17, Williams is old enough to become a volunteer and joins C Company of the IRA in the Clonard area where he lives. Due to his “dedication and his remarkable ability” he is appointed to the role of Adjutant of C Company.

At Easter 1942 the government of Northern Ireland bans all parades to commemorate the anniversary of the Easter Rising. An IRA unit of six men and two women stage a diversionary action against the RUC to allow three parades to take place in West Belfast, but in this clash a RUC officer is killed and the six IRA men are captured. The RUC officer, Constable Patrick Murphy, a father of nine children, from the Falls Road area of Belfast, is one of a minority of Catholics serving in the RUC.

There is debate over the years about who actually fired the fatal shot. The six IRA members are convicted and sentenced to death for murder under the law of common purpose. Five have their sentences commuted. The sentence of Williams, who acknowledges that he is the leader of the IRA unit involved and takes full responsibility for the actions of his men, is not commuted.

Williams is hanged in Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast on the morning of September 2, 1942. The executioner is the official English hangman Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by his nephew Albert Pierrepoint. Afterwards Williams’ body is interred in unhallowed ground in an unmarked grave within the grounds of the prison. His remains are only released in January 2000 after the closure of the prison in 1996 and a lengthy campaign by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

Williams’s funeral is held on January 19, 2000 and is attended by thousands, with burial at Milltown Cemetery. Joe Cahill, Williams’s cell mate, and John Oliver, sentenced to death with Williams but later reprieved, as well as Madge McConville, who had been arrested with Williams, Greta McGlone, Billy McKee, Eddie Keenan and perhaps least known, Nell Morgan, Williams’s girlfriend at the time of his death, are all present. Six senior Sinn Féin members including Gerry Adams are also present in St. Paul’s Church on the Lower Falls Road for the Mass.

Williams is remembered in a ballad Tom Williams. Various recordings have been made, most notably by the Flying Column and Éire Óg, who preamble their version with the story of the campaign to release his body. The now disbanded, Volunteer Tom Williams Republican Flute Band from Glasgow, Scotland is named in his memory as is the Tom Williams Camogie Club in Belfast.

(Pictured: Tom Williams’ headstone at Milltown Cemetery after being reinterred)