seamus dubhghaill

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


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Blair & Ahern Meet in Aftermath of the Omagh Bombing

British Prime Minister Tony Blair meets with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in Ashford Castle, County Mayo on August 26, 1998. They join forces to fight terrorism and discuss laws which will be introduced in the aftermath of the Omagh bombing, which took place eleven day earlier on August 15 in Omagh, County Tyrone, 110 kilometres west of Belfast, and resulted in 28 deaths.

Leading the way in a return to the past is Ahern’s Dublin government, which has introduced the toughest anti-terrorist legislation in the history of the Irish Republic. He concedes that the measures are draconian, but says that his government is determined to do everything in its power, “working closely with the British government to defeat and suppress this murderous conspiracy against the people of Ireland.”

Prime Minister Blair promises that he too plans to introduce extreme measures. “We will bring in similar measures to those proposed by the Irish government, so we will then have the toughest anti-terrorist measures for the whole of Ireland, the Republic and Northern Ireland, that we have ever seen.”

With no plans to recall the British parliament, it is thought that existing legislation will be applied, since it already includes measures similar to those announced by the Irish government.

Oppressive British legislation has sustained British rule in Ireland for decades. This includes internment without trial, non-jury courts, entry and search of homes without a warrant, seven-day detention with unrecorded and unsupervised interrogation, denial of access to lawyers, exclusion orders and more. Most of these are still in use in 1998.

The Ahern package includes withdrawal of a suspect’s right to silence — refusal to answer questions can be used as evidence that a suspect is a member of an illegal organisation, the seizure of property that has been used for storing weapons or making bombs, and the creation of a new offence of directing an unlawful organisation. This is expected to carry the penalty of life imprisonment.

Omagh is 75% nationalist, with good cross-community relations, and has largely escaped the worst of the conflict. Although Republican dissidents have carried out a spate of similar bombings in the previous year, the towns targeted are mainly Unionist and further east.

In the wake of the Good Friday Agreement, Republican splinter groups remain on a military footing. These groups — the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA — have announced their determination to fight on.

The group that claims responsibility for the Omagh bombing is the Real IRA, which was formed in protest at the IRA’s 1997 cease-fire. Irish police have insisted that the Real IRA is the military wing of the recently formed 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM), although this is denied by that organisation.

Although both the INLA and the Real IRA have declared a unilateral cease-fire since the Omagh bombing, media focus has settled on Bernadette Sands McKevitt, sister of the 1980s IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, who is a leading figure in the 32 County Sovereignty Movement. Sands-McKevitt has condemned the Omagh bombing, but her home in Blackrock, County Louth, has since been targeted by local townspeople who have staged protests against her and her family. She has also been denied a visa to enter the United States on a speaking tour.

The Omagh bombing could not have come at a better time for Britain. With the war formally over and Sinn Féin penned, the bombing delivers an opportunity to smash the Republican left once and for all and wrench it from any semblance of ongoing support in Ireland.

All nationalist opponents of the Good Friday Agreement must now cope with being stained by the blood of Omagh. With the massive referendum vote in favour of peace to back them up, the British and Irish governments can be satisfied that the Good Friday Agreement now looks more in place than at any other time. As one nationalist describes the situation, “If the Good Friday Agreement was a defeat for the cause of Irish nationalism, the Omagh bombing has turned it into a rout.”

(From: “Blair, Ahern make the most of Omagh bomb” by Dave Riley, Green Left (www.greenleft.org), August 26, 1998)


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The Droppin’ Well Bombing

The Droppin’ Well bombing or Ballykelly bombing occurs on December 6, 1982, when the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) explodes a time bomb at a disco in Ballykelly, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The disco, known as the Droppin’ Well, is targeted because it is frequented by British Army soldiers from nearby Shackleton Barracks. The bomb kills eleven soldiers and six civilians and 30 people are injured, making it the most deadly attack during the INLA’s paramilitary campaign and the most deadly attack during The Troubles carried out in County Londonderry.

The bomb is manufactured by the INLA in nearby Derry. One of those involved later reveals that the INLA unit had carried out reconnaissance missions to the Droppin’ Well to see if there were enough soldiers to justify the likelihood of civilian casualties.

On the evening of December 6, 1982, an INLA member leaves a bomb inside the pub. There are about 150 people inside. The Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) believe that the bomb, estimated to be 5 to 10 pounds of commercial (Frangex) explosives, is small enough to fit into a handbag. It has, however, been left beside a support pillar and, when it explodes at about 11:15 PM, the blast brings down the roof. Many of those killed and injured are crushed by fallen masonry.

Following the blast, it takes a few hours to pull survivors from the rubble. The last survivor is freed at 4:00 AM, but it is not until 10:30 AM that the last of the bodies is recovered. Ultimately, 17 people die and 30 are injured, some seriously. Five of the civilians are young women and three (Alan Callaghan, Valerie McIntyre and Angela Maria Hoole) are teenagers. Angela Hoole is celebrating her engagement to one of the soldiers who survives the incident. Of the eleven soldiers who die, eight are from the 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment, two from the Army Catering Corps and one from The Light Infantry. One of those on the scene is Bob Stewart, then a company commander in the Cheshire Regiment. He loses six soldiers from his company and is deeply affected as he tends to the dead and injured.

Suspicion immediately falls upon the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), who denies involvement. By December 8, the British Army is blaming the INLA on grounds that the IRA, in a mixed village, would have made greater efforts not to risk killing civilians. Shortly afterwards, the INLA issues a statement of responsibility.

The INLA describes the civilians killed as “consorts.” The attack is criticised by many on both sides of the conflict in Northern Ireland due to the high loss of civilian lives. Soon after the INLA had issued its statement, the government of the Republic of Ireland bans the INLA, making membership punishable by seven years imprisonment.

In an interview after the bombing, INLA leader Dominic McGlinchey says that the Droppin’ Well’s owner had been warned six times to stop offering entertainment to British soldiers. He adds that the owner, and those who socialise with the soldiers, “knew full well that the warnings had been given and that the place was going to be bombed at some stage.” It later emerges that the INLA may also have targeted Ballykelly because it believed that the military base was part of NATO‘s radar and communications network.

Six days after the bombing, RUC officers shoot dead INLA members Seamus Grew and Roddie Carroll near a vehicle checkpoint in Armagh. The officers say they believed that the two men were ferrying McGlinchey into Northern Ireland. Neither was armed, nor was McGlinchey in their car.

In June 1986, four INLA members, sisters Anna Moore and Helena Semple, Eamon Moore (no blood relation) and Patrick Shotter, receive life sentences for the attack. Anna Moore later marries loyalist Bobby Corry while both are in prison. Anna’s daughter, Jacqueline Moore, is given ten years for manslaughter as the court believes she had been coerced into involvement. She is pregnant during her arrest and later gives birth in jail. All of those convicted are from Derry.

(Pictured: The Droppin’ Well bar and disco in Ballykelly destroyed by a Irish National Liberation Army bomb in 1982. Credit: PA Wire)


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The Greysteel Massacre

The Greysteel massacre is a mass shooting that takes place on the evening of October 30, 1993 in Greysteel, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

On October 23, 1993, an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bomb prematurely explodes as the bombers carry it into a fishmongers on the Shankill Road in Belfast. The IRA’s intended target is a meeting of Ulster Defence Association (UDA) leaders, including brigadier Johnny Adair, which is to take place in a room above the shop. Unknown to the IRA, the meeting had been rescheduled. Eight Protestant civilians, a UDA member and one of the IRA bombers are killed in the blast. This became known as the Shankill Road bombing.

The UDA launches a number of “revenge attacks” for the bombing. Later that day, it fatally shoots a Catholic delivery driver after luring him to a bogus call at Vernon Court, Belfast. On October 26, the UDA shoots dead another two Catholic civilians and wounds five in an attack at the Council Depot at Kennedy Way, Belfast.

The massacre is carefully planned. The order for the attack comes from the UDA leadership and it is believed Greysteel is chosen partly because it is well away from Belfast, where security force activity is intense after the Shankill bombing. Those involved in planning and organising it include Billy McFarland, ‘Brigadier’ of the UDA’s North Antrim & Londonderry Brigade. Stephen Irwin, Geoffrey Deeney and Torrens Knight, all members of the brigade, are to carry out the shooting. The gunmen are first briefed on the plans for the massacre on October 27 in an office owned by the Ulster Democratic Party at Bond’s Place, Londonderry. Before the massacre, the gunmen go to the pub to familiarise themselves with the layout and choose the best positions to shoot from.

On Saturday, October 30, the gunmen drive to the pub in an Opel Kadett, with UDA member Brian McNeill driving a ‘scout car’ in front. Just before 10:00 PM the three gunmen, wearing blue boilersuits and balaclavas, enter the “Rising Sun Bar” in Greysteel. There are at least 70 people inside attending a Halloween party and at first some believe the men are playing a Halloween prank. Stephen Irwin yells “trick or treat” as he opens fire with a vz. 58 assault rifle on the packed crowd in the lounge. He keeps shooting until the magazine empties, quickly reloads and continues shooting. Geoffrey Deeney opens fire with a 9mm handgun at a fleeing woman, but it jams after one shot. Torrens Knight, armed with a shotgun, guards the entrance while the shooting is taking place. There is panic and screaming as people scramble for cover and women plead for mercy. The scene in the Rising Sun is described as “hell-like”; bodies lay everywhere and the lounge and dancefloor are covered with blood and broken glass. The gunmen, laughing, then make their escape in the Opel Kadett driven by Knight. While driving away from Greysteel, the getaway car’s wing mirror is hit by a police car speeding towards the scene. The gunmen drive the Kadett to a pick-up point near Eglinton, where they meet McNeill and burn the car.

Seven people are killed outright and nineteen are wounded, with another later dying of his wounds. The dead are Karen Thompson (19), Steven Mullan (20), Moira Duddy (59), Joseph McDermott (60), James Moore (81), John Moyne (50), John Burns (54) and Victor Montgomery (76). Six of those killed are Catholic civilians and two are Protestant civilians.

The following day, the UDA claims responsibility for the attack using the cover name “Ulster Freedom Fighters” (UFF). Its statement says that the “Greysteel raid” is “the continuation of our threats against the nationalist electorate that they would pay a heavy price for last Saturday’s slaughter of nine Protestants.” A UDA West Belfast Brigade member claims that his organisation “had information that senior IRA men drank in the Rising Sun… Unfortunately they were not there on Halloween but our boys acted on the briefing they had been given.” Afterwards, the gunmen are said to have boasted about the killings.

The UDA members involved are arrested shortly after the massacre. During their first court appearance, Knight is filmed laughing, taunting and shouting abuse at the victims’ relatives as he is led from the building. In February 1995, Irwin, Deeney, Knight and McNeill are sentenced to life imprisonment for their involvement in the attack. Knight is also convicted for the Castlerock killings. In 2000, they are released early, along with other paramilitary prisoners, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

The pub is still open in Greysteel. There is a memorial to the victims outside the building that says: “May their sacrifice be our path to peace.”


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The Balcombe Street Siege Ends

balcombe-street-siegeThe six-day Balcombe Street siege in London ends peacefully on December 12, 1975 after four Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gunmen free their two hostages and give themselves up to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS).

In 1974 and 1975, London is subjected to a 14-month campaign of gun and bomb attacks by the Provisional IRA. Some 40 bombs explode in London, killing 35 people and injuring many more. The four members of what becomes known as the “Balcombe Street gang,” Joe O’Connell, Edward Butler, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, are part of a six-man IRA Active Service Unit (ASU) that also includes Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn.

The Balcombe Street siege starts after a chase through London, as the MPS pursues Doherty, O’Connell, Butler and Duggan through the streets after they had fired gunshots through the window of Scott’s restaurant in Mount Street, Mayfair. The four IRA men ultimately run into a block of council flats in Balcombe Street, adjacent to Marylebone station, triggering the six-day standoff.

The four men go to 22b Balcombe Street in Marylebone, taking its two residents, middle-aged married couple John and Sheila Matthews, hostage in their front room. The men declare that they are members of the IRA and demand a plane to fly both them and their hostages to Ireland. Scotland Yard refuses, creating a six-day standoff between the men and the police. Peter Imbert, later Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, is the chief police negotiator.

The men surrender after several days of intense negotiations between Metropolitan Police Bomb squad officers, Detective Superintendent Peter Imbert and Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Nevill, and the unit’s leader Joe O’Connell, who goes by the name of “Tom.” The other members of the gang are named “Mick” and “Paddy,” thereby avoiding revealing to the negotiators precisely how many of them are in the living room of the flat. The resolution of the siege is a result of the combined psychological pressure exerted on the gang by Imbert and the deprivation tactics used on the four men. The officers also use carefully crafted misinformation, through the BBC Radio news to further destabilise the gang into surrender. A news broadcast states that the British Special Air Service are going to be sent in to storm the building and release the hostages. This seems to deter the gang and they eventually give themselves up to the police.

The four are found guilty at their Old Bailey trial in 1977 of seven murders, conspiring to cause explosions, and falsely imprisoning John and Sheila Matthews during the siege. O’Connell, Butler and Duggan each receive 12 life sentences, and Doherty receives 11. Each of the men is later given a whole life tariff, the only IRA prisoners to receive this tariff. During the trial they instruct their lawyers to “draw attention to the fact that four totally innocent people were serving massive sentences” for three bombings in Woolwich and Guildford. Despite telling the police that they are responsible, they are never charged with these offences and the Guildford Four and Maguire Seven remain in prison for 15 more years, until it is ruled that their convictions are unsafe.

After serving 23 years in English prisons, the four men are transferred to the high security wing of Portlaoise Prison, County Laois, in early 1998. They are presented by Gerry Adams to the 1998 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis as “our Nelson Mandelas,” and are released together with Brendan Dowd and Liam Quinn in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Agreement.


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Death of the Quinn Brothers in Ballymoney

Three brothers, Jason, Richard and Mark Quinn, are killed by the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) in a firebomb attack on their home in Ballymoney, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on July 12, 1998. The crime is committed towards the end of the three-decade period known as “The Troubles.”

The Quinn family, consisting of mother Chrissie and sons Richard, Mark and Jason, live in the Carnany estate in the predominantly Protestant town of Ballymoney. The family is of a mixed religious background. Mother Chrissie is Roman Catholic from a mixed background and the boys’ father Jim Dillon is Catholic. After separating from her estranged husband, Chrissie rears the boys as Protestant “to avoid the hassle.” Chrissie lives with her Protestant partner Raymond Craig in Carnany which is predominately Protestant, reflecting the religious make-up of Ballymoney itself. The boys, aged 9, 10 and 11, attend a local state school and on the evening before their deaths had been helping to build the estate’s Eleventh Night loyalist bonfire. A fourth brother, Lee, is staying with his grandmother in Rasharkin at the time of the attack.

The killings take place at the height of the stand-off over the Orange Order march at Drumcree, which creates a tense atmosphere in various towns across Northern Ireland. In the weeks leading up to the fatal attack, the children’s mother expresses fear that she is not welcome in the area and that there is a possibility the family home might be attacked by loyalists. The Ballymoney Times reports a story the week of the deaths, stating that a resident of the Carnany estate had called in and was concerned about tension in the area adding something serious might happen “unless Catholic residents were left alone.”

The attack occurs at approximately 4:30 in the morning as the inhabitants of the house sleep. A car containing members of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary organisation, arrive at the house and throw a petrol bomb through a window at the rear of the house. The petrol bomb is made from a whiskey bottle. The sounds of the boys’ shouting wakes their mother, who finds her bedroom full of smoke. Chrissie Quinn, Raymond Craig and family friend Christina Archibald escape the resulting fire with minor injuries. Chrissie believes the boys have escaped the fire as she is unable to locate them in the dense smoke before she jumps to safety from a first floor window. Two of the brother’s bodies are found in their mother’s bedroom and the other in another bedroom. Chrissie is taken to the hospital and released the next day after receiving minor injuries and shock in the attack.

One man, Garfield Gilmour, is found guilty of murdering the three brothers fifteen months later and is sentenced to life imprisonment after admitting that he had driven three other men to the house to commit the fatal petrol-bombing. Although Gilmour names the three alleged killers, they are never charged due to a lack of concrete evidence. Gilmour’s conviction for murder is reduced to manslaughter on appeal on June 5, 2000 and he is released six years later. Nine days after his release, his life sentence is replaced by a fixed prison sentence of 14 years.

(Pictured: The Quinn brothers. Left to right: Jason, Mark, Richard)