seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of William John Conway, Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church

William John Cardinal Conway, Irish cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church who serves as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland from 1963 until his death, is born on January 22, 1913 in Belfast.

Conway is the eldest of four sons and five daughters of Patrick Joseph Conway and Annie Conway (née Donnelly). His father, a self-employed house-painter, also has a paint shop in Kent Street off Royal Avenue. His mother, who survives her son, is born in Carlingford, County Louth. He attends Boundary Street Primary School, St. Mary’s CBS (now St. Mary’s CBGS Belfast). His academic successes are crowned by a scholarship to Queen’s University Belfast. He decides to study for the diocesan priesthood. In 1933 he is conferred with an honours BA in English literature, and goes on to read a distinguished course in theology at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Conway is ordained on June 20, 1937 and awarded a DD (1938). On November 12, 1938 he enters the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, and in 1941 he receives the DCL degree at the Pontifical Gregorian University. When Italy enters World War II in June 1940 he returns to Belfast to take up duty in the Diocese of Down and Connor. He is appointed to teach English and Latin in St. Malachy’s College in Belfast, but after one year he is named professor of moral theology and canon law in Maynooth. He contributes regular ‘Canon law replies’ to the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, which are later collected as Problems in canon law (1950), the only book published by him.

In 1957 Conway becomes vice-president of Maynooth, and in 1958, he is named Ireland’s youngest bishop, Titular Bishop of Neve, and auxiliary bishop to Cardinal John D’Alton, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. He is consecrated in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh on July 27, 1958. He serves as administrator of St. Patrick’s Church, Dundalk, for the next five years, gaining valuable pastoral experience, and also uses these years to familiarise himself with his new diocese, especially its geography. On the death of D’Alton, he is chosen to succeed him in September 1963, and is enthroned on September 25 in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh by the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Sensi. At the end of 1964, Pope Paul VI chooses him as Ireland’s seventh residential cardinal, and he receives the red hat in the public consistory of February 22, 1965.

The thirteen-odd years of Conway’s ministry as primate are dominated firstly by the Second Vatican Council and secondly by the Troubles in Northern Ireland. His primary concern is the church, to steer it through testing times. He is a very active bishop in a diocese of 160,000 Catholics, with fifty-seven parishes and some 167 priests. He carries the burden alone until 1974 when he is given an auxiliary in the person of his secretary, Fr. Francis Lenny (1928–78). Two new parishes are created, five new churches are built, and many others are renovated to meet the requirements of liturgical reform. Twenty new schools are also provided. He attends all four sessions of the Vatican council (1962–65), as auxiliary bishop and as primate. On October 9, 1963 he addresses the assembly, making a plea that the council might not be so concerned with weightier matters as to neglect to speak about priests. He also makes contributions on the topics of mixed marriages, Catholic schools, and the laity. On the topic of education, he is convinced that integrated schools will not solve Northern Ireland’s problems.

Conway represents the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference at each assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome, at first with Bishop Michael Browne of the Diocese of Galway and Kilmacduagh, his former professor in Maynooth, and later with the Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Ryan. With Cardinals Jean-Marie Villot and Pericle Felici, he is chairman of the first synod in 1969, a signal honour conferred on him by Pope Paul VI. He addresses the assembly, opposing the ordination of married men as a move that would release a flood of applications from around the world for dispensations from priestly celibacy. His experience of violence in Northern Ireland is reflected in contributions he makes to later synod assemblies, especially in 1971 and 1974.

Apart from the synod, Conway travels a few times each year to Rome for meetings of the three Roman congregations on which he is called to serve (those of bishops, catholic education, and the evangelisation of peoples) and the commission for the revision of the code of canon law. He also travels further afield in a representative capacity to the International Eucharistic Congress at Bogotá, also attended by Pope Paul VI, and to Madras (1972), where he acts as papal legate for the centenary celebrations in honour of St. Thomas. In 1966 he is invited by the bishops of Poland to join in celebrations for the millennium of Catholicism in that country, but is refused an entry visa by the Polish government. In January 1973 he feels obliged to forgo participation in the Melbourne eucharistic congress because of the troubled situation at home. Within Ireland he accepts invitations to become a freeman of Cork and Galway (1965) and of Wexford (1966). In 1976 the National University of Ireland (NUI) confers on him an honorary LL.D.

Conway is acknowledged as an able and diligent chairman of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The core problem in the early years is how to lead the Irish church into the difficult new era that follows the council. He shows exceptional leadership qualities in the manner in which he promotes firm but gentle progress, avoiding sudden trauma and divisions. A major event in his term as Archbishop of Armagh, and one that gives him much satisfaction, is the canonization of Oliver Plunkett, his martyred predecessor, in the holy year 1975. He follows with great interest the final stages of the cause from 1968, and is greatly disappointed when grounded by his doctors six weeks before the event. He does however take part, concelebrating with Pope Paul VI at the ceremony on October 12, 1975. He also presides the following evening at the first mass of thanksgiving in the Lateran Basilica, receiving a tumultuous applause from the thousands of Irish present.

More than anything else, the Troubles in Northern Ireland occupy Conway during the second half of his term as archbishop and primate. He is the leading spokesman of the Catholic cause, but never fails to condemn atrocities wherever the responsibility lay. He brands as ‘monsters’ the terrorist bombers on both sides. In 1971 he denounces internment without trial, and the following year he is mainly responsible for highlighting the ill-treatment and even torture of prisoners in Northern Ireland. He repudiates the idea that the conflict is religious in nature, emphasising its social and political dimensions, and is openly critical of the British government over conditions in Long Kesh Detention Centre, and of ‘the cloak of almost total silence’ surrounding violence against the Catholic community.

In January 1977 Conway undergoes surgery in a Dublin hospital, and almost immediately comes to know that he is terminally ill. It is the best-kept secret in Ireland until close to the end. On March 29, he writes to his fellow bishops informing them that the prognosis regarding his health is ‘not good, in fact . . . very bad,’ and that he is perfectly reconciled to God’s will. He is still able to work at his desk until Good Friday, April 8, 1977.

Conway dies in Armagh on Low Sunday night, April 17, 1977. Seven countries are represented at his funeral by six cardinals and many bishops. The apostolic nuncio, the bishops of Ireland, the president and Taoiseach, six Irish government ministers, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland are also among the mourners. The cardinal is laid to rest in St. Patrick’s Cathedral Cemetery, Armagh. The red hat received from Pope Paul VI is suspended from the ceiling of the Lady chapel, joining those of his four immediate predecessors.

(From: “Conway, John William,” Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie, contributed by J. J. Hanley)


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Birth of Joe Doherty, Former Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Joe Doherty, former volunteer in the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born on January 20, 1955 in New Lodge, Belfast.

The son of a docker, Doherty is born into an Irish republican family, his grandfather being a member of the Irish Citizen Army which fought against British rule in the 1916 Easter Rising. Doherty leaves school at the age of 14 and begins work on the docks and as an apprentice plumber, before being arrested in 1972 on his seventeenth birthday under the Special Powers Act. He is interned on the prison ship HMS Maidstone and at Long Kesh Detention Centre, and while interned hears of the events of Bloody Sunday in Derry, where 14 civil rights protesters were shot dead by the British Army. This leads to him joining the IRA after he is released in June 1972. In the mid-1970s he is convicted of possession of explosives and sentenced to six years imprisonment in Long Kesh. He is released in December 1979.

After his release, Doherty becomes part of a four-man active service unit nicknamed the “M60 gang” due to their use of an M60 heavy machine gun, along with Angelo Fusco and Paul Magee. On April 9, 1980 the unit lures the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) into an ambush on Stewartstown Road, killing one constable and wounding two others. On May 2 the unit is planning another attack and has taken over a house on Antrim Road, when an eight-man patrol from the Special Air Service (SAS) arrive in plain clothes, after being alerted by the RUC. A car carrying three SAS members goes to the rear of the house, and another car carrying five SAS members arrives at the front of the house. As the SAS members at the front of the house exit the car, the IRA unit opens fire with the M60 machine gun from an upstairs window, hitting Captain Herbert Westmacott in the head and shoulder. Westmacott, who is killed instantly, is the highest-ranking member of the SAS killed in Northern Ireland. The remaining SAS members at the front, armed with Colt Commando automatic rifles, submachine guns and Browning pistols, return fire but are forced to withdraw. Magee is apprehended by the SAS members at the rear of the house while attempting to prepare the IRA unit’s escape in a transit van, while the other three IRA members remain inside the house. More members of the security forces are deployed to the scene and, after a brief siege, the remaining members of the IRA unit surrender.

The trial of Doherty and the other members of the M60 gang begins in early May 1981, on charges including three counts of murder. On June 10, Doherty and seven other prisoners, including Angelo Fusco and the other members of the IRA unit, take a prison officer hostage at gunpoint in Crumlin Road Gaol. After locking the officer in a cell, the eight take other officers and visiting solicitors hostage, also locking them in cells after taking their clothing. Two of the eight wear officers’ uniforms while a third wears clothing taken from a solicitor, and the group moves towards the first of three gates separating them from the outside world. They take the officer on duty at the gate hostage at gunpoint, and force him to open the inner gate. An officer at the second gate recognises one of the prisoners and runs into an office and presses an alarm button, and the prisoners run through the second gate towards the outer gate. An officer at the outer gate tries to prevent the escape but is attacked by the prisoners, who escape onto Crumlin Road. As the prisoners are moving towards the car park where two cars are waiting, an unmarked RUC car pulls up across the street outside Crumlin Road Courthouse. The RUC officers open fire and the prisoners return fire before escaping in the waiting cars. Two days after the escape, Doherty is convicted in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum recommended term of thirty years.

Doherty escapes across the border into the Republic of Ireland, and then travels to the United States on a false passport. He lives with an American girlfriend in Brooklyn and New Jersey, working on construction sites and as a bartender at Clancy’s Bar in Manhattan, where he is arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on June 28, 1983. He is imprisoned in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, and a legal battle ensues with the British government seeking to extradite him back to Northern Ireland. Doherty claims he is immune from extradition as the killing of Westmacott was a political act, and in 1985 federal judge John E. Sprizzo rules Doherty cannot be extradited as the killing was a “political offense.” His legal battle continues as the United States Department of Justice then attempts to deport him for entering the country illegally.

Doherty remains in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center and attempts to claim political asylum, and June 15, 1988 the United States Attorney General Edwin Meese overturns an earlier ruling by the Federal Board of Immigration Appeals that Doherty can be deported to the Republic of Ireland, and orders his deportation to Northern Ireland. In February 1989 new Attorney General Dick Thornburgh chooses not to support the decision made by his predecessor, and asks lawyers for Doherty and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to submit arguments for a review of the decision and Doherty’s claim for asylum. By this time Doherty’s case is a cause célèbre with his sympathisers including over 130 Congressmen and a son of then President of the United States George H. W. Bush, and in 1990 a street corner near the Metropolitan Correctional Center is named after him.

In August 1991, Doherty is transferred to a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and on January 16, 1992 the Supreme Court of the United States overturns a 1990 Federal Appeals Court ruling by a 5-to-3 decision, paving the way for his deportation. On February 19, 1992 he is deported to Northern Ireland, despite pleas to delay the deportation from members of Congress, Mayor of New York City David Dinkins, and the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, John Joseph O’Connor. He is returned to Crumlin Road Gaol before being transferred to HM Prison Maze, and is released from prison on November 6, 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. After his release he becomes a community worker specialising in helping disadvantaged young people. In 2006, he appears in the BBC television show Facing the Truth opposite the relatives of a soldier killed in the Warrenpoint ambush.


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Birth of Pádraig McKearney, Provisional Irish Republican Army Volunteer

Pádraig Oliver McKearney, a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) paramilitary volunteer, is born on December 18, 1954.

McKearney is raised in Moy, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, in a staunchly Irish republican family. Both his grandfathers had fought in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence, his maternal grandfather in south County Roscommon and his paternal grandfather in east County Tyrone. He is educated at local Catholic schools in Collegeland, County Armagh, and Moy, and later goes to St. Patrick’s Academy, Dungannon.

McKearney joins the Provisional IRA and is first arrested in 1972 on charges of blowing up the post office in Moy. He spends six weeks on remand, but is released due to insufficient evidence. In December 1973 he is arrested again and later sentenced to seven years for possession of a rifle. He is imprisoned in Long Kesh Detention Centre and later in Magilligan Prison. During this time, a younger brother, Seán, also an IRA paramilitary, is killed on May 13, 1974. He is released in 1977 but is sentenced to 14 years in August 1980 after being caught by the British Army with a loaded Sten gun along with fellow IRA member Gerard O’Callaghan. That same year an older brother, Tommy McKearney, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of an off-duty Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldier who worked as a postman in 1977, nearly dies on hunger strike after refusing food for 53 days. Another brother, Kevin, and an uncle, Jack McKearney, are both murdered by Loyalist paramilitaries in revenge attacks upon the family.

On September 25, 1983 McKearney takes part in the Maze Prison escape along with 37 other prisoners. At the beginning of 1984 he rejoins IRA activity in his native East Tyrone with the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade. He advocates the commencement of the “third phase” of the armed struggle, the ‘strategic defensive,’ in which the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), Ulster Defence Regiment and British Army would be denied all support in selected areas following repeated attacks on their bases. In 1985 Patrick Kelly becomes commander of the Provisional IRA East Tyrone Brigade and it is under his leadership that this strategy is pursued. Remote Royal Ulster Constabulary bases are attacked and destroyed, and building contractors who try to repair them are targeted and sometimes murdered, as occurs with the attack on the Ballygawley barracks in December 1985, which results in the death of two policemen, and The Birches police station in August 1986.

McKearney is shot dead by the British Army on May 8, 1987 during an IRA attack that he is taking part in upon Loughgall police station, which also claims the lives of seven other IRA members. His body is buried at his hometown of Moy.


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The Beginning of the 1980 Hunger Strike

Irish political prisoners confined in the infamous H-Blocks of Long Kesh Detention Centre commence a hunger strike on October 27, 1980. The hunger strike is to continue until their demands for political status and for an end to British torture are met, or until death.

It begins with seven republican volunteers: Brendan Hughes, the IRA commanding officer in the prison, Sean McKenna, Tommy McKearney, Tommy McFeely, Leo Green, and Raymond McCartney, all of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and John Nixon of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).

On December 1, three female prisoners, Mary Doyle, Mairéad Farrell and Mairéad Nugent, join the strike in Armagh Prison. Thirty more republican prisoners join later.

Despite being deceived into ending prematurely after 53 days, it sets the scene for a second hunger strike the following March, led by Bobby Sands. The first hunger strike announcement is made in a statement which is reprinted in full below.

“We the Republican POWs in the H-Blocks, Long Kesh, demand the right of political recognition and that we be accorded the status of political prisoners. We claim this right as captured combatants in the continuing struggle for national liberation and self determination. We refute most strongly the tag of criminal with which the British have attempted to label us and our struggle, and we point to the devisive, partitionist institution of the six county state as the sole criminal aspect of the present conflict.

“All of us were arrested under repressive laws, interrogated and often tortured in RUC barracks, and processed through special non-jury courts, where we were sentenced to lengthy terms of imprisonment. After this we were put in the H-Blocks and were expected to bow the knee before the British administration and wear their criminal uniform. Attempts to criminalise us were designed to depoliticise the Irish national struggle.

“We don’t have to recite again the widespread, almost total forms of punishment, degradations and deprivations we have been subjected to. All have failed to break our resistance.

“For the past four years we have endured this brutality in deplorable conditions. We have been stripped naked and robbed of our individuality, yet we refuse to be broken. Further repression only serves to strengthen our resolve and that of our gallant female comrades’ enduring the same hardships in Armagh jail.

“During this period many individuals, religious figures and political organisations and sections of the media have condemned the way we have been treated. Yet despite appeals for a resolution of the H-Block protest, the British government has remained intransigent and has displayed vindictive arrogance in dealing with the problem. They refuse to treat this issue in a realistic manner which is just another reflection of their attitude to the entire Irish question.

“Bearing in mind the serious implications of our final step, not only for us but for our people, we wish to make it clear that every channel has now been exhausted, and not wishing to break faith with those from whom we have inherited our principles, we now commit ourselves to a hunger strike.

“We call on the Irish people to lend us their support for our just demands and we are confident that this support will be very much in evidence in the coming days.

“We call on all solidarity and support groups to intensify their efforts and we also look forward with full confidence to the support of our exiled countrymen in America and Australia.

“We declare that political status is ours of right and we declare that from Monday, October 27th, 1980, a hunger strike by a number of men representing H- Blocks 3, 4, and 5 will commence.

“Our widely recognised resistance has carried us through four years of immense suffering and it shall carry us through to the bitter climax of death, if necessary.”

Signed: PRO, H-Block blanket men, Long Kesh camp

(From: “The 1980 H-Block hunger strike,” Irish Republican News, http://www.republican-news.org, October 31, 2020)


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Birth of Danny Morrison, IRA Volunteer, Author & Activist

Daniel Gerard Morrison, former Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) volunteer, Irish author and activist, is born in staunchly Irish nationalist Andersonstown, Belfast, on January 9, 1953. He plays a crucial role in public events during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Morrison is the son of Daniel and Susan Morrison. His father works as a painter at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in East Belfast. His uncles, including Harry White, had been jailed for their part in the IRA‘s Northern Campaign in the 1940s. He joins Sinn Féin in 1966 and helps to organise 50th anniversary commemorations of the Easter Rising in Belfast. At this time, he later recalls, “as far as we were concerned, there was absolutely no chance of the IRA appearing again. They were something in history books.”

After the 1969 Northern Ireland riots, in which nationalist areas of Belfast are attacked and burned, Morrison joins the newly formed Provisional IRA. After this, he is engaged in clandestine republican activities, but as late as 1971, is still attending Belfast College of Business Studies and editing a student magazine there. He is interned in Long Kesh Detention Centre in 1972.

Morrison’s talents for writing and publicity are quickly recognised within the republican movement and after his release in 1975 he is appointed editor of Republican News. In this journal, he criticises many long-standing policies of the movement. At this time, he becomes associated with a grouping of young, left-wing Belfast based republicans, led by Gerry Adams, who want to change the strategy, tactics and leadership of the IRA and Sinn Féin.

With the rise of Adams’ faction in the republican movement in the late 1970s, Morrison succeeds Seán Ó Brádaigh as Director of Publicity for Sinn Féin. During the 1981 Irish hunger strike, he acts as spokesman for the IRA hunger strikers’ leader Bobby Sands, who is elected to the British Parliament on an Anti H-Block platform.

Morrison is elected as a Sinn Féin Member for Mid Ulster of a short-lived Northern Ireland Assembly from 1982 to 1986. He also stands unsuccessfully for the European Parliament in 1984 and again in 1989. He also stands for the Mid Ulster Westminster seat in 1983 and 1986. Along with Owen Carron, he is arrested on January 21, 1982 while attempting to enter the United States illegally from Canada by car. He is deported and later both men are convicted on a charge of making false statements to US immigration officials.

Morrison is director of publicity for Sinn Féin from 1979 until 1990, when he is charged with false imprisonment and conspiracy to murder a British informer in the IRA, Sandy Lynch. He is sentenced to eight years in prison and is released in 1995.

Since 1989, Morrison has published several novels and plays on themes relating to republicanism and events in the modern history of Belfast. His latest play, The Wrong Man, opens in London in 2005. It is based on his 1997 book of the same name and deals with the career of an IRA man who is suspected by his colleagues of working for the police.

The Bobby Sands Trust (BST) is formed after the 1981 Hunger Strike where ten republican prisoners die due to their hunger strike protest against the UK Government. The legal firm Madden & Finucane continues to act for the Trust whose original members are Gerry Adams, Danny Morrison, Tom Hartley, Tom Cahill, Marie Moore and Danny Devenny. For a time Bobby’s two sisters, Marcella and Bernadette, are members of the Trust. Current members still include Adams, Morrison and Hartley. The BST claims to hold copyright to all the written works of Bobby Sands. The family of Sands has been critical of the BST and they have called for it to disband.

Morrison lives in West Belfast with his Canadian-born wife, Leslie. He has two sons from his first marriage.


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Assassination of Irish Republican Ronnie Bunting

Ronnie Bunting, a Protestant Irish republican and socialist activist, is assassinated on October 15, 1980 when several gunmen enter his home in the Downfine Gardens area of Andersonstown.

Bunting is born into an Ulster Protestant family in East Belfast. His father, Ronald Bunting, had been a major in the British Army and Ronnie grew up in various military barracks around the world. His father became a supporter and associate of Ian Paisley and ran for election under the Protestant Unionist Party banner.

Having completed his education and graduating from Queen’s University Belfast, Bunting briefly becomes a history teacher in Belfast, but later becomes involved in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and then with Irish republican organisations.

Unlike most Protestants in Northern Ireland, Bunting becomes a militant republican. His father, by contrast, was a committed Ulster loyalist. Despite their political differences, they remain close.

Bunting joins the Official Irish Republican Army (OIRA) around 1970 as he is attracted to their left-wing and secular interpretation of Irish republicanism and believes in the necessity of armed revolution. The other wing of the IRA, the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is seen to be more Catholic and nationalist in its outlook. At this time, the communal conflict known as the Troubles is beginning and the Official IRA is involved in shootings and bombings. He is interned in November 1971 and held in Long Kesh until the following April.

In 1974, Bunting follows Seamus Costello and other militants who disagree with the Official IRA’s ceasefire of 1972, into a new grouping, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). Immediately, a violent feud breaks out between the Official IRA and the INLA.

In 1975, Bunting survives an assassination attempt when he is shot in a Belfast street. In 1977, Costello is killed by an Official IRA gunman in Dublin. Bunting and his family hide in Wales until 1978, when he returns to Belfast. For the remaining two years of his life, he is the military leader of the INLA. The grouping regularly attacks the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in Belfast. He calls in claims of responsibility to the media by the code name “Captain Green.”

At about 4:30 AM on October 15, 1980, several gunmen wearing balaclavas storm Bunting’s home in the Downfine Gardens area of Andersonstown. They shoot Bunting, his wife Suzanne and another Protestant INLA man and ex-member of the Red Republican Party, Noel Lyttle, who has been staying there after his recent release from detention.

Both Bunting and Lyttle are killed. Suzanne Bunting, who is shot in the face, survives her serious injuries. The attack is claimed by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), but the INLA claims the Special Air Service are involved.

Upon his death, Bunting’s body is kept in a funeral parlour on the Newtownards Road opposite the headquarters of the UDA. On the day of the funeral, as the coffin is being removed, UDA members jeer from their building. The Irish Republican Socialist Party wants a republican paramilitary-style funeral for Bunting but his father refuses and has his son buried in the family plot of a Church of Ireland cemetery near Donaghadee.


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Death of IRA Blanket Protester Kieran Nugent

kieran-nugentKieran Nugent, volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army, dies from a heart attack on May 4, 2000. He is best known for being the first person to start the blanket protest against the British Government’s treatment of republican prisoners.

Born in 1958, Nugent’s adolescence comes at a time when Northern Ireland is exploding into turmoil. On March 20, 1973, at the age of 15, he is standing with a friend on the corner of Merrion Street and Grosvenor Road when a car pulls up beside them and one of the occupants asks them for directions. Another occupant of the vehicle then opens fire with a submachine gun. Nugent is seriously wounded after being shot eight times in the chest, arms and back by the Ulster loyalists in the car. His friend, Bernard McErlean, aged 16, is killed.

At some point afterwards, Nugent joins the Provisional IRA. At the age of sixteen he is arrested by the British Army and spends five months on remand in Crumlin Road Gaol. When he is eventually tried, the case against him is withdrawn and he is released. He becomes an active volunteer until his arrest and internment, without trial, on February 9, 1975.

Nugent spends nine months in Cage 4 at the Long Kesh Detention Centre until November 12, 1975. He is arrested and imprisoned again on May 12, 1976, following the hijacking of a bus. On September 14, 1976 he is sentenced to three years and becomes the first Republican prisoner convicted since the withdrawal of Special Category Status for those convicted through juryless courts, due to the new British policy of ‘criminalisation’ introduced that March. Among other things, this change in policy means convicted paramilitaries can no longer wear their own clothes. Viewing himself as a political prisoner and not a criminal, he refuses to wear the uniform saying the prison guards would have to “…nail it to my back.” This begins the blanket protest.

Nugent is soon joined by Jackie McMullan, the next prisoner to don the blanket, followed by six more Irish republican prisoners from the Beechmount area of Belfast. By Christmas 1976 the number of participants has risen to over forty prisoners. Most incoming republican prisoners emulate Nugent and this starts five years of prison protests in pursuit of political status, which culminates in the 1981 Irish hunger strike and the death of eleven, including seven IRA and three Irish National Liberation Army prisoners.

Nugent, the father of four, is found dead of a heart attack at his home in Anderstown, Belfast on May 4, 2000.


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Birth of Irish Nationalist Bobby Sands

Robert Gerard Sands, commonly known as Bobby Sands, Irish nationalist and member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is born on March 9, 1954 at Abbots Cross, NewtownabbeyCounty Antrim, outside Belfast.

Sands is the oldest of four children born to John and Rosaleen Sands, and the couple’s first son. Sands grows up in Belfast under the cloud of nationalist and loyalist divisions. At an early age, Sands’s life is affected by the sharp divisions that shape Northern Ireland. At the age of ten, he is forced to move with his family out of their neighborhood due to repeated intimidation by loyalists.

“I was only a working-class boy from a Nationalist ghetto,” Sands later writes about his childhood. “But it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom.” Loyalist intimidation proves to be a theme throughout Sands’ life. At the age of 18, he is forced out of his job as an apprentice car builder. Not long afterwards, he and his family have to move again, as a result of political trouble.

The steady number of conflicts pushes Sands to join the Republican Movement in 1972. His ties to the movement soon capture the attention of the authorities, and later that year, he is arrested and charged with possessing firearms in his house. He spends the next three years of his life in prison. Upon his release, Sands immediately returns to the Republican Movement. He signs on as a community activist in Belfast’s rough Twinbrook area, quickly becoming a popular go-to person for a range of issues affecting the neighborhood.

In late 1976, authorities arrest Sands again, this time in connection with the bombing of Balmoral Furniture Company and an ensuing gun battle. After weathering a brutal interrogation and then a court proceeding that offers up questionable evidence connecting Sands and three others to the attack, a judge sentences Sands to 14 years in prison at the Long Kesh Detention Centre, a facility used to house Republican prisoners from 1971 until 2000, located just outside of Belfast.

As a prisoner, Sands’s stature only grows. He pushes hard for prison reforms, confronting authorities, and for his outspoken ways he is frequently given solitary confinement sentences. Sands contention is that he and others like him, who are serving prison sentences, are actually prisoners of war, not criminals as the British government insists.

Beginning on March 1, 1981, Sands leads nine other Republican prisoners in the H-Block section of the Maze prison on a hunger strike that lasts until death. Their demands range from allowing prisoners to wear their own clothes to permitting visits and mail, all of which are central in improving the inmates’ way of life.

Unable to move authorities to give in to his requests, and unwilling himself to end his hunger strike, Sands’s health begins to deteriorate. During the first seventeen days of the strike alone, he loses 16 pounds. A hero among his fellow nationalists, Sands is elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone while in prison. Sands becomes the youngest MP at the time. However he dies less than one month later without ever having taken his seat in the House of Commons.

Only days after slipping into a coma, on the morning of May 5, 1981, Sands dies from malnutrition due to starvation. He is 27 years old and has refused to eat for 66 days. He becomes so fragile over his final weeks that he spends his final days on a water bed to protect his deteriorating and fragile body. At time of his death, Sands is married to Geraldine Noade, with whom he has one son, Gerard.

The announcement of Sands’s death prompts several days of rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. Over 100,000 people line the route of Sands’s funeral. He is buried in the ‘New Republican Plot’ alongside 76 others. Their graves are maintained by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

While loyalists dismiss Sands’s death, others are quick to recognize its significance. Over the next seven months, nine other IRA supporters die on hunger strike. Eventually, the British government gives proper political recognition to the prisoners, many of them earning their release under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Bobby Sands’ final days are depicted in the 2008 Steve McQueen film Hunger, with actor Michael Fassbender portraying Sands.