seamus dubhghaill

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


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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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Sinn Féin Holds First Formal Talks with the British Government in Over 70 Years

On December 9, 1994, Sinn Féin, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), holds its first formal talks with the British Government in over 70 years. The negotiations take place in Belfast, almost one year after Britain and Ireland began an uncertain program to try to resolve the conflict in Northern Ireland. The first session is held at Stormont, a gigantic, columned edifice on top of a hill on the outskirts of Belfast that houses the old Northern Ireland parliament.

Although the announcement of the negotiations is not a surprise, it still sets off an exciting ripple that history is in the making. British officials have conducted secret talks with Sinn Féin leaders in the past, but never before have they sat down openly at the same table with them.

In both a letter to the Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, and in a three-paragraph statement, Downing Street pointedly refers to the meeting as “exploratory dialogue.” This is in keeping with London‘s position that it is simply joining in “talks about talks,” not a full negotiating session, which must involve all parties to the conflict.

For 25 years the IRA has been fighting in the name of the Roman Catholic minority of 650,000 in Northern Ireland. It wants to link Ulster, the six counties of Northern Ireland that remain British after partition, to the Irish Republic, a move opposed by most of the province’s 950,000 Protestants.

The announcement of talks evoke a predictable pattern of responses across Northern Ireland’s political spectrum. Adams, who works to persuade the IRA to go along with a unilateral cease-fire that was declared on September 1, welcomes it. “The opportunity to realize a lasting peace, which will benefit all of the people of Ireland, has never been greater,” he says in a statement. Adams had been accusing London of foot-dragging on the peace effort. Now, he says, it is time to move on to “the next phase of dialogue — multilateral talks led by both Governments.”

The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), the main Protestant political group in Northern Ireland, is skeptically accepting, as it has been all along. John Taylor, a Unionist Member of Parliament, says the talks will at least establish whether “Sinn Féin really is to become a normal political party.”

The Rev. Ian Paisley, a Member of Parliament whose Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has become a rejectionist front, continues to oppose talks or any move smacking of compromise. He tells the House of Commons that “a vast majority of people” resent the decision to talk to “the men of blood.”

Sinn Féin is represented at the talks by Martin McGuinness, a veteran IRA political leader who took part in secret contacts that broke up the previous year. In 1972, together with Adams, he was flown to London for a meeting with William Whitelaw, who was then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Those talks eventually failed.

Adams is in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, December 7. He attends a meeting at the White House, his first one there, with Anthony Lake, President Bill Clinton‘s National Security Advisor. Seven weeks earlier, Britain protests vigorously at the thought of Adams visiting the White House. But events moved so swiftly that he gains a kind of legitimacy that is hard for Whitehall to deny. His visa to the United States, good for three months, allows several visits.

The Government team of civil servants, in contrast to higher-level ministers, are led by Quentin Thomas, deputy secretary of the British administration called the Northern Ireland Office.

Going into the negotiations, the key question is what will be discussed. On the British side, the top of the agenda is how to get the IRA to turn over its considerable stash of 100 tons of arms and explosives. There is nothing, of course, that Sinn Féin is less likely to agree to at the outset. So should the British make this a condition for multilateral talks to begin, the two sides will meet an obstacle right away.

McGuinness says that the issue of IRA weapons has to be considered “in the context of us removing the causes of conflict, the reason why people use armed force in our society.”

From its side, Adams says Sinn Féin wants to discuss being treated with “a parity of esteem” with the other parties, and “the release of all political prisoners.”

The British Government says that it will soon hold talks with the so-called loyalist paramilitaries on the Protestant side. And it indicates it will have no objection if elected Sinn Féin councillors attend a major international investment conference in Belfast on December 13 and 14.

(From: “Britain and I.R.A. Group to Begin Talks in Northern Ireland” by John Darnton, The New York Times, December 2, 1994 | Pictured: Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness lead a Republican parade in Belfast, commemorating 25 years of British troops on the streets of Northern Ireland in 1994)


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Rioting Erupts In Belfast & Derry

belfast-rioting-1970Intense riots between Protestants and Roman Catholics erupt in Derry and Belfast on June 27, 1970. During the evening, loyalist paramilitaries make incursions into republican areas of Belfast. This leads to a prolonged gun battle between republicans and loyalists. The rioting in both Belfast and Derry takes place despite the presence of more than 8,000 British soldiers, backed up by armored vehicles and helicopters.

The rioting follows the June 26 jailing of Bernadette Devlin, the 23‐year‐old Roman Catholic leader, who had recently been reelected to Parliament in London. She had been convicted of riotous behavior during violence in Derry in August 1969 and sentenced to six months in prison.

The rioting in Belfast begins after Catholic youths hurl stones and disrupt a parade by the militantly Protestant Orange Order. About 100 persons are injured badly enough to be treated in hospitals. A bakery and a butcher shop in a shopping center are set afire and a police station is wrecked with iron bars and clubs. The scene of the rioting is at the intersection of Mayo Street and Springfield Road in a mixed Protestant‐Catholic area.

Armed British soldiers, in visors and helmets and carrying riot shields, separate ugly, shouting mobs of Catholics and Protestants. The troops use tear gas in an effort to break up the crowd and at one point send 1,000 people, including women and children, fleeing with tears streaming down their faces.

There is civilian sniping and firing by British troops in two riot areas — the Springfield Road area and the Crumlin Road area – where rival crowds from segregated slum streets clash later in the afternoon.

At night British soldiers seal off the riot areas to all but military vehicles. Armored cars with machine guns ready stand in the streets, which are littered with glass and stones. Hundreds of soldiers in full battle dress stand against the seedy red‐brick shops and houses.

However, the crowds continue to gather. Buses are set afire, and late at night the army uses tear gas again to drive the mobs away. As rioting erupts in other parts of Belfast, 4,000 British soldiers are said to have been sent into the riot areas. The police are harassed by a half dozen fires around the city. Some of the fires are started with battery devices according to the police.

In Derry, Catholic youths attack soldiers and policemen with stones, bottles and gasoline bombs. The youths begin re‐erecting the barricades that had shielded the Catholic Bogside slum area during rioting the previous year. Ninety-two soldiers are injured and a paint shop near Bogside is set ablaze after looting by children who appear to be no more that 11 or 12 years old.

The wave of agitation begins in October, 1968, when a largely Catholic civil rights movement takes to the streets to demand an end to anti‐Catholic discrimination in voting rights, jobs and housing. The Unionist Government in Belfast, which considers itself aligned with the Conservative Party in London, responds reluctantly to the street violence. However, under intense prodding by the Labor Government, it enacts many of the demanded reforms.

However, a Protestant backlash ensues, encouraged by the fiery evangelical preacher, the Rev. Ian Paisley. Paisley fans the latent fear that Northern Ireland‘s Catholics seek to unite Ireland into a Catholic state under Dublin. In the view of many observers, the Protestants have never shared power nor prestige with the Catholic minority, while the Catholics have taken an ambiguous view on whether they wanted to be British or Irish.

(From: “New Rioting Flares In Northern Ireland; 4 Dead and 100 Hurt” by John M. Lee, The New York Times, June 28, 1970)