seamus dubhghaill

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


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The Milltown Cemetery Attack

The Milltown Cemetery attack takes place on March 16, 1988 at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast, Northern Ireland. During the large funeral of three Provisional Irish Republican Army members killed in Gibraltar, an Ulster Defence Association (UDA) member, Michael Stone, attacks the mourners with hand grenades and pistols.

On March 6, 1988, Provisional IRA members Daniel McCann, Seán Savage and Mairéad Farrell are shot dead by the Special Air Service (SAS) in Gibraltar, in Operation Flavius. The three had allegedly been preparing a bomb attack on British military personnel there, but the deaths outrage republicans as the three were unarmed and shot without warning. Their bodies arrive in Belfast on March 14 and are taken to their family homes. Tensions are high as the security forces flood the neighbourhoods where they had lived, to try to prevent public displays honouring the dead. For years, republicans have complained about heavy-handed policing of IRA funerals, which have led to violence. In a change from normal procedure, the security forces agree to stay away from the funeral in exchange for guarantees that there will be no three-volley salute by IRA gunmen. The British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) will instead keep watch from the sidelines. This decision is not made public.

Michael Stone is a loyalist, a member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) who had been involved in several killings and other attacks, and who describes himself as a “freelance loyalist paramilitary.” He learns that there will be little security force presence at the funerals, and plans “to take out the Sinn Féin and IRA leadership at the graveside.” He says his attack is retaliation for the Remembrance Day bombing four months earlier, when eleven Protestants had been killed by an IRA bomb at a Remembrance Sunday ceremony. He claims that he and other UDA members considered planting bombs in the graveyard, but abandon the plan because the bombs might miss the republican leaders.

The funeral service and Requiem Mass go ahead as planned, and the cortege makes its way to Milltown Cemetery, off the Falls Road. Present are thousands of mourners and top members of the IRA and Sinn Féin, including Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Two RUC helicopters hover overhead. Stone claims that he entered the graveyard through the front gate with the mourners and mingled with the large crowd, although one witness claims to have seen him enter from the M1 motorway with three other people.

As the third coffin is about to be lowered into the ground, Stone throws two grenades, which have a seven-second delay, toward the republican plot and begins shooting. The first grenade explodes near the crowd and about 20 yards from the grave. There is panic and confusion, and people dive for cover behind gravestones. Stone begins jogging toward the motorway, several hundred yards away, chased by dozens of men and youths. He periodically stops to shoot and throw grenades at his pursuers.

Three people are killed while pursuing Stone – Catholic civilians Thomas McErlean (20) and John Murray (26), and IRA member Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh (30), also known as Kevin Brady. During the attack, about 60 people are wounded by bullets, grenade shrapnel and fragments of marble and stone from gravestones. Among those wounded is a pregnant mother of four, a 72-year-old grandmother and a ten-year-old boy. Some fellow loyalists say that Stone made the mistake of throwing his grenades too soon. The death toll would likely have been much higher had the grenades exploded in mid-air, “raining lethal shrapnel over a wide area.”

A white van that had been parked on the hard shoulder of the motorway suddenly drives off as Stone flees from the angry crowd. There is speculation that the van is part of the attack, but the RUC says it was part of a police patrol, and that the officers sped off because they feared for their lives. Stone says he had arranged for a getaway car, driven by a UDA member, to pick him up on the hard shoulder of the motorway, but the driver allegedly “panicked and left.” By the time he reaches the motorway, he has seemingly run out of ammunition. He runs out onto the road and tries to stop cars, but is caught by the crowd, beaten, and bundled into a hijacked vehicle. Armed RUC officers in Land Rovers quickly arrive, “almost certainly saving his life.” They arrest him and take him to Musgrave Park Hospital for treatment of his injuries. The whole event is recorded by television news cameras.

That evening, angry youths in republican districts burn hijacked vehicles and attack the RUC. Immediately after the attack, the two main loyalist paramilitary groups—the UDA and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF)—deny responsibility. Sinn Féin and others “claimed that there must have been collusion with the security forces, because only a small number of people knew in advance of the reduced police presence at the funerals.”

Three days later, during the funeral of one of Stone’s victims, Caoimhín Mac Brádaigh, two British Army corporals, Derek Wood and David Howes, in civilian clothes and in a civilian car drive into the path of the funeral cortège, apparently by mistake. Many of those present believe the soldiers are loyalists intent on repeating Stone’s attack. An angry crowd surrounds and attacks their car. Corporal Wood draws his service pistol and fires a shot into the air. The two men are then dragged from the car before being taken away, beaten and shot dead by the IRA. The incident is often referred to as the corporals killings and, like the attack at Milltown, much of it is filmed by television news cameras.

In March 1989, Stone is convicted for the three murders at Milltown, for three paramilitary murders before, and for other offences, receiving sentences totaling 682 years. Many hardline loyalists see him as a hero and he becomes a loyalist icon. After his conviction, an issue of the UDA magazine Ulster is devoted to Stone, stating that he “stood bravely in the middle of rebel scum and let them have it.” Apart from time on remand spent in Crumlin Road Gaol, he spends all of his sentence in HM Prison Maze. He is released after serving 13 years as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.

In November 2006, Stone is charged with attempted murder of Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, having been arrested attempting to enter the Parliament Buildings at Stormont while armed. He is subsequently convicted and sentenced to a further 16 years imprisonment. He is released on parole in 2021.


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The Moira Car Bomb Attack

Eleven people are injured when a car bomb rocks the centre of Moira, County Down, on the evening of February 20, 1998. The injured include seven Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers, one a policewoman, and four civilians. The RUC Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan, who visits the scene the following morning, says that a warning was issued by a man with a “southern” accent in calls to the Maze and Maghaberry prisons. He adds that a vehicle, possibly the getaway car, was discovered on the southern route of the M1 motorway, suggesting that the attack may have come from south of the Border.

While unionist politicians blame the Irish Republican Army (IRA), this also suggests that the attack could have been the work of the Continuity IRA.

The car bomb, estimated at 500 lbs., is planted outside the local RUC station and explodes at approximately 11:40 PM, about ten minutes after the warnings are issued. Houses and pubs in the vicinity of the RUC station are evacuated. Local people described the explosion as “huge” and “massive.”

The attack comes just hours after Sinn Féin is expelled from the talks about the future of the province by the British Government because of recent IRA killings. By the following morning, no organisation has admitted responsibility for the bombing.

There are reports of the explosion being heard 20 miles away from Moira, which is a picturesque village about 20 miles west of Belfast.

The injured are rushed to Craigavon Area Hospital. None of the injuries are believed to be critical. Flanagan says the damage caused to the local RUC station is significant. A number of nearby houses are also extensively damaged. “One house was virtually demolished in the explosion,” says a police source.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) justice spokesman, Ian Paisley, Jr., who lives nearby, believes that the bomb is initially intended for a specific target in the nearby town of Lisburn, but because of heavy policing the bombers set off the device instead in Moira. “I lay the blame completely at the door of the Provisional IRA,” he says.

In December 2013, a 43-year-old man is arrested in Moy, County Tyrone, and questioned about the attack, but is later released unconditionally. A 47-year-old man is arrested in Dungannon, County Tyrone, on May 7, 2014. He is taken to Antrim police station for questioning but is also released unconditionally.

(From: “11 injured in bomb blast in Co Down,” by Gerry Moriarty, The Irish Times, http://www.irishtimes.com, February 21, 1998)


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The Dunmurry Train Bombing

The Dunmurry train bombing, a premature detonation of a Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) incendiary bomb aboard a Ballymena to Belfast passenger train, takes place on January 17, 1980.

The blast engulfs a carriage of the train in flames, killing three and injuring five others. One of the dead and the most seriously injured survivor are volunteers of the IRA. After the blast, the organisation issues a statement acknowledging responsibility, apologising to those who were harmed and state that it was ‘grave and distressing’ but an ‘accident’ caused by the ‘war situation.’

The train is a Northern Ireland Railways afternoon service carrying passengers between Ballymena railway station and Belfast Central railway station. The train is largely empty as it leaves Dunmurry railway station and enters the outskirts of Belfast, crossing under the M1 motorway on its way to Finaghy railway station shortly before 4:55 PM. A large fireball erupts in the rear carriage, bringing the train to a standstill and forcing panicked passengers to evacuate urgently as the smoke and flames spread along the train. The survivors then move down the track in single file to safety while emergency services fight the blaze. After several hours and combined efforts from fire, police and military services the blaze is contained. One fireman is treated for minor injuries. The two damaged carriages are transported to Queen’s Quay in Belfast for forensic examination and are subsequently rebuilt, one remaining in service until 2006 and the other until 2012.

Of the four persons occupying the carriage, three are killed with burns so severe that it is not possible to identify them by conventional means. Rail chief Roy Beattie describes the human remains as “three heaps of ashes.” The fourth, later identified as Patrick Joseph Flynn, is an IRA member and one of the men transporting the bombs. He suffers very serious burns to his face, torso and legs, and is reported to be close to death upon arrival at the hospital. Of the dead, two are eventually named as 17-year-old Protestant student Mark Cochrane from Finaghy and the other a 35-year-old Belfast-based accountant and recent immigrant from Lagos, Nigeria, Max Olorunda, who had been visiting a client in Ballymena. The identity of the third is harder to ascertain, but it is eventually confirmed by the IRA by their statement that he is 26-year-old IRA member Kevin Delaney. In addition to the fireman, four people are injured, including Flynn, two teenagers treated for minor injuries and an older man who suffers much more serious burns.

Further bomb alerts are issued across the region and two similar devices are discovered on trains, at York Road railway station in Belfast and at Greenisland railway station. Both are removed safely and control detonated. The devices are simple incendiary bombs similar to that which exploded south of Befast, consisting of a 5-lb. block of explosives attached to a petrol can with a simple time device intended to delay the explosion until the train is empty that evening. Later testimony indicates that Delaney armed the first of two bombs and placed it beside him as he picked up the second one. As he arms this device, the first bomb suddenly detonates for reasons that remain unknown. Delaney is killed instantly and his accomplice, Patrick Joseph Flynn, is forced to leap from the train in flames. Flynn is guarded by police in hospital and arrested once his wounds heal sufficiently.

The IRA releases a lengthy statement about the event, terming it a ‘bombing tragedy,’ blaming the Royal Ulster Constabulary for their ‘sickening and hypocritical … collective activity of collaboration with the British forces.’ In Britain, Conservative MP Winston Churchill calls for the death penalty to be reinstated for terrorists as a result of the incident.

Patrick Flynn is tried at Belfast Crown Court for double manslaughter and possession of explosives after he recovers from his injuries. He is severely disfigured and badly scarred from the extensive burns the incendiary device had inflicted upon him. The judge is asked and agrees to take this into account for sentencing after reviewing the evidence and finding Flynn guilty due to his proximity to the explosion, his known IRA affiliation and the discovery of telephone numbers for the Samaritans and Belfast Central railway station in his jacket, to be used to telephone bomb warnings. Justice Kelly sentences Flynn to ten years in prison for each manslaughter as well as seven years for the explosives offences, to be served concurrently.

(Pictured: Dunmurry Railway Station)


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Birth of Provisional IRA Member Seán Savage

sean-savageSeán Savage, Provisional Irish Republican Army member who is shot dead by the British Army while attempting to plant a car bomb in Gibraltar, is born in Belfast on January 26, 1965.

Born into an Irish Republican family in the Kashmir area of Belfast, Savage is educated at St. Gall’s Primary School, and at St. Paul’s Secondary School in the Falls Road area of West Belfast.

In 1987 Savage and Daniel McCann shoot and kill two Royal Ulster Constabulary officers at Belfast docks. He is also the leader of an IRA attack that places a car bomb beneath the car of John McMichael, an Ulster loyalist paramilitary, in Lisburn in December 1987. McMichael dies of his injuries two hours after the blast.

In March 1988, Savage and McCann, along with another Provisional IRA member, Mairéad Farrell, are sent to the British overseas territory of Gibraltar to plant a bomb in the town area targeting a British Army band which parades weekly in front of The Convent, the official Governors’ residence. However, the British Government acquires information about the intended attack and specially dispatches a British Army detachment there to intercept it, in an operation that it code-names Operation Flavius.

On March 6, 1988 Savage, McCann and Farrell enter Gibraltar from across the Spanish border to carry out a reconnaissance of the target. Having conducted it, they are leaving Gibraltar on foot approaching the Spanish border in two separate parties, when Savage sees McCann and Farrell up ahead being confronted and shot dead by soldiers from the Special Air Service regiment. He turns around and flees, running back into Gibraltar town, closely pursued on foot by another SAS soldier. After a 300-yard chase the soldier catches up with Savage and shoots him dead beneath a beech tree in Smith Dorrien Avenue. Civilian witnesses to the incident state afterwards that Savage is repeatedly fired upon by the soldier that had run him down while he is lying on the ground seemingly incapacitated.

The IRA team is subsequently found to be unarmed at the time of their deaths. A hire car rented by them, converted into a car bomb containing 140 lbs. of Semtex, with a device timed to go off during the changing of the guard ceremony in Gibraltar, is found two days later by the Spanish Police, who had assisted the British Government in tracking the IRA team’s movements in its territory before it had entered Gibraltar.

The bodies of Savage, Farrell and McCann are repatriated to Northern Ireland, where a collective IRA-sponsored funeral is held for them on March 16, 1988 at the IRA plot in Milltown Cemetery in West Belfast. As the coffins are being lowered into the ground Michael Stone, an Ulster loyalist paramilitary, stages a single-handed attack upon the ceremony, throwing grenades and firing a handgun at mourners. The funeral immediately descends into chaos. One group of mourners pursues the retreating attacker, who continues to throw grenades and fire bullets, through the cemetery grounds. Three of the unarmed mourners are killed and scores are injured. Stone retreats onto the adjoining M1 motorway, where he is arrested.

A Gibraltar inquest into the deaths of Savage, McCann and Farrell concludes the three had been lawfully killed. In 1995, the European Court of Human Rights rules that the human rights of the three were infringed, and criticizes the British authorities for lack of control in the arrest operation. They also rule that the three had been engaged in an act of terrorism, and consequently dismissed unanimously the applicants’ claims for damages, for costs and expenses incurred in the Gibraltar Inquest and the remainder of the claims for just satisfaction.

A British television documentary, Death on the Rock (1988), is produced and broadcast about the failed IRA operation in Gibraltar, examining the details of the events, and raising doubts about aspects of the British Government’s statements about the circumstances of the shootings of the IRA team, and questioning whether excessive force had been used in the confrontation in line with persistent rumours in the British media at that time of a “Shoot to Kill” strategy being used against the Provisional IRA by the British Government.


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Birth of Mary McAleese, 8th President of Ireland

Mary Patricia McAleese, Irish Independent politician who serves as the 8th President of Ireland from November 1997 to November 2011, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on June 27, 1951. She is the second female president and is first elected in 1997 succeeding Mary Robinson, making McAleese the world’s first woman to succeed another as president. She is re-elected unopposed for a second term in office in 2004 and is the first President of Ireland to have come from either Northern Ireland or Ulster.

Born Mary Patricia Leneghan, McAleese is the eldest of nine children in a Roman Catholic family. Her family is forced to leave the area by loyalists when The Troubles break out. Educated at St. Dominic’s High School, she also spends some time when younger with the Poor Clares, Queen’s University Belfast, from which she graduates in 1973, and Trinity College, Dublin. She is called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 1974, and remains a member of the Bar Council of Ireland. She opposes abortion and divorce.

In 1975, McAleese is appointed Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College, Dublin and in 1987, she returns to her Alma Mater, Queen’s, to become Director of the Institute of Professional Legal Studies. In 1994, she becomes the first female Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University. She works as a barrister and also works as a journalist with RTÉ.

McAleese uses her time in office to address issues concerning justice, social equality, social inclusion, anti-sectarianism and reconciliation. She describes the theme of her Presidency as “Building Bridges.” This bridge-building materialises in her attempts to reach out to the unionist community in Northern Ireland. These steps include celebrating The Twelfth at Áras an Uachtaráin and she even incurs criticism from some of the Irish Catholic hierarchy by taking communion in a Church of Ireland cathedral in Dublin. Despite being a practising Roman Catholic, she holds liberal views regarding homosexuality and women priests. She is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders and is ranked the 64th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. In spite of some minor controversies, McAleese remains popular and her Presidency is regarded as successful.

McAleese receives awards and honorary doctorates throughout her career. On May 3, 2007, she is awarded The American Ireland Fund Humanitarian Award. On October 31, 2007, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Otago, New Zealand. On May 19, 2009, she becomes the third living person to be awarded the freedom of Kilkenny, succeeding Brian Cody and Séamus Pattison. The ceremony, at which she is presented with two hurleys, takes place at Kilkenny Castle. On May 24, 2009, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of law from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. On May 22, 2010, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of law from Fordham University, in the Bronx, New York City, where she delivers the commencement speech to the class of 2010. On November 8, she is awarded an honorary doctorate at University of Massachusetts Lowell in Lowell, Massachusetts.

On June 8, 2013, a ceremony is held to rename a bridge on the M1 motorway near Drogheda as the Mary McAleese Boyne Valley Bridge to honour McAleese’s contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process.