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 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 Mairéad Farrell, Provisional IRA Member

mairead-farrellMairéad Farrell, member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), is born in Belfast on March 3, 1957. She is shot dead by the British Army in Gibraltar on March 6, 1988.

Farrell is born into a middle-class family with no link to militant Irish republicanism other than a grandfather who had been interned during the Irish War for Independence. She is educated at Rathmore Grammar School, Belfast. At the age of 14 she is recruited into the Provisional IRA by Bobby Storey. After leaving school at the age of 18, she is hired as a clerical worker for an insurance broker’s office.

On March 1, 1976, the British government revokes Special Category Status for prisoners convicted from this date under anti-terrorism legislation. In response, the IRA instigates a wave of bombings and shootings across Northern Ireland and younger members such as Farrell are asked to participate. On April 5, 1976, along with Kieran Doherty and Sean McDermott, she attempts to plant a bomb at the Conway Hotel in Dunmurry, as that hotel had often been used by British soldiers on temporary duty in Northern Ireland. She is arrested by Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) officers within an hour of planting the bomb. McDermott, her boyfriend, is shot dead by a RUC reservist at a nearby housing estate.

At her trial, Farrell refuses to recognise the court as it is an institution of the British state. She is sentenced to fourteen years in prison for explosives offences, firearms offences, and belonging to an illegal organisation.

When Farrell arrives at Armagh Prison, she refuses to wear a prison uniform in protest at the designation of republican prisoners as criminals and becomes the official Officer Commanding of the female IRA prisoners. After 13 months, she, along with Mary Doyle and Mairead Nugent, begin a hunger strike to coincide with the one already taking place in Long Kesh Prison. It ends on December 19, a day after the men’s strike. In March 1981 the prisoners’ rights campaign is focused on the hunger strike being undertaken by Bobby Sands, leader of IRA prisoners in the H-Blocks. She was one of the H-Block/Armagh prisoners to stand for election in the Republic of Ireland in the 1981 Irish general election, standing in Cork North-Central and polling 2,751 votes (6.05%).[17]

Upon her release from prison in October 1986, Farrell enrolls at Queen’s University, Belfast for a course in Political Science and Economics. However, she drops out to re-engage in IRA activity. The IRA sends her with Seán Savage and Daniel McCann to the British overseas territory of Gibraltar to plant a car bomb in a heavily populated town area. The target is the band and guard of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment during a weekly ceremonial changing of the guard in front of Governors’ residence, on March 8, 1988. According to interrogated IRA members, Gibraltar is selected as a target because it is a British possession that is in dispute, and that it is an area with lighter security measures than had become endemic at British military installations elsewhere due to the IRA’s campaign.

The British Government’s domestic intelligence service MI5 becomes aware of their plan and a detachment from the British Army is specifically deployed to Gibraltar to intercept the IRA team and prevent the attack. Farrell, Savage and McCann are confronted by plainclothes soldiers from the Special Air Service regiment while they are engaged in a reconnaissance in Gibraltar pending the delivery of the car bomb. Farrell is shot three times in the back and once in the face. Her two accomplices are also killed in an operation code-named Operation Flavius by the British Government. Some witnesses to the shooting state that Farrell and McCann were shot while attempting to surrender, and while lying wounded on the ground. The three IRA members are all found afterwards to be unarmed.

Keys to a hire car found in Farrell’s handbag lead the Spanish Police to the discovery across the border in Spain of five packages totaling 84 kg of Semtex explosive in a car which the IRA team intended to subsequently drive into Gibraltar for the attack. These packages have four separate detonators attached. Around this is packed 200 rounds of ammunition as shrapnel. There are two timers but they were not primed or connected.

At the funeral of the ‘Gibraltar Three’ on March 16, three mourners are killed in a gun and grenade attack by loyalist paramilitary Michael Stone in the Milltown Cemetery attack.


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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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The Milltown Cemetery Attack

milltown-cemetery-attackThe Milltown Cemetery attack, also known as the Milltown Cemetery killings or the Milltown Massacre, takes place on March 16, 1988 at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

On March 6, 1988, Provisional Irish Republican Army members Daniel McCann, Seán Savage and Mairéad Farrell are shot dead by the Special Air Service (SAS) in Gibraltar, in Operation Flavius. The three were allegedly preparing a bomb attack on British military personnel there, but their deaths outrage republicans as the three are unarmed and shot without warning. Their bodies arrive in Belfast on March 14 and are taken to their family homes.

The “Gilbraltar Three” are scheduled to be buried in the republican plot at Milltown Cemetery on March 16. For years, republicans had complained about heavy-handed policing of IRA funerals, which had 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) would instead keep watch from the sidelines. This decision is not made public.

Present at the funeral 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.

Michael Stone, a loyalist and member of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), learns there are to be no police or armed IRA members at the cemetery. 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.

As Stone runs towards the nearby motorway, a large crowd begins chasing him and he continues shooting and throwing grenades. Some of the crowd catches Stone and begin beating him, but he is rescued by the police and arrested. Three people are killed and more than 60 wounded in the attack. The “unprecedented, one-man attack” is filmed by television news crews and causes shock around the world.

Three days later, two British Army corporals drive into the funeral procession of one of the Milltown victims. The non-uniformed soldiers are dragged from their car by an angry crowd, beaten and then shot dead by the IRA, in what becomes known as the corporals killings.

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. He is released after serving 13 years as a result of the Good Friday Agreement.

(Pictured: The funeral at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast moments before the attack by Michael Stone)